Planning Interfaith & Intercultural Jewish Weddings
A wedding is a blending of lives. For couple’s of different faiths or cultures, planning a wedding can require a bit more thought and sensitivity. Your choice of officiant, venue, ceremony structure and language is essentially how you show the world how your lives, beliefs and traditions will join and interact. With a bit of creativity, it can be a great way of reflecting your and your fiancé’s beliefs and backgrounds.
Our goal for this interfaith wedding guide is to inspire you with ways to showcase the beautiful customs of different cultures and embrace the similarities as well. We’d love to add your feedback! If there’s anything we missed, please let us know.
Special Thanks to The Following Contributors:
Cantor Kerry-Ben David, Cantor Ronald Broden, Rabbi Richard Winer, Chad David Kraus Photography, Daniel Sroka of Modern Ketubah, Corinne Soikin Strauss of The Artist’s Studio, Melisa Imberman of The Event of a Lifetime, Stefanie Caplan of theketubah.com
Have a question about your interfaith wedding? Contact us for advice from our panel of experts!
Interfaith Ceremony Planning
An intercultural or interfaith couple should discuss all of the practices within their respective religious ceremonies. As a team (often facilitated by a Rabbi or officiant), decide what to keep, what to change and what to leave out. This is an amazing opportunity to teach one another about your religious traditions, symbols and ideas about marriage. Daniel Sroka of Modern Ketubah noted that he and his Christian wife were each able to rediscover their own religion in the process. “Each part of our wedding was a conscious choice, born out of a deep discussion, and reflected a shared value.” The key is to be creative and offer options to create balance and respect for all cultures involved. Be sure to find a Rabbi or Officiant that can help guide you through this integral process.
Here are some ideas for showcasing the religion and cultures of couples with different backgrounds. We also point out many similarities which can and should be celebrated.
The ceremony can often be a challenging place to incorporate more than one faith. It is important for couples to honor their families without alienating anyone, yet remain to true to themselves. The ceremony can also be the perfect opportunity to highlight the overlapping similarities of particular traditions. There are many different ways to go about preserving the sanctity of certain religious programs, while also acknowledging others.
View More About Jewish Wedding Traditions & Customs
- A contemporary version of “Circling” or Hakafot, has the couple circle each other 3 times. Then for the 7th and final, make a circle together to signify their new sacred union and symbolize a wall to ward off evil spirits.
- Traditionally, a Jewish ceremony entails reading the Sheva B’rachot, or seven blessings. There are many ways to personalize this ancient ritual. For example Rabbi Richard Winer can include honored guests (Jewish or non-Jews) in the ceremony by having them read the English translation of the sacred blessings.
- Rabbi / Officiant – If any tension arises within families, dual officiants may be a better option. Marriage is all about compromise, extended family included. Consider having two religious leaders co-officiate, or choosing a secular officiant that is well versed in the traditions of both. It is most important that both faiths are represented adequately.
- Language – By changing any particularistic language to egalitarian and eliminating references specific to Judaism, an interfaith ceremony is easier to understand all around. Some officiants, such as Cantor Ronald Broden, can translate portions (or all) of the ceremony into other languages as well.
Incorporate music from different cultures into the ceremony.
- A unity candle is often part of the Catholic tradition, but can serve as an excellent way to symbolize the blending of faiths. When performed under the chuppah, this tradition can speak to two separate people becoming one in life, love and faith.
- A sand ceremony can be performed when ceremony is by the water and the winds would blow the candles out.
- Hindu ceremonies have similar traditions. The Mangal Fera ritual involves the couple circling a fire 7 times to legalize the marriage. The Saptapadi tradition is when the couple takes seven steps while taking their marriage vows to reiterate their aspirations for married life. This can be a unique opportunity to highlight both meanings through similar rituals.
Be sure to consult with your Rabbi or Officiant to create a wedding program that everyone’s happy with.
Photo: The Artist’s Studio
The chuppah, or wedding canopy, is a ceremony statement piece. It serves as a sacred space for the couple, as well as a warm and elegant backdrop during the ceremony. The chuppah is representative of the couple’s home together. It is open on all sides to welcome guests, creating a great way to involve family members of all cultures.
While it’s rooted in the Jewish culture, the chuppah presents a great opportunity to embrace other cultural elements:
- Use certain materials native to another culture in place of the traditional tallit, such as a sari for a Jewish-Hindu wedding.
- Highlight symbolic colors by draping the chuppah poles with, for example, red silk for a Chinese-Jewish wedding.
- Use cultural flowers like Mexican calla lilies.
- If a bride or groom would like to incorporate their ethnicity as well as religion, consider decorating the chuppah with symbols from a country. Corinne Soikin Strauss of The Artist’s Studio designed one with Koala Bears and Kangaroos for a couple with Australian roots.
- Both Jewish and Hindu ceremonies occur under a wedding canopy: Judaism, the chuppah and Hinduism, the Mundap. For a Jewish- Hindu wedding, consider a canopy made of sari material to represent both.
- For a Christian interfaith wedding, create an altar that incorporates space for a chuppah, as well as candles, flowers and other Christian details..
- The couple should decide together who will join them under the chuppah or hold the poles. Rabbi Richard Winer recommends giving members of the non-Jewish family the honor of holding the chuppah poles so they can take part in the wedding. This should be discussed with your rabbi or officiant.
The ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, is becoming more popular with couples of all cultures and religions. It serves as a beautiful token of your ceremony, turning your wedding vows into a customized work of art!
This personalized representation of your marriage can serve as an expression of both faiths:
- Stefanie Caplan of theketubah.com, who specializes in custom interfaith ketubahs, suggests couples take the time to create a ketubah that appeals to both of their tastes.
- To honor their faiths or cultures, the couple can choose meaningful symbols, colors and languages. A Jewish-Spanish couple chose a ketubah inspired by the work of Spanish artist Gaudi.
- Cantor Ronald Broden suggest using language that is universalistic instead of Hebrew or traditional Aramaic text. By expressing the tradition in English, it becomes easier for those of other faiths to appreciate the beauty and significance.
- Before the ceremony, Cantor Kerry-Ben David often helps select a Hebrew name for the non-Jewish partner based on the English meaning of his or her name. This will create a feeling of inclusion by connecting this element to his/her identity.
- Stefanie Caplan of theketubah.com has found that non-Jewish partners often embrace seeing their name translated into Hebrew letters and are happy to be able to participate in something with such a long history.
By choosing symbols, languages and colors from both cultures, you are left with a meaningful piece of art that represents the promises made to one another that day.
Breaking the Glass
The breaking of the glass is one of the most integral parts of a Jewish ceremony. It symbolizes the end of the ceremony, the start of the celebration and that the bond of love may be as difficult to break as it would be to put together the pieces of the glass.
- The glass can be decorated with symbols or patterns representative of any culture. After the weddings, the pieces can be assembled to make a mezuzah, creating a bi-cultural blessing for their new home.
- Use a red glass for a Jewish-Chinese wedding or bright hues to honor Hindu culture into this Jewish ritual.
- After the glass is broken, tell your guests to shout “Gong Xi” or “Shaadi Mubarak” to express congratulations in both languages.
Photographer Chad David Kraus reflected on his Jewish-Christian interfaith wedding. After the traditional blessing, they asked that the shattering of their glass also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. He and his wife prayed for the day to arrive for all people to live together in peace, as they do.
Incorporate a way to make the breaking of the glass representative of your life, no matter what faith!
Western weddings often showcase a white gown for the bride and a suit or tux for the groom, while other cultures call for different for more traditional attire. There are several ways to respect the dress codes of all cultures while maintaining a personal sense of style:
- In Chinese culture, the color red is highlighted to represent love, joy and prosperity and the bride changes her outfit several times throughout the wedding. Blend the two cultures by having the bride start in western-style white dress and change into a red option for the party. The same can be said for the groom choosing a more eastern-inspired ensemble for the reception. Accents of red can also be incorporated in the accessories for both.
- Indian culture is notorious for adorning the couple in grand pieces. For a Jewish-Hindu wedding, consider pairing the dress with Indian jewelry and adding Tikka-styled accessories or color schemes to the groom’s traditional look.
- If one is Scottish or Irish, men will choose to wear kilts or bagpipes for certain parts of the day.
- For this Spanish-Jewish interfaith wedding, the bride opted for a red flamenco dress as a nod to her Spanish heritage at their civil ceremony.
Having two looks for your wedding is a growing trend in all cultures. Your second wardrobe choice is the perfect opportunity to more carefully reflect a different tradition.
The reception presents countless opportunities to showcases cultures of all kinds. From food and drink to music and dancing to décor and favors, use the party to incorporate meaningful elements in creative ways.
- Food: Serve specialties from cultures. Regional flavors and family recipes can evoke memories from guests of all ages. Serve different cuisine for hors d’oeuvres, dinner and dessert to showcase as many as possible.
- Decor: Using a certain flower for table arrangements or adding in a certain color into your scheme is a great way to showcase various cultures. For a Jewish-Hindu celebration, consider using sari tablecloths as not only a nod to Indian culture, but also an elaborate, beautiful tablescape.
- Music & Entertainment: No matter what the culture or ethnicity, dancing is a staple aspect of any celebration. Jewish parties feature the Hora, Italians perform the Tarantella, and Greeks have the Tsamiko etc. To mix these cultures, consider allotting a segment for each family to showcase what they can do!
- Favors: Choose a meaningful memento to give as a favor at the end of the night. If you have a favorite family dessert, consider making it and including the recipe card so your guests will remember it for years to come.
The reception is a celebration of your new life together. Use it as an opportunity to celebrate the different cultural elements in your life as well!
An interfaith or intercultural wedding ceremony can be enlightening experience for all and a true celebration of unity for the married couple.
Have a question about your interfaith wedding? Contact us for advice from our panel of experts!
Thank you again to the experts that provided their wisdom and experience on Interfaith & Intercultural Jewish Weddings:
Cantor Kerry-Ben David
Cantor Ronald Broden
Rabbi Richard Winer
Chad David Kraus Photography
Daniel Sroka of Modern Ketubah
Corinne Soikin Strauss of The Artist’s Studio
Melisa Imberman of The Event of a Lifetime
Stefanie Caplan of theketubah.com
We’d love your feedback! How will you (or did you) showcase your cultures at your wedding? Tell us in the comments below.