Bringing Souls Together

My wedding was not just the union, or reunion, of souls, but also the gathering of all Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, in celebration.  Surely the marriage ceremony, which when it comes down to it, is mostly a legal contract, could be performed with two witnesses in the span of about five minutes.

So, why the big event?  Social one-upmanship aside, the major reason for having a big party is so that the event becomes communal.

A friend shared with me some Torah in the name of a rabbi known for bringing Jews of all denominations and outlooks together, Rav Shlomo Carlebach, teaching that when I stood under the chuppah, it was not only with my husband and our parents under the canopy, but also our grandparents (deceased) and our future children too.

The wedding is a public ceremony because really it is about joining the growing family to the larger community.  In addition to the ceremony and party immediately following, many new couples are hosted for meals by additional family and friends for the subsequent week of Sheva Brachot, named for the additional wedding blessings said during grace after meals.

There’s another aspect to it too.  A teacher of mine shared with me that when I immersed in the mikvah, it joined  a chain of Jewish women who have kept the mitzvah for thousands of years – generations and generations in exile, living in conditions that generally were not favorable towards Jewish communal life to say the least.  What is the first thing that is supposed to be built when a new Jewish community is established?  Not a synagogue, not a Bet Midrash (house of study), but a mikvah.  Clearly, Jewish communal life is dependant on this too.

Entering the mikvah and the chuppah was a physical expression of achieving a new status as a married woman.  I remember clearly being at many Shabbat tables throughout the country during my year studying in seminary.  Sometimes there would be other young women at the table who were studying for a year in Israel immediately after high school, which is very common and even expected for most graduates of Jewish high schools in the United States.  I would infer by the tone of conversation that my host had put myself in the same category as these eighteen-year-olds.

If there was a young couple joining us at the table, they were placed in a totally different category, even if they were actually younger than me.  Nevermind that I was twenty-five and had, just months ago, worked full-time for a world-class newspaper and lived in a studio apartment.  I was still a girl.  An insulted one.

While it’s true that boatloads of “worldly” experience is not the same adventure as a marriage, something about  personal merit being judged by marital status still bugs me.  Like it or not, it’s built into Judaism though.  For instance, there are some services that can’t be performed unless a man is married, and the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, has to be married.

In most Ashkenazi communities, men won’t wear a tallit when praying unless he’s married.  As for women, we get back to the topic of hair covering.  It feels like a status thing.  At the end of the day though, it seems to me the difference is that a married woman’s house becomes a home, and halachically, a woman is exempt from a lot of mitzvot because of her role in maintaining a home and raising children.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be joining the ranks of the Married Ladies’ Club.  I just wouldn’t dream of putting my peers in the same category as a doe-eyed student tasting her first bit of independence.

While choosing to marry a Jewish man didn’t feel like much of a choice, it’s quite easy to see in retrospect how it might not have turned out that way.  Much like during the times of the story of Purim, which is soon upon us, we have access to return to Israel, yet so many of us remain in exile, physically and emotionally, because the pull of assimilation is great.  There is no doubt that it’s an incredible privilege to be able to get married in Israel, all the more so in Jerusalem, just outside of the Old City walls.  The weight of history, of status, within a people, and as a people, is there in the moonlit backdrop.

Walking the streets of Jerusalem, just hours before my wedding, it was an unseasonably warm day, and in fact the temperature was that of late spring, or early fall.  The day was my own mini Yom Kippur, of petition and reflection, but unlike other Yom Kippurs, when almost all Jews are praying together and the city comes to a standstill, it was a day apart.  Most kallot, brides, choose to have a shomeret to escort them around in the 24-hours leading up to their wedding.  But for me it was a day apart, to reflect on my thread of the patchwork of the Jewish people.

This was originally posted on February 23, 2011, but somehow it got deleted.  It was inserted again on March 19.

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1 Response to “Bringing Souls Together”


  1. 1 Moshe Sharon March 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    In Parsha Tzav, we can understand that when we face difficult times, it’s not a punishment; it’s G-d helping us to achieve that cleansing that removes the impurities from our souls. Why does G-d consider the sin offering as being the “Holy of Holies?” Because when we Jews repent with a broken heart and ask HaShem to help us to live a life of righteousness, we fulfill the purpose of creation. More at http:moshe-sharon-wordsmith.com


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ilene

Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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