How rabbis are wasted on Jews

By David Robson, October 7, 2012
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Recently, my elder son sealed himself into The Book Of Life As A Married Man. As he used a Scrabble-like word game and a ring made of jelly to propose to his bride, some solemnities and precious metal were required. I haven't been involved in arranging many weddings so I wouldn't presume to give readers advice but every now and again a newcomer makes a useful discovery - after all, how many burning bushes do you think Moses had seen when he came across the one that mattered?

Has it ever occurred to you that the start of proceedings isn't the best time for the solemnities? Mid-afternoon and the shul is filled with dinner-jacketed men and backless, shoulderless, dressed women ready to party. But I think they've got it wrong. Ours happened in our garden. We had the religious part of our day not at the start but in the middle and to wonderful effect; it wasn't announced in advance and it became the centrepiece.

People had been talking and eating and drinking not immoderately but for quite a time when the rabbi took the stage. So the ceremony was both after and before the party, a time to stop and think what it was all about when they were already warmed up. And that was precisely the effect it had.

It was a blessing, not a marriage service. The bride isn't Jewish and the legalities had been executed elsewhere. But here was David Goldberg, emeritus rabbi of London's Liberal Jewish Synagogue, bringing what both bride and groom wanted - a proper spiritual dimension to their commitment to each other. Rabbi Goldberg first conducted this sort of ceremony more than 30 years ago and his beautiful speech expressed what, through meeting such couples, he knew to be true: here were two intelligent people in love with each other who feel connected with Jewishness.

People had been eating and drinking for some time

Rabbi Goldberg has always believed Judaism should be inclusive, that those who wish to be associated and involved should be welcomed. His thinking is as far as can be from the thought that only possession of a Jewish mother is enough (as many of us know, it is often far more than enough). My daughter-in-law will not be Jewish. There was no pressure on either of them, it was their idea. And, for those of us who have been to a chuppahful of standard-issue weddings, it had special freshness and meaning.

Many of the guests were not Jewish and their response reinforced what I have long known: rabbis are wasted on Jews. We take them for granted, we criticise, we kvetch - he (or she) is too this or too that, too young, too old, too serious, not serious enough, spoke better at that wedding the year before last. But, to non-Jews, rabbis seem wonderful: special, surprising, intelligent, sympathetic, wise. Rabbi Goldberg is, as it happens, all of those things

The words were said, the brachot made, rings were exchanged, wine was taken, a glass was smashed, the words "may the Lord bless you and keep you…" common to both Judaism and Christianity were said in Hebrew and in English, and we all felt very blessed.

    Last updated: 9:45am, October 7 2012