Creating New Traditions
As we’ve seen, many Jewish wedding customs and rituals have been added, adapted, or abandoned altogether, depending on the community and the era. Sometimes, the impetus for change comes from a cultural shift rather than a religious one. In the mid 19th century, Jewish women in both Europe and the United States saw opportunity for more equal treatment in their everyday lives, and pushed their religious leaders to apply these same principles to the wedding ceremony which, according to traditional understanding of halacha, allows the bride only a passive role. The Reform movement chose to agree; at the 1869 Philadelphia conference, the authorities formally made allowances for equal vows and even a double-ring ceremony, already in common practice.
In some ways this parallels the recent shift toward acceptance and celebration of same-sex marriages. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association has supported same-sex marriage – both religious and civil – for over two decades, and the Reform movement adopted a resolution supporting clergy choice in performing same-sex weddings in 2000. (The Orthodox Union stands firm against it.) Like so much of modern-day life, this shift has required some adaptation of traditions and customs, but much of the community has taken this in stride, helping couples of all kinds to create a joyful and meaningful union. In fact, when Maryland began issuing civil licenses to same-sex couples in December 2012, one of the first was to Jessie Weber and Nancy Eddy, who’d had a Jewish ceremony a few months earlier.
“The chuppah was sewn by our neighbor and fellow BHC member Rebecca Green. The intention was to incorporate the lace that had been crocheted by my great-grandmother Grace Bixby, whom Gracie is named after, but Rebecca was too fearful to do anything with them besides attach them to the underside.
The carriers were Aimee's first Cousin Alan Hader (who is Orthodox, and it was a big deal for him to come), my father Steve Harmon (who is also gay and came out in 2002, soon after I did) and Jack Danna, our children's father, who is a longtime friend of ours and agreed to be a "known donor" for us, and to be the Dad of our family, and my brother-in-law David Younger.”
Chuppah from the wedding of Aimee Darrow and Caroline Harmon, who were married in a religious ceremony at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre, November 11, 2011.
Because same-sex marriages were not yet legal in Maryland, they had a civil ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, DC the previous day, with their families in attendance. Both ceremonies were officiated by Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
On loan from Aimee and Caroline Harmon-Darrow. JMM L2017.14.1
“Vote Yes on Question 6” signs, 2011.
Aimee Darrow and Caroline Harmon were active volunteers with the campaign to pass this referendum on Maryland’s Civil Marriage Protection Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Maryland voters approved the referendum on November 6, 2012; licenses were issued starting December of that year; and the act went into effect on January 1, 2013.
On loan from Aimee and Caroline Harmon-Darrow. JMM L2017.14.8a-b
When Eve Cutler of Bethesda and Victor Church of Silver Spring got engaged in the early 1970s, their respective families – Eve’s parents, German Jewish immigrants, and Victor’s parents, Scots-Irish Catholics – were not thrilled.
Eve’s rabbi at Beth El, Bethesda, told her that he could not perform the marriage, although he would gladly attend if he were invited (this was, and still would be, a controversial choice).
In the end the couple were married – with both families in attendance – on August 13, 1972 in Eve’s parents’ backyard, in a chuppah ceremony officiated by Rabbi Maurice Kleinberg.
Rabbi Kleinberg (Army chaplain at NIH, where the bride was working) performs the ceremony.
Courtesy of Eve and Victor Church. JMM CP2017.26.1
Wedding guests – including the groom’s aunt, Sister Dominic, a Catholic nun – dance the hora at the reception.
Family stories relate that it was Sister Dominic who convinced the groom’s parents that they should attend the wedding.
Courtesy of Eve and Victor Church. JMM CP2017.26.3
Some people were uncomfortable. Some people are still uncomfortable. I realize it takes time for some people to become more comfortable with these kinds of relationships.
Rabbi Peter Kessler, whose marriage to David Herman in 1998 was the first same-sex ceremony performed at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (where Kessler served as Associate Rabbi), in a 2000 interview.
Barry Kessler and David L. Hankin met in 1985. David, a life-long Marylander, knew he wanted to be married in Maryland, as it is his home. “So, when marriage was approved by the voters of Maryland – the only state to do so! – we made plans to get married. We got our license at the Anne Arundel County courthouse in downtown Annapolis” in December, 2012. They were married on January 1, 2013.
“We chose to marry on that date in part because of the symbolism of getting married on the first date it was legally possible, but primarily because our families were available. David is also the most risk-averse person on the planet, and he literally didn’t want to wait any longer lest the opportunity be revoked. It was a matter of our children’s protection, so no messing around and taking chances.”
They were married at their home in Arnold, by their friend Alistair So, an Episcopal priest. “He worked with us to craft a ceremony. Basically, I took the simple ceremony out of the Book of Common Prayer and just whittled it down, eliminating all references to any diety. In addition, I selected a Shakespeare sonnet and a passage from Walt Whitman. [Our daughter] Helen prepared to read the Sheva Brachot in Hebrew and another close family friend read the English translation. We borrowed a chuppah from Temple Beth Shalom in Arnold. . . . The stanchions that were supposed to hold it up didn’t work, though, so we wound up having four family members hold up the corners.”
David and Barry under the chuppah with their officiant, Rev. Alistair So., and family members holding up the chuppah.
Courtesy of Barry Kessler. JMM CP2017.27.1
My grandmother felt that she could not allow her sons in the house after they married Christian girls. The other children – the brothers and sisters – stayed in touch with them throughout their entire lives. But they were never really a part of the Miller entourage [ever] again, which is pretty shocking when you think of it now. But that’s the way it was. My grandmother actually sat shiva for them.
Lois Hoffberger Blum Feinblatt, speaking about her maternal grandmother Sarah Blumberg Miller and two of her uncles, who married Christian women. [OH 631] JWA
Wedding obstacles come in many forms. Read the stories of real couples below, told in their own words!
Ingeborg Bertha Cohn and Hans Emanuel Weinberger were married on board her emigration ship, in Baltimore Harbor, March 17, 1939 by Rabbi Shaw of Oheb Shalom. After the wedding, she had to continue on to Bolivia, while Hans stayed in the US; Inge finally joined her new husband in Baltimore in March 1940.
“So our ship was directed to Baltimore, you know. And my boyfriend he was in Richmond. So I sent a cable from the ship that we were going to be in Baltimore. Of course, I had no idea if he was going to come or not . . . Anyway, so we docked. And Hans climbs up the ladder. And while he was waiting for the ship to come in, he was talking to one of the immigration people and he said, ‘who are you meeting?’ and so he told them. And he said, ‘so why don’t you get married? You know, because then she can come in on a preference.’ Because the German quota was so oversubscribed, you know, it would have been a waiting time, God knows how long.”
- JMM Oral History 216 with Hans Weinberger, recorded June 9, 1986.
Elsbeth Levy Bothe married Bert Bothe in a simple backyard ceremony, Baltimore, on July 24, 1964.
“ I went up [ to the second floor ] to change and all those things. And, everybody is settled in the back, in the patio . . . So, they were all out there waiting for the bride. And, I was up there changing. And my brother. He was going to meet me in the hallway. Except the door had been locked — I couldn’t get in. and, oh, he came out to the second floor — and we couldn’t get back in. He’d locked it. So, we had to go around the block, and climb over the patio to get into it.”
Fiola Shapiro married James Blum in September, 1930 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. It was the height of the Great Depression.
“We became engaged in 1929, and we were married in 1930. Compared to today’s affairs, there were 35 at our wedding. And it was at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. We went to Canada on a honeymoon. We had planned to go to Europe. But then, that Depression came along in 1929 and prevented that. So we ended up with a very nice honeymoon in Canada, when most of our friends didn’t get beyond Norfolk.”
- JMM Oral History 627 from the “Weaving Women’s Words: Baltimore” collection with Fiola Blum, recorded August-September, 2001.