Guidebooks, Religious and Secular
Like many engaged couples, Jewish Americans face two (if not more) sets of wedding ‘musts,’ sometimes in direct opposition, both religious and secular. Since the early 19th century, Jewish American couples have been navigating these requirements to create a unique ceremony, and with plenty precedent: far from the “unbroken chain of tradition” that some guidebooks hope you will follow, many Jewish wedding customs and rituals thought to date from the Biblical era have changed and adapted to the times – just as secular American traditions have. The fact that compromise and change are possible doesn’t necessarily make it easier to choose, however. Thankfully, there are experts who are happy to guide couples through the many options.
As you celebrate your special day, you’ll realize it’s not yours alone: The customs and rituals are part of the unbroken chain of tradition that is the Jewish people. They are a legacy from all who came before, to be enjoyed and treasured, and are now entrusted to you, as you take your place in the 3,300 year old chain of Jewish history.
Rita Milos Brownstein, Jewish Weddings: A Beautiful Guide to Creating the Wedding of Your Dreams, 2003
Page from “The Jewish Wedding,” by Ruth Jacobs, 1955.
This was one of the first books to specifically address the needs of Jewish couples. Jacobs provided instructions, advice, and history, out of a desire to “preserve in the modern age the beautiful and sensible ‘goodness’ of the Jewish way of life.” With a forward by nationally-renowned Cantor Moshe Oysher, and full text in both English and Yiddish, this was aimed squarely at an observant Jewish audience.
Published by Calvert Distilleries, Maryland, under the auspices of Joseph Jacobs Organization, Inc. Courtesy of the National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia; dedicated in memory of Rosalie Wachs by Lyn and George Ross. JMM CP 2017.30.1
A Little Light Reading
The First Jewish Catalog: A Do-It-Yourself Kit, compiled and edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld, 1973.
This book was written for ( and by ) young adults of the 1970s, a far cry from the more staid and traditional guides that came before it; though it has an informal, DIY tone, the authors emphasized and explained the Biblical allusions and Talmudic law underlying the rituals and observances. Gift of Myra and Jerry Wittik. JMM TC3363
The Social Mirror: A Complete Treatise on the Laws, Rules and Usages that govern our most Refined Homes and Social Circles, L.W. Dickinson, 1888.
This late 19th century etiquette book is comprehensive – including a chapter on “customs and costumes for weddings” – but contains no hint that the reader might be anything other than a Christian. Curator’s collection. JMM L2016.000.2
The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians, by Judy Petsonk and Jim Remsen, 1988.
This comprehensive book aims to help couples find — or create — a successful path through the spiritual and practical challenges of an interfaith marriage, since, despite a recent rise in interfaith weddings, “differences have not vanished and the pull of tradition has not died.” Museum purchase. JMM 2001.44.1
Etiquette, by Emily Post, 1922 (reprint).
This is the first of what would become a long, ever-adapting series of books by etiquette maven Post. This edition’s long and thorough chapter on weddings mentions only options for ceremonies held at a church or at home; no synagogues or rented halls to be found. Curator’s collection. JMM L2016.000.3
The New Jewish Wedding, Revised and Updated, by Anita Diamant, 2001.
First published in 1985, Diamant’s book strives for inclusivity, providing suggestions rather than definitive rules. This 2001 edition adds chapters on modern concerns ranging from wedding websites to interfaith and same-sex marriage. Museum purchase. JMM K2016.4.3
The Jewish Wedding Book: A Practical Guide to the Traditions and Social Customs of the Jewish Wedding, by Lilly S. Routtenberg and Ruth R. Seldin, 1969.
Much longer and more detailed than earlier booklets, this work covers questions both practical and religious, including discussion of Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform traditions, as well as “special circumstances” such as conversion. Museum purchase. JMM K2016.4.1
The Laws and Customs of the Jewish Wedding, by Rabbi Gavriel Zinner ( translated by Rabbi Eliezer Weinbaum ), 1993.
Unlike the other Jewish-themed guides shown here, this book — written in Hebrew and English — is aimed specifically at the Orthodox community ( although it does contain a glossary, hinting that some readers may be unfamiliar with some of the terms ). Museum purchase. JMM K2016.4.2
“American Bride Vol. 5,” published by American Bride and distributed by Hutzler’s Department Store, Baltimore, 1957.
Although many of Hutzler’s customers were Jewish, this book makes no reference to Jewish ceremonies ( this particular copy was given to a Christian bride. ) On loan from Carolyn Laufer Caples. JMM L2016.13.2