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Under the Chuppah

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

“The voice of joy and the voice of gladness. The voices of feasting and singing”
(From the wedding liturgy)

The midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 48:9) teaches that the tent of Abraham and Sarah was open on all sides so that the patriarch and matriarch could rush out to greet people and welcome them in. This is a symbol for hospitality, welcome, and inclusiveness in Judaism.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Reform Movement, has taught that when we open our tent, when we make an effort to welcome people into Jewish life, we provide “an ongoing invitation to be part of community—and a way to spiritually transform ourselves in the process.” In other words, it is nice to be welcoming – it is an expression of our values. And at the same time, it is good for the Jewish people, in that we bring people in, instead of pushing them away.

That welcome, that inclusiveness, is the symbolism of the open tent. And interestingly enough, there is a second open tent in Jewish life: the chuppah.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/66/71/65/667165ce3924adfa1924088430346b6c.jpgThe Jewish marriage canopy is a representation of the home that a couple is creating together. It is also reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah’s tent. This is true physically, in that it has no walls. It is also true symbolically, in that the couple invites their community inside the chuppah (metaphorically speaking, since most chuppot aren't that big) to celebrate, to be part of the life that they are building together.

When a couple chooses to stand under a chuppah, it is a powerful symbol for building a life based on Jewish values and traditions. And it presents to the community an opportunity to respond by opening its tent, by being welcoming and inclusive.

On Yom Kippur morning, I stood before you and announced a significant shift in my practice: that I would begin officiating at Jewish weddings that involve a non-Jewish partner. At that time, there was an outpouring from members of the congregation – of support, questions, concerns, and excitement. It has been clear that our community is deeply engaged in this issue, that it matters to us on a number of levels: personally and philosophically, as a family matter and as a matter of Jewish identity.

Since that time, I have performed two such weddings. In the time leading up to these weddings I worked closely with the couples to engage in Jewish learning and to have important conversations about religious life. We examined the beliefs and practices of the Jewish people, and the ways that they apply in modern life - questions that we as Jews are always meant to be exploring. It has been, for me, an extraordinary experience to delve deeply into questions of meaning, tradition, and commitment with thoughtful people who are seeking to build lives together. This is the true privilege of being a rabbi – to be invited into people’s lives at significant and important moments. I believe that by engaging in these conversations and welcoming these families, we are furthering the mission of our congregation: “We strive to help people of all ages and backgrounds find joy, meaning and support through Judaism.”

In other words, to use the language of the midrash, we are opening our tent.

As always, I welcome your questions and feedback. Please know that my door is always open.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Micah Streiffer

Fri, March 22 2019 15 Adar II 5779