According to Jewish tradition and Israeli law, only rabbis or those authorized by the rabbinate may perform weddings. The marriage division of the local rabbinate provides rabbis for ceremonies. Alternatively, a number of rabbinical non-profit organizations offer rabbinical services free of charge or for a token fee.
After choosing a rabbi, you must notify the marriage bureau at which you are registered. The rabbi should provide a letter for the marriage bureau confirming his willingness to perform the ceremony. If he is not registered at the local rabbinate, he may be required to provide a letter testifying to his authority to perform weddings.
Meeting with the Rabbi
In order for the rabbi to serve you most effectively, he needs to know what your expectations are for the ceremony. Consider setting up a meeting with him before the wedding to get to know him. During this time you can ask questions about the ceremony and share your expectations about all matters pertaining to the ceremony.
You should confirm that the rabbi knows the precise time you plan to begin. If you arrange for transportation for the rabbi, you can rest assured that he will arrive on time.
Some rabbis offer blessings during the ceremony while others simply recite the prayers in a standard manner. Some rabbis perform the ceremony in a light-hearted jovial atmosphere while others prefer a more serious tone. Make sure to communicate to the rabbi what type of ceremony is to your liking.
You may also want to express an opinion regarding the reading of the ketubah. This document is written in Aramaic, and contains explicit reference to monetary sums. You may wish to have it summarized in Hebrew or read only in part.
Confirm with the rabbi who is responsible for the supplies and personnel necessary for the ceremony. Generally the hall provides wine glasses and wine. Kippot (skull caps) and a tallit are usually brought by the couple. In addition, if the bride's gown is low cut or sleeveless, ask the rabbi if he expects her to wear any covering during the ceremony. Make sure to advise the rabbi of your full names and any other pertinent details of the family.
The ceremony requires the presence of witnesses who are observant. Confer with the rabbi regarding the witnesses. If you plan to assign any functions to family members or friends in the course of the ceremony, let the rabbi know in advance. He has to know which texts will be read by him and which will be read by others.
If you wish to add a personal touch to the ceremony, report this to the rabbi in advance. If you want to play specific music, to invite a friend under the chuppah to say a few words or to make your own personal remarks, the rabbi should know about it. If you want to add elements of mutuality, this should also be discussed with the rabbi.
The meeting with the rabbi also provides an opportunity to settle financial matters in advance of the wedding. Though awkward, it is desirable to reach an agreement before the ceremony regarding this matter.
If you have questions regarding the wedding, see to it that you have the rabbi's phone number(s) so that he will be able to answer your questions and put you at ease.
Guidance by the rabbi and the rabbanit
At the marriage bureau, the rabbanit will invite the bride to a guidance class relating to family purity in Jewish tradition. This is beyond the brief conversation held at the time of registration when you set the wedding date. This session deals with the broad spectrum of the laws of family purity and Jewish marital life; it is generally held about a week before the wedding. The rabbanit may find it proper to have an additional meeting, either private or with a group. At the end of the guidance session, she will give you a certificate crediting you with the guidance, to be attached to the marriage file. The groom can receive guidance from the rabbi at the marriage bureau, the rabbi performing the ceremony or any other person. This guidance is not compulsory and no certificate need be brought for the marriage file.
Your choice of a traditional wedding is a demonstration of the significance you attach to the event. Preparation for it is bound to add a dimension of depth and meaning to this new stage in your life. Even if you think that marital guidance has no practical ramifications for you and you are troubled by the intrusion into your intimate life, the guidance session may be informative as the laws and customs described are part of a life style that was a given in previous generations.
As an alternative to attending the guidance sessions at the rabbinate, you may opt for a private session with a friend or acquaintance authorized to teach brides these traditions. You should receive a letter at the conclusion of your study to be included in your marriage file.
The following is a list of organizations that provide guidance in family purity:
Binyan Shalem 02-642-3850; Fax 02-641-2117: provides personal instruction to brides and grooms (separately) by qualified specialist instructors, generally in their homes. The instruction lasts 8 meetings at a cost of 480 NIS. The instructors maintain contact with the couple even after the wedding and invite them for enrichment evenings.
Achvat (02) 651-9323: provides instruction at no charge to couples, lasting 3 to 16 meetings at the instructor's home.
Nishmat, The Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women maintains an open international halachic hotline for inquiries regarding family purity. The line is operated in Hebrew and English by women experts in the field and provides immediate response. The service is geared to women who have questions of application that arise during married life. Tel. 02-642-0102. Hours: Sun. – Thurs. 18–24; Fri. and eve of holidays: 8–12; evening after Sabbath and holidays: half hour after Sabbath or holiday –24.