My Sister’s Wedding

Baruch Hashem, on Sunday, December 3 in a sunny loft in midtown Manhattan, I was zoche to take part in something very precious – a kosher chuppah between two irreligious Jews, my sister Nora and her new husband Jeff.

As has been discussed here many times before, family simchas come with shailos. Had Nora and Jeff chosen a Reform or Conservative ceremony, I would not have attended. Baruch Hashem, my sister loves me so much, she was willing to accept a Halachic ceremony, and Baruch Hashem, Jeff loves her so much, he was willing, too. But the biggest bracha of all is not that “they gave in to us,” but that in the process, they connected with their Yiddishkeit and they liked it. Jeff’s happy “Harei at mekudeshet li b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisroel” was an awesome moment. Talk about kavanah! His Hebrew school years never served him better.

Of course, most of the credit goes to the kiruv couple who became their mesader kadushin and kallah teacher. They guided my sister and her chosson with amazing wisdom and sensitivity, knowing when to be mekarev and when to let things slide. I couldn’t have done it. I’m too emotionally involved. (The Rabbi and Rebbetzin prefer to remain anonymous on this public forum, but they are available for other couples. Email me at

One of the “slide” areas was Jeff’s aufruf, held in Jeff’s father’s non-Orthodox shul. Jeff’s father told me that all the major life cycle events – the brissin and the bar mitzvahs – took place in that shul, and he was especially grateful that Jeff’s aufruf should be there, too. It was decidedly non-Traditional; my sister participated and got an aliyah with the chosson, but I don’t see how any Rabbi could possibly deny Jeff’s father the joy of celebrating his own son’s aufruf amongst his friends. You see, Jeff’s father is a Holocaust survivor. He is quite involved in educating young Jews about his experiences and speaks at youth groups regularly because, as he says, “in a few more years, there will be none of us left.” He asked permission to show my eldest son his number, and though my husband and I consented, my son shied away. So instead, I was the one to listen to his recollections. As a teenage boy, he was conscripted into hard labor, and he watched the Nazis line people up and shoot them dead, one after another. He was crying as he described it, and it occurred to me: this is zecher l’churban, a real breaking of the glass. But while on one hand, his memories and experiences temper the simcha, they also enhance it. Baruch Hashem, the Jewish people survived, and a wedding, of all celebrations, is a promise of our future.

Admittedly, the mixed dancing made for a sticky situation. After having insisted on a kosher chuppah and kosher catering, I felt it would have been too much of an imposition to insist on separate dancing also. After all, the kosher chuppah was performed so that Nora and Jeff could be married k’das Moshe v’Yisroel, which is to their benefit. Kosher catering – well, that’s a snap in New York City. But I couldn’t see depriving Jeff’s family of mixed dancing just because I can’t do it and my husband can’t see it.

While the wedding was in the planning stages, the mixed dancing compromise was probably the shailah that I discussed most with my own Rov. My “frummer than thou” issues popped up then, too, not so much with the Rov but with my friends. One BT friend didn’t bring her kids to her sister’s wedding specifically because of the mixed dancing. “Their neshamos can’t handle it,” she said. My very Chassidishe FFB neighbor advised me to speak to a chinuch expert for the very same reason. Well, I can’t be such a purist. My kids are very close to my sister, and they were excited about her wedding. Yes, they are far more exposed to outside influences than their schoolmates, but that’s just the slippery slope we BTs have to traverse.

Baruch Hashem, the layout of the hall worked in our favor. My husband and the kids sat in a place where they did not have to view any of the dancing. As for me, Nora and Jeff kindly asked that the first hora be in separate circles of men and women, so I sort of stepped-walked my way around the women’s circle. I did pull my sister aside for a private dance, and though I tried, I did not entirely escape the view of the men. But my sister told me it was one of her favorite moments of the wedding. May Hashem forgive me for that.

As to how to negotiate such simchas within your own families, I don’t feel I can offer much advice. The credit goes to Nora and Jeff for being open-minded enough to consider a Halachic ceremony and to the special Rabbi and Rebbetzin for striking a balance which made everybody happy. But I do have one idea, and we may just be the crowd to pull it off. I’m sure that many of us have single, freieh Jewish friends and relatives. Why don’t we pool our resources and add making shidduchim to the missions of Beyond BT? I know a very sweet woman of 36 or 37 who needs a nice, intelligent guy. Email me if you know anyone.

May Hashem continue to bring Yidden together for all kinds of simchas.

45 comments on “My Sister’s Wedding

  1. Kressel,
    Mazel Tov! You handled this situation so well its inspiring! Since I only had the ‘option’ of attending an intermmarriage and declined (with da’as torah) I still have the luxury of a ‘sister-in-law’ who won’t speak to me. I may write it up one day as how to do a kibud av v’em in such circumstances. I tried. But you succeeded! The key is finding a kiruv rav and rebbetzin, and no, you can’t do such things yourself, I know a very special select few that were able to do kiruv on their families, but for most of us the family dynamic just doesn’t lend itself to that. The fact that you honored your sister’s father-in-law by listening to his stories is also a mitzvah. Keep growing!

  2. I’mJewish
    Every time an Orthodox Jew believes that a reform ‘rabbi’ has invalid smicha, Jews are offended. Every time that they insist that children of a non-Jewish mother are only Jewish if they convert, Jews are offended. Basically, any time you insist that Torah is true you’ll offend someone. Again, lines have to be drawn, because you sometimes you simply can’t please people while sticking to your principles. Where the lines are drawn depends on the individual, and it’s not up to others to insult their decisions.

    Also, “maybe you just don’t want to hear it”?? Do you have any idea where you’re posting? Why do your responses read as if you’re writing them with the assumption that the rest of us have never spent a day outside of Borough Park? Everyone here knows what it’s like to not be religious, you don’t have to be the unofficial defender of the non-orthodox.

    I’m glad that your rabbi rules that you can attend non-halachic simchas. If it works for you, it works for you. But why do you feel the need to convince everyone to follow your particular path in this issue?

  3. >>I get enough grief from friends and family for sticking to my principles, I don’t need to hear the same on a site that’s supposed to be supportive of BTs.>>

    As a BT, I haven’t compromised my principles at all by sharing family simchas. I may not eat the food, but the love that I spread through showing that I care enough to be there is far more important.

  4. “Saying that “this Orthodox approach kicks out 80% of Jews and creates animosity” is, IMO, inappropriate for a site like BeyondBT.”

    It doesn’t make it less true. Every time a Orthodox Jew refuses to attend a family member’s C/R/R bar mitzvah, wedding, etc., more animosity is created and more Jews are driven away from ever wanting to be Orthodox. Maybe you just don’t want to hear it.

  5. Mel–
    If you are against avoiding Reform and Conservative events, then why not say the same for a mixed marriage? Would a woman who married a non-Jew not consider it the “happiest day of her life”? Would the millions of Jews who marry non-Jews not feel “kicked out” if their family avoided their wedding? Would they not feel that said family is creating animosity? They would be hurt and feel rejected, and would almost certainly go ahead with the marriage anyway, yet we (and I say “we” because you wrote that you would also not attend a mixed wedding) would not attend because it is against halacha, because our attendance could be seen as acceptance, because we don’t want to teach our children that this kind of “marriage” is equally valid, etc. And all that could be said about other non-halachic marriages as well (of course to a lesser degree).

    Basically, lines have to be drawn somewhere. If you’re willing to forgo a mixed marriage as being against halacha, can you not at least understand why others would avoid a Conservative ceremony because it is not done according to halacha? If the feelings of those involved were the only thing that mattered then it would be permissable to attend mixed marriages, but other things must be taken into consideration as well. We can’t always do whatever it takes to make our family happy. Certain lines just can’t be crossed. Maybe your rabbi says that conservative weddings are on the OK side of those lines, but many rabbis don’t, and it’s important to respect that.

    Saying that “this Orthodox approach kicks out 80% of Jews and creates animosity” is, IMO, inappropriate for a site like BeyondBT. I get enough grief from friends and family for sticking to my principles, I don’t need to hear the same on a site that’s supposed to be supportive of BTs. I’m not trying to discourage friendly debate, but I am frustrated by somewhat frequent responses putting down others’ decisions as unnecessarily strict. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my choices, but I do expect that people here will keep in mind that we are all intelligent individuals doing our best to follow Torah. If I don’t follow a certain more lenient ruling, it’s not because I haven’t heard of it or it never occurred to me, it’s because it’s not right for me and/or my rabbi rules differently.

  6. I went to an Orthodox wedding that took place in a Conservative Synagogue once… the Kallah’s father insisted on the venue, and the Chosson consulted his Rav and was told that they could get married there but “not daven there” so the Mincha minyan was held out-of-doors. Very interesting situation. (And I can see not actually attending the ceremony of a Bar Mitzvah in a Conservative Synagogue, because that is more or less “davening there.”)

    I’ve also attended the Conservative wedding of a cousin… she was the first of her siblings to marry Jewish, so I made a point of being there, and the other frum relatives were there as well. They even had a Kosher caterer… and then the mashgiach left the food at the door and the synagogue staff heated everything up in their ovens, so us frum relatives wound up only eating the cupcakes which had been neither heated up nor cut with their knives. But such is life.

    My big problem was I was very newly BT and was sitting with my parents (who are traditional but not quite Orthodox) and some other relatives who were eating, and I was given a full plate of food… I couldn’t very well tell them it wasn’t Kosher, since they were eating it, and it was “only” an issue of a lack of supervision once it was in the building. Good enough for them but not for me. But we all survived.

  7. Anyways, I hope you aren’t upset about what I wrote. It’s one of the issues I have. So a lot of what I wrote was just me projecting. I had a relative who married non-Jewish and I was very upset. I would never have gone to her wedding. So in a way, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to go to your sister’s wedding if she married Jewish. They could always come to orthodoxy later and get remarried.

  8. I personally want an orthodox wedding for my sister but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to be there on the happiest day of her life if she decided to go conservative. But I could understand you not wanting to go to a reform wedding because they marry gay men…but for a conservative wedding…. it seems a little harsh.

  9. Mazel tov to your sister! But how can you say if it had been reform or conservative, you wouldn’t have attended. It’s your sister’s wedding! Don’t you think that’s a bit extreme. I mean, Thank G-d she is marrying a Jew.
    I remember being told of a Bar Mitzva where there were orthodox people standing outside who would not enter the conservative Shul to see the barmitzva of their relative! I think that type of behavior creates hate and is not loving your fellow Jew like yourself. If you loved your fellow Jew as yourself, you would realize that not every Jew thinks like you do, and you would respect them enough to let them find their own path. Such behavior, turns people off orthodoxy and creates divisions. People say that the time of the Messiah is now. Well I just don’t feel it. You know why? Because this Orthodox approach, kicks out 80% of Jews and creates animosity. The way to draw people closer to Torah is by leading from example. Not by enforcing your view that everyone should be orthodox on your sister. But that being said, that is beautiful that your sister loved you enough to go Orthodox for her wedding.

  10. “Even someone R/R who does not care about the spiritual implications should consider the practical implications. Following a universally acceptable standard opens the door to Jewish unity.”

    Someone who is R/R is very unlikely to want to fall all over themselves to make sure that what they do is acceptable to the O community, given that they already know that O’s don’t consider their rabbis rabbis, don’t consider their conversions valid, and probably don’t even consider some of them Jews. So their response is still going to be “who cares.” It’s only really problematic if their children become BT’s.

  11. Ilanit:

    First of all, it is perfectly acceptable to marry if the kallah is a niddah, in fact it is quite common and often happens the night before the wedding! In these cases of course there is no tevilah beforehand, but the wedding is valid. Certain norms are altered in these cases due to halacha, such as yichud, which they cannot experience until after tevilah, but since these changes are done so discreetly most observers would not know anything different is going on.

    As for your example of the Russians, I would hazard a guess that research into the original marriages was done by the rabbi in order to spare the innocent child mamzerus status. In such cases heterim are sought, such as determining whether the original marraiges were halachic, ie were there kosher aidim, etc. If there were no halachic marriages, no gitten would be needed, and no mamzerus would result to the children of the second marriage. I believe it is this issue that Dennis was getting at in post #9.

    It’s really not a matter of alienating people, we are talking about preventing these situations from happening in the first place. I personally would be quite hesitant to encourage a kosher chuppah unless I believed strongly that they would agree to a get should they later divorce. It seems that Kressel and her sister have the kind of relationship that is close and respectful enough that Kressel is not worried about this scenario.

  12. The get discussion is a little tangential to this topic, but I am going to throw in my two cents. We need to be cognizant of the fact that sometimes, a kosher get is not possible (such as in Communist Russia). Without revealing too many details, I am going to say that I know of a man and a woman who lived in communist Russia, neither of whom had kosher gets (and most likely may not have had a halachic huppah to begin with) who later married and had a child. That child is now married (had a halachic huppah) and is considered part of the O community. Granted, that child has never revealed this, but nevertheless. The child has never found that to be an obstacle for growth. Furthermore, that child did not go to the mikvah before the wedding because of a niddah status, but after discussion with two rabbinic experts the NIGHT BEFORE THE WEDDING, the wedding still took place.

    Definitely kosher gets are necessary, I am just saying lets not alienate people who may not have been able to obtain those.

  13. Here’s how – when a non-observant woman divorces by her own standards – without a Get – children from a second marriage are isolated from marrying within the O, C, and Israeli communities, if they would choose to do so in the future. By following a standard that is acceptable to all communities – with a halachick Get – her children will be able to marry with those communities. Even someone R/R who does not care about the spiritual implications should consider the practical implications. Following a universally acceptable standard opens the door to Jewish unity.

    I will take the opportunity to mention a very worthwhile organization – Kayama ( – that promotes awareness of the importance of getting a Get among the non-obervant community, and expedites the process for them, all in the name of preserving Jewish unity. This blog is probably a great forum for spreading the word among non-obervant relatives, friends and acquaintances of this excellent resource.

  14. I don’t see how Jewish unity is furthered by making less-observant relatives conform to your standards. It would seem to foster dis-unity to me.

  15. I’m Jewish,

    “But not if they don’t operate in an O community! It won’t make any difference at all!”

    I believe a Get is a requirement for marriage of the C rabbinate, as well as official policy of the state of Israel. Even if one does not operate within those communities today, one never knows where they or their children will end up at some time in the future. It’s all about keeping one’s future options open, preventing potential and avoidable grief, and plain old Jewish unity.

  16. I’m Jewish

    Although Ora phrased her comment in terms of caring, it might be better to look at it from a perspective of “Does it matter?”.

    Does it matter if someone does something which will cause them spiritual damage? If there exists a reality such as spiritual damage, then your actions matter, whether you care or not.

  17. Re: #25: “A non-orthodox Jew who remarries without a kosher get will find that it makes a huge difference TO THEM when their children from that second marriage are considered mamzerim.”
    But not if they don’t operate in an O community! It won’t make any difference at all!
    “Also, it is an extremely unpleasant feeling to know that you are considered to be nonjewish/mamzer by other Jews even if you/your community hold differently.”
    I think you’re far overstating how much C/R/R care. Speaking for R/R in particular, the fact that O Jews might not consider some of them Jewish (either because some are patrilineal Jews or because their conversions were R/R conversions) is met with just a shrug and a “oh well, that’s their problem.” I think it matters to the O community much more than it matters to the R/R community.

  18. Re: #14 – one more point. In order to have a kosher/halachic wedding the kallah also needs to go to the mikveh beforehand.

  19. RE: #16,
    on top of what Bob Miller said, a non-orthodox Jew who remarries without a kosher get will find that it makes a huge difference TO THEM when their children from that second marriage are considered mamzerim. For one thing, their children will never be able to marry into the religious or even traditional/rightwing conservative Jewish communities. Also, it is an extremely unpleasant feeling to know that you are considered to be nonjewish/mamzer by other Jews even if you/your community hold differently. It will not be easy for the child of such a marriage, even when living in a community that does not follow halacha. When the parent could have easily prevented the whole situation by undergoing a brief ceremony at no cost to themselves, that could create a lot of resentment from the children who now have to live with the consequences.

  20. I’m Jewish,

    I think the question comes down to why the person is doing it. It’s not just a choice of this tradition or that. It’s a firm belief in a G-d, who gave us a Torah, whose observance or lack thereof have eternal ramifications.

    The sisterly love comes in Kressel’s deep concern about her sister and the choices she makes, coupled with a sensitivity of knowing that her sister does not have the same perspective as she does.

    And I don’t think C or R feel that it is a mitzvah to touch other men, eat bacon or participate in mixed dancing. They may not feel that it is prohibited, but I don’t think they’ve gone so far to say that it’s an obligation or custom of Jewish Law.

  21. I’m really glad everything worked out well, but how is pressuring a sibling to do something according to your own particular tradition the definition of sisterly love? Somehow it wouldn’t be seen as sisterly love if Kressel’s sister had insisted that Kressel dance in mixed company, or shake hands with / touch other men, or eat bacon for that matter. So how it is sisterly love when the pressure goes the other way?

  22. Aron the Pieman! Great to see you!

    And thanks to everyone for keeping the discussion so interesting.

    No, Shayna, the browser at home remains disconnected. I get online in snatches whenever I can.

  23. Kressel: Thanks for sharing this story. I like your idea about shidduchim. (I have been thinking for a long time about shidduchim for a different “sub-group”, of families with off-the-derech issues.) Certainly a shidduch service specifically for BT’s looking for other BT’s makes sense.

  24. well kresel, you scored numero uno when ir comes to unity and diversity in jewishkeit….well my friends in the greens always, stressed unity in diversity!!!
    but yiu have pointed out a way it can be maintained in the spirit of love and unity!!
    well that spirit kept us going thru the 2,000 years of exile….the fact that a traditional spirit prevailed throughout nora and jeff’s wedding shows that the religious and non-religious dont need to exist in bantustans of separation

  25. Regarding the comment byI’mJewish
    December 18th, 2006 18:14 16 :

    It’s problematic when Jews do the wrong thing, whether or not they (and their friends and family) realize or care about the wrongness at all.

  26. I have seen many non-frum couples get a proper Jewish divorce/get once they are educated about it and the ramifications. My parents were divorced for almost twenty years when my father returned to New York and was asked to give a Get and obliged. Thankfully there were no other children involved.

    This wedding scenario is really one of trying to find the compromise for the sake of Shalom Bayis. A marriage between two Jews is always a cause for celebration.

  27. “It is quite possible, if not most probable, that these people will not acquiesce to a frum relative’s wishes when it comes to an Orthodox divorce. If that is the case, the couples ironclad halakhic marriage means that the woman’s subsequent children will be mamzeirim.”

    If you are talking about R or C Jews who are agreeing to a halachic wedding to preserve shalom bayis with an O family member (such as a sibling), they’re still going to operate in the R or the C world. So if they do get divorced, what difference will it make TO THEM if they don’t get a proper get? It’s irrelevant if they’re marrying another R or C the second time around. It’s only problematic if they wind up marrying a O the second time around.

  28. i’m glad things worked out so you could attend your sister’s wedding. my brother married a non-jew when i was about 12 and not yet frum. but i’m sure if it were even today i would attend their wedding. shalom bayis, respect for my parents, and the happiness I knew my brother felt would make the sacrifice worthwhile. becoming frum was something I took upon myself, and b”H they are 100% respectful, but its not something i expect my family to adhere to as well.

  29. Leah Borden-While a more precise answer lies in the bands of a competent rav, Chupah and Kiddushin with kosher edim as well as a kosher ksubah are the key elements. OTOH, the reading of the ksubah is a ceremony with no halachic importance or significance.

  30. The halachic wedding for the non-observant versus the conservative or reform brings up so many issues. I know of a couple who was pushed towards an Orthodox wedding but found out after the Rabbi got involved that the Kallah had an issue because her grandmother was converted by a Non-orthodox Rabbi. You can imagine the issues that followed (no interest in being observant, therefore no conversion could take place, how dare they say I’m not Jewish! bad feelings towards the observant etc.) It is just so complicated in this day and age; that is why expert Rabbis must always be consulted first.

  31. Gil Student (comment #8) is right. Even if a relative’s unusual wedding situation appears to correspond closely to something we read about in a book or online, it still has special details that make us need to consult with a rabbi about our allowable degree of participation, if any.

    Even so, posts like this give us added background information so we can ask better questions to rabbis as decisions arise for us.

  32. I once read that the Rabbinate of the Bukharian community in Queens will not perform a marriage if the couple have not learned Taharas H’Mishpacha, and agreed to abide by this mitzvah. That’s pretty amazing.

    Another comment about attending non-Orthodox weddings. My husband (before I knew him) was at a Conservative wedding once, and he realized that one of the adim was a cousin of either the kallah or chossen, and he actually spoke up and insisted they get kosher adim. I believe the scenerio was where the couple were very new BT’s and were under pressure by one of the parents to use their family’s Rabbi.

  33. This post raises an interesting question. Should ALL Jewish couples be encouraged to marry k’halakhah, regardless of their levels of observance? If that is the case, serious issues are raised regarding proper gittin/divorce law. It is quite possible, if not most probable, that these people will not acquiesce to a frum relative’s wishes when it comes to an Orthodox divorce. If that is the case, the couples ironclad halakhic marriage means that the woman’s subsequent children will be mamzeirim.
    For this reason, many prominent rabbonim in the Israeli rabbinate will use invalid witnesses when performing the marriage of two irreligious individuals.
    The point is, are you creating more problems than you are solving?

    Any thoughts?

  34. For the benefit of readers, I strongly recommend discussing your personal situations with a competent rabbi and not making judgments about what is and is not allowed based on what you read. Everyone’s situation is different.

  35. Mazel Tov! What a wonderful story that really brings joy to me. I hear a lot about the need for unity in the Orthodox community, but there is also a need for a type of unity with non-Orthodox Jews. While halacha cannot be compromised, there are many ways to deal with interacting with those who are frei. Many have very misguided ideas about the Orthodox and shunning and no interaction fuels those misconceptions.

    The ideas and possibilities you presented were wonderful. Have a wonderful Chanukkah!

  36. Aaron–The decision of whether or not to attend non-orthodox events is a big one, and it’s best to ask a rabbi about the complex issues involved. My rabbi has for the most part ruled against participation in such affairs, if yours rules differently then that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell someone they’d be making “a big mistake” by following a perfectly valid halachic ruling.

  37. Mazel Tov, Kressel! Sounds like you handled the entire situation with the utmost dignity. Something that every BT should learn from. May your family continue to share many simchas together.

  38. “Had Nora and Jeff chosen a Reform or Conservative ceremony, I would not have attended.”

    While this would have been your choice to make, I think it would have been a big mistake. I would never have a problem attending a non-orthodox wedding, as long as it wasn’t an intermarriage. You should be happy enough that two Jews are getting married. I just went to one of my best friends non-orthodox wedding. It was kosher but had mixed dancing. I just hung out with a few of the other frum people at the wedding and we had a great time.

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