I, Rabbi (Part One)

I’m no rabbi. Except, in too many cases, compared to everyone else on the guest list.

So in addition to “fielding questions,” as we all do, I’ve “done” or “presided over” or “conducted” too many unveilings, burials — pedestrian stuff, of course, but you have to be willing to stick your neck out and be, well, rabbinic, when friends and family call and are counting on you for this stuff, or where it’s the only way to avoid having things done horribly wrong by a “rental.”

But a wedding?

A co-worker, a good friend, was engaged. Jewish guy to a Jewish girl. Both in their mid-30’s. A big simcha in this day and age! One a lawyer, one a doctor. Very nice, sincere people. And I suppose it’s no surprise that in what has been described as a “post-denominational era” in Jewish life that, as far as Danny (not his real name) was concerned, the only “rabbi” he could have “perform” the wedding was his boss. Me.

I tried to squirm out of it, but halfheartedly; I knew this was going to happen. You don’t have to be a rabbi to be mesader kidushin — get two kosher Jews eligible to wed married. You need two kosher witnesses and a some wine and a ring and … a few things. I realized that this could be an opportunity to influence the couple and perhaps elicit some halachic observances that might otherwise be lacking.

But I also knew I needed guidance. So I called my Local Orthodox Rabbi. Well, one of them.

I was surprised at his reaction. “Don’t do it,” he said, emphatically. “Today’s non-frum Jews are completely hefker [libertine]. You’ll make this girl an eishes ish [halachically married woman] and then who knows what? It’s no mitzvah.”

I explained that I thought this case was different — the couple’s age, professional status, my personal relationship.

He was unmoved. “You don’t need it,” he insisted. “Run in the other direction.”

Well, I explained, I felt some responsibility to help them out, however. I was his only orthodox Jewish friend — really, his only “Jewish Jewish” friend — and he’d turned to me for help here, and moreover for something personal, meaningful, and beautiful. What should I tell him?

“Use your imagination,” he said.

I thanked him.

Then I closed my eyes and imagined I’d never had that conversation.

To be continued.

Ron Coleman’s “outside world” blog about intellectual property law is LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION®.

20 comments on “I, Rabbi (Part One)

  1. Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Coleman. I appreciate your perspective and find your writing quite insightful (great Mishpacha articles!).

    I wholeheartedly agree that you are more qualified than the rabbi to make that call. It’s unfortunate that too many orthodox community rabbaim have so little insight into the lives of the non-religious. If they did, perhaps more of the non-observant public would see the benefit of a Torah lifestyle. In general, I think BTs are better able to influence the non-observant population because we can better relate without making them into a “kiruv project”.

    I’m catching up on the many quality Torah e-mails I have in my inbox and look forward to reading parts 2 & 3.

  2. You raise good issues, AABT. These were not the issues, however. His take on it was that marriage commitments are a joke to irreligious Jews, and that therefore I would only be making an eishes ish out of a woman who was inevitably going to be unfaithful to her husband sooner or later.

    I don’t think that’s true, or at all fair to non-religious Jews or others. I can’t predict the future, but I think I am entitled to say that this is a serious couple, mature, stable, etc., and make that call as well as, or better than, a rabbi who actually has very little serious insight into the lives of the non-religious.

    And I did. Take note that in subsequent installments (this is Part 2 and this is Part 3) I think I deal with all the issues that have been brought up in the comments here.

  3. I just saw this post & I have a slightly different take.

    My niece got married this summer to her longtime live in boyfriend. We were very happy for them since my niece is the only (secular) grandchild (thus far) to marry a Jew.

    One of our frum relatives was asked to participate in the ceremony (read the ketubah). We asked our LOR about attending & possibly participating in the ceremony because when that relative declined, we wanted to be prepared with a response if my husband was asked next.

    This is what we were told:
    As long as there is kosher food, even if not by our standards, we can attend family (Jew to Jew)weddings. The food was kosher but w/o mashgiach so they brought in other food for us.
    We can attend family weddings even if there is mixed dancing.
    This is where it gets sticky.
    There is different wording on a ketubah when the woman has already “been with a man”. The standard printed ketubahs do not have this wording.
    My niece did not go to the mikvah before the wedding & has no plans in the future to do so.
    Since there were several Shomer Shabbat men in attendance, they were, in theory, kosher eidim. Therefore we were told that while the couple was under the chuppah during the ceremony we (both men & women) should have in mind that this is not a kosher ceremony and the couple is not being halachically married.

    I don’t know Mr. Coleman’s entire situation, but I suspect that some of the above issues elicited the “run in the other direction” response from his LOR. Perhaps the response could have been worded nicer but I don’t believe it was cruel. These “quasi” kosher marriages are very complicated and their status not crystal clear. There are many issues involved, especially in today’s “anything goes” culture.

    That being said, one can only hope that someday this couple and others like them, will come to a Torah lifestyle and be married al pi halacha.

  4. There is no reason to use the word rabbi in a derogatory fashion.

    Even in this case, the rabbi’s seemly inappropriate response could have been wise advice.

  5. Here you see the difference between a Torah figure and a “Rabbi”. How many instances over history a true Torah figure moved into an area devoid of Torah and transformed the very same noncommitted Jews that this “Rabbi” refuses to have any contact with.

  6. “Respectfully, the rabbi is a condescending jerk. What a repulsive attitude towards non-observant Jews.”

    Another possibility is that the rabbi loves all Jews and has past experience has taught him that they likely will not seek a kosher get when/if they divorce. At that point, any future children that this woman has will be mamzerim. Sadly this is not an uncommon occurrence at all and if not for R’ Moshe’s psak that non-orthodox kiddushin are invalid, the non-orthodox world would be full of mamzerim and one would not be able to marry a BT except in certain circumstances.

  7. As a lawyer like me, you are perfectly aware that our code of legal ethics forbids us to hold ourselves out as an expert in an area of the law with which we are actually unfamiliar. If you act as a rabbi and preside over the wedding of this couple, you will be holding yourself out as an expert in Jewish law when actually you are not. Suppose a complicated halachic question arises on the day of the wedding, what will you do? Also, Michael Balinsky raises a valid point about your legal capacity under secular law to officiate at a valid wedding. I remember reading that Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, was all set to officiate at the wedding of one of his daughters upstate. Then he was reminded that the mayor of NYC can only officiate over weddings held in NYC, just as a captain of a ship can only officiate over weddings held on the boat once it is out to sea. So his daughter and her fiance secretly sneaked into the city and were married by the mayor the night before their big ceremony in upstate New York.

  8. Granted i am a rabbi, but are you sure you were able to legally marry the couple? I assume there was a marriage license.

    And as a rabbi, many of us have training, know how to talk to a couple and do what is neccesary to prepare them. We also have a measure of expertise in dealing with situations that arise. A wedding is much more than a couple of brachot and a ring. As the old jewish joke “By me you are a captain, by you, you are a captain, but by a captain you are no captain”

  9. Ron Coleman wrote in part:

    “You don’t have to be a rabbi to be mesader kidushin — get two kosher Jews eligible to wed married. You need wto kosher witnesses and a some wine and a ring and … a few things. I realized that this could be an opportunity to influence the couple and perhaps elicit some halachic observances that might otherwise be lacking”

    That may very well be the case, but the Talmud in Gittin and especially Rashi point out that someone who lacks the requisite expertise in Gittin and Kiddushin should not get involved in the same.

  10. Just curious-is the argument herein that a marriage presided over between a Jewish man and woman in halachic compliance who are not observant viewed as somehow “worse” than an intermarriage or a same gender ceremony? How does the rav who was quoted know that such a couple are completely unable to become inspired to become BTs or at least be members of an Orthodox community and send their children to a day school? IIRC, there are many ShuT from many Poskim who do not consider officiating at a ceremony between an unobservant man and woman either as a violation of Lifnei Ever on a Torah level or Msayeh Ovrei Averah on a Rabbinic level.

  11. Good to hear.

    Sorry for forcing you to reveal part of the conclusion, but when you wrote this line:

    “Then I closed my eyes and imagined I’d never had that conversation.”

    one might think that you went ahead with it. I didn’t want anybody to be misled about the halachic implications of such an action.

  12. Sefer Chasidim, end of Chapter 393:
    Quotes the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Challah, chapter 1, end of law 5, page 9A that:

    “Any good deed which brings a sin along with it is better left undone.

    “For example, it is a mitzvah to make a bride and groom rejoice.

    “But if you know that vulgar people will be there and do vulgar things, or you will not be able to avoid gazing at women, do not attend that wedding.”

  13. No, I did not. I spoke to not one but two other rabbis before going forward with this, one of whom was right by my side the whole time. I will explain in a future installment.

  14. There are halachic issues involving marrying non-observant Jews. Halachic Jewish marriage has serious consequences, specifically in the case of divorce. Many Orthodox Rabbi’s will not perform such a marriage and I sure hope that Ron didn’t, but I’m afraid that he did.

  15. Respectfully, the rabbi is a condescending jerk. What a repulsive attitude towards non-observant Jews.

  16. If anyone’s unqualified to judge the correct path in this situation it’s us! There are many other qualified rabbonim to consult with if the first answer seemed shaky.

  17. Why not offer to give a meaningful sermon during the ceremony? Tell him you are more comfortable speaking than doing the “ritual” part.

  18. bs”d.. I have been a long time reader of beyondbt.com and have seen many contributions by Mr. Coleman. If this new chasan values your “expertise,” perhaps he will value your wisdom in suggesting that he seek an Orthodox Rabbi to “preside” over his marriage … since you asked daas Torah, I hope that you see that it precisely your adherence to daas Torah which draws this chasan to you …. I presume that you would follow daas Torah on any other shilah you would ask, why stop now? … is this any different? No need to close your eyes or wish you hadn’t had the conversation.. tell the new chasan the reason he admires you is because you are a true eved Hashem and then steer him in the right direction. I pray I have not been disrespectful..If it is in fact your yashrush and emes that has drawn this person to you in the first place, you will do just fine staying the course. Wishing you hatzlacha rabah.. ..

  19. My boss once wanted to send me somewhere to discuss a technical issue because I was an expert. When I protested that I wasn’t an expert on this, he said (approximately), “Do you know more about this than they do?” I had to agree with that. He replied, “So you’re an expert!”.

  20. “You don’t have to be a rabbi to be mesader kidushin — get two kosher Jews eligible to wed married. You need two kosher witnesses and a some wine and a ring and … a few things.”

    I think that this isn’t correct as written. I think you meant kidushin doesn’t require a rabbi, the couple just needs eidim and kesef kidushin (in contrast, for example, to some other religions that might require a priest to perform a wedding ceremony). But the institution of Mesader Kidushin I think requires someone with special training that the average person doesn’t have — “kol she’aino yodei’a b’tiv gittin v’kedushin, lo yehei lo esek imahem.” Otherwise they aren’t a mesader kidushin, they are someone who is explaining to someone else the bare bones of how to get married according to the Torah.

    But I am definitely interested in the rest of your story –I like the suspense you created with the multi-part presentation.

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