I come across compelling articles frequently that I wish I had written myself. This is one such article that I recommend to those who are contemplating marriages or who have children, grandchildren and friends who are doing so:
“Why a Real Clergy Person Should Perform Your Wedding” – By Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
My colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, reflects about a growing trend in the United States generally and among Jews in particular in which large numbers of non-clergy are acquiring instant mail-order “ordination” in order to be able to legally perform wedding ceremonies for their family and friends.
Wedding ceremonies conducted by these individuals, Rabbi Salkin rightly observes, are very different in kind and in intent from ceremonies in which authentically ordained clergy officiate.
He notes that whereas authentically ordained religious leaders have spent, in most cases, their lives building and nurturing religious community, counseling individuals, couples and families, adults and children through life-cycle events from birth to death, and studying their respective religious traditions, histories, rituals, customs, symbols, liturgies, ethics, and values, weddings conducted by those who receive instant mail-order “ordination,” though usually motivated by the desire that the officiant have an intimate personal relationship with the wedding couple, likely will reflect almost none, if anything at all, of what traditional religion and authentic clergy provide.
Ordained rabbis and cantors bring substantial knowledge, wisdom, insight, and authentic religious and spiritual experiences to the chuppah and can help couples about to marry establish the appropriate groundwork for their lives enriched by religious tradition, understanding and community.
Many authentically ordained rabbis and cantors also are trained in pre-marital counseling and can help couples navigate through potential problems before those problems become irreconcilable conflicts and the marriage fails.
Yes, there are undoubtedly wise and experienced people who may be qualified in some respects to officiate at non-religious wedding ceremonies, such as some judges and some older members of families and friends, but such ceremonies will necessarily be qualitatively different from that which authentically ordained clergy conduct.
This trend is a disturbing reflection of the increasing fragmentation of our community, a diminution of Jewish peoplehood into familial units, an over-emphasis on individual needs, a lack of real engagement with religious community, and an alienation from Jewish tradition and Jewish values.
Rabbi Salkin’s blog is an important read, and I am grateful that he wrote it.