This week I attended a very unusual wedding. It was for one of my dear friends who is technically a Conservative Jew but who has raised her children within the Orthodox Jewish community regarding schooling. As a result the wedding was conducted by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi as well as attended by two additional Orthodox Jewish rabbis and their spouses who are close family friends of the bride.
Not that unusual, right? The missing fact is that my friend, her husband, and children are not observant Jews at all. There is a glimmer of cultural Jewish observance but other than that, no regular observance of the traditions or halacha of our faith. Over the years she and I have had countless conversations about Messianic Judaism and this continues to be a positive conversation. As for her faith, however, she’s Jewish, which to her means being a strident supporter of Israel and identifying with her Jewish heritage and traditions.
What struck me about the wedding was the gracious ability of the rabbis to conduct the ceremony, even read the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) in Aramaic (!), and still make the guests feel welcome and part of this very special day. By far the majority of attendees were not Jewish. These rabbis whom I’m sure routinely conduct such services all in Hebrew, spent so much time explaining (in English), each part of the service, its purpose, and yet conducted the religious aspects as they should be, in Hebrew, and with proper kavanah (as it should be intended). Despite their training and beliefs, they made no comment as they allowed photography during the service and were surrounded with very immodestly dressed attendees, not to mention that men and women sat together.
So many of their sensibilities of decorum and even theology must have been stressed to the max. And yet hospitality and grace guided the rabbis’ actions. Interestingly, however, none of them could bend regarding their belief in the impropriety of shaking a woman’s hand. When it came to an action regarding their own personal behavior rather than officiating for another, the line was drawn to not compromise a belief they hold sacred.
As I sat at the reception and was asked so many questions by the non Jewish people at my table, it was interesting that it was that last point, not shaking the wives’ hands, that they could not understand. It seemed so inhospitable. I actually don’t have great insights on this other than the usual teachings so I didn’t make much headway on the merits of that interaction. I was, however, able to give them more understanding of how much these rabbis did modify their usual practices by how they conducted the days’ events. The guests became appreciative of the beauty in what they had just been a part of, a ceremony where love of others informed the interactions, not to the extent of compromising core values, but rather, as appropriate to facilitate understanding, graciousness, and grace.
Yeshua mediated similar situations in His teachings – healing on Shabbat, rescuing the fallen oxen, inviting in those who were looked down upon, countless examples. The wedding was a remarkable ceremony showcasing these Orthodox rabbis acting in these ways, giving me hope that our Messiah is hard at work in the hearts of some of our Jewish brothers and sisters, even the most observant, whether He is known yet or not.