Mixed (faith) blessings


Pause for Thought: BBC Radio 2 August 2nd 2005

Well Terry, last Sunday I had the pleasure of giving a blessing at a wedding between a Jewish bride and a non-Jewish groom. Mixed faith weddings are becoming increasingly frequent in our multi-cultural society – Liberal Judaism recognises this and permits its Rabbis to give blessings at such weddings.

But civil law only permits a Rabbi to officiate at weddings between two Jews and so before I can give my blessing to the couple, a civil ceremony, overseen by a registrar, must first take place. The very first mixed faith blessing I ever did was in a hotel deepest Yorkshire. All the non-Jewish guests and family sat on one side of the room and the Jewish people were on the other. The registrar entered and announced: ‘We are here to celebrate the wonder that is love…’ Only once the registrar had left was I allowed to step forward and introduce God into the proceedings – registrars are very strict in excluding anything or anyone religious from civil ceremonies.

I do have some sympathy with them. Religious weddings are filled with wonderful symbols and rituals but if you trace them back, most of them are based on archaic superstitions to encourage the couple to produce the next generation of a particular tribe or group. And some elements of this tribal mentality still prevail in certain religious groups where a marriage between people of two different faiths is frowned upon or rejected.

My role in a mixed faith wedding ceremony is to point out that love does not take any notice of cultural distinctions. In our modern world, there is every chance that people from different cultures will meet and want to marry.

Differences in culture will always prevail – like at the end of that Yorkshire ceremony, where the non-Jewish guests all stood up and ambled towards the bar while the Jews sprinted to the food. But everyone there was celebrating the fact that two people had found one another and wished to make a commitment to sharing their lives together.

That’s what weddings are all about, regardless of the religious persuasion of the participants. And I’m delighted that my religion permits me to offer God’s blessing to a couple who have discovered that mystical attraction which crosses cultural boundaries – or, as someone once said, to help them ‘…celebrate the wonder that is love.’