“We’re getting married! We’d like to have a rabbi officiate at our wedding, but we’re not sure how to choose a rabbi for our special day. How do we find and select a rabbi to marry us?”
It is ideal that the couple, or at least one of the partners, have a longstanding relationship with the officiating rabbi. But in many, if not most instances, the rabbi of one’s childhood affiliation is not available, and the young couple have not yet affiliated with a congregation. This represents an opportunity to choose a rabbi who will be able to guide you and help you to shape the ceremony so that it expresses your beliefs and commitments, and most importantly, brings you and all your guests and dear ones into the meaning of the moment. If it is possible to find a rabbi who is associated with a congregation you might one day like to join, that is also ideal. At least it is best to think of creating a relationship with a rabbi who may also be able to guide you along further steps in your married life—for example a baby-naming or classes in Judaism.
How does one go about finding a rabbi for a wedding? Many couples, not surprisingly, turn first to the internet, if they haven’t received a recommendation from a friend or relative. You should know that rabbis who belong to the major denominations of Judaism are precluded from advertising, so you will not encounter the full range of qualified rabbis through a simple internet search. If you are an interfaith couple, you may wish to avail yourselves of a wonderful resource, InterfaithFamily.com which has a referral service for officiants—for all life cycle events. I often receive referrals from this site—including from Jews marrying Jews, because the site provides a great deal of information about the rabbis and their requirements and availability.
The majority of Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis will marry interfaith couples under some circumstances. But each rabbi has different requirements. Interfaithfamily.com will help you to focus on rabbis who are likely to be eager to work with you. Another good source of reliable referrals is the outreach departments of the Reform and Conservative movements. The truth is that I receive many referrals from other rabbis, and also from florists, photographers, videographers, wedding planners, and hotel catering directors. In some ways, referrals from these professionals who see lots of rabbis and other officiants in action might be the most reliable of all. Many couples tell me that the same names often pop up from multiple sources—that is perhaps a reassuring indication that the officiant is well-known, reliable, and respected.
The best guide to choosing an officiant is to meet with him or her and to get a sense of whether this person is right for you as a couple. It is best to let the rabbi know of any special requirements before you go to the trouble of setting up a meeting. When you meet with the rabbi you should feel free to ask whatever questions are on your mind, ritual, religious, practical, financial, etc. It is worth giving some thought to what you would like the rabbi to know about yourselves, your journey together and what makes you special as a couple. If you have lost a close friend or relative recently, it may be well to discuss acknowledging that loss at your ceremony in a way that honors that person’s role in your life.
It is becoming increasingly popular now to have a friend or family member officiate at a wedding. While this is perfectly legal (as long as the proper paperwork is prepared,) and can be lovely, it is also potentially very stressful, as relatives can get caught up in the emotions of the day and feel pressured. Having an experienced officiant can ensure that the ceremony go much more smoothly, and family or friends can still be invited to speak or participate.
Rabbi David Kudan is the rabbi at Temple Tifereth Israel, a Reform congregation in Malden, and at Congregation Agudas Achim – Ezrath Israel, aka The Bryant Street Shul, an unaffiliated Jewish community in Malden rooted in the traditions of the Conservative movement.