lady painting

 

Nov 2005 Journal

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Letter from Israel

Weddings in Israel provide endless material for anthropological study. There is no civil marriage; hence all weddings must be conducted in accordance with Jewish law. Since the authorities do not recognise Reform or Liberal Judaism, only the orthodox rite is permitted. This sometimes gives rise to incongruous situations given the very varied character of and level of religious observance of Israelis. Formerly, orthodox rabbis would insist on 'modest dress' for the bride, so that sleeveless wedding dresses were banned. Today, though, bare shoulders are almost de rigeur.

I recently attended two weddings which were diametrically opposed in nature. Both were occasions of great rejoicing, but utterly different in almost every respect. The first was that of a very orthodox young couple who had been introduced by a shadchan. The wedding was held in a settlement which may well become part of the future Palestinian state.

Men and women were seated separately (although there was also a treife area, where men and women could sit together). Dancing was strictly separate and both bride and groom wore long white dresses - the husband wore the traditional kittel. The wedding was followed by a week of dinner parties for the young couple, who were not allowed to sleep together after the first night for reasons of ritual 'uncleanliness'.

At the second wedding (which had been preceded by a civil wedding abroad), the bride wore a long red dress, very décolletée, and was seven months pregnant. She was radiant, a picture of health and happiness, and this was a true love match as well as a perfect example of the 'ingathering of the exiles'. The guests mingled freely and the atmosphere was very relaxed.

To my amazement, the orthodox rabbi did not bat an eyelid and blithely performed the ceremony, although the bride revealed large amounts of flesh. Once his task was completed, however, he beat a hasty retreat.
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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