I am a non-Jewish mother of an orthodox convert daughter who is to marry a Jewish man this year. They plan to have a very traditional Jewish ceremony. My soon-to-be son-in-law lost both of his parents before he graduated high school. Can You suggest some ideas of things I can do for him that may have been done by his mother if she were here without offending him or breaking Jewish tradition? Thank you so much.
What a wonderful, sensitive question. Many parents would be nervous or uncomfortable about their daughter's impending marriage in a setting very different from what they are used to and here you are, wondering respectfully how you can be there for your daughter's intended. I hope your daughter and her fiance both realize how lucky they are to have you in their lives.
There are few formal ritual roles for the mother of the groom at a traditional Jewish wedding, but much of this will depend on what kind of relationship you already have with your son in law. Since the parents of the couple often stand beneath the huppah, will he have someone standing in for his parents? If not, perhaps the mesader kiddushin (the rabbi performing the service) can make it explicit that you are there on behalf of both members of the couple? Often both parents walk each of the people being married down the aisle to the huppah. If he has no one to walk him, perhaps you could volunteer, especially if your daughter's father is available to walk her? At some weddings, there is a point before the huppah where both sets of parents offer blessings--either quietly or out loud-- to their respective children. Perhaps he would be comfortable having you offer him some blessing for his future life with your daughter?
Ultimately, this all depends on what your son in law will find comfortable and meaningful, so you should approach this gently and ask him whether he would want any of these things. He may not, and if he does not it may have nothing at all to do with his feelings of warmth and respect towards you, so you should not take it personally. Getting married without your parents in attendance is bound to bring up difficult memories or feelings of loss, and it is important not to impose if he feels any reticence in having you fill that space. Nevertheless, you should certainly ask, and I hope that he will feel touched by the offer. Ultimately if he wants you to play such a role it is also important to have a conversation in advance with the rabbi performing the ceremony to make sure that he also is comfortable with the preceedings, and this may vary.
Whatever you and your son in law and the rabbi ultimately decide, may you and they know only happiness, good health and long life. I found your question itself extremely touching.
What a nice question! There are not many *required* roles for parents/in-laws at Jewish weddings. There are 3 customs, though, that you can certainly partake in, even if you are not Jewish.
1) You can walk him down the aisle. No one will ever forget your doing that.
2) You can give him a blessing just before the Chuppah ceremony. This does not have to be in Hebrew. It is typically a private blessing from parent to child done off to the side before everyone walks down the aisle.
3) Finally, if it is a very traditional ceremony, they might want to do what is called the "Tenaim" ceremony. You can read more here: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/476750/jewish/Tnaim-Engagement-Agreements.htm . There is a role for the mother in this context and you can certainly fill that role (even if you are not Jewish).
More questions? Be in touch - Rabbi Eytan Hammerman, Harrison NY
This incredibly thoughtful question does not have a simple answer in Reform Judaism. In more traditional circles, men and women are separated in almost every facet of the wedding. This is not the case for our movement and there is little distinction in what a mother would do rather than a father, and regardless if they are the parents of the bride or the groom.
One thought to consider involves the ritual objects used at a Jewish wedding: the ketubah, the kiddish cup, and a glass to break at the end of the ceremony. The ketubah is the Jewish wedding contract and is a legal document in our tradition. Additionally, the bride and groom drink from the kiddish cup twice during the ceremony and many couples enjoy using two kiddish cups. The glass is stepped on by the groom at the conclusion of the ritual under the chuppah. Perhaps offering to ensure these articles are purchased and ready to be utilized will offer the groom comfort and peace of mind.
Ultimately I suggest it might be best to ask your future son-in-law directly what would be most meaningful to him. Best wishes to the family on this simcha (happy occasion).
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