Major Contrasts in Jewish Practice

Because change is one of the constants of Jewish life, the variations in customs, laws, and practices at any point in our history are quite fascinating. It’s important from the outset for you to be fully aware that individual homes, congregations, and even certain neighborhoods and individual communities within those neighborhoods, have their own uniquely nuanced Jewish culture, norms, and guidelines. For example, there are Jewish communities where the norm is:

• for couples to have a two-ring wedding ceremony and others where only one ring is acceptable.

• to have major infant and adolescent rites of passage for both genders, and communities that do so for only males.

• for the rabbi or cantor to wed only two heterosexual Jews, and other Jewish clergy who will also perform wedding rites for two gay men or two lesbian women.

• for men and women to sit separately for religious services, life-cycle ceremonies, and celebrations, and congregations where everyone sits together.

• for women’s voices raised in prayer or song not to be audible publicly by men, and communities where women singing publicly is fully welcome.

• where food must be prepared by a certified kosher caterer, and others that do not use kosher caterers; there are those who serve only vegetarian or dairy foods and others who accept commercially prepared food offerings so long as their preferred kosher certification symbol is on the package.

• for guests to dress as they please, and communities that require only modest dress.

• for most couples with Eastern-European (Ashkenazi) roots to wear white clothes at their weddings, and those with roots from the Iberian Peninsula (Sephardi) and Middle East (Mizrahi) to wear multi-colored wedding garb, sometimes with precious gold metallic threads running through the fabric.

• for only heterosexual men to serve as ordained spiritual leaders, and there are both seminaries and Jewish communities where women and homosexual persons are ordained and welcomed as Jewish clergy.

Remember that scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye shrugs and belts out – “Tradition! Tradition!”? Jewish is life is so full of differing traditions that sometimes it seems we are as colorfully crazy as…as… a fiddler on a space shuttle!