Scribbler on the Roof: A Wedding History

Scribbler on the Roof: A Wedding History

By Ted Roberts

I wonder when the wedding ceremony was mandated as the official seal of marriage.

Don’t laugh and call me uncivilized. You can open your Bible and wade through all of Adam and Eve’s courtship and find not a single word of wedding ceremony. Same for Abe and Sarah and Isaac and Becky.

You won’t see a single word about a rabbi, the wedding meal or raspberry sorbet. Only the bare necessities are mentioned. “And he went into her, and she conceived” — Jacob or Simon or whoever.

What a commendable, simple system. A masculine delight, as I pointed out to my rabbi. Let’s revive the good ol’ days when —

The rabbi left the room, slamming the door on his way out.

Parents, especially the bride’s folks, would save a fortune. I’m sure they’d vote my way. Think of it: no thank-you notes.

My lovely wife still claims the Rosenfelds hate us because I’m 30 years late on a thank-you note. I say a Walmart salt-and-pepper shaker doesn’t deserve a thank-you note.

But to be serious, which I am one hour of the 24, where are our historians when we need them? Who was the chochem (genius) who obviously worked for the bride’s family and somehow introduced all this wedding mishigas as a prerequisite to the simple “And he went into her, and they conceived”?

What wedding planner in Solomon’s Temple elaborated on this neat formula?

Though my own wedding was a few weeks after Abraham’s, I negotiated madly with my in-laws. “Look, I’ll run off with Gwendolyn, thereby economizing on the 150-person seated dinner, an out-of-tune band and a couple of gardens’ worth of calla lilies. And we’ll split the savings. The rabbi’s study will be our wedding hall.”

Everybody nodded agreement.

All was going well. The wife-to-be and I were in the car, bound for the Honeymoon Hotel, until my wife asked, “Where are we going?”

“To our wedding,” I replied matter-of-factly. The bride, however, immediately noted the lack of 12 bridesmaids and a 12-piece band and only an assistant associate student rabbi in the back seat — I thought it’d be romantic to do the short, simple ceremony at the Honeymoon Hotel (a sheet makes a fine chuppah).

Her nuptial instinct began ringing like a bookcase-size cellphone.

“This is no wedding,” she bristled. “This is a ‘He went into her and conceived!’ ”

Minimally, she insisted on a neutral third-party observer, what our Christian friends call a qualified preacher, and we call a rabbi.

No, of course I’m kidding. Well before my own imprisonment — sometime after Bible time and before Las Vegas wedding chapels — problems arose.

“What do ya mean we’re just great pals?” said some marriage partner. “Not true. We are married. There’s a ceremony and contracts, stuff like that.”

Clearly, a sober third party, an objective witness, was required. And it so happened that unemployment was high at the time. For a haunch of moose meat (kosher, you know) or a cluster of grapes, you could buy this service.

Furthermore, there are biblical scholars who connect this witnessing trend with the popularity of the prophets. It was their time. And renowned for their honesty, it was a perfect sideline to preaching for copper coins on dusty crossroads. If the prophet attended the service and said you were married, well, that settled it.

And like all human affairs, the service grew from a six-word ceremony — “OK, I guess you’re married now” — to various costuming, ceremonial marching around the groom, lacy veils so the groom wouldn’t be constantly reminded that the bride had a bad wart two inches southeast of her right eye, and stomping glassware before dining on plastic chicken and green peas.

And you don’t think lawyers were going to miss a payday, do you? Some legal genius offered the bride a legal certificate proving beyond all doubt that the groom, the party of the first part, was committed to certain obligations.

Again, like all the affairs of humanity, marriage grew from the simple to the complex. Nobody walked into the bridal chamber without a blindfolded lawyer and a 10-page ketubbah in triplicate. Nothing remains simple.


Ted Roberts lives and writes in Huntsville, Ala.

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