Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Guest List

Now that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky have gotten married in Whitebeck, NY, some details of the wedding have been reported. The New York Times reports that the interfaith ceremony was co-officiated by Rabbi James Ponet and Reverend William Shillady. Jim Ponet, a Reform rabbi, is Yale University’s Jewish chaplain. His official title is director of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which is the campus Hillel there.

The NYT also says that the “family said the ceremony would celebrate and honor elements of both traditions. It would include friends and family reading the [Sheva Brachot] Seven Blessings, which are typically recited at traditional Jewish weddings following the vows and exchange of rings.”

Genevieve de Manio

According to this photo the groom wore a kippah (yarmulke) and tallit (prayer shawl). The tallit is not required at Jewish weddings, though some grooms choose to wear one and some grooms choose to wear the white kittel (robe).

Supposedly a ketubah (wedding document) was also witnessed and signed before the ceremony.

Since a guest list hasn’t been released, I decided to come up with a quick list of people I am certain were not there.

THE NON-GUEST LIST FOR CHELSEA CLINTON’S WEDDING:

  1. Kenneth Starr
  2. Monica Lewinsky
  3. Newt Gingrich
  4. Rush Limbaugh
  5. Sarah Palin
  6. Bill O’Reilly
  7. Ann Coulter
  8. Dick Cheney
  9. Linda Tripp
  10. Paula Jones
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel, We Have a Problem

In the summer of 1998 I was a madrich (Hebrew for counselor) on the Michigan Teen Mission to Israel. This was the second teen Israel trip coordinated by the Metropolitan Detroit’s Jewish Federation. I helped lead a bus of Conservative Jewish teens from Congregation Shaarey Zedek and we traveled through Israel with a bus of teens from Adat Shalom Synagogue — another Detroit’s Conservative congregation.

One teen on the Adat Shalom bus was Hillary Rubin. I had been friends with her older sister Kim in high school and quickly recognized Hillary as Kim’s sister. I remember talking with Hillary at a Bedouin village in the Negev and immediately realizing that she was infatuated with Israel more than the other Jewish teens on the “mission.” So, it was no surprise when I learned a couple years ago via Facebook that Hillary made aliyah (immigration to Israel).

This morning I awoke to Hillary’s picture in a front page article on Haaretz.com — the Israeli newspaper’s online edition. Turns out she has gotten a first-hand experience of what many Israelis go through when they want to get married in an official Jewish ceremony in the Jewish state.

I know of many Israelis who board planes to nearby Cyprus to tie the knot so they don’t have to deal with the Israeli chief rabbinates (there are two: one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi). The Haaretz article explains that Hillary is, ironic enough, the great-niece of a prominent Zionist leader with a street in Israel named for him. Today, she and her husband, Craig Glaser, are finding it impossible to register for a Jewish wedding in the JEWISH state.

Letters from four Conservative rabbis and a Chabad rabbi are not sufficient to prove Hillary’s Jewishness. The daughter of divorced parents whose divorce was officiated by Conservative rabbis has probably complicated the situation. Her mother remarrying a Catholic man won’t help matters. But the ultimate insult is the Herzliya rabbinate’s demand that she provide ketubahs (wedding contracts) from her grandparents whose ketubahs were curiously not returned to them after they fled the Nazis during the Holocaust. Other relatives of her’s were gassed at Auschwitz so the death certificates never existed.

I can’t imagine this is what Theodor Herzl had in mind when he envisioned a Jewish nation. The great niece of Nahum Sokolow who lives in Herzliya (named for Herzl) cannot get married in Israel. This is a travesty. It seems that there is no longer one Judaism. The Judaism of the chief rabbinate(s) in Israel is just not my religion. They have corrupted it out of recognition.

So, in a week when all eyes in the Jewish community are on the high profile intermarriage of Hillary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea who is marrying the Jewish Mark Mezvinsky, I would recommend that Jews throughout the world turn their attention to this Hillary. She might not have the Secretary of State for a mom or a past U.S. president for a dad, but she’s become an example of everything wrong with the way Israel is handling religious matters. Something’s got to change.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Co-Officiated by Rabbi & Methodist Minister

I have it on good authority that Chelsea’s wedding this Saturday night at Astor Mansion in Rhinebeck, NY will be co-officiated by both a rabbi and a Methodist minister. But who’s officiating at their wedding should really matter a lot less than how they will be as a married couple. At the first meeting with a couple before their wedding, the first thing I explain to them is the difference between a wedding and a marriage. The wedding is only one day in their lives; the marriage is the rest of their lives (God willing).

There has been so much discussion about the upcoming nuptials of the former First Daughter, Chelsea Clinton, that I don’t remember this much attention to a wedding since JFK Jr. married Carolyn Bessette on September 21, 1996 and before that it was the weddings of the British Royal Family that made headlines. The focus for Chelsea and her beau Mark Mezvinsky should be on how they make a home together, how they raise their future children, and how they will work through the same hurdles that face every married couple (whether they are of the same religion or not; of the opposite sex or not; from similar socio-economic backgrounds or not).

My teacher, Irwin Kula, poignantly writes in this morning’s Huffington Post (“From the Cathedral to the Bazaar: What Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Says About Religous Sycretism”) that this high profile wedding is our society’s welcome to the new world of religion in America.

Chelsea’s parents were an interdenominational marriage of a social justice Methodist and a Baptist, which would have been unheard of 50 years ago. Chelsea grew up proudly within mainstream Protestantism, while Mark was raised clearly identified in a mainstream Jewish denomination. Their marriage is the next generational step in crossing borders — from Methodist-Baptist to Christian-Jew. What is unprecedented — wonderful for some and horrifying to others — is that in this era no one needs to reject his or her identity to cross these century-old boundaries. Multiple identities — in the example of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding, at least three different traditions being brought to bear — is the new reality.

I agree. This is the new reality. What matters more than the Mezvinsky’s Jewish heritage and the Clinton’s mixed religious background is whether this couple will be able to live life together, share happy moments, raise moral children, weather difficult storms, and make each other laugh.

I’m a Conservative rabbi forbidden by the Rabbinical Assembly, of which I’m a member, to officiate at Chelsea’s interfaith wedding. But I’m not blind to this new reality. The borders are much blurrier than they once were and more religionists are opening their eyes to this new reality.

I echo Rabbi Kula’s congratulatory words: “Mazel Tov, Mark and Chelsea!”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Why Chelsea Clinton’s Wedding Matters & the Celebrity Double-Standard

I’m hesitant to write about Chelsea Clinton’s upcoming wedding to Marc Mezvinsky, who was raised in Conservative Judaism, because I want to respect the private lives of the bride and groom. However, when the bride is the daughter of the 40th President of the United States, I suppose she is classified as a celebrity and her wedding is fair game as a topic for discussion.

This marriage will spark conversation in the Jewish world about two main issues: How intermarriage affects the Jewish community; and, whether there is a double-standard in the Jewish community when it comes to the intermarrying ways of celebrities.

David Gibson, in his article in Politics Daily, brings to light the key points surrounding this wedding. The question of whether Chelsea Clinton will convert to Judaism is something that Jews wonder (from Jews who are vehemently against intermarriage and those who are accepting of it). This high-profile wedding will bring many of the implications of intermarriage to a more public forum, forcing the conversation about, among other things:

  1. whether a rabbi should officiate at an interfaith wedding;
  2. whether intermarriage really erodes Jewish continuity;
  3. whether a non-Jewish mother can raise Jewish children;
  4. whether conversion for the sake of marriage is genuine enough to count; and,
  5. whether there’s a double-standard in the Jewish community when a high profile person marries outside of the faith.

Gibson quotes my colleague, Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe, who claims it’s his dream that Chelsea Clinton will convert to Judaism. Gibson also read the ongoing conversation at the InterfaithFamily.com website about Chelsea’s upcoming wedding.

In a lively discussion at the InterfaithFamily.com website, one commenter said that even if Chelsea does not convert, a rabbi should take part in the wedding “if the couple agrees to raise the children Jewish.” Another, however, cautioned that “this cannot be a Jewish wedding — a Jewish wedding is one where both people are Jewish, either by birth or by choice.” And yet another commenter gave what is perhaps a more characteristic answer: “I believe that Chelsea and her fiancé should do whatever will make them happiest.”

In real life, of course, questions about the role of religion often animate wedding planning, given that so many young people feel freed from old prohibitions against marrying outside the faith, if indeed they adhere to the religion of their parents or any religion at all.

Last month I was quoted in a Detroit Free Press article about interfaith marriage (“Do Interfaith Marriages Threaten Jewish Identity?”) and then took part as a panelist in a Free Press online chat on the subject.

After taking part in the online chat with Edmund Case, the CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, and an intermarried couple, I can only conclude that this is a very challenging issue because people’s lives, and children, and feelings of love and affection are in conflict with thousands of years of tribal law. It’s really about clubs and who can join and who can’t and who decides the rules.

Regarding the Gibson article in Politics Daily, my teacher Rabbi Irwin Kula comments, “This is great article for studying just about every pathology in American Jewish life… an entire article on intermarriage and Jewish weddings all about its threat and not one sentence on the possible meaning of the ritual that might actually create meaning and value. It’s chuppah/Jewish wedding as tribal marker and intermarriage as either threat to the tribe or grudging opportunity to increase numbers. Why should Chelsea convert? To make sure we don’t lose her kids to our tribe so worried about our size!”

Some interesting questions surrounding the Chelsea Clinton wedding should make this even more interesting:

  • The wedding will take place on Shabbat (July 31, 2010), so how will this affect whether observant Jewish (shomer Shabbat) guests will attend. Even if they stay within walking distance of the Astor mansion, according to Jewish law weddings are not to take place on the Jewish Sabbath.
  • If Chelsea does convert before the wedding, will her conversion be disputed publicly by the Orthodox who will claim that a Conservative (or Reform) conversion isn’t “kosher.” And, many will question her commitment to Judaism — didn’t she do this only for the sake of marriage and how much preparation and deliberation did she put into this?
  • If Chelsea doesn’t convert, how many of the Bill and Hillary’s Orthodox friends will attend the wedding anyway? Will their attendance at an interfaith wedding (and on Shabbat to boot) signify an endorsement? And what about Conservative rabbis who are technically not supposed to attend interfaith weddings? Will some make an exception for such notable nuptials?
  • Finally, might this high-profile interfaith wedding turn the tides and lead to greater acceptance and sensitivity toward interfaith marriage? After all, as Gibson writes, “The main body of Conservative Judaism [CJLS] voted to allow interfaith families to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, and in March, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America hosted a two-day workshop “sensitizing” students to “issues of intermarriage and changing demographics.” There is even talk of allowing Conservative rabbis to attend the interfaith weddings of friends — and this just four years after the movement adopted an official policy emphasizing the importance of converting a non-Jewish spouse.

Chelsea Clinton’s wedding is sure to grab headlines because of the main actors and the supporting cast, but in the Jewish world this wedding might just be an interfaith “game changer” in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Virtual Simcha

The first time I heard about a “virtual simcha” was in the late 1990s. Detroit was hit with a massive snowstorm and the 8-day old baby boy’s aunt who was to play the role of rabbi was stuck at the airport in New York. The rabbi improvised and she officiated at her nephew’s bris via speaker phone.
Of course, if this happened in 2010 and not in the late 1990s the bris would have been officiated by the rabbi through Skype, and she would have seen the simcha and been seen by the attendees.
Using technology to add people to a simcha is becoming more common. An increasing number of grandparents and great-grandparents are attending their grandchildren’s wedding in the virtual world.
Just last month I officiated at a wedding that was being streamed live to Israel so that the bride’s elderly grandparents could “be there.” Through Ustream.tv, the grandparents felt like they were at the wedding even if it meant staying up late into the night in Israel.
Elicia Brown, writes in the Jewish Week about several of these simchas that would have otherwise been missed by family or friends, like the grandparents in Australia beaming themselves into their grandson’s Brooklyn bris. Or Conservative rabbis Erez Sherman and Nicole Guzik who married each other in January with the virtual presence of Rabbi Sherman’s brother Eyal Sherman, a paraplegic, and his sister Rabbi Nogah Marshall, who was nine months pregnant at the time. A $40 webcam was clipped to the ark; a laptop was discreetly placed on the bima of Temple Sinai, allowing Rabbi Sherman’s siblings to view the proceedings via Skype.
A week ago in suburban Detroit’s largest congregation, the Reform Temple Israel in West Bloomfield (3,400 member units), Rabbi Harold Loss and his wife Susie were honored for their forty years of service to the congregation and to celebrate the rabbi’s 65th birthday. Over 3,000 people joined together on the beautiful grounds of the temple, but the many who couldn’t be there in person felt connected as well. The Friday night service was streamed live on the Web for the elderly and infirm who couldn’t actually be there. The Temple Israel members who were on vacation that day also appreciated the live stream. Jim Grey reported that he and his family viewed the tribute service from their vacation home “Up North” and felt as if they were there without having to disrupt their family’s retreat.
Virtual technology is not only finding it’s way into Jewish simchas. It is also being used to help Jewish educators extend their reach. Julie Wiener’s Jewish Week article“For Hebrew Learning, The Skype’s The Limit” details how Internet tutoring is on the leading edge of use of technology beyond the classroom.
Skype-based tutoring — piloted last year and formalized this year at [Temple] Micah [in Washington D.C.] — is not only a convenient, inexpensive way to give kids personal attention in Hebrew, but it frees up time at the once-a-week school for other lessons, explains Deborah Ayala Srabstein, the temple’s education director. Micah is one of a growing number of congregations using technology to address two of the most vexing challenges facing supplemental, or Hebrew schools: how to teach Hebrew effectively and how to best make use of increasingly limited classroom hours. Whereas a generation ago it was not uncommon for children to report to Hebrew school three afternoons a week, today’s programs —which tend to serve overscheduled families and compete with an array of other extracurricular activities — often meet as little as two hours per week.
Virtual tools like Skype and live Web streaming are making the Jewish community feel smaller and allowing people to attend life-cycle events, from bar mitzvahs and weddings to funerals, that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend in earlier eras. These tools are also helping educate the Jewish future who are more overextended than any previous generation of young people.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller