Do you take this..?
As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, we had a wedding in the family recently. And it was just absurdly gorgeous, from the warm autumnal sun slanting through the trees to the beatific happiness that transformed all the faces.
It was a Jewish ceremony, with chuppah (the canopy,) the broken wine-glass (said to symbolize the destruction of Jerusalem, although one suspects a far more primal sort of symbolic breakage lurking beneath,) ketuvah (a contract, written in Hebrew on parchment, describing among other things how many sheep the brideâ€™s family gets if the marriage breaks down) and all. I found the most moving moment that in which the groom raises his tallit (prayer shawl) over his new wife as they shelter together beneath it, turning their backs on everyone but the rabbi. This is, Iâ€™d suppose, a version of the tradition of sending the couple off to a room by themselves for a few minutes, but either way, it is a clear statement that these two people now form a unit of their own, thank you very much.
And yet, any traditional wedding ceremony makes for an interesting challenge to a thoughtful feminist. The bride is quite clearly (sorry, hon) a commodity, with the ceremony a contractual agreement linking two groups of peopleâ€”or rather, two groups of men. The two mothers light the candles and then shut up. The brideâ€™s father/brother/uncle delivers her to the groom, in the presence of his family and a (male) supervisor of contracts. The men read the blessings (although in this case, one mother read a translation) and the men sign as witnesses. Fortunately we (and the bride) were spared the traditional carrying of the bride around on a chair, when the men raise their new possession for all to see.
However, donâ€™t get me wrong. I donâ€™t object to the ceremony. No matter the trappings, no matter the men given (or, claiming) the glory, the bedrock meaning of the wedding ritual is this: Itâ€™s the woman who matters. The real power, the true authority, is in that young female person the men imagine theyâ€™re exchanging. But like fond mothers who listen to their kids laying claim to objects and abilities far beyond any childâ€™s control (like the two kids here on Saturday who solemnly built a house for Medusa), the mothers of the people involved know quite well that itâ€™s all a nice show, and makes the men feel important, which is good for them.
But we know where the ultimate power lies, in a wedding ceremony. And it ainâ€™t with the boys.