Question by Chris Jeffords:
Do Jews need a rabbi present to solemnize a marriage? (I know they don’t need one to lead prayers, and of course they can go to a JP if they want to.
Answer by Rabbi Amy Cohen:
According to halacha (Jewish Law) a Rabbi does not need to be present to officiate at a wedding. At a Jewish wedding, the individual who reads or chants the blessings is called a mesader kiddushin, one who “orders the ceremony.” The two partners marry one another, the officiate does not marry them. A mesader kiddushin must be knowledgeable about Jewish laws regarding weddings and marriages. Most couples who want to have a Jewish ceremony prefer to ask a Rabbi or Cantor to officiate. Within Jewish history, scholars have preferred the custom of having an ordained Rabbi perform marriages, including, “Maimonides, the great rabbinic authority of the 12th century who advised the Jews of Egypt that marriages required the supervision of an ordained rabbi.” (Diamant, pg. 53, The New Jewish Wedding)
Today, depending on what state you live in, a Rabbi can perform both the duties of the state and of the Jewish religion. As a Rabbi who also holds a Masters in Social Work, I strongly advise couples to seek out an ordained clergy member (of any denomination) because of our training in pre-marital counseling. A Rabbi ordained from any major movement has received this crucial training which often leads to more successful relationships.
Answer by Yaakov ben Chaim Tzvi:
Thank you for the question Chris. In order for the marriage to be officially recognized within Orthodox Judaism a qualified Rabbi must officiate the wedding which takes place under a “Chupah” or canopy which is under an open sky signifying the presence of God. In addition to the Rabbi, there are two witnesses who testify to the validity of the marriage by signing a Ketubah, a marriage document which states the time, date and other items necessary for the marriage to be valid. The Jewish wedding is one of the most beautiful ceremonies within Judaism and in fact the concept of the wedding “veil” which the bride wears was taken from Judaism as a remembrance of Jacob’s wedding to Leah and Rachel. Prior to the marriage ceremony, the Groom and many of the men in attendance perform the “Bedekkin” ceremony where the Groom ensures that he is marrying the “right” woman since Jacob was tricked by Laban in scriptures. After the Bedekkin ceremony the Bride and Groom meet at the Chupah to solidify the marriage. Once the ceremony is complete, the Groom breaks a glass [wrapped in towel] under his feet to remember the destruction of the Holy Temple and his duty to ensure continuity for the Jewish people.
For a detailed step by step guide to the laws of Jewish marriage you can click here: