By: Rabbi Joel Simonds of University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA
It’s wedding season and we are booked. Our weekends are filled witnessing couples walking down the aisle and standing together under the Chuppah. We are filled with emotion as they sign the Ketubah, exchange rings, offer God’s blessings, share from the two cups of wine and break the glass. Tears of joy are shared as loving souls affirm their commitment with the traditions and symbols of our Jewish heritage.
Whether you are in the wedding or an honored guest, the breaking of the glass is one of the most well known elements of the Jewish wedding. But like many things Jewish and all things ancient, the explanations for the broken glass are many and varied. We learn from the Talmud that Mar bar Rabina held a wedding feast for his son. He noticed that during the reception his guests were drunk and full of undisciplined excitement. Unhappy with the behavior of his guests, Mar bar Rabina stood up and broke a valued wine goblet and his guests quickly sobered. After this moment in our Talmudic history the breaking of glass became a custom at weddings throughout the world. This explanation of the tradition teaches us that, in moments of great joy we should not create environments of reckless behavior.
Towards the middle ages the tradition of breaking the glass continued but the interpretation changed. The breaking of the glass was now seen as a moment to remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Teaching us that, even at the height of our joy, the pain and sadness our people has endured should not be forgotten.
Although remembering the Temple may not be a priority at most modern Jewish weddings, the breaking of glass does provide us a moment to pause, step outside of ourselves and reflect on the brokenness that is in our world. What a blessed and holy moment.
We live in a society in which the wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar business. From the flowers to the photographer, couples spend months and sometimes years planning the perfect wedding. Caught up in the excitement, it is easy to become so focused on our own joy that we forget about the world around. And yet, when all the planning has been completed and the vows have been shared, at the moment of our greatest joy just seconds before we hear “Mazel Tov!,” the breaking of the glass asks bride and groom to shift their focus momentarily and reflect on brokenness in the world.
In recent years couples have begun dedicating the breaking of the glass to a specific example of brokenness in our society. Recently, I had the honor of officiating at a wedding where the couple dedicated the breaking of the glass to the issue of marriage equality. In the midst of their joy, they looked out at their guests, saw friends and family members who cannot legally marry their beloved partners because of their sexual orientation and they broke the glass. The pieces of the glass shattered and the bride and groom―and all those present―were reminded that although this new marriage is whole, the ideal of marriage is broken and incomplete when we deny two loving souls the right to marry.
As a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and a rabbi of University Synagogue, a Union for Reform Judaism congregation, I am proud that our Reform Movement is leading the fight for marriage equality in the United States. We learn from our Torah that each person is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image, and each of us is entitled to the respect and dignity that comes with this blessing. Join me and the entire Reform Jewish Movement in the fight for marriage equality, so that one day the glass will be broken not as a sign of the brokenness that is, but of a reminder of the brokenness that once was. If we are successful, the notion that two people of the same gender were once denied the right to marry will seem as abstract and antiquated as the destruction of the Temple.
Read more about the Reform Movement’s leadership in LGBT activism here.
Rabbi Joel Simonds is a rabbi at University Synagogue in Los Angeles, California.