Our Synagogue: Weddings and Blessing Ceremonies
The following information is also available in a booklet form. If you would like a hard copy of this please get in touch.
North Manchester Reform Synagogue (Sha’arei Shalom) is a constituent Synagogue of the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ). All our religious activities and ceremonies are conducted according to the practices endorsed by MRJ.
We would be delighted to assist you in arranging your wedding. Our Rabbi, the Synagogue staff and our voluntary officers, such as the Secretary for Marriages, will work with you to make your important event a success.
Before anything else can happen, you will need to establish that a wedding may take place. This means, for instance, that a wedding may take place which is legitimate according to both civil (i.e. secular) law and Jewish halakhah and Jewish customs as interpreted and understood by the religious leadership of the Synagogue and the MRJ.
If you have already entered into a civil marriage, some of the following will not apply.
There are civil law regulations concerning marriage concerning which the Synagogue employees, honorary officers and Rabbi are not competent to advise. Before making any approach to the Synagogue about marriage, please consult the Registrar in the area in which you live. The Registrar’s staff can give you advice and help you to complete the necessary legal formalities.
In England the civil law dictates which persons are free to marry. These regulations must be followed. You will need to produce certain documents. An original birth certificate or current passport will need to be shown to prove your identity. If either party to the marriage has previously been married and subsequently divorced, court documents concerning the divorce will need to be shown.
Jewish Status, halakhah and marriage customs
English law also requires that our Rabbis conduct marriages only for persons who are Jewish. There is no provision for marrying a Jewish and a non-Jewish person under the auspices of a Synagogue. A preliminary task, therefore, will be to ensure that the criterion of Jewish status is met by both parties to the proposed marriage.
Jewish status can be satisfactorily established in a variety of ways. Members of Sha’arei Shalom and of other Synagogues belonging to the MRJ are accepted as eligible to marry without further need to prove their status. Our Rabbi will advise how members of other Synagogues, or applicants who do not belong to a Synagogue can establish their Jewish status.
If either partner has previously entered into a Jewish marriage and has received a Jewish divorce, the relevant document (Get) should be produced.
There are traditions regarding the days and times of year when Jewish marriages may be celebrated. The Rabbi will advise you on this matter. Please do not make bookings for a particular date until the Rabbi has agreed that the wedding may take place on that day.
Only when these civil and religious preliminary matters are dealt with can the Rabbi or any employee or honorary officer of the Synagogue agree to a marriage taking place.
Your Ceremony: Location
You may choose to have your marriage ceremony in our Synagogue or at another location. ‘Wedding venues’ have become increasingly popular. Please keep in mind that a location away from the Synagogue will involve logistical and transport needs. For example, if the chuppah (wedding canopy) from the Synagogue is to be used, it will need to be transported to the wedding venue. Other items which would need to be supplied include a table with cloth and a chair for the use of the Marriage Secretary. The Rabbi may ask to see the venue in advance.
Your Ceremony: People
To register a civil wedding the Marriage Secretary from the Synagogue must be present at the ceremony. Transport to the wedding location and back may be needed. The Rabbi will usually travel to a wedding ceremony by private car, but transport may be needed, for instance if the Rabbi sustained an injury and could not drive. Two adult Jewish witnesses are required for the Jewish marriage. The civil registration also requires witnesses. The same persons may act as witness for both purposes.
It is a widespread practice to extend an invitation for a representative of the Synagogue to be present at a wedding under Synagogue auspices and to be invited to the reception (in addition to the Rabbi and Marriage Secretary). Such invitations usually include any spouse/partner of the officiants and representative. We understand that some venues may have limited capacity, and that officiants may not be able to attend the reception. Please discuss these matters with the Rabbi.
Your Ceremony: Rehearsal
A wedding rehearsal is optional. For some couples, a rehearsal is reassuring, especially if the venue involves complicated arrangements. For other couples, the spontaneity of the unique day is compromised by a rehearsal. The choice is yours.
Your Ceremony: Etiquette
As is usual at Jewish religious events, male participants/guests will be expected to cover their heads during the ceremony and the reception meal. You may wish to supply a kippah to be offered to your guests. Women may wear a kippah if they wish.
Guests are expected to maintain a respectful silence during the marriage ceremony. Mobile telephones should be switched off. Photographs should be taken before and after the marriage service but not during the ceremony. The Rabbi will brief professional photographers and video makers.
Formal Jewish ceremonies which involve meals are expected to be kosher. If you are not using a certified kosher caterer for your event, please inform the Rabbi of the arrangements so that no inadvertent and potentially embarrassing problems arise.
If the Rabbi attends the reception and is asked to recite the blessings over wine and bread, please ensure that a kiddush cup, kosher wine and bread (usually challah) are supplied. Likewise, a basin of water and towel should be provided for the Rabbi for handwashing.
You may wish to supply personalised printed booklets for Birkhat Ha-Mazon (Grace After Meals). The Rabbi can advise on this.
Your Ceremony: Fees and Costs
We provide the support and personnel to enable couples to celebrate Jewish weddings without fee if at least one of them is a member of the Synagogue. If neither partner is a member, we will ask for a fee in lieu of membership. The level of fee will depend upon factors such as the amount of work required to plan the wedding and costs such as travel to the wedding venue, whether additional certificates of marriage and/or an additional or alternative ketubah is requested and so on. The Rabbi may give an estimate at an early stage, but only a written statement of the fee from the Synagogue Treasurer is binding. We request that fees and costs for documents, transport or ‘extras’ be settled six weeks in advance of the ceremony. In the event of non-payment, or late payment, the Synagogue reserves the right to withdraw from the arrangement or to charge additional fees.
I’m Jewish, my partner isn’t: Wedding Blessings
If you are unable to have a Jewish wedding ceremony, for example, where one partner is not Jewish, we may be able to plan with you a ceremony of blessing to accompany your civil marriage or civil union.
Please note that a wedding blessing ceremony is not a Jewish marriage and the key elements which characterise a Jewish marriage ceremony will not be present.
If a blessing ceremony is arranged, there will be a fee similar to that for marriage ceremonies.
Same Sex Ceremonies
Religious organizations are not required by law to offer a facility for same-sex marriage. At the time of printing this Guide, the constitution of Sha’arei Shalom had not been amended to offer this facility. Please consult with our Rabbi who will be pleased to advise on current policies and how we may help you.
If you have any questions concerning any aspect of the matters dealt with in this brief guide, please get in touch.