Seven Blessings, Hold the God

As you may have heard, my daughter is getting married this summer. A friend is officiating, thanks to Massachusetts’s liberal officiant-for-a-day law. Sophie and Henry designed the service themselves, including elements from both their backgrounds.

I suggested they include a form of the Seven Blessings that are at the heart of a Jewish wedding, but they couldn’t find a version they liked. So I had a go at it.

My challenge: write a version of the Seven Blessings that

— doesn’t mention (or explicitly exclude) God

— doesn’t mention (or explicitly exclude) Zion/Jerusalem/Judah

— isn’t sexist or heteronormative (that is, makes no assumption about whether the couple is hetero- or homosexual).

Oh, and the language should

— be pretty but not cheesy

— be inclusive but not didactic and self-righteous-sounding

— reflect as much as possible the vocabulary, rhythm, spirit and meaning of the traditional Hebrew blessings.

Here’s what I came up with.

(1) Blessed be the fruit of the vine, symbol of our joy.

From the original: You are blessed, Lord our God, the sovereign of the world, creator of the fruit of the vine.

Wine is the traditional symbol of joy and abundance in Judaism, and the benediction over wine is an essential part of every joyous Jewish occasion.

(2) Blessed be the natural world and the glory of creation.

From: Blessed are You, Adonoy, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for His glory.

(3) Blessed be humankind and our capacity to understand and create.

From: Blessed are You, Adonoy, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.

Our capacity to understand and create is my attempt to sum up what distinguishes our species from other animals.

(4) Blessed be compassion, graciousness, patience, kindness and truth, and all that humans should strive for.

From: Blessed are You, Adonoy, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man in His image, in the image of his likeness and prepared for him from himself a building for eternity. Blessed are You Adonoy, Who fashioned the Man.

In a non-theist world view, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? An approach I like is to think in terms of “godliness,” exemplified by compassion, kindness and others of the 13 attributes of God  mentioned in Exodus 33.

(5) May joy and exultation fill this gathering. Blessed are we when families and friends are reunited and friends become family.

From: Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Adonoy, Who gladdens Zion through her children.

The original imagines Zion as an abandoned mother welcoming her long-lost children home. It expresses the hope of an exiled people to return to the homeland promised in the Bible, and predates the founding of the State of Israel by a few thousand years. Today, the language takes on political connotations that seem to have little to do with celebrating Sophie and Henry’s marriage.

But step back from the specificity of “Zion,” and the blessing expresses a more universal theme — a dispersed community’s longing to be reunited. And doesn’t much of the joy of a wedding come from being with old friends and extended family you haven’t seen in a long time, and celebrating the formation of a new family?

(6) May these beloved companions be as blessed in love as their parents and grandparents before them. Blessed be the joy of loving couples.

from: Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden from aforetime. Blessed are You, Adonoy, Who gladdens groom and bride.

For “Eden” read, “since the beginning.” I wanted to avoid mentioning a mythological location, and preferred not to make assumptions about the happiness of couples back in the “old days.” (Especially since I suspect that no one today would really want to emulate the sorts of “marriages” couples had “aforetime.”)

Happily, David and I have been married 30 years. David’s parents will celebrate their 60th anniversary in September, and my parents had been married 49 years before my father died. Henry’s parents have been together even longer than we have. This record of lasting unions made it easy to rewrite this blessing.

(7) Blessed be joy and gladness, grooms and brides, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, friendship, peace, and companionship. Let there soon be heard throughout the land the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voices of grooms and the voices of brides, the sound of the couples’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed be the gladness of marrying couples.

From: Blessed are You, Adonoy, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. Adonoy, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who gladdens the groom with the bride.

I pretty much left this one alone. I changed “groom and bride” to “grooms and brides,” and made similar changes elsewhere in the blessing, to remove the assumption that the marrying couple consists of a man and a woman. And I replaced the specific “The cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem” with the more universal, “throughout the land.”

If this language works for you, you’re welcome to use it. If you do, I’d love to hear from you.

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11 Responses to “Seven Blessings, Hold the God”

  1. Linda P. Epstein Says:

    This is just so beautiful and thoughtful. Sophie & Henry are very lucky to have you as a mother and mother-in-law.

  2. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    Thanks, Linda. I feel pretty lucky to have them as a daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law. (And you as a friend.)

  3. David Says:

    Ruth!

    My lovely lady and I are getting married next month. Neither the bride nor I are very comfortable with the blessings (or much of traditional jewish prayer language), but we’re interested in including something related to the 7 postings. This blog posting is JUST what we need! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ruth Horowitz Says:

    So glad to hear these were helpful, David. Thanks for letting me know. And mazel tov on your upcoming wedding!

  5. Wedding in the Woods « Giving Up The Ghost Says:

    […] After the vows and the exchange of rings, guests read a reworked version of the Jewish Seven Blessings (a process I described here.) […]

  6. Craig Says:

    My as-of-last-weekend wife and I used this at our wedding. She is not comfortable with many aspects of religion, while I wanted to recognize Jewish tradition in the wedding ceremony. This interpretation of the shva brachot fit our desires perfectly. We were both very happy with it. Thank you for sharing it publicly.

  7. Julie Frank Says:

    Thank you for sharing these 7 Blessings. They portray the spirit of the tradition in a open and welcoming way. This brings people at a wedding closer together regardless of the religion they keep in their hearts.

  8. Suzanne Says:

    Thank you for this, this is exactly what I was looking for! I like that you keep the sprit of tradition, but not the legalese ;op Thank you again for writing and, most importantly to me, sharing this…

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