Cantor vs. Rabbi: Who Should Join You Under the Chuppah?
Did you know that a Jewish wedding ceremony does not require a rabbi or a cantor? Yes, we’re serious! Despite common belief, you and your betrothed can still exchange, stomp, and kiss without a member of Jewish clergy present. Jewish tradition says that a member of clergy does not marry the bride and groom; they marry each other.
By Jewish law, all that’s required to make a marriage official is a ketubah and a couple of witnesses. A Jewishly knowledgeable person who steers the wedding rituals can “officiate” the chuppah ceremony and oversee the ketubah ceremony. Also according to Jewish law, you need two kosher witnesses, who, depending on your Jewish affiliation, can be either men or women, related or not to the bride and groom, and practice varying degrees of Jewish observance including the laws of kashrut (eating and keeping kosher). If you have a family rabbi, this would be something to clarify before the wedding day to make sure you’re following correct laws and traditions. As long as your ceremony officiate is ordained by your state, he or she can guide the ceremony for it to count Jewishly and civilly. The ceremony, if it is religious-based, simply requires a license that is filed with the secular authorities (your state) and it ends up fulfilling both secular and Jewish law.
Some couples choose to have a friend officiate the ceremony, but it is important for a couple that is getting married within the “Conservative Jewish,” “Reconstructionist Jewish,” “Renewal Jewish,” “Reform Jewish,” or any other movement of traditions runs their plans for the ceremony with a rabbi they trust. In order for a wedding to be considered kosher, there are certain elements and aspects that are required, so why go through all the trouble to make your reception perfect if not your ceremony as well? The integrity of your ceremony should be as big of a priority as your table linens.
But what if you do want an official member of Jewish clergy to perform your wedding ceremony? You have some options. You can decide if you’d like to hire a rabbi, cantor, or both.
It all depends on the clergy member’s training and the movement. A rabbi and a cantor can have similar roles in a Jewish wedding. Some rabbis enjoy singing! There are some who will chant the blessings and speak while under the chuppah. Rabbis [in the conservative movement] are trained to recite the blessings with the traditional melodies, so you can still have a musical quality even if you don’t have a cantor officiate your ceremony.
You may luck out with a rabbi who can carry a tune, and while that’s awesome, you can’t start asking Randy, JLo, and Steven to join you at Rabbi Idol auditions. So if you happen to know that your rabbi sings, you could probably stop there. Rabbis may chant blessings regardless of their singing talents. Just because a rabbi chants doesn’t mean they are ready for a Vegas lounge. Upholding the integrity and tradition of the chants is any rabbi’s first priority. A rabbi can still officiate your wedding even if he or she can’t sing. If it’s important to you to include music beyond the regular chants in your ceremony, you may want to hire a cantor as an addition to your rabbi. Or, the cantor can gig the wedding alone.
According to Cantor Debbi Ballard of My Personal Cantor, “a rabbi and a cantor are equally qualified under civil law and religious law to perform weddings.” So while cantors can absolutely perform weddings by themselves, they can also definitely sing. That is, by nature, a cantor’s job. If there’s a Jewish song that’s meaningful to you and your betrothed, you could have your cantor sing it. Or, if you’d just like a level of musicality included in the regular wedding ceremony blessings, a cantor would be a good choice.
Cantor Debbi reminds couples, “You are publicly stating your commitment to each other, and you want someone who will capture the essence of your union as a couple, and share it with your family and guests.”
So remember, for your marriage to be considered official among the members of the tribe, you don’t need a member of clergy. But for your marriage to be recognized by the state, you do. It does not have to be a rabbi or a cantor; this clergy member can be a justice of the peace of a friend or a father or a sister, as long as they become ordained through the state as a secular clergy member. If you do want an official Jewish presence under the chuppah, you can choose to have a rabbi, a cantor, or both! One is not more official than the other. Both autographs make your ketubah valid and consider you to be married. It’s up to you and your personal and religious preference, and we wish you a hearty mazel tov for whatever it is you choose.