Who is qualified to perform a Jewish wedding?
The concept of a rabbi officiating at a wedding ceremony appears only during the Middle Ages. We first hear of it in twelfth-century Egypt, and later in fourteenth-century Germany. Legally there exists no function for a “third party” during a wedding ceremony. From a halakhic point of view “Kiddushin” may be defined as a private transaction between bride and groom, with no formative part to be played by an officiating rabbi. When the institution of a rabbi officiating at a wedding becomes a matter of course in Ashkenazi literature it is tied to the safeguarding of a communal rabbi’s public authority. In addition, a Talmudic dictum is brought to bear on our subject. “Rav Judah said in the name of Samuel: One who is not knowledgeable about Gittin and Kiddushin, should have no business with them”. It is clear from the wording and the context of this statement, that it does not imply the existence of an officiating rabbi at the ceremony.
However, even though there is no formal requirement for officiation at a wedding, there still is good reason to have a knowledgeable rabbi present. Firstly, there are technical requirements of a wedding ceremony, without which the “Kiddushin” are not valid. Secondly, in our day and age when the gulf between Jews and their tradition is so great, a couple planning to get married should at least have minimal acquaintance with the importance and centrality of the Jewish family ideologically and halakhically. This is insured by the presence and guidance of a rabbi before the wedding and during the ceremony itself.
Rabbis Shlomo Fox and David Levine
Approved Unanimously 5749