Snapshots from a weekend:

1. This afternoon we attended a wedding of two Jews. Backyard, simple, classy. Casting straight out of a Hugh Grant movie. The ceremony was performed by a judge. Beforehand the mother of the groom explained how the couple had “personalized” their wedding–everything from the huppah to the food to the music was their concoction, with a little help here and there from parents. Sheva Brachot, the traditional seven nuptial blessings, were recited later on. There was a ketubah, though it took the form of vows rather than a traditional Jewish marriage contract. Lots of men wore kippot.¬† After the ceremony the couple “spent a few moments together in yichud,” or seclusion.

My mother in law asked me afterwards if it was a kosher wedding, and I responded that according to halakha it wasn’t–there was no point at which the groom gave the bride a ring and said, “With this ring you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel” in front of two sabbath-observant witnesses; the ketubah was not technically a ketubah. Yet the fact remains that, in these times, this was a pretty Jewish wedding.

2. One of the relatives coming to the wedding relayed the following story: Her flight from New York was delayed on Friday for hours and hours. An Orthodox-looking woman and her child were to get on the flight, and were clearly getting worried about whether they would make it to their destination for Shabbos. They get on the plane when it’s time to board, and as they are taxiing to the runway, they realize that they won’t make it. They ask the flight attendant if they can be let off the plane. Amazingly, the flight attendant says yes. The plane taxis back to the terminal, they are allowed off the plane, their luggage is removed, and the plane now has to get back in line to take off. It adds an hour to the flight, which itself was not direct–many people missed connections.

Now there’s no question the woman shouldn’t have gotten on the plane to begin with, given the lateness of the hour (this is why I rarely fly on Fridays). The two questions that stand out in my mind are: 1) Should she have asked to get off the plane once they had already left the terminal? She surely risked a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, in that people may well have looked at her and said, ‘What’s with these crazy, self-indulgent Orthodox Jews?’ There’s also an outside chance she achieved a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, if people looked at her and said, ‘Wow, that’s real commitment.’ I find the former to be more likely. Still, as far as the halakha is concerned, she probably did the right thing. But as far as the spirit of the law goes, she has a lot to account for. 2) Should the airline have let her off? I was pretty shocked that they did. Which is the worse PR: ‘X Airline delays passengers so Orthodox Jew can deplane to get home for Shabbos;’ or ‘X Airline forces Orthodox Jew to compromise her religious beliefs’?

3. A cousin at the wedding is a jazz performer and composer in New York. He asked me if I’m still doing music. I told him I lead services at High Holidays, and that’s my main musical outlet. I also find, however, that my musical training comes in handy in more abstract ways, the ones envisioned when the ancient Greeks included music among the seven disciplines of education, namely in cultivating a sense of beauty in form, shape, and rhetoric. I hear music in the cadences of speech, not only in those of a composition.

I then asked him how he approaches his composing. He told me he writes a melody, gives a little bit of chord structure to it, and then recruits players to play it as a jazz improv piece. The sound is something like a big band, but without the scoring. I was fascinated by this, as to me it captured the essence of the Jewish-secular weave happening inside the wedding ceremony: the couple was taking Jewish elements, weaving them together with secular and other elements (the Ontario secular ceremony is a watered-down version of the Book of Common Prayer, complete with, ‘Speak now or forever hold your peace’). And the question at the end is: Is it authentic, and in whose eyes?

4. Last but not least: I’ve been reading Elias Bickerman’s classic “From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees” on this trip. Bickerman’s main thesis is that the fusion of post-exilic Biblical Judaism and Greek philosophy and culture yielded Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. But the lead up to that fusion was confusion–about what constituted authentic Jewish life, authentic reading of the text, the authentic voice of God. What came out may well have been unrecognizable to even Moses himself, as the famous Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiba relates (Menahot 29b). There is little doubt in my mind that we are in a similar period today, when Jews have engaged in the secular culture not simply out of economic necessity, but because there seems to be something genuinely desirable in it. This has yielded several generations of confusion. We may or may not live to see what the fusion finally brings, but it’s a good bet that it may be unrecognizable to Rabbi Akiba.