The Kallah’s Tisch: What’s a bride and a rabbi to do?

Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler
March 12, 2012
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In October 2009, I married my husband in a profoundly Jewish, non-kiddushin, Brit Ahuvim wedding ceremony. We spent hours negotiating the language of the liturgy, the Hebrew of the shtar brit (the document of our marriage) and choosing the clergy/facilitators/effectors of our halakhic contract. He was clear from the beginning that he wanted a tisch – a groom’s traditional pre-wedding ceremony wherein he and his male friends, teachers, and family members teach Torah, drink l’chayims, and share words and experiences which reflect the hopes and dreams for the couple about to wed.

I felt torn: I, an ordained rabbi, wanted to want a traditional tisch of my own but couldn’t deny that it felt incongruous with both my feminist sensibilities and my desire to feel more like a bride, but still like a rabbi, on the cusp of my wedding. I wondered whether there couldn’t be an alternative to the dualistic dynamic of either/or: couldn’t there be a way to feel both like a bride and a rabbi?

I called three of my dearest friends and colleagues: Rabbi Sarah Graff, Dr. Ariella Radwin, and Kara Sanchez and asked them to be co-hosts at my tisch. I told them they had complete license to create a ritual that had meaning, integrity, and creativity. They, together, co-created, envisioned, and facilitated a truly extraordinary kallah’s tisch.

They brought bundles of dried spice, woven baskets, and a tall glass vase to our table. One by one, they introduced each spice (dried oranges, lavender, cinnamon, etc.) by asking the room of tightly pressed cousins, college friends, professional colleagues, and childhood confidants of both genders to share a particular kind of memory of an experience they’d had with me. Soon, the room was filled with laughter and stories, bittersweet memories, once forgotten dreams, and wishes never before spoken aloud. My heart swelled. When my soon to be husband was danced into the room and we were rejoined, I felt he was symbolically escorting me, my past, and our future together toward the chuppah.

The kallah’s tisch was a stunning innovation because it appropriated a traditionally male Jewish wedding ritual and interlaced it with strong feminine energy embodied in a thoughtful way. It was profoundly Jewish in that story-telling, memory-sharing, and dream-weaving are replete with Jewish values. Also, each person at the tisch was invited to come forward and gather together a small satchel of the dried spices, tied together with a ribbon, to take home and use for havdallah. My kallah’s tisch, was, in effect, the havdallah ceremony that marked the transition between my single life and my married life. The glass vase filled with dried spices: now symbols of all that I’d encountered and created before my marriage would come with me into a new stage of life, even as it helped to demarcate its separation from that which had come before.

My three friends created a ceremony that was as innovative as it was nourished by tradition; it was as much a testament to a life filled with Torah as one overflowing with warm memories and beloved companions that had accompanied me throughout the journey which had brought me to the day of my wedding.

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Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler works at the Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. She also serves as the Director of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism. She received master’s degrees from the University of Judaism and from Harvard Graduate School of Education and was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in 2006, where she found deep meaning writing and researching her Rabbinic Thesis on the Book of Job: "Talk to Me: (Or, When More Bad Things Happen to Good People)." She is married to Rabbi Amitai Adler (also an S Blog contributor) and this year became Michael Zachary Joel Adler's mother.

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