New York Times Writes Jerusalem Out of Jewish Wedding Ceremony
The New York Times style section has recently developed a strange fascination bordering on obsession with Jewish weddings. This goes beyond merely reporting Jewish weddings along with other weddings as they happen. The December 10, 2017 style section had an extended article about three couples who had traveled from Israel to be married at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. The style section on Sunday, November 25, 2018 featured a long article and series of colorful photographs about the wedding customs of Israelis of Yemenite background. And on Sunday, December 2, 2018, the newspaper published an extensive report, accompanied by several photographs, on the Jewish wedding canopy, or as the Times called it, “huppah.”
One might argue that the attention is excessive and constitutes a sort of bias in its own right, but let’s leave that issue aside, at least for the moment, and focus instead on the content of the most recent article, particularly what the Times article says is “another modified Jewish tradition: stomping on a glass (typically wrapped in cloth), after the couple’s first kiss as husband and wife. (That tradition symbolizes the finality of the marital covenant.)” Let’s leave aside too whether the Times is accurate in describing the glass-stomping as “after” a first husband-wife kiss. (I have my doubts.)
What draws my attention is the Times statement that the glass-breaking tradition “symbolizes the finality of the marital covenant.”
Let’s check in with some traditional Jewish sources and see whether they agree with the Times description of this symbolism. Start with the Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth with new translation and commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The Sacks prayer book includes the marriage service and the following commentary on breaking the glass: “An ancient custom, reminding us that while the Temple remains unbuilt, our joy cannot be complete. It has become a custom to preface this by reciting the verse from Psalm 137, ‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem,’ said by the exiles in Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple.”
For Sacks, in other words, the glass-breaking has to do with the 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple. It’s one thing to see the Times determined to minimize this connection in its editorials and news coverage having to do with President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to the capital of Israel. But for that to spill over into the Jewish wedding coverage in the style section is something else again.
Is Rabbi Sacks an outlier here? Let’s check another Jewish text, Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. Rabbi Lamm writes, “What is the reason? From the Talmud it would appear that breaking the glass served to engender sobriety and balanced behavior. … In the fourteenth century, the author of Kol Bo offered another explanation. The broken glass represents the wreckage of our past glory, and the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem in the first century.”
Yet a third Jewish text, Anita Diamant’s book The New Jewish Wedding, writes that by the 14th century, the glass-smashing “was seen as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus even at the height of personal joy the people’s sadness was recalled. This interpretation is still prevalent, although it is often broadened to include all the losses suffered by the Jewish people.” Diamant also notes, “A broken glass cannot be mended; likewise, marriage is irrevocable, divorce notwithstanding.”
It’s not clear whether the Times style section interpretation of glass-breaking at a Jewish wedding is intended as a political act to write Jerusalem and Israel out of Judaism as part of a broader New York Times project with a long history. But it’s certainly perfectly consistent with that, if not with the Jewish sources I consulted.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.