It’s wedding season, which is lovely, if you love celebrating love, commitment and Jewishly rich celebrations – which I do. It’s also proving a tense time for a number of the couples at whose weddings I will be officiating in the coming months. Who gets to stand where under the Chuppah, who gets invited to which bit, who gets to make the decisions ... it’s proving stressful for many and I’m delighted to be largely excluded from the particularly vexed question of who pays. I tell all ‘my’ couples that stuff gets broken at Jewish weddings. Part of the reason, I believe, for breaking a glass at a Chuppah is to remind us that life in general, and wedding ceremonies are just one part of life, isn’t about perfection. It’s about dealing with a world that is often messy, uneven and, increasingly, lacking in clear well-defined norms and models that can be simply picked up and adopted to our ever-more complex contemporary social realities. Life, and wedding ceremonies, are ultimately about moving on beyond the brokenness.
And then I started to see reports of the wedding of the grandson of the Belz Rebbe. 25,000 Hasidim descended on the main square of the Belz district of Jerusalem to celebrate. If the list of canapés for a busy London wedding seems daunting, try catering for 25,000! Have a look on You Tube. I did and wondered at the sea of black hats dancing and singing, Bocherim perched high up and far away peering on through binoculars as the couple made their way through the rituals of a grand Hasidic wedding. I had the same fascination, admiration and alienation I often feel when I look in at Hasidic celebration, all arrayed in vast number, with deep commitment and an attitude to Judaism that I just cannot share. Then I was struck by something truly powerful. In an article in Haaretz one commentator pointed out that the last time a Belzer Rebbe celebrated the wedding of a grandson was ‘in Europe.’ The Belzer were all but entirely obliterated in the horrors of the Holocaust. After the Shoah what was once one of the most powerful of all the Hasidic dynasties was reduced to a handful of families. And now, less than 70 years later, the Belzer number in the tens of thousands, and they get to celebrate. Even after the brokenness they can move on. Any wedding is a celebration. Every successful marriage is a triumph of moving on beyond the brokenness. Emil Fackenheim wrote of this in his work, To Mend the World. After the rupture of the Holocaust, wrote Fackenheim, it’s tempting to imagine nothing counts, it’s tempting to consider every action is inauthentic and false. But this has never been the Jewish way. Even after the most horrific rupture known to humanity we have rebuilt. After every experience of brokenness we move on and dance again.
I will, on Shabbat, be speaking about these appalling attacks in Woolwich. I offer my prayers of comfort with the family of Lee Rigby, and the fiercest condemnation of his murderers.