Hi, everybody, welcome to the wedding ceremony podcast. We talk about anything and everything that has to do with wedding ceremonies. This is episode number 313. recorded on Tuesday, May the fourth 2021. We could probably start right there. My name is Clint Hufft. And normally with me is JP Reynolds, but JP, he's got to do some other stuff. So we have a very special guest. I really am excited about our guest today all the way from Portland, by way of Los Angeles. He is Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer. Is it Mayor Meyer?
As soon as I said it, I thought I better clear this up. And you are in Portland and you have a kind of a cool business, Religion Outside the Box. Real quickly tell everybody about that.
Rabbi Brian 0:49
Well, our whole mission is to inspire adults in their spiritual religious lives, regardless of what they believe or how they grew up.
Adults, so do you ever talk?
Rabbi Brian 1:05
We'll deal with a kid every so often, but I think religion is an adult game. And when we boil it down and try to make it pediatric, we lose most of the goodness of it.
Wow, that's a podcast all by itself.
Rabbi Brian 1:20
Let's do that later. But today, for your galactic Star Wars Day, we're talking about weddings.
Yeah, we are. In fact, that's how I met you. When you were living down in Los Angeles. I don't know how long ago that was.
It seems like at least eight years.
Yeah. Okay. And every now and then, well, for a while, the first or third Monday of every month, we would get together, a bunch of wedding officiants, and have lunch and shoot the breeze. And that's where I first met you. And that was at like an interesting transition in your life. If the way I understand cuz I interviewed you for a different podcast. So tell me about that point in your life that led to where you are now.
Rabbi Brian 2:09
So I was doing weddings like normal, clergy folk, but I had this theory, Clint, that God doesn't play teams, God wouldn't discriminate based on religious affiliation. And I thought it was time for me to stop doing the same. Because I was working at a standard brick and mortar, regular, congregational Rabbi job, right? I found that not to fit. And to put that into weddings was back in the day, it was taboo for a rabbi to do a wedding if one of the people in the couple was not Jewish. And I just cared that they liked each other, and they wanted to be married. And that freed me up a lot.
I don't know if you've ever met JP Reynolds, my co host on this, but he has kind of a similar situation where he was a Jesuit priest. And same type of deal with the way he phrases it is that his personal beliefs got a little, the church was a little too conservative for him. And so it sounds to me, there's logical ways to kind of parse that language, but it sounds to me like you went through a similar epiphany. But tell me now about because, I texted you a couple of days ago, and I said, are you still doing weddings? And you're in Portland? Yeah. So tell me a little bit about the wedding process or your wedding life as it exists right now.
Rabbi Brian 3:42
Well, couples find me kind of, I didn't always think of it kind of like the A Team. Like they didn't know where else to turn. And then they find me in the most bizarre of ways. And often they want to get married slightly before the Sabbath or they want to be married And they want to have a minister and a rabbi. And so when those people find me, I see if I can't be of help.
You said that they're looking for the A Team. And so in my mind, there are four people on the team. And I was just wondering if you're closer to Hannibal or to Mr. T.
Rabbi Brian 4:23
It depends on the day, man.
Yeah, I guess it would. Yeah. So out of the well, the pandemic is a little wacky, but let's say before the pandemic, when what we call the real world. How many weddings would you do in a calendar year?
Rabbi Brian 4:41
You know, I used to take all the weddings I could. And then I realized that wasn't working well. And also the weddings where it's two Jews matching each other. Let me give that to somebody else to do. And I do about 12 a year now.
Okay, but most of them are interfaith?
Rabbi Brian 5:00
They might even do weddings for no Jews at all. So those are not interfaith right? Just people.
Religion Outside the Box and the way you've constructed it. Yeah. It sounds to me like people would gravitate towards you. If they fell into that kind of thinking, that is definitely not along the normal organized religion deal.
Rabbi Brian 5:22
Often for families where there's Jews involved they want to have a ceremony kind of like a reuben sandwich, which is kosher style, but it ain't kosher. So I give them the reuben sandwich of weddings.
What is a reuben sandwich?
Rabbi Brian 5:38
It's corned beef, a Russian dressing, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on rye. It's delicious.
Oh, Holy moly.
Rabbi Brian 5:48
Yeah. And then a coronary follow shortly thereafter.
The way you described it, my wife is Jewish. And it sounds to me like that would be heaven for her. The way you described it.
Rabbi Brian 6:00
It's amazing. It's technically not kosher. Due to the cheese with the meat, but Oh, yeah, it's kosher style. And a lot of people want a wedding, they want a rabbi there. And I work with couples, we don't do the wedding That I was taught in rabbinical school. I custom wedding for the couple from the ground up. And if we do Hebrew in it, we do Hebrew in it. But I often say to them, Look, Hey, you got a guy with a hat standing at the front. We've covered the Jewish part. Let's just do the wedding you want and if involves Jewish elements, we do those two.
Now when I think of Jewish elements, I think of wine and seven blessings breaking the glass.
Rabbi Brian 6:47
yeah, we got a few cool traditions in there.
When you went to rabbinical school, how much time did they spend on wedding ceremonies?
Rabbi Brian 6:56
Dude, it's a five year postgraduate course
when it is not. Oh, yeah, it is. Okay, I don't know if you're serious or not. Are you serious? Yeah, dude. a five year just on weddings?
Rabbi Brian 7:11
No, no, no, the whole rabbinical school.
Oh, no, no, I'm sorry, I didn't ask the right question.
Rabbi Brian 7:17
We had lifecycle classes all the time. I can't tell you though, it was an exact hour amount. But yeah, we talked all about life cycles all the time.
Because there are some who have gone to seminary. And when I asked him about doing weddings, I got the feeling that they didn't really spend a lot of time on it, when they kind of figured that the liturgy is already set. And so just release them into the wild and see what happens.
Rabbi Brian 7:47
Liberal Judaism has the idea that personal autonomy, that it's up for people to make their own decisions, there's no clearing house or publishing house that tells us exactly what to say. And as time went on, I had more and more post it notes covering up what was officially in my rabbis manual until now, I pretty much just keep the rabbi's manual for the weddings. And it's basically a prop. So it looks like I'm reading from the book, but I'm not.
Oh, no kidding, is that because you're so familiar with what you're doing?
Rabbi Brian 8:21
I have it all out, I've taken a lot of it and make it for the couple for what fits them. And what fits for me, taking it easy often on God language, sometimes that can be off putting for some people. So figuring out ways of adapting.
Yeah. So when you do this, how much Are you involved with a couple? Do you interview them, have a questionnaire or how does that work?
Rabbi Brian 8:47
Yeah, I meet with them first. I like how this going because everyone's got their own style. So I meet with them often a phone call and then a zoom. And I get a sense of who they are, what they might want. And then I send them a pretty long proposal of here's what it is, I heard you say, here's what I think we could do together. And because we have the internet, I work with them off of Google Docs. And we put the outline of the ceremony together and figuring out all the pieces there.
I really like that. Yeah, you know what, and you know why? I have to admit, it's because I know about Google Docs, but I've never used Google Docs, except for when a couple and this has only happened maybe twice in all the years that I've been doing this, where they'll get like I send them the way I work is that I have a big collection of stuff. And I send it to everybody, anybody who wants it, whether they hire me or they don’t. And then what I do is I instruct them to just delete everything they don't want. Because it's really big, Brian, it's like over 80 pages long and it's everything that I've ever done. And so I think that If we get rid of all the stuff that they don't want them, what's leftover gives me kind of a real good first step into figuring what they do want. But then my process is very interactive, where the couple actually goes through piece by piece with my guidance, and they figure out exactly what they want. And a couple of times, it's been a Google Doc. But that's your system, right is to do a Google Doc. And then so correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard you say is that you have like a framework, which, to me, means the elements like we're gonna do this, we're gonna do this, and you're gonna use rings, and you're gonna say I do. And then you kind of fill in the blanks.
Rabbi Brian 10:37
I come up with the outline with them while we talk, while we're working. And I put that outline into the Google Doc. And from that, so that they can see here we're doing circling, here we're doing wine, but I don't have the whole ceremony written out. I got a tip from a dear friend of mine said, Don't show them the whole ceremony. Have it be so that they can be surprised and so they can hear the words for the first time when they're hearing it and they can be there live. And also, I don't want them word smithing what I'm going to say. That limits me too much.
I get it, I understand. But you do have things that are kind of like in, in your bag of tricks, like if they're gonna do.
Rabbi Brian 11:23
I'll give you an example of one.
Rabbi Brian 11:25
I will often ask couples to name qualities that they would want in their marriage. I said, What are some qualities and I help them and we make a list of 7-10 qualities of what it is that they'd like their marriage to be filled with, hope, love, commitment, all different good things. And, I give them the option that instead of using their traditionally, they're the seven blessings that are said or chanted in Hebrew during a wedding ceremony. And traditionally, they're boring as sin, because most people don't understand the Hebrew. And if you do understand the Hebrew, it has nothing to do with the couple. These are boilerplate blessings. So I said, Well, what if we do something kind of different, and we take your list of these qualities that you want in your wedding, and we ask people who you know, who embody some of these qualities to come up like your great aunt Kathy, and have her come up and give you a blessing about commitment. and have your your folks who are who are all about perseverance, have them bless your union with perseverance tonight. I help the family members, and I help everyone on how to write that blessing. But as I say, to the couple, I can do a good wedding, but I can't hold a candle to Aunt Kathy coming up and giving you a blessing and you're going to cry when aunt Kathy comes up.
Oh my gosh, I've never heard of that before. And I love it. That is amazing. It made me think of two things. Number one, it made me think of a candle lighting at a bar mitzvah, where you know, you have special people that will come up and light a candle and that kind of stuff except for you flip the script. And instead of the kid doing a poem for the person, the person comes up and give something to the couple.
Rabbi Brian 13:07
Yeah, I love that. And I also don't
Rabbi Brian 13:11
know everyone claimed All right.
Cats out of the bag, right? So the other thing that I thought of and this is weird, I wonder why I thought this, but the first thing I thought of is oh my gosh, the ceremony is going to be twice as long as it normally would be.
Rabbi Brian 13:26
And you know what I say to them about that? I will cut out my parts so that aunt Kathy can get some time. Because it's more important than that Kathy is up there, then you hear me give a homily.
Boy, I tell you, I think that you and I could be really good friends.
I thought we were
We're becoming more and more.
I'm with you.
I have to start more podcasts so I can call you up again. So the other thing that I thought was amazing, is how you incorporated the qualities that the couple imagines their marriage will be because you and I both know that it really is imagination if they're getting married for the first time. It's different for people that are either been married before, or they're renewing their vows. That's a different ballgame. But for people that are getting married for the first time, it really is just, I imagine it's going to be like this. And so the fact that you incorporate those hoped for qualities into the seven blessings is amazing.
Rabbi Brian 14:30
And then go even further is we have a ketubah which is a Jewish wedding contract. I'll often ask the couple, well, maybe you want to have those people giving you blessings have those people all sign on the ketubah as well.
Oh, wait a minute. So do you have a system of creating a ketubah?
Rabbi Brian 14:52
Oh, I say to the couple I say I'm gonna send you a whole bunch of links and what it could do but looks like but do you got anyone in your family, any of your friends who have some artistic abilities who can make you something? And I work with them, and I work with their friend and making a ketubah that fits them.
Okay, I need to pause for just a second all of our listeners, if any of you know Rabbi Barry Tuchman, he has gone into the business of making YouTubers. I think it's cool. I didn't know that. Yeah, he's been doing it for a long time, because he got really involved in Photoshop. And so that's his creative outlet is he creates? I know, and so it sounds to me like this is in his wheelhouse. And, and I haven't spoken to Barry for a while.
Rabbi Brian 15:39
I'm in like, eight years.
Yeah, I know. And so I think if anybody in fact, I think I'll reach out to him after this. Let me make a note of that. And then it would be so cool, because this is right, in his Rabbi Barry highlighted this. Yeah. And yeah, if if I'll tell you what it reminds me of, it reminds me of the couple where he was Jewish, and his family was from England. And the bride was kind of a typical blonde beach girl from Southern California. And he wanted to do a ketubah. And we had a meeting before the wedding day, we had a meeting at a Starbucks or something. And he said, thinking about the ketubah. And I said, well bring me an example of what you want to talk about. And so I looked at it, and it says that you're going to raise the kids as children of Abraham, which I interpreted that as saying, we're going to raise our kids Jewish. And so all I did was say to her, I said, Is that cool with you? And she said, no, no. And I thought, well, then you need to modify the agreement so that you both feel good about it. And now what I'm hearing you say is not only do you modify it, so you both feel good about it, you construct it so that, here's what we just want. Second, you construct it so that the people that are integral to the wedding ceremony itself are integral to the contract that you agree to. Does that make sense?
Rabbi Brian 17:07
Absolutely. I love that wedding contract, right? The katubah is now a ceremonial contract or a god license. And it doesn't get filed with a Jewish court. It goes on the couple's walls, then it doesn't matter if you've changed all the words of it. I had a couple they just had, they did thumb prints of all their guests who came in all over their ketubah and it made this beautiful balloon out of different colors. People put their names or initials inside their colorful thumb prints on this thing. And that was their ketubah
This image of a balloon made out of thumbprints had their name and the date on it. And that's it. But that was to me, that's a ceremony contract that works. Why not?
This is starting to remind me of the the Unity rituals that involve sand and that kind of stuff. Yeah, and all the different variations of, do we combine wine? Do we combine whatever it is. And this is another example of the innovation I guess that would come with. I just love this, Brian. I think it's awesome.
Did you come up with it all by yourself?
Rabbi Brian 18:26
Well, it's the Holy Spirit might have had something to do with it. I don't know.
I didn't really.
Rabbi Brian 18:31
I don't know. I'm in doing it. I'm an artist. And so I adapt.
You remember the first time that you said to them, let's put the qualities that you want in the ceremony? Let's say the first time that happened?
Rabbi Brian 18:45
Yeah. My wedding. February 1998. My wife and I decided that that's what how we wanted to adapt the seven blessings.
Oh, see? There you go. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. That's right. I don't know where I pulled that out of my it's all good. Do you have any other innovations or things that you've that maybe a couple has requested of you and you had to figure it out or that you offered?
Rabbi Brian 19:18
Yeah, a lot of things. Like having the couple face each other during the ceremony. I kind of think that's important.
But that's kind of the norm isn’t it?
I see a lot of wedding officiant still have the couple face them. So everyone's just staring at the couple's butts. I think that's just stupid.
I agree. And you know who really hates that? The photographer and the videographer.
Rabbi Brian 19:40
Yeah, I cannot work on that. I always work with them. And I say to them, Look, our photos are gonna last longer than my ceremony. So let's make them good.
Yeah, I always tell to the couple is that when you first get in front of me, and if you're feeling nervous or whatever, and you just want to look at me or look at whatever is behind me, then that's great, but When you say your vows will make sure you're facing each other. And I tell the photographer that as well. I said, don't worry. At the beginning, I don't know what they're gonna do. But when they say their vows, they're definitely gonna face each other.
Rabbi Brian 20:09
I'll give you one more is for most couples, unless they're real introverts. For most couples, at some point in the ceremony, I will say, Alright, stop, I need you to look turn around, look at the people who are here. I need you to look at all these people's faces. I want you to look at all these people who love you, all these people who support you, who honor you. And give them a chance to look at the people who are there. It seems like a goofy innovation to add, but it's really meaningful.
I'm glad that you preface that with unless they're real introverts.
Rabbi Brian 20:44
Yeah, of course, this is all customized. Clint, it's got to be customized. Because I'm marrying the couple. I'm not just doing a cookie cutter.
Oh, man, you're preaching to the choir right now. There have been maybe a few times where I just offered to the couple, when I ask the I do question I actually come around and stand in the aisle.
Rabbi Brian 21:05
I do the same thing with the we do?
No, what I do is, I'll ask the couple the question of basically, do you want to marry this person? I do. But because it's a direct question from me to them, then having them answer my question, but letting everybody see their face. Because to me, that's the pivotal moment where the transition is really happening, they're actually getting married, but only a few times have they thought that was a cool idea. I'm getting more people who will say we hate being the center of attention. And so I like what you said at the beginning about making sure that they're comfortable with whatever you gonna do.
Rabbi Brian 21:45
If they don't want to read their vows aloud, I got options for that, got to have options for everything.
What do you do?
Rabbi Brian 21:53
I give them the heart horror movie option. I say like, horror movie is a terrible analogy, but it always works. In a horror movie, they never show the most horrible thing, because they know you're going to imagine something worse. Oh, yeah, I'm going to ask you guys to whisper your vows to each other and ask the music to play. And all of us aren't going to hear what you're saying. We're just going to see your faces. And just like in a horror movie, where you're imagining something more horrible, everyone's going to be looking at your faces and imagining you're saying more beautiful things then you probably are.
Oh my gosh, that's the Golden Nugget I was looking for. Because on a few occasions, the couple has said to me, when we say our vows, We don't want that to be over the sound system. Right. So what I say to the guests is they're going to exchange their vows. And they're going to do it just between them. So let's all give them this moment of intimacy. But the thing that you just added on that one little flavor that I had never thought of was let's fill it with music. Yeah, yeah, that's a key thing.
Rabbi Brian 22:59
And it makes them go longer to that music does that if the music is playing, it makes a couple say a few extra things to each other. Because they have a chance to talk to each other now.
And they're not they don't write it down. They just kind of talk to each other.
Rabbi Brian 23:12
No, no, I haven't write it down. But they can go off script now.
Rabbi Brian 23:16
They don't have to they're free. They don't they know that the music is covering them.
If they're getting professionally videotaped, and one of them is miked up, it's kind of cool. That could be on the on the video, right?
Rabbi Brian 23:30
And they don't remember about that. That's a good point. I didn't even think of that. I've never had a couple say yeah, but the videographer is going to hear me. I've never heard anyone say that.
They don't know what they don't know. And sometimes I have to say, when the videographer is putting a microphone on the groom, I'll say, Don't worry, that goes straight to the video. No one's ever going to hear anything through that microphone. Great. But I love the intimacy of what you do suggest that.
Rabbi Brian 23:59
Again, it depends on the couple, by the point we're talking about the vows, I've already had some meetings with them, I already have a sense of who they are. And I can say, Hey, listen, the Vows are coming. Look, you don't have to say them out loud. Often I'll give him a halfway thing. I'll say, let's do it this way. Let's pretend like you're gonna say the vows to each other. But at the last minute, we can switch up and nobody will know that you're just reading them silently to each other. So it depends. It depends on who the couple is.
Fantastic. Well, we're out of time, because I know you have Something in about nine minutes. So if you don't mind, Rabbi Brian, tell everybody if they want to reach out to you how they can do that.
Rabbi Brian 24:42
ROTB.ORG. You can find me there. There's Some free things available, for the price of giving me your email address. There's some pretty cool resources.
That's religion outside The box. That's what that stands for. And I am on his email list and I love the things that you send out. And also you do a kind of a zoom service at eight o'clock pacific time, every Saturday morning.
Rabbi Brian 25:12
That also through the newsletter, the newsletter funnels you to all the other ROTB magic.
Brilliant. This has been fantastic. I have a feeling that you have more stories to tell. So we'll bring you back at some time in the future.
Rabbi Brian 25:25
Thank you, Clint. It's a pleasure. And thank you for making time for me this morning.
All right, let me tell everybody else about what we're doing. That is if you want to see all of our episodes, you can go to weddingceremonypodcast.com and you can see that they're all archived chronologically. So the most recent episode is always at the top. That's also where you can email us. You can give comments, you can ask questions, you can tell stories through the Email button. And then if you would want to subscribe, that's great. Just go to the Apple store or Stitcher click on the subscribe button. That's also where you can leave a review if you'd like to. That's one of the ways people find us. Thank you again to our incredible musicians that play the theme music the dacapoplayers.com. That's it for this episode of the wedding ceremony podcast. This is Clint and on behalf of Rabbi Brian, we will see you next time.