Personalized Vows

The Jewish News
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Couples create their own vows to reflect their unique relationships.

As Lauren and Wes Herrin prepared for their 2009 wedding, the couple agreed there would be no long speeches. They didn’t want anything too serious and, above all, they wanted the ceremony to reflect their personalities.

A key component of their wedding preparations included writing their marriage vows. It was a practice these Bloomfield Township residents didn’t see very often, but it was important to this bride and groom that the ceremony show exactly who they were as a couple.

Prior to their special day, Lauren and Wes, now both in their 30s, sat down to brainstorm. They looked at each other and started expressing their feelings before putting their thoughts down “in more cohesive sentences.”

Originally, they planned to read different vows. However, because they liked what they came up with together, Lauren, who works for a nonprofit organization, and Wes, who works for the federal government, decided they would recite the same vows. For a couple that consistently finished each other’s sentences during a discussion about their wedding, it’s no surprise they decided to share the same few sentences as their wedding vows.

Huntington Woods residents Jenny and Sean Morgan decided to pen their own vows when they wed in 2013, citing the same reason as most couples adopting the practice. They wanted their ceremony to reflect their unique personalities. The same was true for Stephanie and Kevin Burnstein when they married in 2014.

“It brought a piece of us into the ceremony,” recalls Stephanie Burnstein, 28. “Our story began eight years prior to the wedding [they met through BBYO]. Adding that narrative made it our wedding. It gave people a chance to see why we meant so much to each other. It wasn’t just a generic drink-the-wine, break-the-glass ceremony.”

When writing their vows, the Burnsteins of Plymouth sat down to come up with a basic outline of what they wanted to say to each other but left parts blank for the other to fill in privately.

“We wrote the basic outline together; but it worked, and it was still special. It also meant that mine wasn’t going to be two pages while his was a paragraph,” Stephanie recalls. “We were still surprised during our ceremony when we heard each other’s completed vows for the first time.”

Requirements Of A Jewish Wedding

Jewish weddings like the Herrins, Burnsteins and Morgans are still among the minority when it comes to personalized wedding vows. These couples reported attending only a few ceremonies incorporating the practice, and local rabbis echo their observations. However, there is no halachic reason a bride and groom can’t pen their own wedding vows.

The requirements of a Jewish wedding will vary depending on the individual rabbi performing the ceremony and his or her affiliation. For example, when Rabbi Michele Faudem, a Conservative rabbi, officiates, she has the following requirements: Both the bride and groom must be Jewish, either by birth or an appropriate conversion. Additionally, she asks that the rings are metal (without stones or holes) and that their ketubah is a traditional Aramaic contract signed by two witnesses. Both witnesses must be Shabbat-observant and not related to each other or a relative of the bride or groom.

She also requires the couple to sign a document that states that in the event of a divorce, they agree to appear before a beit din and abide by their ruling regarding the issuance of a get (a Jewish divorce document given by the husband to the wife).

As far as what’s said during the ceremony, she welcomes couples to personalize their vows. So far she has not had such a request. If a couple wanted to write their own, Faudem’s only other requirement would be that the groom recite (in Hebrew) what translates to: “Behold, thou art consecrated to me with this ring, according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”

Those married by Temple Israel’s Rabbi Josh Bennett are asked to sign a ketubah and, in the case of an interfaith couple, a conversion is not required. However, he will only officiate for couples who agree to have a Jewish home and Jewish children.

“The [ketubah] text can range from a traditional Aramaic contract to a modern creative text. Typically, the couple is involved in making this determination dependent on their religious observance,” he says. “I am open to creative language and modern textual changes that better fit the relationship of each couple.  Often this conversation leads to the couple’s decision to share their own vows.” Bennett estimates that 25 percent of the couples he has married have penned their own vows.

Advice From Those Who’ve Done It

Looking back on her 2015 wedding, Ariana Carps, 33, doesn’t recall many of the details from her special day. Most of it was a blur. But, one of the memories that stands out is hearing her husband, Dan, recite his vows for the first time.

“I remember listening to Dan and thinking how perfectly suited we are for each other because our vows were the same. We had the same jokes and references without knowing what the other person was going to say,” said Carps, who was married by Rabbi Bennett. Each year on their anniversary, the Carps reread their vows.

Those who penned their vows offer advice to couples wanting to add a personal touch to their ceremonies:

  • Consider whether you want each person to have a similar tone. For example, are you OK with one person being emotional and sentimental and the other taking a more jovial approach? Ask a mutual friend or family member to read your vows if this is an issue.
  • When writing your vows, first get your ideas on paper. Don’t worry about how it sounds until you’re done. Then go back and read it out loud, advises Carps. “Make sure it’s not too long and it doesn’t sound like an essay,” she said.
  • Once your vows are written, be sure to practice. Not only will this help ease any nervous tension, but it will give you an idea of how it sounds when read out loud. Carps said she wasn’t nervous when it came time to read her vows because “at that moment, I could only see him. It felt like it was just the two of us.”

Reciting her vows didn’t make Jenny Morgan nervous either. Morgan, a co-director at the Jewish Community Center day camp, said having theater experience helped with that. Aside from an acting background, she was proud of what she wrote and eager to share it with their guests, which she said helped ease any nervous feelings.

  • Write from the heart to make it meaningful. Think about how you felt when you first saw your fiancé(e), what you respect most about your partner, how your life has gotten better with the other person, hardships you’ve endured together and what makes your relationship work.

Jennifer Lovy Contributing Writer

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