What to do at an Orthodox Jew's Wedding

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What to do at an Orthodox Jew's Wedding

Hey guys. I hope this is the right forum. First of all, thanks for doing what you do--you're an inspiration to atheists everywhere.

A little background: I am what you'd probably call a "strong atheist," and have been for as long as I can remember (despite the best efforts of my parents to raise me Catholic). My girlfriend of many years--a moderate, "in the closet" type atheist--has a friend who is an orthodox Jew. This friend (whom I have never met) is getting married. She invited us, but told my girlfriend that if I am to attend I must wear a yarmulke.

I told my girlfriend that, while I would be willing to go to a synagogue and sit through a ceremony, I'd consider it insulting to be forced to participate, and to me that includes wearing a religious garment. My girlfriend said that I should wear the yarmulke out of "respect" for her friend's beliefs, to which I responded that I am the one whose beliefs are not being respected.

It's not like I'm telling them not to wear theirs, is it?

Another friend of mine--and another "in the closet" sort of atheist--told me that he would wear the yarmulke because "it's just a hat and it doesn't mean anything." A valid point, I suppose, but it does mean something to me. A yarmulke is a symbol of the Jewish faith. It's basically a sign that says, "Hi, I'm a Jew." To be forced to wear one, however briefly, is like being forced to convert to Judaism just to be welcome as a guest at a wedding. If that's not intolerance, what is? What would these orthodox Jews say if a Christian tried to make them wear crucifixes around their necks for his wedding? What if I wanted all the guests at my wedding to wear "ATHEIST" signs on their backs?

Unfortunately no one seems to see the double standard. I don't want to encourage religious zealots by letting them think it's okay to force non-believers to observe their customs. But at the same time, I don't want to boycott someone's wedding. Am I in the wrong here? Is it selfish or petty of me to refuse to wear the yarmulke? As a responsible atheist, where does one draw the line between asserting one's own convictions and creating friction among one's friends and loved ones? What do you guys think?

Thanks,

-- Dan


Vastet
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I'd write a short but

I'd write a short but friendly letter explaining their hypocracy and how if they were willing to remove the barrier I'd be willing to attend. A suit? No problem. Religious gear? I'll die first.

As painful as it may be to have people seperate themselves from you over such stupid things, it's them who are doing it. You're not telling them what to do, they're trying to tell you what to do.

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Hambydammit
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I agree with vastet

I agree with vastet completely. The only way to stop people from trying to enforce their religion on other people is to make them suffer for it. Look at it this way. Your life isn't going to change one way or another whether you attend or not, but they're going to have to live with the fact that their beliefs alienated someone they wanted in attendance. It's their loss, really.

I had a similar circumstance recently when a Catholic friend of mine asked me to be a groomsman at his wedding. I wrote him a letter thanking him profusely, but also with regrets that I could not "in good faith" stand on the stage with him and support a system that I don't believe in. I told him that I'd be perfectly willing to lend any help that I could outside the ceremony, and that in fact, I'd love to be involved with something... maybe the dinner, the bachelor party, organizing accomodations for guests... whatever.

He understood, and thanked me for my honesty. I ended up playing music for a rehearsal dinner party, and felt great about helping without compromising my beliefs.

I'm not saying it's going to work out that well for you, but I don't think you should give in to the religious pressure under any circumstance. Whatever you do, be polite and pleasant, and don't criticize their beliefs... just say that you don't share them, and cannot in good conscience participate in that way.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Hmmmm If and when I get

Hmmmm If and when I get married I think i'll have everyone wear "I'm an atheist" signs! Laughing out loud

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I'm saying this as a Swede

I'm saying this as a Swede that has never had religion forced upon me, OK I don't know what the hell you Americans go through with religion everyday, but if your girl asks you to wear the hat and the bride wishes you to wear a hat, just wear the hat, its not that big of a deal. And it is definitely not worth the argument with both your girl and the problem of actually boycotting the wedding and getting your girl in trouble with her friend.

 This is just what I would to, but like I said i basically don't even know any religious people.


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Bjxrn, I understand where

Bjxrn, I understand where you're coming from, and I wish it was that simple here.  This is something that I run into over and over.  (Not weddings, per se, just the religious trying to force me into some display of religiosity.)  Where I live, they have a prayer before government meetings... on friday nights, Christians rent part of the main street downtown and preach all night long.  Nearly everyone in the government goes to church, and the pastors are very powerful, since they get to tell the government how God wants them to vote.

Several of the college teams have team prayer meetings even though it's a state school.  The coaches are Christian, and the meetings are of course "voluntary" but if you don't go, the rest of the team pressures you.  I've heard this first hand from several of the players.

 On a personal level, people here start conversations with "So where do you go to church?"

Unfortunately, religion here IS politics, and if you "just go along with it" you're contributing to the system.  It's a sad reality, but it is reality. 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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whoa I'd like to move to

whoa I'd like to move to Sweden one day, though I'm Canadian and get no heat for being an atheist.  Have you been watching the World Jrs. Bjxrn?

 

As for this little problem, I think you should just wear the hat.  Well actually it depends.  If its going to create a conflict between you and your girlfriend then I suggest wear it.  But if your girlfriend has no problem, then just don't go.  There is a lot wrong with religion I just don't think the tradition of wearing a hat at wedding is all that evil.  I do understand that forcing you to wear the hat is wrong though.   


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See, this is just the

See, this is just the double standard we're trying to eliminate. Suppose this was not a religious issue. If you were going to a town meeting, and when you went in, someone gave you a hat that said, "I'm a Proud Republican" and you happened to be a democrat, would you wear it to make your girlfriend happy?

Ok, maybe you would, but you'd be what we call a puss if you did that. Most people would of course reject the hat. If someone insisted, there'd probably be a lawsuit before long.

But, since this is a religious issue, even atheists sometimes say, "Oh, just wear the hat."

I say use the political test. If you would wear the opposing political faction's hat to a town meeting, wear the hat to the wedding. Otherwise, be consistent about standing up for what you believe (or don't believe!)

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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I would never wear a symbol

I would never wear a symbol of the communist party for example, no matter whom asked me to, for example if my girlfriend asked me to wear the symbol at a family function just to make her parents happy.


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Exactly. What I find

Exactly. What I find disturbing about being asked to wear such a hat (or any other religious symbol for that matter) is that it is framed as a sign of respect. Where is the respect in saying you should wear their religious symbol? Truly annoying double standard.


atheistdan (not verified)
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Thanks a lot for the

Thanks a lot for the replies, guys.

In theory, I absolutely agree with you, Hambydammit. The yarmulke does not pass the political test because I am very adamant about standing up for what I (don't) believe in, and if it were only myself involved, I would simply explain my reasons to the bride and not attend the ceremony. And if she has a problem with that, well, too bad. 

As Bjxrn points out, the problem is that asserting myself in this situation might lead to unnecessary conflicts between my girlfriend and me. It's not that our relationship can't handle this kind of thing--it certainly has in the past--it's more that I don't want to cause problems for her. I don't mind burning a few bridges in my own life to protect my rights, but screwing with other people's friendships over such a small thing feels very wrong. 

 The main reason I created this thread is because I am very interested in the broader point. As an atheist in America, you really have to be tough--and often uncompromising--to keep people from cramming religious rituals and dogma down your throat. Sooner or later you are going to have to make a choice between being tough and looking out for your friendships and relationships. When push comes to shove, what should a responsible atheist do?

  It sickens me that the question even needs to be asked. No Christian or Jew ever worries about this kind of thing.

 I should point out that it was my semi-atheist girlfriend, not the Jewish bride, who told me to wear the hat out of "respect." Although I don't for a moment doubt that her Jewish friend would use similar rhetoric, it's interesting how even atheists buy into that kind of crap. 


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i agree with your stance

i agree with your stance because wearing the yamulke symbolizes to you a compromise of your beliefs and identity.

 

as far as christians or jews not having to deal with that, i wouldn't be surprised if there were a few christians--who knows a muslim, a reformed jew, maybe even a hindu there who will be wearing yamulkes, and will be"forced to convert to Judaism just to be welcome as a guest" just the same. and there are some who will feel strongly about the same issue and take the same stance as you.


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I don't think women have an

I don't think women have an equivalent accessory in Judaism, but if I were at, say, a muslim wedding, and I was required to cover my face or body with a chador/hijab/niqāb I would definitely be opposed to doing that. My friends and their families, I'm sorry to say, would have to deal with a woman whose head was uncovered!
*gasp*
I'd still send them a nice present, and if there was a reception that allowed "uncovered" women then I'd go.

This issue is over more than "just a hat", to me at least. If it IS just a hat to you, then by all means show up with it. And if your urge to keep your peace with everyone means more than your opposition to being in "jewish drag", then wear it.

If I did wear it, I would probably start every conversation with, "They made me wear this, I'm not jewish." or keep dropping it and saying it fell off. But then, I'm known to be kind of a brat sometimes. Evil


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Thanks, atheistdan. I hope

Thanks, atheistdan.

I hope you won't take this personally, because I mean it in the nicest possible way. Even though I think you're trying to wuss out on something you know you ought to stand up for, I understand why you are leaning towards wearing the hat, and I don't entirely blame you.

I've sacrificed a lot of things to stand up for my beliefs, and I've pissed off a lot of people. I've declined to attend functions, stood defiantly while others kneeled, and answered bluntly in social situations when asked about my beliefs.

Unfortunately, your semi-atheist girlfriend doesn't understand what respect is. It's a two way street. You would be respecting yourself by not wearing the hat, and they would be respecting you by not asking you to wear it. As it is, you would not be respecting their beliefs, you'd be giving in to them! So, your girlfriend has it wrong.

In my world, you owe it to your girlfriend to stand up for yourself. I know she might not appreciate it as much as your internet atheist community might, but is giving her a pass on intellectual honesty different than giving religion a pass? Nobody ever said it would be easy to be "out" as an atheist.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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The reason that I would not

The reason that I would not wear a communist symbol, or a swastika is because I believe that they represent evil ideologies, so the real question is how bad you think Judaism really is. I would probably wear a symbol of a religion, organisation or political party that I didnt agree with for a function like this if I believed that they were not harmful or outright evil.


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I think you should

I think you should understand, though that this question is not particularly an athiest question, it's about compromising a belief.  You wouldn't be standing up for athiesm, you would be standing up for an individual belief system which doesn't coincide with wearing a yamulke as a symbol of faith. there are many belief systems which don't coincide with this wearing yamulke as symbol of faith.

maybe you can get together will all of the non-orthodox jews attending this wedding and ask them their point of view.


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Bjxrn wrote:The reason

Bjxrn wrote:
The reason that I would not wear a communist symbol, or a swastika is because I believe that they represent evil ideologies, so the real question is how bad you think Judaism really is. I would probably wear a symbol of a religion, organisation or political party that I didnt agree with for a function like this if I believed that they were not harmful or outright evil.

 I have to stop you there. Communism isn't evil. No more so than democracy or capitalsim. Dictatorship is a seperate issue, and a great number of dictators have claimed to be communist, even though it's patently false.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.


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Wow.  Sharp left

Wow.  Sharp left turn!

or... is it right turn... communism left... capitalism right...

Oh, to hell with it.

Bjxrn, I think I get what you're saying, and I hope we don't get too nitpicky about it.  Sometimes we skeptics get a little obsessive compulsive about definitions.  The communist regimes you're most likely thinking of had a lot of bad things about them, and I don't think anyone would disagree with you.

Technically, I kind of agree with vastet that "evil" is a bit too harsh a moniker for a political theory, but then, I'm in the middle of a thread about the nature of morality, and I necessarily don't like the word "evil" because of its religious connotations.

Hopefully this won't spin off into a silly tangent.

I still think you should not wear the hat, Dan.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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No matter what I feel

No matter what I feel towards communism my point is that the only thing that matters is who you feel towards the particular religion, organisation or philosophy, if you REALLY find it offencive, bad or wrong you should not wear anything that is assosiated with it. But then again if you feel so strongly that in this case Judaism is a bad thing then he probably should not even go to the wedding. It all depends on how he views Judaism.


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As a former Jew, I'm

As a former Jew, I'm heavily inclined to tell you that the solution is to run as far away as humanly possible. Jewish Orthodoxy is among one of the scariest institutions I've ever encountered in all my life. Should you attend the wedding, you'll be in the presence of tremendous superstition, sexism, and elitism. Doing this is far more likely to alienate your friend than not wearing a kippa, however, so I'll do my best to explain this particular gris-gris.

The kippa acts as an instrument to remind the Jew that there is something, in this case God, above them. No matter what a Jew does while wearing the cap (save for a handstand), they always remain beneath it. It acts, specifically and intentionally, to remind the faithful of their inferiority to God, and the resultant servitude required by said realization. If a non Jew (or, therefore, a non-religious) individual is asked to wear a kippa, then the people asking that it be worn are either:
A) Trying to convert you or, at the very least get you to conform to their particular religious practices, or
B) Acting in complete disregard for the beliefs (or lack thereof) of the person they're asking.

This is not a question of friendliness or social grace...it is a question of conformity and integrity. It is no different, as was stated, from asking all attendees of your wedding to wear a large "ATHEIST" sign on their backsides. If you are willing to sacrifice your theological (or atheological) liberty to appease religious zealotry, that is your own perogative and I'm in no place to judge you by it...but please, for your own sake, don't do it for the wrong reasons.

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atheistdan (not verified)
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olivergringold wrote: This

olivergringold wrote:

This is not a question of friendliness or social grace...it is a question of conformity and integrity. It is no different, as was stated, from asking all attendees of your wedding to wear a large "ATHEIST" sign on their backsides. If you are willing to sacrifice your theological (or atheological) liberty to appease religious zealotry, that is your own perogative and I'm in no place to judge you by it...but please, for your own sake, don't do it for the wrong reasons.

 That's very well said. And very persuasive, especially considering your background. This is not the first time I have had a run-in with Jewish Orthodoxy, and I am indeed more familiar with it than I'd like to be. I would say that I'm as terrified of it as you are, but I think that might be overstating the case because I have never been a Jew myself.

Hamby: I have actually been leaning much more toward not wearing the hat. You and I are quite alike, as a matter of fact. I am very often chided, balked at, ridiculed, and outright shunned for my unwillingness to "compromise" with and "show respect" for others' beliefs. It doesn't bother me at all. The only reason I am even considering "wussing out" (no offense taken, by the way, as that is exactly what it would be if I gave in) is because I am truly in love with my girlfriend and I do tend to place more value upon her than I do upon myself. 

That said, olivergringold's post was a much-needed reminder. I have come to my senses, and that hat will not find its way onto my head without, at the very least, a stapler. 

 Thanks, guys. 


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And there was much

And there was much rejoicing!

Way to go, Dan.

 

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Glad I could shed some light

Glad I could shed some light on the situation.  And "terrified" doesn't quite encompass the gamut of fears and resentments I hold against the folks who lied through their teeth to me about the Earth, cosmos, and man's place in the Universe for seventeen consecutive years.

"No end justifies the means of lying."
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