Mahara”t Sara Hurwitz
I am the co-mesaderet kiddushin at a wedding next week. It is not the first wedding I have participated in. And at each ceremony, I can’t help but feel concerned about how the guests will respond to seeing a woman under the chupah. Will people question whether the couple is halakhicly married? Will some call into question the couple’s religious level of observance? How will my presence impact one of the most memorable days of a couple’s life as well as the future they will make together. And then I get a hold of myself, and I realize that there is very little negative impact that a female presence can have on the wedding ceremony. When one actually analyzes the different components of the wedding ceremony, it is apparent that there is little that a woman cannot do, and much that a woman can contribute.
The mesder/et kiddsuhin’s obligation to the couple begins way before the wedding day.
On a halakhic level, the mesader/et kiddushin ensures that the couple is versed in the laws of niddah (family purity). The mesader/et reviews the components of the wedding ceremony, and must review very carefully the language of the ketubah and the tenaim.
On a pastoral level, the mesader/et meets with the couple to discuss sensitive family dynamics, expectations they each have for their marriage, and to try uncover and acknowledge fears that each may harbor with regards to their relationship.
It seems obvious that a sensitive knowledgeable woman would be in a position to meet all of the above obligations. If the couple has a relationship with a female religious leader, there seems to be no barriers, thus far, to a female mesadert kiddushin.
Which brings me to the ceremony itself. It is true that there are aspects of the ceremony that cannot be performed by woman. Women cannot function as witnesses to the ketubah or to the ring ceremony. There are those who argue that a woman should not say the brikat erusin. And there is some halahkic concern with a woman reciting the sheva brachot. However, the formal definition of the mesdaer kiddsuin is “the one who arranges the betrothal.” Translation—to coordinate the ceremony. Practically this means explaining the components of the ceremony (if the wedding is in a place that needs to be explained), offering meaningful words under the chupah, ensuring that each of the components are recited appropriately and correctly. In most ceremonies the mesader does not read the sheva brachot, and it is common to honor esteemed friends and family with different components of the ceremony.
And so, I ask again: is there really any reason for a woman who has a meaningful relationship with the couple not to officiate at the wedding? I think not.