There Is More to Breaking the Glass

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I was saddened to read the piece by Moshe Phillips on the practice of breaking the glass at a Jewish wedding (“Amy Schumer, Breaking the Glass and Jerusalem,” June 29). Sad, because he insisted that the practice “smacks of ethnic separatism and attachment to a foreign country,” which he celebrates, as he castigates how many Jews feel acculturated into America. He insists that at the moment of breaking the glass we should not focus on love and joy for the new couple, but we ought to grieve, not just for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (our Temple in Jerusalem), but, also, he insists, feel anger and hatred for Muslims who have a shrine on the location of the Beit HaMikdash.

Sad, also because he negates, out of hand, other possible explanations for this practice. The truth is that scholarship across the religious spectrum accepts that the earliest recorded association of breaking the glass at a wedding with the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash is late medieval, not making it the authoritative meaning. Hence, while many accept this, many do not. They offer other possible explanations, some quite beautiful, though speculative and innovative.

Is the breaking of the glass like the breaking of the plate in the Tina’im ceremony which some do before the wedding? Just as this plate is irrevocably shattered, not to be put back together again, so, too, will this couple be brought together, irrevocably, never to be separated again. Or maybe, based on 16th century Lurianic Kabbalah, obviously late in Jewish history. This position offers that just as creation came from “the shattering of the vessels” (“sh’verat hakellim”) of a previous world, so, too, this breaking of the glass will bring “a new creation,” that will bring a “tikkun olam” for this new couple, for all who attend, and for all creation. Good reasons to call out, “mazel tov!”

Judaism has always combined tradition with innovation and creativity. When we are not given a clearcut explanation for a tradition, we might ascribe to it a new reason. I grew up hearing how Kol Nidre was written for the Marranos who were forced to convert out of Judaism during the Spanish Inquisition, only to learn later on that Kol Nidre pre-dated the Inquisition by perhaps 1,000 years. But each Yom Kippur I still celebrate the secret Jews of Spain.

Also, on Yom Kippur, the martyrology service was put there to remember our losses in the massacres of the Crusades, but the service actually speaks of our losses at the hands of the Romans’ vicious response to the Bar Revolt (second century). More creativity in our innovation. Many synagogues have prayers commemorating the Holocaust and celebrating Israel. Again, innovation.

Yes, the writer may offer us ways to see the breaking of the glass, but short of authoritative sources to support a particular reason, let us find positive meanings that bring us joy and love, not anger and hatred.

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