Should a couple getting married on Hanukkah light a menorah at their wedding? This question was asked of me recently when a bride and groom met with me to discuss officiating their Jewish wedding ceremony.
The couple also asked if one can even get married on Hanukkah. The answer is yes, but why?
The Talmud famously states we do not mix two different smachot, or joyous occasions, as they can detract from or be confused with one another, preventing adequate attention to each.1 For this reason, the custom is not to get married on Purim. 2. With so many similarities between these two festivals, why can one get married on Hanukkah but not on Purim?
Purim represents the ultimate miracle of physical survival against a physical threat. Haman hated the Jewish people and therefore wanted to exterminate every Jew. The gallows that were set did not discriminate against female or male, young or old, believer or non-believer – the very existence of Jews necessitated their eradication. Jews were never welcome into society regardless of what they could potentially add or remove
Hanukkah on the other hand, was very different in this sense. Jews were not hated for who they were but for what they did. It was not their existence but their practice that threatened Greek culture. Jews that acted as Jews were different from those that were prepared to assimilate. Indeed, they were loved as people and only hated as Jews – if only they could express their humanity through Greek society and abandon their particularity, they would be welcome to not simply survive but thrive.
When read this way, the miracle of Purim is a celebration of the most basic human need – the ability to live and breathe. The miracle of Hanukkah, however, is a celebration of the most basic Jewish need – to live freely and actively as a Jew. The enemy of Purim hated us so much that they would kill us regardless of what we did – the enemy of Hanukkah loved us so much that they wanted us to subscribe to their Hellenistic way of life.
Returning to our question, celebrating the miracle of Purim represents a different type of joy to getting married – the former represents being alive, the second how we choose to live. Celebrating Hanukkah represents the same type of joy as getting married – we actively choose who we love in order to continue our people.
A Jewish wedding is becoming rarer, not because of hatred, but because of love – universalism is more embracing than particularity. It is for this reason that one may get married on Hanukkah, according to all opinions, as essentially the smachot are two expressions of the same source – choosing to love rather than falling in or out of love, celebrating the perpetuation of our destiny and Jewish continuity.
Therefore, while there are questions around the blessings, one can light Hanukkah candles at a wedding for the purpose of publicizing the miracle, because indeed, the miracle of a Jewish wedding is the perpetuation of the miracle of Hanukkah – “the strong were delivered into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.” Hanukkah is a time to learn from our past as we spark, ignite and shine through the next generation, illuminating the path ahead for a brighter future!
My bride and groom were so happy to learn this and appreciated that with me as their wedding officiant, they not only had their questions answered, but learned about Judaism. Brides and grooms deserve to know more than the basic mechanics of a Jewish wedding ceremony, and with me as their Cantor, I will deliver value through understanding and education.