Who is Rabbi Ponet? (And What are the Seven Blessings?)

The New York Times is reporting that Chelsea Clinton wed Marc Mezvinsky Saturday, July 31, in an interfaith wedding service conducted by Rabbi James Ponet and the Reverend William Shillady. Chelsea is Methodist, like her mom, and Mezvinsky is Jewish.

The news brings to a screeching halt weeks of speculation about whether Chelsea had taken steps to conversion- or whether Mezvinsky had.

Photos show Mezvinsky wearing a kippah as well s a tallis, or prayer shawl. Though Mezvinsky was raised in a Conservative Jewish home, Rabbi Ponet, who performed the service, is a graduate of Hebrew Union College, a Reform seminary.

Rabbi Ponet is Yale University’s Jewish chaplain.  He heads the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.  According to his official bio:

Rabbi Jim Ponet, TD, ‘68, is the first Yale alumnus to serve as Yale’s Jewish Chaplain, a position he has been honored to fill since 1981.  “I value learning and teaching above all else, regard every meeting as an encounter, a revelation, a moment at the mountain, and spend as much time as possible listening to and for the sound of subtle stillness.”

Currently he teaches a college seminar with Dr. Ruth Westheimer on “The Family in the Jewish Tradition.”  He and his wife, Elana, lead a weekly discussion in Slifka Dining Room on the value of peace in Jewish life and thought.

The service included elements from both Jewish and Methodist traditions.  The Times and other sources reported that the couples’ friends and family read the Seven Blessings, which are typically recited at traditional Jewish weddings following the vows and exchange of rings.

The Seven Blessings are more traditionally known by their Hebrew name, Sheva Berachot. They are recited at traditional Jewish weddings following vows and the exchange of rings.  Here is the English translation of the Sheva Berachot:

The blessings are:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for your glory.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Creator of Human Beings.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who has fashioned human beings in your image, according to your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of Human Beings.

Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one (Jerusalem) through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens Zion through her children.

Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who gladdens groom and bride.

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brotherhood, peace, and companionship. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride.

According to the web site My Jewish Learning, “The sheva berakhot are the real heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony; it is in this liturgical moment of the ceremony that themes of joy and celebration and the ongoing power of love are expressed. Taken from the pages of the Talmud (Ketubot 8a), the blessings, from one to seven, begin with the kiddush over wine and increase in intensity in their imagery and metaphors. It is no accident that there are seven of these blessings, since the number seven brings to mind the seven days of creation. Poetic echoes of creation and paradise abound in the blessings, as does the age-old yearning for return to Jerusalem. Significantly, the final blessing culminates with imagery of the entire community singing and celebrating with the bride and groom, reminding all present that the couple standing under the huppah is a link in the chain of Jewish continuity.”

No word on whether the bridegroom shattered a glass, or whether President Clinton yelled, “Mazel tov!”