The wedding, as we have seen, is not simply a beautiful ceremony—it is an intricate web of laws and customs that the Torah has ordained and society has developed for the protection of the family and social morality. These traditions are far too complicated to be implemented by a novice. Countless legal difficulties can beset this otherwise magnificent event if it is not overseen by a rabbi who is a scholar of the law.

The Talmud insisted that Kol she-eino yodeia be’tiv gittin ve’kiddushin, to ye’hei to esek imahem—whoever does not know the niceties of the divorce and betrothal procedures should not engage in supervising them. Maimonides instructed the Egyptian Jewish community that no marriage may be arranged without the supervision of an ordained rabbi. The presence of the rabbi gives the wedding the character of an official act. This was part of the historic Jewish effort to transform marriage from an unstructured, casual arrangement to a formal, officially approved, legal transaction, which carefully spelled out the responsibilities attendant upon the new status.

The rabbi has no part in effecting the marriage itself. He ascertains only that the partners are legitimately permitted to marry one another and that the marriage process is executed according to the laws of Moses and Israel. His primary value is not as a public speaker or a master of ceremonies, but as a scholar, able to assure that all the actions meet the centuries-old halakhic standards of the Jewish people.

Cantors who are not ordained as Rabbis should not perform marriages (though they perform at marriages.) The fact that the state may authorize them is irrelevant; the Jewish religion does not. A wedding should be postponed if there is no ordained rabbi available on the date selected.

Marriage is too important, the law too complex, and the Jewish family too essential to be left in the hands of those who, however well-intentioned or talented, have no knowledge of the intricacies of the marriage laws.