Question: Will Rabbis perform Jewish weddings during the Three Weeks and Sukkot?
Do reform Rabbis perform weddings during the Three Weeks, a mourning period in Judaism, and on Jewish holidays like Sukkot?
Answer: Mazal tov on your daughter's engagement. You ask about setting a date for the wedding and are concerned about a date that does not conflict with Jewish holidays. I'm giving you a long answer because there are many issues involved, but it all adds up to one conclusion -- your daughter and her fiance must find a rabbi or cantor to officiate and work out a date with him or her.
I often make a comparison between selecting a wedding officiant and selecting a surgeon. Just as you wouldn't schedule surgery and then look for a surgeon who is available on the date, you should not set a date for a wedding before choosing a rabbi or cantor to officiate. A wedding is one of the most important events in the life of a couple. Finding a compatible officiant demands consideration beyond schedules.
Reform rabbis and cantors set their own standards for the days on which they officiate at weddings, each giving due consideration to tradition as he or she sees fit. Of course, each Reform rabbi or cantor also has his or her own schedule of personal and professional commitments to work around.
In general, Jewish weddings are not celebrated on festivals and fast days. These include Tisha B'Av, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Sh'mini Atzeret, which fall during the period you indicated in your letter. Traditionally, the intermediate days of festivals like Sukkot are considered inappropriate for weddings, but some Reform rabbis and cantors may officiate on these days.
Weddings can take place, according to tradition, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (except for the Fast of Gedalia on the third or fourth of Tishrei), but many avoid weddings during the Days of Awe for practical reasons. Traditionally, Jewish weddings do not take place during "The Three Weeks" period between the fasts on the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av, but few Reform rabbis or cantors observe this restriction.
You asked, in your letter, about a specific date which Conservative and Orthodox calendars identify as Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is observed as the second day (called "Yom Tov Sheini") of Sh'mini Atzeret by Conservative and Orthodox Jews outside the land of Israel. Reform Jews do not observe these extra days of festivals, either in Israel or in the Diaspora.
"Yom Tov Sheini" was created in ancient times because Jewish communities outside the land of Israel could not be certain of the date of the new moon. (The first day of each month was determined by the appearance of the new moon in Jerusalem). By celebrating holidays for a second day, they knew they would celebrate on the right day, even if they had erroneously begun the month a day early. Reform Judaism eliminated Yom Tov Sheini in the 19th century because mathematical models make it is possible to determine the date of the new moon with absolute certainty.
This is why most Reform Jews (and all Jews in the land of Israel) observe Sh'mini Atzeret as a one-day festival. They observe Simchat Torah on the same day -- one day earlier than Conservative and Orthodox Jews celebrate Simchat Torah outside the land of Israel.
This is all a long way of telling you that the first date you mentioned in your letter is the second day of Sukkot, a full festival day for Orthodox and Conservative Jews and an intermediate festival day for Reform Jews. The second day you mentioned is the second day of Sh'mini Atzeret, called Simchat Torah, for Orthodox and Conservative Jews. However, it is a non-festival day for Reform Jews.
As I indicated, some Reform rabbis and cantors would perform a wedding on either day. Some would perform on the second, but not on the first because it is an intermediate festival day. Some would perform on the first, but not the second because it is such an important day of celebration for a large portion of the Jewish community. Some would not perform a wedding on either day for both reasons.
If you have Conservative or Orthodox Jews among your friends and family, you may choose to avoid either of these days for a wedding out of respect for them and out of respect for the larger family of the Jewish people. The best choice would be for your daughter and her fiance to consult with a rabbi they trust to find a date that works best for everyone.
Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser