How important is it that my wedding is catered kosher, if I myself don't keep kosher? What Jewish values, moral, or ethical positions are involved?
The Orthodox Jewish perspective defines the contours of Jewish authenticity according to the norms of the Written and Oral Torah. The Jewish family alone did not insure the continuity of the Jewish people. The Jewish table, the kosher laws, or the way we turn our act of eating into a sacred as well as a biological act, the Jewish calendar, i.e. the temples we create in time, join together in tandem to infuse a relationship of those who live by these rules with meaning, mission, and a menu of pre-programmed expectations. Therefore, the wedding meal, like the wedding ceremony, is a sacred, proper, and kosher occasion.
It is very important to have a Jewish wedding, that is of a Jewish woman and man, in a fashion that is Jewishly authentic. At a wedding, the very first blessing recited is over wine. Wine makes people happy. [Ps. 104:15] The second blessing appears as the binary opposite of the first. After saying the blessing that permits the wine to be ingested and enjoyed, the couple does not immediately taste the wine. Instead, the blessing for the wine and its tasting is interrupted by a blessing of restraint, that when engaged, a couple is bound to each other but may not yet enjoy the pleasure of physical contact with each other. This blessing of restraint, of boundaries, and of definition reminds the couple that their love is a Jewish love, with guideposts, road markers, restraints, expectations, and respect. The kosher table should be the ideal at the wedding, even if the couple is not yet committed to a kosher table at their home.
Being Jewish is about both family and faith. The “children of Israel” in Genesis appears as a large, awkward, and often dysfunctional family. In Exodus, that same idiom refers to a people. The Jewish people have, for Orthodox adherents, commandments of a commanding God; Kashrut is a religious and moral obligation for the Orthodox. But for non-Orthodox Jews, for the most part, do not really believe in a God Who Authored the Torah and Who commanded the commandments. For Reform Judaism, according to Rabbi Walter Jacob, all ritual is custom and may be considered to be appropriate; for Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and Conservative and Reconstructionist opinion, God is the force or idea that makes for salvation, but not an actual Commander, the Biblical commandments are folkways, i.e. “the way we were.” These rites carry a sense of the sacred called “sancta.” At a Jewish happy event, we gladden the bride and groom, we do not argue about theology. Those liberal Jews who believe in pluralism, often still respect ancestral ways, customs and ceremonies. The Kashrut rules are mandatory for Orthodoxy and not forbidden for the other streams. Therefore, a kosher wedding meal is a statement of extended family loyalties and national Jewish solidarity. Even if we do not share the Covenant of Sinai, we all share a Covenant of identity, direction, and destiny.
And there is a trade-off to be made when Orthodox Jews make requests of the non-Orthodox. When Orthodox rabbis service non-Orthodox couples, families, and rabbinic colleagues, they would do well to remember that human dignity, kevod ha-beriyyot, must be also be maintained. The wedding ceremony and meal must be kosher; other additions and subtractions may be considered to be situationally appropriate. For example, Jewish law does not really a bride need not walk around the groom seven times. This ritual may be omitted. Some Orthodox rabbis claim that Jewish law forbids double ring ceremonies because this innovative rite might wrongly give the marriage nullifying impression that the bride rejects the ring given to her by her husband. There are two problems with this interpretation. First, it is not true; second, the “problem” is easily averted. Many Orthodox rabbis view “Tradition” as the religious civilization of Jewry’s yesteryear. The “past” must be conserved as a culture reflex. Other Orthodox rabbis view “Tradition” as no less and no more than the Torah that God wrote, which commands, forbids, and when silent, really does permit. In my view, the opposition to double ring wedding ceremonies is an anti-innovation, anti-egalitarian anti-feminist reflex. What the normative Tradition, at Even ha-Ezer 38:34, teaches is that once the groom places the ring in the bride’s accepting hand, the marriage takes irrevocable effect. Therefore, if the bride,now married irrevocably to her husband, gives a gift to her Jewish husband, the canonical Tradition remains in tact. I have seen this practice observed by some American and Israeli modern Orthodox Zohar rabbis. In order to forbid what is really forbidden, Orthodoxy must permit what by Jewish law is really permitted. In my view, a kosher wedding meal is worth a double ring ceremony.
Jewish weddings unite two people, and these weddings should also be personal. On one hand, the wedding of a Jewish couple is rooted in the past. God gave us the wedding template by making Adam and Eve happy when they were first introduced to each other, and we try to make a faithful household in Israel happy at their nuptials. But this new household requires support and space. Support is given with presents and presence; and space for individuality, creativity, individualism, and autonomy must also be allowed. A religious Jewish household is made up of ethical people who make good choices, not culture robots for whom rituals are religious recipes for scoring points with God. The Jewish marriage is a sacred and empowering beginning; by reminding the couple of the constraints of required restraint, the Torah gives the Jewish parent the creativity, possibility, to give birth to Mashiach Yisrael
Kashrut is a key value of the Jewish home. Adam and Eve are given only one commandemnt, and it is food related. That one commandment proves problematic and way too tempting. So then God as it were realizes the need for many commandments because one will prove simply too tempting. Yet there has to be at least one. Holiness, meaningful lives, come through restricting desire. Only when we clarify our values, only when we determine who we are in our deepest selves, can we make the kinds of choices to live lives that matter. Kashrut in part, then is about acquiring a practice that enables a person to make such meaning filled choices.
Second, Kashrut is about Jewish identity. It is a statement of continuity with the past, of saying that when we get together we have certain sacred ways of eating that including blessings and the choice of food. This enters a mindfulness into our eating practice.
Finally, people come from a spectrum of practice. To serve Kosher food means everyone there can eat and participate without any question or concern.
What that means is that having your affair be kosher makes a statement of values. You are getting married presumably under the Huppah and according to the "laws of Moses." The meal is a part of the wedding and so it makes sense for that meal to be elevated in its practice. I beleive you will feel a greater sense of the holiness of your wedding if you cater it in a kosher way.
Having said all this, the cost of Kosher supervision is unfortunately often outrageous. I often hear from couples of charges that are simply unaffordable. I feel Kosher supervision authorities and caterers need to find ways of making the whole process less expensive so that the price differential can be narrowed to make this an easier and more doable choice. For those for whom the price differential is too high, I at least urge people to serve only kosher foods, so to stick with vegetarian or fish options with your caterer. This injects a quality of thoughtfulness, holiness, and community continuity into the celebration.
The first thing I must ask in responding are two questions:
To whom, and For whom?
These in turn presuppose many other questions.
Since you don't observe kashrut, the kosher status of the food served seems not to be a significant concern for you personally.
Might this affect your fiancee?
Does this affect any of your family who may attend the reception (parents, siblings, extended family)?
What about your fiancee's family members?
Does it affect any of your friends or invited guests?
Does it affect the organization or venue in which you are holding the event (is it at a synagogue, a kosher facility, or a Jewish institution)?
After answering all those questions, you have a sense of who may be directly affected.
Now, how about any indirect effects?
Will this reflect badly on your family, the institution, the officiant, or your community?
What are your values around the issues of community, religious observance, welcoming others, having a Jewish home, living a Jewish lifestyle, making a statement about what is important, and balancing cost and convenience with principles?
Once you have answered these things for yourself, you will have a clearer picture of what makes sense to you.
Judaism teaches that we should seek to act in such a way as to bring credit to ourself and our community, to be concerned with others, to offer hospitality and be welcoming, to make our choices in an aware and conscous fashion that takes into account how they will impact others.
If these are values you share, then it is probably important that you focus on obseerving kashrut at your wedding. It is, I assume, a Jewish celebration of the creation of a Jewish family and a Jewish home.
Does this mean that you have to follow the most stringent standards? Perhaps not. That will depend.
If you wish, perhaps you can serve only vegetarian food, or stick with kosher fish, or offer only dairy items, in that case it will be much easier to follow kosher rules and still provide food that you and everyeone else will enjoy.
Alternatively, I have heard that some choose, (if the venue and caterer have no concerns with it, and the community/guests will accept it), to offer your guests a choice of (one or more) strictly kosher items as well as options for some that are not strictly kosher - so that those who are concerned with observing Kashrut may do so, and others will not. It seems to me that even though this is not the most strict approach, it might work for you. In this case, however, I would still caution you not to serve anything that is inherently treif (unfit for a kosher facility), such as seafood, pork, or mixed millk & meat products).
I would urge you to give this consideration, and to weigh in terms not only of cost, but of what statement you are making and what values you are expressing.
Ideally, if cost were no issue, it would be appropriate to have a strictly kosher affair so that any Jew could partake in complete comfort and confidence that they were following their religious beliefs and values. Only you can actually determine how best you can balance the varies Jewish values that are in play here. If you are still in doubt, you might consider consulting the rabbi who will be officiating at your wedding for advice.