RFRA & My Wedding Ring

Had we been noisy enough, I might have gotten the thing I wanted at the time. But at what price to the commonweal?

The way to protect religious liberty is not to bleat for it but to expose the distortions, conjectural ploys, and rabble-rousing used against it. It requires tooth. By contrast, the bishops’ bridge-over-troubled-waters approach signaled to RFRA antagonists that self-serving outbursts really do work. It cooperated with bootlicking politicians in ceding ground that was never in play. Reassurance misapplied is a sentimental concession to demagoguery. 

 

It has been some time since I gave thought to the day my soon-to-be husband and I bought our wedding rings. But the spectacle over RFRA—all the panting hysteria of a predatory media and toadying politicians aided by timorous clergy—brings it back with great clarity. And even greater poignancy.

Our wedding date was set. It was time to pick a ring. But where to look for one? How to shop? The two of us were young, broke, and scrappy. It would be some years yet before we could afford to pay retail. Besides, my intended was a combative shopper, born to hondel. He did not believe in fixed prices. There were only asking prices begging to be negotiated.

We started in Manhattan’s diamond district in the west Forties. No diamonds were on our shopping list. But 47th Street was a place to haggle, draw swords, dicker away until the doomed asking price dropped in exhaustion. His ring was easy. A plain gold band was all. It was mine that took hunting for. I wanted something chaste and spare, low keyed but rich with symbolism. No glitz. Modest but not severe. It had to be unembellished but eloquent—a sort of Grail for my ring finger.

I had no idea what my adjectives might look like in the concrete. So we trooped from stall to stall in the Exchange scouting for . . . what, exactly? Then, finally, there it was. In the showcase of an older jeweler, forearm tattooed with his identification number from a concentration camp, were simple gold bands embossed with phrases from the Tanakh. They were cut in the identical ancient block script familiar to Jesus of Nazareth, who grew in wisdom and study of Torah.

The graphic beauty of the Hebrew characters—heightened by our inability to read them—seemed a visible link to Him in Whom we would marry. One square letter followed another, spacing calculated to encircle the band with no marked beginning or end. The indissolubility of marriage seemed imprinted in the very design. Add the romance of indecipherability. This was my ring!

Next came the contest over cost. The groom-to-be went into gladiatorial mode. The seller was good at the game. It was a lengthy, spirited match. Eventually the two settled on a price. All that was left was to decide on the phrase from a sheet of suggested lines. My heart set on a passage from the Book of Ruth that reads in full:

Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.

Only the central portion (“whither thou goest . . .”) could fit around the ring but the entire antiphon is implicit in the fragment. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is the purest and most stirring statement of friendship I have ever known. I ached to claim it for myself and wear it for the rest of my life.

Was one of us Jewish? The jeweler wanted to know. Was either of us leaving another religion to become Jewish? No, we were not. Well then, he was sorry but he would not give us that particular quotation. The point was non-negotiable.

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