Up in the Air Chair
Why do Jews lift their newlyweds up in the air in chairs?
At most Jewish weddings, the bride and groom are lifted up in chairs, often against their will and sometimes with unpleasant consequences. The question is: why do Jews lift their newlyweds up in the air in chairs? Why do we emphasize the "air" in chair?
Chair lifting can only possibly make sense when you are skiing.
Chair lifting at weddings is actually the second most dangerous Jewish tradition. The most dangerous is circumcision and I sincerely hope that we never combine the two. Can you imagine a Mohel (circumciser) trying to perform a circumcision while he and the baby are bouncing up and down on chairs like they're riding a mechanical bull? It would be like trying to perform brain surgery on Disneyworld's Space Mountain. Let's just say that in both cases, the result would be extremely unfortunate.
Technically, chair lifting at weddings is not required under Jewish Law. Yes, there is a mitzvah (commandment) of “simchat chatan v’kallah” (see, Talmud, Brachot 6b), which means we should do our best to make the bride and groom happy on their big day. But there are plenty of ways to fulfill this requirement without resorting to chair lifting. In fact, the Talmud (see, Ketuvot 17a) mentions a rabbi who was known for juggling myrtle twigs to entertain a bride. Juggling twigs is fine but juggling the bride and groom is not, and that is basically what chair lifting devolves into.
In fairness, chair lifting can be appropriate in certain circumstances. If you're skiing, then a chair lift makes sense, but chair lifts at ski resorts have built-in safety features like cables above and a snowy safety net below. Chair lifting at a Jewish wedding comes with no such precautions. No seatbelts or airbags, not even a helmet. Jewish chair lifting at weddings has only two consistent features: a high degree of difficulty and little margin for error. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that it would be safer to just shoot the bride and groom out of a cannon.
Deep down inside, every Jew knows that they are just one chair lift away from a hospital stay. (In fact, the only chair we fear more is the electric kind.) Our fear is based not only on the risks concomitant with chair lifting, but also on the chair lifters themselves. At many Jewish weddings, the chair lifters are a ragtag group of misguided misfits who tend to get really bored and insist on turning things up a few notches. For this reason, I refer to these chair lifters as the "Chairmen of the Bored."
The Chairmen force the bride and groom into a seated position and then lift them without fear of failure, hernias or lawsuits. The Chairmen officially have a no waiver/waver policy: They don't ask the bride and groom to sign a waiver and they don't waver in their belief that chair lifting is a must. The most disturbing part is that the Chairmen normally do not rehearse chair lifting as a team or individually. (For the record, if you practice chair lifting in your spare time, you need to re-evaluate your life. Seriously.)
The remarkable thing about the Chairmen at Jewish weddings is that they seem to unite spontaneously without any communication, other than a few caveman-like gestures and Neanderthal-ish grunts. The Chairmen truly are a different breed. Anthropologically speaking, if Homo sapiens derive from Homo habilis and Homo erectus, then the Chairmen must trace back to Homo liftus. When the Chairmen are involved, a wedding can turn into a rather hair-raising – or I should say, chair-raising – experience. And chair lifting can be a brutal sport, one which the Chairmen often refer to as their own personal “Game of Thrones.”
Yes, each Chairman usually is an impressive physical specimen. (And yes, these physical specimen lift chairs rather than stools because they don’t want to be called stool specimen.) But the Chairmen are only as good as their weakest link. Typically among them is a scrawny schlemiel who barely has enough strength to keep himself upright. These weak links never hold up their end of the deal and that's where the fun begins. Once the hoisted chairs starts to tilt, the bride and groom begin to panic as they face the real risk of an epic crash landing. You could say that they literally and figuratively are kept on the edge of their seat.
Chairmen really should adhere to the same rule as doctors, primum non nocere, meaning "first, do no harm." So, if you are going to participate in chair lifting, make sure there is a sound exit strategy. As with an airplane, any midair hijinks can be overlooked as long as the landing is smooth and uneventful.
Bottom-line: If chair lifting at Jewish weddings was an Olympic event, then you would want the bride and groom to nail the dismount so completely that even the Russian judge would give them a perfect ten.