07/5/12

Same Sex Jewish Weddings – New and Improved?

Dan and Andrew Break the Glasses, July 2012 NY

Now that many more Lesbians and Gays are getting married, legally, under marriage canopies, more of us are wondering – how IS this or that wedding different from all other weddings? What makes this sort of union different ritually – and Jewishly – than others? How should we celebrate our uniqueness yet play within the familiar frames? (and also, why are we doing this or that – and for whom?)

This past Sunday I had the privilege and pleasure of officiating at the beautiful (Rustic-Disco) wedding of two dear friends – Andrew Jacobs and Dan Levin. It was my first time officiating a legal same-sex wedding in the  state of NY. We’ve worked on the wedding ceremony for several months over Skype, as the grooms live year round in Beijing, weaving in elements from the traditional Jewish (aka Hetero) wedding, along with some of the new rituals, symbols and solutions emerging in the LGBT Jewish community – and beyond. As there is much debate about what, how, when, and why to include or exclude various elements of the wedding (not to mention the debate on whether one should have one at all) I thought it’ll be good to list a few of the elements I worked on with Andy and Dan. Disclaimer: this is mostly Jew-Geek territory and the Divine (Higgs-Boson?) is in the details…

Some of the highlights:

1. No rings were exchanged under this canopy. The couple enacted a ceremony of partnership instead of purchase (Shutfut instead of Kinyan) based on a Talmudic model of business partnership symbolized by a mutual exchange of goods. In this case, one of them raised a box of ‘miracle grow’ fertilizer he had purchased and the other raised a yet to be planted flower. They raised the objects together committed to their shared destiny and partnership – like the flower and its (enhanced) soil. The language of partnership as an agreement was echoed in the words of the Ketuba – creative and original marriage agreement they eloquently co-phrased.  This model of partnership was first suggested by Rabbi Rachel Adler and is becoming an interesting choice for many couples regardless of sexual orientation. (For the record – both grooms were already sporting wedding rings – from their prior civic ceremony.)

2. The SPIRIT of the law: We ended up not using it – but we had planned for the grooms to recite a vow to each other as they exchange their goods – with a twist on the original statement ” I marry you according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” – Ours was to be – ” In the SPIRIT of the laws of Moses and Israel” – ברוח דת משה וישראל

Rabbi Aaron Alexander, commenting on the recent important and historic ‘Same-Sex Jewish Wedding Rituals Responsa’ created by Rabbis Nevins, Reisner and Dorf and passed recently by the Conservative Movement’s CJLS, suggests keeping the original formula as is. In this way, he suggests, the dignity of the LGBT couples getting married is completely kept and there are no differences.

His opinion here: http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/alexander-same-sex-concurrance.pdf

I’m not sure – there IS something different here – not lesser, just new and other. Thoughts?

3. Blessings: The second blessing of the traditional ritual – Erusin – or Betrothal – was omitted in this case. It deals with the commitment to monogamy and hails from earlier days when the betrothal preceded the actual nuptials by many months or more. We sang the S’hechyanu instead – honoring the present moment of celebration.  The couple addressed issues of commitment to each other in their vows. (and, also, we only used the term ‘Creator’ in all blessings – leaving it naturally large than life, etc.)

4. Seven Blessings – the Hebrew was changed slightly to reflect same-sex liturgy. Other than that – no changes were made. However, we took liberties with the English translations, inviting the friends and relatives who were asked to recite these to come up with some poetic and personal translations that speak to this particular couple. In this way – we maintain the traditional Hebrew, and, side by side, insert the creative and modern translation as a relevant, meaningful and accessible text.

5. Two glasses were broken by both grooms. A custom that is wide-spreading and is quite, I think, lovely.

At the end of the day, as I said at the start of the ceremony – this was not a Jewish Gay Wedding. This was a Wedding. Period. Two people committed to each other, with the courage to try and make it work in the presence of their families, friends, and divine atomic particles in a meadow that has seen many celebration and will hopefully see many many more.

Mazal Tov, Boys!