Nov 30, 2011
Nov 28, 2011
Forward.com: "Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite"
Rabbis Create Traditional Service, But Some Couples Balk
Having recognized gay rights with their 2006 acceptance of gay unions, Conservative rabbis are now wrestling with the issue of gay rites.
The recent efforts of three leading rabbis to construct a kosher wedding ceremony for same-sex couples hews closely to the traditional Jewish heterosexual ceremony, in an effort, they say, to ensure that same-sex couples suffer no inequality in the sacred standards governing their vows. But these efforts, ironically, are now drawing criticism from some activists for replicating aspects of the Jewish wedding rite that they consider sexist.
"In a way it's a shame, there is an opportunity for a less problematic, more contemporary liturgy," said Jay Michaelson, founding director of Nehirim, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jewish group. (Michaelson is also a Forward contributing editor.)
What's more important than parity between same-sex and heterosexual ceremonies, critics say, is equality between partners. While traditional Jewish marital rites — or kiddushin — describe the man as the owner of his wife, some gay and lesbian Jews say they want to avoid this hierarchical language in favor of an egalitarian template.
The trio of rabbis leading the effort to devise a sacred structure for same-sex wedding vows that will pass muster as kiddushin are Elliot Dorff, a professor of Jewish theology at American Jewish University; Daniel Nevins, Dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary; and Avram Reisner, head of the Chevrei Tzedek Congregation in Baltimore. The same three rabbis also authored an influential ruling in 2006 that welcomed gays into the Movement. At a meeting on November 16, the rabbis presented their proposal for same-sex marriage and divorce rites to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, Conservative Judaism's official rabbinical association.
Because the document is still in draft form — it will likely be voted on in June 2012 — the rabbis declined to share it with the Forward. But the rabbis, describing the marriage template in broad terms, said that it was modeled on the traditional ceremony, taking place under a canopy, with an exchange of rings and a recitation of the traditional seven blessings, among other rites. The main discrepancy is that the gendered language has been changed.
According to Reisner, the rabbis felt that if they strayed too far from traditional marriage in their proposal to the committee, they would be seen as offering gay and lesbian Jews a ceremony that was both separate and unequal. "The community would not feel warmly if they felt they were being offered some radically different thing," he said.
But according to Michaelson, while traditional marriage looks appealing to some gay and lesbian Jews, others bristle at the idea of imbuing same-sex unions with language that would imply that one party owns the other. These dynamics came into play for Michaelson when he was planning his own wedding, which took place in September.
"I didn't want a photocopy [of traditional marriage] for a number of reasons," he said. "For feminist reasons I don't like kiddushin anyway, and for LGBT reasons it didn't feel authentic to me to copy a model meant for a man and a woman to my situation."
Instead of falling back on traditional marriage rites, Michaelson wrote his own legally binding ceremony based on the concept of nedarim, or vows.
"I didn't feel like purchasing my husband, and hopefully no men feel like they are purchasing their wives," he said. "Zooming back, one of the challenges for Conservative Judaism is how to accommodate both people who want something pretty straightforward and people like me, who want to create their own rituals and services and liturgy."
Rabbi Jill Hammer said that she had similar concerns in planning her 2004 wedding with her female partner. "We were not comfortable using [kiddushin] as our template for marriage," she said. "Not every couple understands it this way, but talmudically there is a lot of difference between the way a woman and a man are treated. We were looking for something else."
Like many lesbian Jewish couples, Hammer and her partner structured their ceremony around a chapter from the Talmud's Book of Ruth in which Ruth decides to live with Naomi, her mother-in-law. "It is about two women committing their lives to each other, sharing children and a livelihood. That was a good way to find something traditionally Jewish and use it for a foundation for our wedding," she said.
But gay and lesbian Jewish activists weren't the only ones who bristled at the idea of using heterosexual rites for homosexual unions. According to Reisner, the 32-member Committee on Jewish Law and Standards gave the proposed template a mixed review.
"Some in the committee felt very warmly for a ceremony that was very close to a traditional wedding," he said. "For other people it was desirable to step away from that model altogether. There was a determination that the tenets of traditional marriage didn't apply [to same-sex unions]."
Rather than vote on the marriage and divorce template at the November meeting, the committee sent rabbis Dorff, Nevins and Reisner back to the drawing board to come up with a second template to supplement the first. When the Forward interviewed the rabbis, they had little sense of what this second set of guidelines would look like, except that it would not hew to traditional marriage rites.
"There might be couples that would prefer something different, and there might be rabbis who could support a commitment ceremony but are not yet at the place where they could support a ceremony that looked like a marriage," said Rabbi Susan Grossman, who chairs the Personal Status subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. "If we want to make this as broadly embracing as possible, it doesn't hurt to provide alternatives. We want to provide many opportunities for couples and rabbis to find the resources within Judaism to honor their commitment to each other in a meaningful Jewish way."
Providing two templates — one traditional, one not — made sense to some gay and lesbian Jewish activists.
"People invest time and energy into making a mark through their wedding ceremony that reflects their own take on their Jewish journey," said Gregg Drinkwater, deputy director of Keshet, another Jewish gay and lesbian advocacy group. "If you are using a one-size-fits-all ceremony, that is harder to do."
Gerald Skolnik, a Conservative rabbi at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, in Queens, was asked last summer by a congregant and his partner to perform what would be Skolnik's first same-sex marriage. Under Skolnik's guidance, the couple ended up with a hybrid ceremony — a blessing over the wine and an altered document that resembled a ketubah, the official Jewish marriage document, but no chuppah, a choice they made on their own. Skolnik said that in the future he would welcome the guidance of the committee.
"Let's say you are still coming to terms with doing gay and lesbian weddings, and you are interested in exploring it," he said. "I don't think there is anything wrong with having multiple templates for that kind of ceremony."
Read more: http://www.forward.com/articles/146826/?p=all#ixzz1f0ONWnue
Nov 27, 2011
(C) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
to sit in a place
that has seen
so much of me.
These stones have
caught my tears,
echoed my song,
felt me gallop.
These stones have
heard me gasp and laugh,
and have witnessed
of my heart.
These stones were built
to be strong enough
to weather the many lives
lived upon them,
generation by generation.
Nov 22, 2011
(C) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
We back away but look back,
when we wish to stay.
We back away and cover our eyes,
when staying is unbearable.
We are not meant to endure in those intensities,
sublime or horrific.
We don't live there.
Insight has its limits.
We back away.
The truths we can barely endure,
mortality, injustice, and pain,
threaten to deaden caring souls,
to blind our eyes from seeing what hurts.
But even (especially) when we back away,
we see and feel.
An aching soul is a gift, a portal,
straight from the universe
through one person into another.
When such souls connect and collide and entangle,
desperate to support and be supported,
the ache's answer is suggested,
and the Universe experiences intense Light.
Nov 21, 2011
Posted on Nov 21, 2011
By Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School
Last week we intensely and passionately discussed and debated no less than eighthalakhic topics. However, this particular meeting illuminated one coherent theme:Access. Or, access, status, and equality in the light of Torah.
Access to Revelation.
Access to Authority.
Access to Relationships.
Access to God on behalf of the Community.
We talked deeply about real issues and real people. While it is impossible to cover everything at once, significant change demands careful attention, more questions than answers, and a healthy realization that different people understand and intuit God's will and word in diverse and distinct, yet equally valid ways.
(What follows is my take on four of the issues discussed, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the entire CJLS, or individual members.)
Access to Revelation: Rabbi Pamela Barmash put forth an appendix to her already unanimously passed teshuvah, "Status of the Heresh and of Sign Language." One issue remained unresolved: whether or not a deaf community could hold a fully ritualized Torah reading in sign language, complete with blessings. Rabbi Barmash brought with her well respected members of the deaf community who addressed the CJLS with passion and eloquence.
While the CJLS remains somewhat divided on whether or not sign language is 'reading' or 'translation', which impacts the Torah reading more than other rituals, Rabbi Barmash's teshuvah passed virtually unanimously. In this case, members of the Law Committee powerfully elevated inclusion and near-equal access to Torah for its deaf members of the Jewish community.
Access to Relationships: Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Avram Reisner and Danny Nevins put forth a worthy draft for a gay-marriage ceremony as a follow-up to their landmark teshuvah that passed in 2006. As the committee begins to fully unpack and internalize their effort, it is clear that the needs and rights of the gay community are being well considered within a framework of Halakhah and the Torah's most precious values.
Access to Authority: Rabbi Joseph Prouser presented a paper to rebut an unfortunate ruling by a prominent orthodox rabbi, that basically bans a convert from sitting on a Bet Din, even with all other qualifications being equal (see more here).
Rabbi Prouser has written an extraordinary response in the form of a teshuvah for the Conservative Movement's Joint Bet Din, bringing the best of halakhic discourse, academic rigor, and aggadic prose to strongly deflate any possible stringent opinion. In doing so, he beautifully reaffirms exactly how the Jewish community ought to treat and view those amongst us who make the holy choice to join Judaism - as nothing less than full Jews in every respect.
Access to God on behalf of the Community: Rabbi Gail Labovitz has addressed a question that has vexed living communities for quite some time. Knowing how essential and embedded the Yom Kippur fast is, may one who is unable to cease from eating based on medical advice (pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc..) still serve the community and God as Shaliah Tzibbur, prayer leader? Rabbi Labovitz's answer, Yes. While some restrictions will help guide the community in deciding how to implement this ruling, it is evident that Rabbi Labovitz has deftly utilized traditional sources and a realistic awareness of individual and communal needs to navigate this question.
After spending a few days reflecting on my first CJLS meeting I feel nothing less than honored and humbled to be nestled amongst this brilliant and thoughtful group, doing this work, all in service of God, Torah and Israel.
Nov 18, 2011
Nov 15, 2011
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen: "On the Culture of Greed"
Nov 14, 2011
"Faces of Israel"- a must see/experi
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