May 31, 2012
Forward.com: "Conservatives Give Gay Wedding Guidance"
Rabbis Adopt Two New Frameworks for Same-Sex Marriages
When Gerald Skolnik, the president of a group of 1,600 Conservative rabbis, was asked to officiate at a gay wedding last year, he didn't know where to start. "I was flying by the seat of my pants," he said. Should the wedding look like a heterosexual ceremony, or something else entirely?
Now he has guidelines to turn to. After years of deliberation, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly has provided guidance to rabbis for performing same-sex marriages.
On May 31, the assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards approved templates, culminating a six-year-long process that began in 2006 when Conservative leaders first officially sanctioned gay relationships. Created by Rabbis Daniel Nevins, Avram Reisner and Elliot Dorff, the ritual guidelines detail two types of gay weddings, as well as gay divorce. "Both versions are egalitarian," said Nevins. "They differ mostly in style—one hews closely to the traditional wedding ceremony while the other departs from it."
The guidelines passed on a vote of 13 to 0 in the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, with one rabbi abstaining.
Neither template includes kiddushin, a step in the ceremony in which the groom presents his bride with a ring. It is regarded by most traditionally observant Jews as the essence of the ceremony that constitutes it as an act of marriage.
Instead, the templates detail a ring exchange that is based on Jewish partnership law, an established halachic concept, said Nevins.
"We acknowledge that these partnerships are distinct from those discussed in the Talmud as 'according to the laws of Moses and Israel,'" said Nevins, referring to the words used in kiddushin, "but we celebrate them with the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages."
The committee's templates are meant not as exclusive formulations that the rabbis would be required to use but as guidelines that Conservative rabbis can rely on. The three authors of the templates, who consulted with gay and lesbian rabbis, among others, in preparing their proposals, have stressed that that they understand individual rabbis retain significant autonomy in interpreting law. Rabbis, they said, will continue to explore and improvise in this still new area of Conservative Halacha.
In the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony that has been performed through the ages, the rabbi recites the first blessing over the wine and a second over certain prohibited sexual relationships. Next is the ring ceremony, followed by the reading of the ketubah, or the legal agreement. Finally, the rabbi recites another seven blessings, known in Hebrew as the sheva brachot. Then comes the breaking of a glass underfoot, followed by a hearty "mazel tov!" Conservative rabbis have used this model as a jumping-off point for gay unions.
For gay weddings, the forms are still evolving. With the assembly releasing its own marriage templates, four Conservative rabbis, some new to gay commitment ceremonies and others familiar with them, shared their rituals with the Forward:
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who helms congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., is a traditionalist when it comes to marital rites. "The important thing for me is that same-sex marriage is marriage," he said. "It is not something different."
In the 10 years that he has been conducting gay marriages, Creditor has changed virtually nothing in the conventional marriage ceremony, adjusting only gendered language where appropriate. "I see every traditional form as pregnant with meaning," he said.
Creditor's perspective is not uncommon among Conservative rabbis. For instance, across the country, Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah outside Boston also hews closely to traditional rites. "I tried to keep the elements as similar as possible so if you walked into that ceremony you would say, 'I am at a Jewish wedding,'" he said.
But Creditor goes a step beyond most rabbis, maintaining language that might strike others as inapplicable to gay couples. Creditor keeps most of the text in the last of the seven blessings, which refers to the rejoicing of brides and grooms. He changes only the last line to refer to a groom and a groom — or a bride and a bride. The wording "is not an imposition on a gay couple that they should be straight," he said. "It is an admission that sexual orientation is not a reason to limit joy."
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik
In contrast to Creditor, Skolnik has used a service that hints at the traditional Jewish wedding but ultimately deviates from the ancient rites.
Skolnik, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, roots his ceremony in a foundational Jewish ritual: the blessing over the wine. But for the second blessing dealing with sexual prohibition, he substitutes a prayer from the sheva brachot, which blesses God "who creates man in your image." "It was an acknowledgment that whether gay or straight, you are a sacred human being," said Skolnik.
Skolnik created the ceremony last year for a gay male couple at Forest Hills Jewish Center, where he is a pulpit rabbi. By his own admission, Skolnik was hesitant in applying traditional Jewish marriage rites to a homosexual union. "My effort was to try and craft some kind of ceremony that would be spiritual and Jewish, but not a clone" of traditional marriage, he said.
The ceremony did not take place under a chuppah, nor do the grooms break glasses underfoot. Rather than use the traditional prayer over the ring exchange, Skolnik replaced it with language he found on a liturgical website called Ritualwell. Though a surrogate ketubah was present, the seven blessings were not.
Though Skolnik was reluctant to map traditional wedding rites onto a gay union, he had no qualms about marrying the couple in the eyes of the state. Since gay marriage is legal in New York State, Skolnik signed the couple's marriage license.
Rabbi Ayelet Cohen
"My starting point," said Ayelet Cohen, former rabbi at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Manhattan's LGBTQ synagogue, "is that a contemporary Jewish wedding should be a wedding between two individuals." In other words, the basis for her ceremony is equality between the betrothed, gay or straight.
Cohen, who first drafted a ceremony for her lesbian sister, maintains the broad structure of Conservative rites, but alters the liturgical language to square with contemporary mores. The wedding takes place under a chuppah and includes the first blessing over the wine. For the second blessing, she thanks God for sanctifying human sexuality. "Blessed are You, our God, Source of Life, who frees us from fear and shame and opens us to the holiness of our bodies and their pleasures," she says.
In traditional weddings, a man gives a woman a ring. Like many Conservative rabbis, Cohen makes this portion of the service a reciprocal ring exchange. But she does not change the liturgy. "For people who are familiar with the traditional Jewish wedding, this is one of the pieces that feels most authentic."
Cohen reads the ketubah and then recites the seven blessings, changing the wording about a bride and a groom to refer to same-sex individuals. The fifth blessing, which describes a barren city now filled with children, troubles Cohen in its implication that a couple would be happy only if they procreate. Instead, Cohen changes the language to rejoice in the "uprooting of senseless hatred" from the earth.
"I think it is about the couple repairing the world through a commitment to perpetuating the next generation," she said. "I don't think it has to be about them actually raising their own children."
Rabbi Stuart Kelman
Rabbi Stuart Kelman, now retired from Congregation Netivot Shalom, formulated a ceremony that parallels, but does not replicate, a Jewish heterosexual wedding. "I wanted to develop something that is equal in function to the traditional ceremony," he said. "You can easily change the words so long as the words do the same thing as the original."
At the time he drafted his ceremony, Kelman said, gay marriage was such a new phenomenon that "I felt that it needed a name to distinguish it from a heterosexual union." But he points out that today the practice is commonplace.
Kelman's model is not a wedding but a Brit Reyut, or "covenant of love." His ceremony utilizes a new terminology. Instead of a chuppah, the couple marries beneath a sukkah. The ring ceremony is a chalifin, the Hebrew term for exchange. Kelman utilizes a shtar, or a deed, in place of a ketubah.
The service begins with the blessing over the wine. But in place of the prohibition on sexual activity, Kelman substitutes the shehecheyanu, a prayer for special occasions.
And both partners break glasses.
Read more: http://forward.com/articles/157142/conservatives-give-gay-wedding-guidance/?p=all#ixzz1wUce1uvF
May 30, 2012
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld in Ha'aretz: "Recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis is a partial - but hopeful - victory"
In stable democracies, struggles to overcome fundamental inequalities are, by definition, won by incremental victories.
By Rabbi Julie Schonfeld | May.30, 2012 | http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/recognition-of-non-orthodox-rabbis-is-a-partial-but-hopeful-victory-1.433416
The decision by the Attorney General to recognize Masorti and Reform rabbis as community leaders and fund their salaries under certain limited circumstances could be an inflection point in the path towards a new relationship for Judaism and the Jewish state.
It is a partial victory, still replete with inconsistencies that temper its impact – the rabbis can serve outlying communities but not in cities, they are paid from a different budget, they may not exercise leadership in matters characterized by decision-making in halakah. Nonetheless, this victory gives ample reason for hope. In stable democracies, struggles to overcome fundamental inequalities are, by definition, won by incremental victories.
The chasm has been narrowed between those whose religious views gave them total entitlement to conduct their religious lives as they chose, funded by the Israeli taxpayer to the tune of $450 million every year, and those who did not enjoy what Israel's Basic Law so eloquently calls "freedom of religion and conscience." Israel has brought freedom and sovereignty to the Jewish people in ways heretofore unknown, but in matters of faith and tradition, the Jew in Israel still awaits emancipation.
Equal funding is a central issue.
As noted above, the Orthodox establishment receives at least $450 million per year in taxpayer funds in comparison to approximately $60,000 for the Masorti and Reform movements. There aren't other organized Jewish religious movements or expressions in Israel seeking funding, because the imposition of a government-funded religious monopoly squashes the appetite to invent such things before they start.
We must not lose sight of the larger goal. Rabbi Miri Gold is the Jewish religious leader chosen by her community to inspire and strengthen them. What our hearts long for is an Israel where every Jew can find a community and select teachers who bring Torah and Jewish tradition in a way that inspires them. We imagine a time when the outstanding qualities of Israel's young – their courage, their dedication, their creativity, are both strengthened by a Judaism they desire and in which they are the inventors of religious vitality and innovation. We would like to imagine that historians in hundreds of years will look back on a golden age where Judaism in the Jewish state can flourish in ways previously unimagined.
The need to seek redress and equality, mostly through the courts, masks the true terms of the discussion which are about how Israel can avail herself of the power and beauty of Judaism. We are the inheritors of a religious tradition characterized by dialogue among multiple voices – the Talmud page itself is designed to share and to facilitate a conversation. We hope for the day when Israel will truly embody the Mishnah's principle of אלו ואלו דברי אלוהים חיים הן – that "[both] these and these" are the words of the living God – a clear statement dating back to our most basic rabbinic teachings, that Judaism recognizes multiple paths. Only equal funding for all streams of Judaism will achieve this goal.
- Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis.
May 29, 2012
For first time, Israel to recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis
State to support salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis; 'rabbis of non-Orthodox communities' will not have authority over religious and halakhic matters.
By Yair Ettinger | May.29, 2012 |
In an unprecedented move, Israel has announced that it is prepared to recognize Reform and Conservative community leaders as rabbis and fund their salaries.
Rabbis belonging to either stream will be classified as "rabbis of non-Orthodox communities." The attorney general advised the High Court that the state will begin equally financing non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities that are interested in doing so.
The state's answer comes in response to a petition that was made in 2005 by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, in the name of the Reform community at Kibbutz Gezer and Rabbi Miri Gold, who demanded equal financing of non-Orthodox religious services to those of the Orthodox via the municipal authority. The petitioners demanded the regional council be allowed to finance the salary of the community leader in the same way that hundreds of regional councils, neighborhoods and communities across the country do so for male Orthodox rabbis they employ.
In negotiations held out of court, the state agreed to recognize the non-Orthodox rabbis, but refused to recognize their rabbinates. The State offered to call them "community leaders." About three weeks ago, the panel of judges led by Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein requested the intervention of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who agreed to recognize the terminology "rabbi of a non-Orthodox community."
The State held that the deal on Reform and Conservative rabbis will not be made via the religious council and will not be done via direct employment by the local authorities, rather via financial assistance. The Reform movement agreed to this. Financing will be the responsibility of the Culture and Sports Ministry and not the Religious Services Ministry.
The decision is currently limited to regional councils and farming communities, and does not extend to large cities. It was also written that those listed under the new title will not have any authority over religious and halakhic matters. So far, the State has committed to financially supporting 15 non-Orthodox rabbis. The Supreme Court is supposed to present a decision on the petition soon.
The Reform movement said that "this declaration by the state constitutes a precedential and historical achievement of the non-Orthodox movements and the wide public they serve, who have until now suffered from financial discrimination by the religious services."
The head of Israel's Reform movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said "the state's decision to support the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, while clearly acknowledging their roles as rabbis, is an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel. This is the first, but significant, step toward comparing the status of all streams of Judaism in Israel and we hope the state will indeed ensure the court's commitments are fully applied."
"We expect that the state's agreement to recognize the community activities of Reform rabbis will lead to additional steps that will annul the deep discrimination of non-Orthodox streams in Israel," Kariva continued.
MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), head of the lobby for Civil Equality and Religious Pluralism, praised the announcement by the attorney general, calling it a "significant step in the challenge for pluralism and freedom of religion."
Horowitz accused the ultra-Orthodox of hijacking Judaism in Israel and using it as a political tool to create countless jobs. "The time has come to recognize all streams of Judaism and release it from the grip of the haredi politicos," he added.
May 25, 2012
Shavuot: "Unconditional Love"
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
In honor of my mother, my teacher, Ruby Eisenberg-Creditor
We read the Scroll of Ruth on Shavuot, the day we harvest our fields and the day we stood at Sinai. What is the unconditional love the rabbis believed connected Naomi and Ruth, a mother and daughter-in-law who traversed life's complicated journey together.? It is, as the rabbis put it, 'sofo lehitkayem' (destined to be fulfilled). A love built to last.
How might we become blessed by this greatest of all loves? By loving unconditionally, by granting those closest and farthest from us the right to be right, the space to dream their own dream, and - perhaps hardest of all - to love us on THEIR terms. That means that, while every one of us aches for and is worthy of love, the form that love takes is going to be shaped by the giver's soul, not the receiver's. No matter the shape of my love-intake valve, if I truly love another, my intake valve is ready and blessed to learn to receive love shaped by my another.
And what is the example of this mature and deep shared love? Torah. This world is only physical. The dimension of reality we inhabit can only know, perceive, and contain that which exists in space and time. But Jewish tradition, the unfolding of Torah we celebrate on Shavuot, invites us to allow the love-intake valve of our world to receive God's Love, an Eternal Love that knows no limit. God stirred in my ancestors' hearts and stirs in mine.
God, or the Life-force of the Universe, or the Collective Potential of the Human Imagination, or Source of All, is beyond the paltry words we use as pointers. We can't define Infinity. But we yearn to feel its reassuring presence.
It doesn't make sense. The words don't fit. But, as tradition teaches, Love only requires a small crack to enter. The question we face, we who ache to love and be loved unconditionally, is one we are blessed to hear by virtue of having souls.
Open your heart just a crack, and allow the strange shape of God to find a way to love you right.
May that be the Torah we receive and the harvest we share.
May 23, 2012
By Rabbi Alan Lucas
Excerpted from The Observant Life
Shavuot falls on the sixth and seventh days of the Hebrew month of Sivan. (The festival is observed only on the sixth of Sivan in Israel.) Like Sukkot and Passover, it is a multi-dimensional holiday, embracing profound historical, spiritual, and agricultural aspects.
From the agricultural perspective, Shavuot marks the end of the counting of the omerthat began on Passover, but it is also referred to in the Torah at Numbers 28:26 as yom ha-bikkurim (the day of first fruits) and at Exodus 23:16 as hag ha-katzir, the harvest festival. In Israel, especially on the agricultural kibbutzim, much has been made of this aspect of the festival, and elaborate ceremonies involving the first fruits of the harvest season have been developed. Outside of Israel, many synagogues attempt to incorporate this theme by adorning their sanctuaries with flowers or other symbols of the fertile earth.
The historical dimension of the festival has to do with the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which, according to tradition, took place on the sixth day of Sivan. This theme is especially prominent liturgically, as Shavuot is repeatedly called z'man matan torateinu (the time of the giving of our Torah).
Click on one of the following for more!
Click here for the entire article! https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/about-shavuot?tp=240
What does it mean to be a woman devoted to a career that is dominated by men? If she is a newly ordained rabbi, what are her hopes and aspirations for her future in the rabbinate? What are her anxieties? Yesterday's events at Israel's Western Wall drive home the significance of what it means to be a woman rabbi and to have women rabbis, and highlights the fact that many in Israel—and here—are resisting these changes.
I encourage you to share your thoughts as well at blog.jtsa.edu/chancellor-eisen/.
Arnold M. Eisen