Religion, Sex & Gender, Uncategorized

Standardizing gay friendly & egalitarian marriage rituals

The Forward just published Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite. In an effort to create a typical news article conflict, it misses the bigger picture. Three Conservative rabbis were tasked to create a standard ritual for gay weddings. They tried to hew as closely as possible to the typical non-egalitarian ceremony with the goal of minimizing the differences between homo and heterosexual marriage rituals. While a valiant goal, many of the top decision makers in the Conservative movement (the other members of the Committee on Jewish Laws & Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly), thought the text didn’t work and asked the drafting group to make more radical changes to the text with the goal of a more egalitarian ritual. The only critique in the article that wasn’t from a Conservative rabbi is a quote from Jay Michaelson. I read a comment of Michaelson on Facebook where he said he was more supportive of this effort than his quote that ended up in the Forward article portrayed.
The draft text and suggested revisions are not publicly available so I can’t directly critique them. Still, we can discuss why this effort matters.
There are some great examples of couples doing intense study to create their own ceremonies. BZ has a great series on this. More and more resources are out there. For example, there is Danya’s Alternatives to Kiddusin.
There are still unnecessary barriers for people who want to use these rituals. Here’s the example from my heterosexual wedding (predating both BZ’s and Danya’s writings). We used a non-standard & more egalitarian Ketubah text. While the text was available, we couldn’t walk into most Judaica stores & buy an beautiful ketubah with this text pre-printed. We wouldn’t have even known this text existed if we didn’t have friends who adapted it for their own wedding. To use the text, we needed to contact the author, a total stranger named Aryeh Cohen, to get an electronic version of the text that the ketubah scribe could lay out and then hand inscribe. Even this modest change to a more egalitarian ketubah text required added effort and additional costs. Our discussions regarding variations on the ceremony didn’t go much beyond rings, who walks around who, and whether the object of value should be a ring or a banana.
While finding a wider range of rituals is slightly easier now, egalitarian hetero or homosexual wedding rituals that are rooted in Jewish history and tradition are still an elite decision for those who decide the extra work is worth it.
Conservative Rabbis and other Conservative leaders have long officiated at weddings using a variety of rituals. Some were performing gay commitment ceremonies or weddings before the Committee on Jewish Law & Standards (CJLS) said it was ok and more have done so afterwards. Still, officiants are all piecing together new ritual based on the work of others and their own research and innovations.
Perhaps someone else will correct me, but I think this is the first attempt by a major Jewish organization to create a single, standardized ritual for homosexual weddings. Standardized ritual can remove barriers. A CJLS approved ketubah text for gay weddings will be pre-printed in beautiful ketobot by more suppliers with non-fancy verisions sitting in more synagogue rabbis’ cabinets. New wedding rituals will be in Rabbis’ manuals next to guidance for other lifecycle events. If the new rituals end up being firmly anchored in Jewish texts and traditions, egalitarian, and flexibly gendered, they will see usage in heterosexual weddings whether or not that was the CJLS intention.
While standardization can sometimes decrease innovation, I think it is the opposite in this case. People who want to innovate wedding rituals will still do that. A new standard text just shifts the starting point, with an easily found and hopefully well documented and researched text.

20 thoughts on “Standardizing gay friendly & egalitarian marriage rituals

  1. Does anyone have inside info on the actual content of the proposal? The Forward article says very little, and “an exchange of rings” can mean all sorts of things.

  2. No less important is a standardized ritual for terminating a relationship that has been sanctified. This too is receiving attention by the Conservative powers that be.

  3. My egalitarian Kettubah also pre-dates BZ and Danyna’s writings. When I got married in 1996, we were very much on our own in terms of writing the text. I was lucky enough to have studied Kiddushin in high school, so we wrote our own egalitarian text, essentially (but not fully) making the same legal transactions to each other and making the promises mutual. And we had to translate to Aramaic/Hebrew ourselves there was nothing out there at the time. A relative typeset it for us. I am happy with it, but I would have certainly gone farther with my changes had I written it today.
    I’d like to point out that not only is the current Conservative Kettubah text not egalitarian in terms of Kiddushin (discussed by the Forward article and BZ’s writings), it still refers to the woman as betulah ( a virgin) and has only the man’s obligations towards the woman in terms of feeding, clothing and providing for and has  non-parallel  titles/ uses of bride/groom to refer to the participants.
    Another problem with the texts offered by many Kettubah sites and proposed by many Conservative rabbis is that they suffer from the sin of lying through translation ( see Silverman prayer-book) in that they offer a very tradition Aramaic/Hebrew text alongside an egalitarian statement of mutual caring etc. in English.  For example, calls having the Liberman clause ‘egalitarian’ and admits that the English is not a translation.
    Given the current state of things, and the historic small ‘c’ conservativeness of the Conservative movement, I think it will be awhile before any standard text they put out is as egalitarian as our imperfect 1996 attempt.

  4. RE “Perhaps someone else will correct me, but I think this is the first attempt by a major Jewish organization to create a single, standardized ritual for homosexual weddings.”
    Those of us in the RRA have had one in our Rabbi’s manual for fifteen years. But then again, I think that we are against any “single, standardized” ritual anything on principle.

  5. seems like Sodom and Gomorrah are relegated to the anals of history. the question at the Gehenna will be well done or crispy

    1. robert writes:
      seems like Sodom and Gomorrah are relegated to the anals of history.
      Nope, they’re alive and well in the GOP’s economic platform.

  6. @Rainbow Tallit Baby, One of the fascinating things about the process is there are two discussions regarding weddings. What is an appropriate egalitarian heterosexual ritual and what is an appropriate homosexual ritual? While the discussion of egalitarian heterosexual weddings has been around longer and would probably be welcome by more people it sounds like there has not and still isn’t a Conservative movement effort towards standardizing that egalitarianism. The more controversial discussion – essentially how to sanctify homosexual relationships – is being discussed at the highest levels of the movement’s leadership.
    This partially makes sense since they said the relationships could be considered ok & are now needing to figure out what that means to practice. Changing something that isn’t optimal, but is working has a bit less urgency behind it. It will be fascinating if the gay marriage discussion results in a standardized Conservative egalitarian wedding ritual as a by product.
    @Meir, Do you know if a gay get is also formally part of this process? I don’t know anything about the current process beyond what was in the linked article.

    1. Dan Ab writes:
      One of the fascinating things about the process is there are two discussions regarding weddings. What is an appropriate egalitarian heterosexual ritual and what is an appropriate homosexual ritual?
      But why should these be two separate discussions? Once it’s truly egalitarian, the genders of the parties shouldn’t matter (except in the Hebrew/Aramaic conjugations).

    2. Do you know if a gay get is also formally part of this process?
      Likewise, the real question is how egalitarian Jewish divorce (for any combination of genders) should work. Once you answer that, it’s not so hard to come up with הרי אתה מותר לכל אדם.

  7. @BZ, I’m not saying these should be separate discussions, just that they are and the new gay marriage discussion is bringing the older heterosexual egalitarian discussion to higher prominence. Same is true with divorce.

  8. @Dan Ab and BZ,
    I think the point the original post and some of the commenter are making -“the new gay marriage discussion is bringing the older heterosexual egalitarian discussion to higher prominence” is because whatever the same-sex marriage text ends up being it will by definition be more egalitarian than the current heterosexual ceremony and document.( What else can it be – a role of the dice for which member of the couple gets to be in the role of the “traditional female”?) . And then what is to stop heterosexual couples from either just using the new same-sex texts or asking why the movement does not provide them with a similarly egalitarian text.

  9. so, if I understand your posting (and i’m not sure that I do), you were bothered by the fact that you “had to” contact me, “a total stranger” to get an electronic file of the ketubah text that I wrote for my wedding and distribute to anyone who wants to use it; and your solution would be to have a standard egalitarian institutional text written by people who are what? not total strangers?
    Also, a word of thanks might have been in order for the fact that I sent you an electronic version of the ketubah and distribute it as widely as possible.

  10. @Aryeh, Thank you! I noted you by name and linked to the text as a thank you and to publicize the valuable resource that you made available. I should have explicitly said “thank you” in the main post too. (I just double checked and made sure that we did thank you at the time)
    The issue here is unnecessary barriers to entry. How many people use your text each year? How many people write to you to ask for electronic copies as we did? How many people would be interested in using such a text but either don’t know it exists or are too shy to contact a university professor/rabbi they’ve never met?
    For my wife and I, it wasn’t a bother to contact you, but that’s us and our personalities. In the few months between when we got engaged and got married, we had to pick our priorities. For us, spending the extra time to get a copy of your text and working with a ketubah artist to integrate it with her artwork was a priority. Other couples ration their time differently.
    Prominent standards remove some of these barriers to entry. Looking at the website I linked to above, and selecting your text for a ketubah, the website says your text is an “An exclusive!” Whatever that means, I don’t see it as a standard option on several other ketubah websites. When we were shopping for a ketubah, we didn’t see your text in our local Judaica store.
    We don’t always think where documents come from, but rather how we get them. If a couple has a relationship with their wedding officiant, the text/ritual is no longer coming from a stranger, but from someone they know. If a large organization, like the Conservative movement, decided to distribute a standard egal text (whether yours or from someone else) it would be more widely used. In meeting with their wedding officiants, more couples would be offered an egal text as an option – whether or not they were thinking about it – and more people would take that option.

  11. @ Dan Ab:Indeed in Israel we, a group of rabbis, are in the process of working on/adopting a ritual for ending unions that have been formalized through Jewish ritual. The word “Get” has many very specific Halachic requirements.
    The author, a learned rabbi with Smicha from Jews College, refers to it as Tekes Kritut. I have seen the document and think that it is excellent. But to achieve wide spread implementation – and I think that it may be less than responsible to sanctify a relationship w/o a method to ritually end it- there may need to be some sort of institutional adoption. Otherwise it is just another document out there somewhere on the Web. (This Tekes is not yet on the web).

  12. One issue I have with this conversation (at least in the Forward article and here; I don’t know how they’re talking about it behind closed doors) is that the framing seems to be about a “wedding ceremony” or “ritual” or “Tekes”. I think this is a misplaced emphasis. The focus should be on what marriage is, how you get into it, and how you get out of it.
    A bar/bat mitzvah is a ceremony to mark reaching the age of Jewish adulthood, but whether or not you have any ceremony, you still acquire the rights and responsibilities of a Jewish adult when you reach the appropriate age. A funeral is a ceremony to mark a death, but whether or not you have a funeral, you’re still dead.
    A wedding is something more than that: it doesn’t just mark a life transition, it actually effects that transition. Before the wedding, you’re not married in the eyes of Jewish law, and after the wedding, you are. (And a divorce is the reverse.)
    Sure, there are many aspects of a wedding that are pure “Tekes”. And there are elements of a standard Jewish wedding that serve no legal function, from “Mi Adir” to breaking the glass. But those elements are more superficial and can be more easily left up to each couple. The more important issue is determining the legal mechanism for enacting an egalitarian Jewish marriage (whether same-sex or opposite-sex), and the legal mechanism for dissolving it.

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