Responding in Prayer & Practice to Same-Sex Marriages
By Rabbi Phyllis Berman & Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The two of us, sometimes separately and sometimes together, have officiated at some same-sex marriages. We have worked out a number of practices we recommend to or require of the couples, and for same-sex marriages these need some special emendations. The four most important are below:
A. For all couples whom we marry, we strongly urge that they work out a "real-life" ketubah [written contract] dealing with whatever are in fact the most difficult issues between them -- for example, money, monogamy, child-rearing, care of aged parents, and/or -- as in the traditional ketubah -- what will happen in regard to these and similar matters if the marriage breaks up.
It is up to the couple whether all or part of this "real-life" ketubah is made public, or a decorative and more generic ketubah, which refers to the "real-life" one as part of the binding agreement,is made public at the wedding.
For heterosexual couples, if they have no prenuptial agreement the civil divorce may take care of these issues -- gently or harshly. For gay couples, we insist they work out a pre-nuptial agreement that addresses them, since in most jurisdictions civil divorce won't.
B. For all marriages, we require tennai kedushin ["conditions" or addenda to the ketubah, the wedding contract] that contractually commit the couple to giving & receiving gittin (Jewish divorce agreements) if the marriage ends.
We do this for two reasons:
To affirm that a marriage that has begun with spiritual values at its heart should not be ended only by civil law or communal agreement, but also with a spiritual level in the dissolution.
To make sure that if one party is unable or unwilling to join in giving or accepting a Jewish divorce, the other party will not face insuperable problems in undertaking another Jewish marriage.
We have these tennai'im signed on the wedding day just before the other part of the ketubah the couple have worked out.
For heterosexual couples, the tennaiim specify that a gett must be delivered within thirty days of a civil divorce. But for gay couples, in some US states this is so far unworkable. (This may change, depending on a US Supreme Court decision expected in June 2015. In the meantime -- -
This is the text of the addendum [tennaim] to the Ketubah that we have worked out to act as nearly as possible in analogy to the language we use for tennaim providing for a gett after a civil divorce.
As part of the contract of marriage that we, ____________
and ________________________________ enter into today, by virtue of which we sign a ketubah (written contract of Jewish marriage), speak aloud before witnesses our covenant of marriage, and give each other rings as valuable consideration to bind this contract,
We agree that if, God forbid, it should become necessary for us to end this marriage, no more than thirty days after the dissolution of a a civil marriage or secular domestic-partner or similar legal commitment between us, or if no such agreement exists other than the ketubah we signed at the time of our wedding then within six Jewish months after one of us delivers to the other a written statement asserting that the marriage is irrevocably broken, each of us will take the following actions:
Each will deliver to the other a gett (a bill of divorce according to evolving Jewish tradition) that is drawn up according to the specifications of any rabbinic authority on which the two of us agree. If the two of us cannot agree upon such an authority then we will accept the authority of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.
And we further agree that if only one of us wishes to deliver or only one of us wishes to accept such a gett, either because one of us refuses to do so or because the whereabouts of the other party are unknown, then the rabbinic authority we have agreed on or if there is none, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, may inquire into the arrangements for dissolution of legal and property ties between us, and if that authority is satisfied that the legitimate interests of both parties have been met, it will have full power to issue a gett that shall have full force and effect in ending the Jewish aspects of this marriage according to evolving Jewish law, tradition, and practice.
And we further agree that if either of us is unwilling or unable to give or receive a gett as described above, that fact shall be taken as conclusive evidence that in Jewish law there was not full and knowledgeable consent of both parties to this agreement at the time it was made, and that therefore the Jewish marriage presumably entered into today was in Jewish law null and void from the beginning.
All this we agree as a condition of entering into the marriage between us, and as an integral part of our marriage contract, and we intend this agreement to be legally binding and enforceable by civil courts and by Jewish courts and the Jewish community.
Date in the Western calendar: _____________________
Date in the Jewish calendar: _____________________
C. In the Sheva Brakhot or Seven Blessings that are said under the chuppah [wedding canopy], the traditional gender references don't work in same-sex marriages, and we have found that some heterosexual couples also prefer the different language we have evolved.
Where the traditional form specifies bride and groom, this text and its translation (by the two of us) does not. (The "gender" of God is here intertwined between masculine and feminine.)
1. Brukha at Yah, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, boreyt p’ri hagafen. Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
2. Barukh attah Yah, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, sheh’hakol bara likhvodo. Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who infuses Radiance into all being.
3. Brukha at Yah, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, yotzeret ha’adam.Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who shapes in earthiness the human spirit.
4. Barukh attah Yah, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, asher yatzar et ha’adam b’tzalmo, b’tzelem elohim d’mut tavnito, v’hitkin lo mimenu binyan adei ad. Brukha at Yah, yotzeret ha’adam.
Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who shapes humanity in Your image and likeness and enables us to renew creation by nurturing generations to come. Blessed are You, Yahh, Who shapes in earthiness the human spirit.
5. Sos tasis v’tagel ha’akara b’kibbutz baneha l’tokha b’simkha. Brukha at Yah, m’smakhat tziyon b’vaneha. May all who are deeply rooted rejoice, for those they nourish will spring up to flower and be fruitful. Blessed are You, Yahh, Who gladdens Tzion with her offspring. [Sometimes, depending on the couple: "Blessed are You Yahh; May you gladden Eretz Tzion, the Land of Excellence, that her two deeply rooted peoples come to flourish and be fruitful with children who live in peace with each other, truly in a Land of Excellence."]
[Note that in this fifth brocha we have retranslated "akarah," usually understood as the "hardened root" of a barren woman, into "one who is deeply rooted." Same root as "ikar," "root."]
6. Samei’akh t’samakh rei'ot ha'ahuvot [or rei’im ha’ahuvim in the masculine], k’sameikhakha y’tzirkha b’gan eden mikedem. Brukhat at Yah, m’samakhat dodot [or dodim, in the masculine] b’ahavatan [or ahavatam]. May these loving companions rejoice as did God’s first creations in the Edenic Garden of Delight. Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, creator of joy and gladness. Blessed are You, Yahh, Who enables lovers to rejoice in their love.
7. Barukh atah Yah, eloheynu ruakh ha’olam, asher bara sason v’simkha, ahuvim v’ahuvot, gila, rinah, ditza v’khedvah, ahavah v’akhavah, shalom v’rey’ut. M’heira yishama b’arei Yehuda u’v’khutzot Yerushalayyim: kol sason v’kol simkha, kol ohev v’ahuv [ohevet v’ahuva], kol mitzalot ahuvim [ahuvot] m’khuppatam, v’shirei shalom mimishtei neginatam. Brukha at Yah, m’samakhat dodim b’ahavatam [dodot b'ahavatan].
Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who creates joy and gladness, soul-mates and beloveds -- merriment and song, dance and delight, love and harmony, peace and fellowship. May all soon hear in the cities of Yehudah and the courtyards of Yirushalaiim the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of lover and beloved, the voice of lovers’ jubilation from their chuppah, and the celebratory songs of peace. Blessed are You, Yahh, Who fills with joy the cherishing of lovers.
D. In one wedding, bringing two women into a marriage, there was one powerful liturgical innovation that we might want to explore for other uses. At the moment when the m’sader usually speaks "by the authority of the State and the Jewish people," one of the rabbis present asked all the others [there were about twenty -- one of the couple being married was herself a rabbi] to stand with him to affirm the wedding.
What they said was:
Harei aten m’kadashot achat lashniya v’eynei Yisrael. Here! – You have set each other apart from all others in the eyes of the people of Israel.
L’shem sheh’nikhnaten l’chuppah u’l’vrit ahuvot, keyn tizku lilmod u’l’lamed Torah, u’l’kayeym mitzvat tikkun olam.
"As you have come under the chuppah and signed this lovers’ covenant, may you continue to teach and to learn Torah and to fulfill the mitzvah of moving toward the repair of the world."
Surely one reason for this collective affirmation was that the very newness of the step called out for more than one authoritative person to join in the path. But perhaps this was also a first step toward the whole community’s taking public responsibility for a halakhic step that, for centuries, only rabbis would have felt empowered to take.
Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. Since 1969 he has been one of the creators and leaders of Jewish renewal and has written many books on Jewish thought, history, and practice.
Rabbi Phyllis O. Berman founded (1980) and has since been Director of the Riverside Language Program — a unique and renowned intensive school (located in New York City) for teaching English language and American culture to newly arrived adult immigrants and refugees from all around the world.
Rabbi Berman has also, since the early 1980s, been a leading Jewish-renewal liturgist, prayer leader, story-writer, and story-teller. She was chair of the board of the P'nai Or Religious Fellowship from 1985 to 1993, and a member of the board of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal from 1993 to 2002. Her articles on new ceremonies for women and new midrash have appeared in Moment, Worlds of Jewish Prayer, Tikkun, and Good Housekeeping. She was ordained an Eshet Chazon (Woman of Vision) by the Jewish-renewal community in 1991.
From 1993 to 2003, she was Director of the Summer Program of the Elat Chayyim Center for Healing and Renewal.
They were both members of the committee that in 1985-1987 created Or Chadash, a Shabbat morning prayerbook for the P'nai Or/ ALEPH community, and have continued to renew the process of Jewish prayer, both as writers and as prayer-leaders.
They have brought new spiritual depth to celebration of the Jewish life-cycle, including more exploration of these questions about marriage, as co-authors of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven. They also wrote together Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (1996).