Rabbis affiliated with Judaism’s Reform and Reconstructionist movements in the United States have long been officiating at weddings and partnership ceremonies for LGBT couples.* In 2006, after years of impassioned study and debate, the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS, the movement’s authority on Jewish law) made an historic policy change in normalizing the status of gay and lesbian Jews in Conservative-affiliated synagogues and organizations and legalizing the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis .
When the 2006 responsum, or Jewish legal ruling, was approved by members of the CJLS, the authors of the responsum were not prepared to offer guidance on ceremonies and legal instruments for creating and dissolving gay and lesbian unions but made it clear that they favored “the establishment of committed and loving relationships for gay and lesbian Jews.” In May 2012, the authors of the 2006 responsum that opened the doors for gay and lesbian rabbis shared a new ritual framework for officiating at unions for same-sex couples. The two model ceremonies they created will likely become templates that Conservative rabbis will rely upon when officiating at ceremonies in their own communities. Our collection offers additional models and includes discussions of the relevant Jewish legal frameworks.
The collection is geared for those within Jewish communities who have already accepted the legitimacy of gay and lesbian relationships and want to focus on the question of what forms these rituals and liturgies might take. The collection offers ceremonies and articles grounded in considerations of halacha (Jewish law), as well as the opportunity to dialogue and contribute to the evolving innovation and development of this relatively new ritual area of Jewish life. We have included liturgy, guidelines, ritual, and legal materials that respond to the diverse needs of clergy and couples.
Isaiah’s words capture our efforts. He preached to those in exile who might return to their homeland:
Widen the place of your tent,
Stretch the curtains of your dwellings – stint not!
Lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes (Isaiah 54:2)
The image is of a tent flexible enough to expand to contain those who had not been included in the past – but also capable of rooting itself in the soil of Jewish law, culture, and tradition – so it does not remain too loose to be able to stand firm. Our established and created rituals are the places in which we dwell and create meaning, and the strength of our future community is grounded within them.
Thank you to Rabbi Tracy Nathan, the project editor. Rabbi Nathan is the Rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Waltham, MA. She taught on the faculty at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston and served as rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco. She received her rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she served as a Cooperberg-Rittmaster Rabbinical Intern at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York City’s synagogue for LGBT Jews, their friends, and families. Many thanks to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who began the work of researching authors and ceremonies for this project and to countless individuals who consulted with Keshet on the formation of this collection.
*The Reform Movement ‘s Central Conference of American Rabbis gave official sanction to its affiliated clergy in 2000 and the Reconstructionist Movement gave official sanction indirectly in 1993 and directly in 2004. In both movements, individual clergy had been officiating at unions for LGBT couples long before the official policy shifts.