In July, 2001 the Or Shalom board endorsed a policy jointly proposed by Reb David and Reb Hillel regarding the role of the Or Shalom rabbi in officiating at same-sex Jewish weddings. That decision was ratified on September 6,   The full proposal is below.   Additional comments by Reb Hillel are also available.   Anyone wishing to further explore and learn about Jewish responses to the issues can find a wealth of material at www.aleph.org.

 

BH

On Broadening Our Vision of Holy Relationship:
A Proposal to the Or Shalom Community Submitted by Rabbi David Mivasair and Rabbi Yair Hillel Goelman

 

Background

Since last summer, the Or Shalom community has been discussing, studying, arguing and reflecting on questions about same-sex marriages. The discussion has revealed both the simplicity and the complexity of the question. The simplicity seems to arise from the fact that Or Shalom is an egalitarian community in which gays and lesbians participate equally and fully in all aspects of the community's social and ritual life. Also, Or Shalom is a community which consciously participates in Judaism's continual evolution. We believe that our religious task is not only to receive the Torah revealed through all the generations before us. With humility, we ask the Holy One to grant us the wisdom, understanding and knowledge to be able to discern in our own times  helkeinu be-Toratecha -- our generation's contribution to the eternal, ongoing revelation of Torah.

Yet, when confronted directly with the relatively new question of Jewish same-sex weddings last summer, not surprisingly we found differences of opinion within the Or Shalom community. Some felt that there was no question that the Or Shalom rabbi should indeed perform Jewish same-sex weddings. Others felt that despite our liberal approach to Jewish practice in other areas, the performance of same-sex marriages might conflict with Or Shalom's commitment to Jewish tradition or cause a negative reaction in some parts of the broader Jewish community. Many felt themselves to be somewhere in the middle: sympathetic and supportive of the principle of Jewish same-sex weddings while expressing the need for more time to look more deeply into the issue from multiple perspectives. These perspectives included a close consideration of traditional Jewish sources as well as of the lived reality of Jewish gays and lesbians and the pain and isolation that so many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have felt by their exclusion from Jewish communal and spiritual life.

Many of us spent a considerable amount of time last fall in an Or Shalom course on Sexuality, Gender and Marriage in the Jewish Tradition examining both classical Jewish sources as well as material prepared by current gay and lesbian Jewish thinkers. In the course we began to understand the ways in which Judaism in different ways and at different times developed ritual, liturgy, myth, law, story and ceremony around our embodied sexualities. We saw that there were no easy answers, but lots of questions and apparent inconsistencies. Most traditional sources see sexual pleasure as a positive expression of both our godliness and our humanity, but also something we should be wary of when it manifests itself as the evil inclination that could lead to sexual greediness, abuse and violence. We learned that the Jewish tradition sees sexual relationships to be appropriate primarily within the context of marriage; and, conversely, that a major purpose of marriage was to provide a framework for positive sexual relationships. Judaism's recognition of the holiness of sexuality is not limited to a procreationist view. Mainstream traditional Judaism encourages sexuality in marriage even for those for whom procreation is physically impossible (such as in the case of pregnant or post-menopausal women).

We also learned by studying both traditional and post-modern sources that many of the prohibitions of homosexual activity were based largely on what we now know to be inaccurate or badly understood aspects of human sexuality and on the fears of heterosexuals. Beyond these sweeping and blanket prohibitions, however, we found in the tradition precious little discussion about homosexual behaviour and no discussion at all about same sex relationships and commitments. We noted that some aspects of homosexual activity, for example lesbianism, were simply beyond the scope of the traditional texts, much as women's sexuality in general was given little attention by the male rabbis who dominated the discourse.

We learned that a commitment to a sacred relationship between a man and woman is called kiddushin in Hebrew. In the Jewish tradition, kiddushin provides many ways for a couple to enrich their relationship, each imbued with emotional and spiritual meaning. In the mainstream traditional view the man, not the woman, is obligated to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. The man is obligated to provide sexual pleasure (onah) to the woman, but she has no reciprocal obligation to the man. During and after a woman's period, Judaism provides a very detailed cycle that guides the ways in which the man and the woman approach each other, touch the same objects, touch each other and when and where they may resume their sexual relationship.

And we also learned that just as there is a way to step into kiddushin through the wedding ceremony, there is a way to step out of the relationship through Jewish divorce procedures, called gittin.

Or Shalom has given us the time, space and energy to look into ourselves, individually and collectively, and to study what our tradition has to contribute to the discussion. We think that the time has come to move ahead and to come to a community understanding that we can all embrace, or at least one that we can all live with. We suggest a proposal which we believe expresses the community's vision, both forwards into the future as well as keeping our eye on the rear-view mirror. We think if our proposal is accepted by the community, it will enable the community to move ahead in an important direction. It will also demand patience from all of us as we enter and create new paradigms of our spiritual and community life while we preserve and protect what is valuable and what has sustained us until now as a people.

We look forward to the community's discussion of this proposal.

Our proposal

The policy we are proposing is, in effect, a continuation of the current Or Shalom policy regarding the rabbi officiating at weddings. Our tradition teaches us, Lo tov heyot ha-adam levado, meaning, it is not good for a person to be alone. Being in holy relationship with another human being is among the most profound human experiences. The Or Shalom community has always recognized that Judaism teaches us to honour the divine image in each and every one of us. Our community has also always acknowledged that Judaism is a continually evolving religious tradition. We believe that at this time the Or Shalom community would make a great contribution by enabling couples consisting of two Jewish women or two Jewish men whose hearts, souls and lives are joined together to experience all the richness and depth which our sacred tradition has offered to loving, committed Jewish couples of opposite sexes.

Just as the Or Shalom community allows its rabbi discretion in deciding both whether and how to perform a Jewish ceremony between a Jewish man and a Jewish woman, the community will also now allows its rabbi to exercise the same discretion in deciding whether and how to perform a Jewish ceremony between two Jewish men or two Jewish women. The rabbi and the couple together will decide whether they want a Jewish wedding ceremony, a commitment ceremony or another type of ceremony.

Next steps

Our people's and our community's growing and learning in this area is just beginning and there is much work that still needs to be done. We are shifting age-old paradigms in many fundamental ways. The language that is used to describe these shifts is also going through a process of evolution and clarification. We look forward to continuing discussion on this and related issues in our own community.

Both of us feel blessed to be part of a spiritual community that supports and nourishes this kind of inquiry. For years Or Shalom has provided the optimal greenhouse conditions in which we all can explore, learn and grow. May we all continue to be so blessed.  Ain ha-Torah nikneit ela be-havurah  the Torah can be acquired only through the work of community.
 
 


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