Responding in Prayer & Practice to Same-Sex Marriages

Rabbi Phyllis Berman & Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 8/5/2003

The two of us, sometimes separately and sometimes together, officiate at a very few marriages each year — some of them same-sex marriages. We have worked out a number of practices we recommend or to or require of the couples, and for same-sex marriages these need some special emendations. (Some different-sex couples prefer some aspects of these as well.)

The three most important are:"tennai kiddushin," conditions especially regarding possible divorce, etc; a "real-life ketubah," commitments about the everyday aspects of a marriage -- money, sex, children, etc; the "sheva brachot," seven blessings that celebrate the marriage. Our notes on each are below.

A. 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 have these signed on the wedding day just before the other part of the ketubah they have worked out.) For hetero couples, the tennaiim specify this be done within 30 days of a civil divorce. But for gay couples, this is so far mostly unworkable. So —

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 secular domestic-partner or similar legal commitment between us, each of us 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, and that 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.

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: _____________________
Signed: _______________________________________

Witnesses: ____________________________________

B. For all couples whom we marry, we strongly urge that they work out a "real-life" ketubah dealing with whatever are in fact the most difficult issues between them — for examople, money, monogamy, childrearing, care of aged parents, and/or — as in the traditional ketubah — what will happen if the marriage breaks up. For hetero 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 civil divorce won't.

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 also found that some hetero 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 aht Yah, eloheynu ruakh halam, boreyt pri 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, shehakol bara likhvodo. Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who infuses Radiance into all being.

    3. Brukha aht 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'samakhat tziyon baneha. 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 5th 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. Sameikh t'samakh reyim ha'ahuvim, k'sameikhakha y'tzirkha b'gan eden mikedem. Brukha aht Yah, m'samakhat dodim b'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, ahuv v'ahuva, gila, rinah, ditza v'khedvah, ahavah v'akhavah, shalom v'rey'ut. M'heyra Yahh elohenu yishama b'arei Yehuda u'v'chutzot Yerushalayyim: kol sason v'kol simkha, kol ohev v'ahuv [ohevet v'ahuva], kol mitzalot ahuvim v'ahuvot] mey'chuppatam, v'shirei shalom mimishtei neginatam. Brukha at Yah, m'samakhat dodim b'ahavatam.

Blessed are You, Yahh our God, Breathing Spirit of the world, Who creates the joy and gladness of soulmate and beloved — 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.

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 20 — one of the couple being married was herself a rabbi] to stand with him to affirm the wedding.

What they said was:

Harei aten madashot achat lashniya vynei Yisrael. Here! You have set each other apart from all others in the eyes of the people of Israel.

Lhem shehikhnaten lhuppah urit ahuvot, keyn tizku lilmod uamed Torah, uayeym 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 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.

One major body of his work has addressed the ongoing inner life of the Jewish people in our generation:

His Freedom Seder (1969) seeded a generation of Passover seders that addressed the issues of our time. His book Seasons of Our Joy has become a classic guide to the history, practice, and spiritual meaning of the festival cycle. Godwrestling and Godwrestling — Round 2 reconnected the community with Torah-study in new forms and with new content. Down-to-Earth Judaism explored the everyday lives of Jews from biblical times till now and into the future, in regard to food, money, sex, and restfulness.

He was a member of the committee that in 1985-1987 created Or Chadash, a Shabbat morning prayerbook for the P'nai Or/ ALEPH community, and has continued to renew the process of Jewish prayer, both as writer and as prayer-leader.

Most recently, he and his wife Phyllis Berman have brought new spiritual depth to celebration of the Jewish life-cycle as co-authors of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven.

Since 1983, The Shalom Center has addressed the intertwined issues of healing the earth and preventing war. Rabbi Waskow pioneered in developing Eco-Judaism, in seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and in applying Jewish wisdom to issues of the nuclear arms race and world peace. He sees his next task as helping to shape a Jewish presence in the effort to create a planetary community.


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.

Out of that work she co-authored a book of stories of the lives of immigrants, Getting into It, and several articles on the impact of American public policy on immigrants and refugees.

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 2006, Berman was Director of the Summer Program of the Elat Chayyim Center for Healing and Renewal. She is the co-author of Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World (1996) and A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven (2002).

There are more details and more exploration of these questions about marriage in their book on the Jewish life-spiral, A TIME FOR EVERY PURPOSE UNDER HEAVEN (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2002).

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