Letter from the Editor: Same-sex Jewish Marriage in Our Generation

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Letter from the Editor:
Same-sex Jewish Marriage in Our Generation

Pesach is one of the moments when we most recall that history can be transformed; the pyramidal power that seems normal much of the time can be turned on its head; Pharaoh can be toppled and a band of runaway slaves become bearers of God's message of freedom and birth and possibility.

At such moments, we are transformed in our ways of connecting with God and each other — our liturgies and celebrations, our ideas. our ethics, our daily life-practices.

This year, New Menorah celebrates Pesach by looking at a transformation in our lives that is well under way. Perhaps we are in the very midst of the Red Sea, breaking the waters of new birth.

In American society as a whole and in the Jewish community, we are all broadening our understanding of love and community as we break down the ghetto walls betwen two different sets of Jews and people who have been strangers to each other: gay and lesbian persons and cultures on the one hand, and heterosexual persons and cultures on the other.

In the early 1980s, the movement for Jewish renewal, now partly embodied in ALEPH, helped initiate and strengthen this new birthing.

Now this process is growing more intense as the possibility of same-sex marriage comes to the fore. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court of Vermont, the publication of a major statement by clergy of most major religious groups in favor of the religious legitimacy of gay marriage, and (as we write) an impending decision by the Central Conference of American Rabb is all point in this direction.

There are increasing numbers of rabbis and cantors who are willing to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies. But in American society, same-sex marriage is not simply the same as different-sex marriage — because the web of legal and cultural and emotional structures and definitions that undergird different-sex marriages do not yet exist for same-sex marriages.

So many of these rabbis and cantors, and other knowledgeable Jews who in Jewish tradition can also officiate at weddings, do not yet have enough information to make effective decisions about such ceremonies, about special counseling the couple may need, about special legal steps they may need to take to protect their rights to rear children, care for a sick partner, etc.

For these reasons, New Menorah is publishing a special cross-denominational issue to assist those who are or who become willing to officiate ceremonially, or support legally, emotionally, and spiritually, couples who decide to enter same-sex marriages.

We believe that the God Whose Name is "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I Will be Who I Will Be, I Am Becoming Who I Am Becoming," brings joy and gladness to the chuppah of same-sex couples in our generation, and that it is the joyful obligation of the Jewish community to make sure that all the delights, responsibilities, and spiritual depths of marriage are upheld in practical ways by the Godwrestling People in covenant with the God Who is Becoming.

We offer this special issue of New Menorah to the community at large, as well as to its usual recipients — the membership of ALEPH.

With the help of The Shefa Fund, we have taken steps to make it available to those members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis who at their convention in March 2000 will take up this momentous question.

We will also be glad to make copies available to others. You will find a mail-in coupon on page Xx.

Usually an editor thanks a publisher only silently — for coming up with the money, the support staff, etc., to keep a journal going. In this case, Susan Saxe, chief operating officer of ALEPH, who acts as publisher of New Menorah, did more: She suggested this theme and then when I began pulling the articles together, wrote two important articles for the issue, as well as doing the "publishing." I thank her here, not silently but with a loud "Yashar kokheykh!"

The articles are arranged through the issue in roughly the order in which someone might grapple with the questions involved:

1) The process of internal change within the person who decides to celebrate in this new way (Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, "Learning About Homosexuality and Taking a New Stand");

2) Two pieces on counseling a same-sex couple (Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, "Pre-Marital Counseling for Same-Sex Couples"and Susan Saxe, "Legal Protections for Same-sex Couples—More than a Checklist";

3) Two pieces on ways to shape a wedding ceremony (Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, "Wedding Liturgy for a Same-sex Marriage"and Eyal Levinson, "Same-sex Kiddushin v'Nissuin: A Neo-Halakhic Assessment";

4) Some thoughts on the relation of same-sex marriage to American law, American culture and psychology, and Jewish theology (Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, " Same-sex Marriage and American Law," Susan Saxe, "Gay Marriage

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: