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Going Where No Jews Have Gone Before…(Chaye Sarah – 10/30/21)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

Going Where No Jews Have Gone Before…
The first marriage of two Jews takes place in our parsha: Isaac marries Rebecca. There’s not much detail about the wedding: Rebecca lowers a veil over her head, Isaac welcomes her into the tent of his (deceased) mother, takes her as his wife, and comes to love her.
Rebecca’s brother, Lavan, does bless her beforehand (Genesis 24:60): “Our sister, may your progeny number in the tens of thousands, and may they inherit the cities of their enemies.”
While some Conservative marriage manuals suggest that the rabbi bless the bride with this blessing as well, I prefer to omit it. Any blessing that mentions having enemies is no blessing to me.
On Sunday, I attended my first lesbian wedding. What was especially noteworthy about this occasion is that both women were Orthodox. Understanding that they could not use the traditional marriage formula of “With this ring, you are married/sanctified to me according to traditions of Moses and Israel”, as it was originally prescribed for a man to say to a woman, they needed another way to get married.
Furthermore, they wanted a wedding contract that represented their twenty-first century, egalitarian and progressive mindset. A traditional Ketubah stipulates that the groom agrees to support and provide for his bride, and the bride will endeavor to set up a home based upon traditional Jewish values. This couple wanted something that not only expresses their belief in equal financial commitments but also mutual parental and spousal obligations. They wanted their Ketubah to address their values and commit both of them to the emotional and spiritual welfare of the family.
So, they authored their own Ketubah and married via partnership. Each Kalah (bride) placed something of value, a ring, into a bag. They then lifted up the bag together showing their partnership in their new family enterprise.
Judy and I were married in this manner four years ago. The traditional understanding of the marriage process is that when the bride accepts the wedding ring, she then gives her exclusivity over to her husband. This is why there is sometimes an Agunah (“chained wife”) problem in Orthodox circles. If the husband wants to extract money or vengeance against his wife, he refuses to return her exclusivity by means of the Get. In this way, the woman cannot remarry and the husband retains control over her. Judy did not want to enter into such a unilateral relationship, so we married via partnership as well. When we formulated our new Ketubah, we thought others might copy it, but it was a nice surprise to see it utilized for a lesbian marriage.
Sunday’s ceremony concluded with the recital of the traditional Sheva Brachot (seven blessings), but wherever it said “Groom and Bride” the words were changed to Bride and Bride.
What impressed me was the willingness of the couple’s Orthodox families to attend and participate in such an unorthodox ceremony. It showed me that changes are on the way. Furthermore, from the joy and elation of the other members of the LGBTQ+ community attending the wedding, one could see that they reveled at their acceptance in their social and religious circle.
Religions developed as a way to create community and identity, make sense of the world, and envelope spirituality. It is only logical that as times change, certain practices will become outdated and others will develop. Just in the past 50 years, we’ve all seen great changes in most religions and certainly Judaism. Yet, it seems to me that we’re just on the cusp of this change. The most meaningful practices and rituals will remain, but the next generation will lead us to new frontiers.
I believe MHJC has survived all this time because, while we are committed to tradition, we’re also open to change. Judaism is heading to new frontiers. With our roots planted firmly, we will proactively meet the new needs of our community.

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