Tuesday, August 24, 2004

In Which I Finally Convince the World that I Have Exchanged Judaism for Tiflus

In another venue, I mentioned that I've been idly composing liturgy for a same-sex wedding/commitment ceremony for no one in particular. Andrea asked to see it, at which point I decided that I may as well "come out of the closet" on this issue. Yes, I am a silly, empty-headed liberal Jew with the audacity to make up blessings. Sue me.

Now that that's over with, some background:

A halakhik wedding ceremony consists of two components, ארוסין or קדושין and נשואין. Combined, these procedures change a woman's sexual status from "forbidden to all men" to "permitted to her husband." Of course, this is not the ultimate essence of marriage, but it is its halakhik essence, and that is reflected in the blessing that accompanies ארוסין.

I believe that there are halakhik grounds for permitting sexual relationships between two men or two women, but, short of a rabbinic edict (which is impractical for a variety of reasons), there is no way to effect the sort of status change that takes place in a Jewish heterosexual wedding. Therefore, the terms ארוסין, קדושין, and נשואין are inappropriate in this context, as is the blessing traditionally recited over ארוסין. I see no problem, however, with applying the English terms, "marriage," "wedding," "bride," and "groom," or the Hebrew terms חתן and כלה (groom and bride). These terms are of primarily cultural, rather than halakhik, significance, and the concepts that we associate with them are perfectly applicable to same-sex unions.

I have heard that Rachel Adler, in Engendering Judaism (which I have yet to read), proposes a union ceremony that has the halakhik function of merging two people's property. This seems to me like about the right idea. Ideally, the procedure would involve an exchange of rings, which, in my understanding, it very well could.

The bit that I've been working on (if you can call it "working,") is a version of the "Seven Blessings" (שבע ברכות), which are traditionally recited as part of the נשואין ceremony and at meals througout the following week. My goal was to change as little as possible while ensuring that blessings be appropriate for this new context. Below are the blessings, in Hebrew and English, followed by explanations of the changes. (My translation is heavily influenced by Adler's.)

ברוך אתה ה אלוקינו מלך העולם שהכל ברא לכבודו.
1. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who created everything for your glory.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם יוצר האדם.
2. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, shaper of humanity.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם אשר יצר את האדם בצלמו, בצלם אלקים ברא אותו, זכר ונקבה ברא אותם. ברוך אתה ה יוצר האדם.
3. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has shaped human beings in Your image, creating male and female. Blessed are You, Lord, shaper of humainity.

.שוש תשיש ותגל העקרה, בקבוץ בניה לתוכה בשמחה. ברוך אתה ה משמח ציון בבניה.
4. May the barren one exult and be glad as her children are joyfully gathered to her. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens Zion with her children.

שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם. ברוך אתה ה משמח רעים אהובים.
5. Grant great joy to these loving companions as You once gladdened your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens loving companions.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם אשר ברא ששון ושמחה, חתן וכלה, גילה, רינה, דיצה וחדוה, אהבה ואחוה ושלום ורעות. מהרה ה אלקינו ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה, קול מצהלות חתנים מחפתם
ונערים ממשתה נגינתם. ברוך אתה ה משמח רעים אהובים.

6. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, merriment, song, dance and delight, love and harmony, peace and companionship. Lord our God, may there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the rapturous voices of the wedded from the bridal chambers, and of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens loving companions.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן.
7. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.


1. This blessing is unchanged.

2. This blessing is unchanged. Hebrew אדם, like English "man," can be either exclusive or inclusive of females. I've followed Adler in using the translation "humankind."

3. The original blessing is based on Gen. 2:22. It emphasizes the complementary roles of male and female, suggests that woman comes from man, and may also refer to couples' ability to perpetuate God's image through procreation. This version is based on Gen. 1:27. It emphasizes the essential sameness of man and woman and our common divine origin. It also suggests that where the word אדם ("man," or "humankind") occurs in these blessings, it should be understood in a gender-neutral sense.

4. This blessing is unchanged. (While it poses certain theoretical problems in this day and age, they have nothing to do with the gender of the couple, so I've left the blessing alone.)

5. I've replaced "bride and groom" with "loving companions," a reference to the Song of Songs. (The Hebrew literally translates, "beloved companions," but I think this translation conveys the meaning more accurately.) The first occurance of the phrase in the blessing is original. So, yes, I've rendered it redundant. I don't think this is a problem. (Compare the original versions of blessings 3 and 6.)

6. This blessing conveys the hope that Jerusalem will one day be filled with happy brides and grooms. (Again, a bit of a problem, but not particular to this context.) It reflects the language of Jeremiah. I see no reason to alter the terms "bride" and "groom" in this context. However, the end of the original blessing ("who gladdens the bridegroom with the bride") is inappropriate. I've replaced the bridegroom and bride with the "loving companions" of the previous blessing, but I'm not sure I like it. Suggestions?

7. This blessing is unchanged.

Feedback is welcome.

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