Grappling With Tradition

Letter to the Editor

Published November 30, 2011, issue of December 09, 2011.
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With regard to a December 2 Forward article, “Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite,” we wish to clarify our position on the draft of a new ceremony for gay and lesbian couples in discussion before the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. The drafting of these model ceremonies of commitment and separation, in addition to including several careful readings by committee members and other rabbis, also involved gay rabbinical students. As treasured members of our community they are most directly affected by the proposed new liturgy and we sought their guidance.

The committee took care to bring the full weight of tradition to bear in ensuring that these rituals convey their sacred purpose: the consecration of a “bayit neeman b’yisrael,” a true and faithful Jewish home, for same-sex couples seeking to build a Jewish home and family.

At the same time, they took care to distinguish the marriage ceremony from kiddushin, which Jewish tradition explicitly stipulates is intended for a union between a man and a woman. Jewish tradition’s framing of kiddushin raises other issues that trouble many couples today. The ritual of kiddushin is technically a special type of “acquisition.” While such “acquisition” attempts to describe the way in which people in loving, committed relationships “belong” to eachother, the modern sensibility bristles at this framing.

We hew to the traditional framework where we inherit it, and strive to bring contemporary understanding. But where we have the opportunity to craft a new ritual, we seek to frame it in an idiom that captures our understanding of Judaism’s intentions.

The deliberations of the CJLS, both at its last meeting and in the process leading up to it, are testament to the profound ways in which Conservative Judaism brings forward the best intentions of our tradition to recognize the divine spark in every member of our community and nurture it to grow.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld

Executive Vice President

Rabbinical Assembly

New York

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