Conservatives Give Gay Wedding Guidance

Rabbis Adopt Two New Frameworks for Same-Sex Marriages

By the Power Vested in Me: Rabbi Menachem Creditor marries Margee Churchon and Kate Smallenburg in Berkeley, Calif. Conservative rabbis are grappling with how to adapt a traditional Jewish wedding for same-sex couples.
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By the Power Vested in Me: Rabbi Menachem Creditor marries Margee Churchon and Kate Smallenburg in Berkeley, Calif. Conservative rabbis are grappling with how to adapt a traditional Jewish wedding for same-sex couples.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published May 31, 2012, issue of June 08, 2012.
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For gay weddings, the forms are still evolving. With the assembly releasing its own marriage templates, four Conservative rabbis, some new to gay commitment ceremonies and others familiar with them, shared their rituals with the Forward:

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who helms congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., is a traditionalist when it comes to marital rites. “The important thing for me is that same-sex marriage is marriage,” he said. “It is not something different.”

In the 10 years that he has been conducting gay marriages, Creditor has changed virtually nothing in the conventional marriage ceremony, adjusting only gendered language where appropriate. “I see every traditional form as pregnant with meaning,” he said.

Creditor’s perspective is not uncommon among Conservative rabbis. For instance, across the country, Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah outside Boston also hews closely to traditional rites. “I tried to keep the elements as similar as possible so if you walked into that ceremony you would say, ‘I am at a Jewish wedding,’” he said.

But Creditor goes a step beyond most rabbis, maintaining language that might strike others as inapplicable to gay couples. Creditor keeps most of the text in the last of the seven blessings, which refers to the rejoicing of brides and grooms. He changes only the last line to refer to a groom and a groom — or a bride and a bride. The wording “is not an imposition on a gay couple that they should be straight,” he said. “It is an admission that sexual orientation is not a reason to limit joy.”

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik

In contrast to Creditor, Skolnik has used a service that hints at the traditional Jewish wedding but ultimately deviates from the ancient rites.

Skolnik, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, roots his ceremony in a foundational Jewish ritual: the blessing over the wine. But for the second blessing dealing with sexual prohibition, he substitutes a prayer from the sheva brachot, which blesses God “who creates man in your image.” “It was an acknowledgment that whether gay or straight, you are a sacred human being,” said Skolnik.

Skolnik created the ceremony last year for a gay male couple at Forest Hills Jewish Center, where he is a pulpit rabbi. By his own admission, Skolnik was hesitant in applying traditional Jewish marriage rites to a homosexual union. “My effort was to try and craft some kind of ceremony that would be spiritual and Jewish, but not a clone” of traditional marriage, he said.

The ceremony did not take place under a chuppah, nor do the grooms break glasses underfoot. Rather than use the traditional prayer over the ring exchange, Skolnik replaced it with language he found on a liturgical website called Ritualwell. Though a surrogate ketubah was present, the seven blessings were not.


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