When Abe Newman and his partner, Craig Pollack, discussed the possibility of marriage, they decided that they wanted their ceremony to be infused with Jewish traditions. Last weekend, even though a friend who is not a rabbi officiated their ceremony in Massachusetts, they stood beneath a chupah and smashed not one but two light bulbs.
Along with a Kiddush and a shechechianu blessing, they signed a ketubah created by artist Melissa Dinwiddie, customized with the gender-appropriate pronouns. This text, which has been prepared for other gay and lesbian clients, is called the Equal Partners Commitment text.
Dinwiddie, of ketubahworks.com, started her ketubah-making business in 1997. She had her first gay clients just three years later.
“I have been open to gay ketubot from the beginning, so I was glad someone finally approached me to do one,” Dinwiddie said. “I consider myself an ally for same-sex couples. I think of what I do as a mitzvah.”
A handful of other ketubah artists from around the country are beginning to offer similar texts, and many have been approached not only by Jewish gay and lesbian couples but also same-sex couples of other backgrounds. In an era in which 49 American states will not recognize gay and lesbian marriages, many are finding ketubot to be an alternative way to document their commitment before the national community.
“For me, it’s both a moment to include our historic tie to the religion, and a moment to show that this is a bond with a legal contract,” Newman said.
Gendered pronouns are not the only modifications found in these ketubot. Occasionally, rainbow designs, religious texts about the binding of two souls and quotes from Shakespeare appear on the parchment. A Good Company, a ketubah-maker based in Chicago, has been known to incorporate some of these details.
Stephanie Caplan, a New York ketubah artist for theketubah.com, said when it comes to designing for gay and lesbian clients, the question for her is merely, “Why not?”
“I think the older generation of ketubah artists did not like to do interfaith or gay ketubot, but today it’s easier to come by,” Caplan said.
Caplan sometimes uses a text called “B’rit Ahuvim/Ahavot” (“Lovers’ Covenant”) for her clients, which gleans from the biblical story of David and Jonathan’s bond.
Though some Jews may be uneasy with the thought of David being gay, Rabbi Leila Gal Berner of Washington, D.C., who has written her own ketubah text for lesbian couples, used by customketubah.com artist Miriam Karp, said that whether Jonathan and David’s relationship was sexual or not does not nullify its emotional impact.
Berner feels that gay and lesbian couples have just as much of a need for a ketubah , and she encourages it for all the couples she counsels.
“Gay and lesbian Jews are saying, ‘We are voluntarily wanting to take on the responsibilities of marriage through the writing of such a document in a serious, Jewish way,’” Berner said. “I only hope that many more ketubah artists will let it be known that they are ready and able to make ketubot for gay and lesbian couples.”
Elisha Sauers is a writer living in Bloomington, Ind.