Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reinventing Rituals: June, A Month of Pride and Same-Sex Marriages

This post originally appeared on Pursue. It is the second in a series on reinventing Jewish rituals (which I will be writing for Pursue). To read the first post on memorials/yartzeits, click here.

June is full of irony: not only is June Pride month, but it is also the unofficial start to wedding season. So many are still fighting for equal marriage. As I write this, lawmakers in Albany are struggling to garner enough votes to make same-sex marriage legal in New York state (see resources to get involved at the end of this post).

As someone who works at the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue, CBST (Congregation Beit Simchat Torah) I see firsthand how the denial of civil rights affects our families. I also get to see what an amazing tribute it is to the Jewish tradition to have so many people who are deeply rooted in religion, spirituality, and tradition create a community unique to them. Instead of allowing themselves to be turned off by communities who are still figuring out their “stance” on homosexuality, they have a home where their whole identity is able to come together and thrive with others who accept them for who they are and don’t focus on how they do not fit with the “heteronormative” family.

Within Judaism, what does it mean to have a same-sex marriage? What are some of the opportunities for reinventing this ritual? Rabbis debate this topic just as many states debate same-sex marriage bills across the country.

Much of the contemporary Jewish conversation on same-sex marriage draws on pieces of Torah and explains how to reinterpret them in an inclusive way for our same-sex couples, namely, the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. Rabbi Arthur Waskow asks, “Can we not interpret this as ‘to be fruitful and expansive emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually rather than biologically?’ Furthermore, same-sex couples may not have the biological ability to reproduce but with modern technology this no longer means they do not have the ability to create a family.

As Jewish movements struggle with the issue of same-sex marriage in their own communities, countless conversations occur amongst rabbis as to what clergy groups’ official position on same-sex marriage should be. The Reform movement in 2000 voted to adopt a resolution stating “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”

What do “appropriate” Jewish rituals look like? The basic Jewish marriage consists of the following (in a nutshell):

Marriage Contract (Ketubah)
Canopy (Chupah)
Exchanging Rings
Seven blessings (Sheva Brakhot)
Breaking the glass

While Rabbis change their stances according to their various interpretations of Torah it is important to make sure LGBTQ Jews have a place they can turn for rituals in their lives, including marriage. If you have a litany of weddings to attend this summer, you’ll realize pretty quickly that every wedding is different and dependent on the couple’s custom, so there is a lot of room for interpreting these different components and imbuing them with meaning based on the couple’s values.

Because the traditional Jewish wedding choreography is gender specific, a re-imagining of the different components of the marriage ceremony is necessary. This can be done by same-sex and heterosexual couples, all in the name of promoting marriage equality.

Listed below are some variations of the basic rituals and traditions to get an idea of how you can change your own ritual to be LGBTQ inclusive. Hopefully you’ll see some of these at weddings this summer season!

(From Central Conference of American Rabbis Working Group on Same-Gender Officiation)

One person circles the other 3x, then they switch, and they take hands and circle together for a total of 7x.

Couple holds the cup together.

Exchanged and prayers recited, with language such as… “by this ring are you consecrated unto me before God and these witnesses in the spirit of our people,” or “this is my beloved and my friend.”

Breaking the glass:
Broken together, or two glasses broken.

To recognize the continued struggle for equality:
Because so many gays and lesbians sadly still know the oppression and pain of hiding, because so many gays and lesbians still lack equality of civil rights in our world, we break a glass/glasses on this day of celebration to remind us that even in this hour of great joy, our world is still incomplete and in need of healing. May the time be soon, speedily and in our day, when all who are in hiding shall be free and all who are in exile shall come home.

May the shattering of these glasses by _________ and ___________ remind them and us to work towards this time of wholeness, this tikkun, for ourselves and our world. Amen.

How will you be re-imaging the Jewish wedding this summer?

Take action today towards equal marriage rights in New York:
Join friendfactor
Call your senator!
Video: CBST Rabbi Kleinbaum in active protest with Hasidic Rabbi in Albany

List of LGBTQ friendly synagogues- Keshet
Resources for Torah related learning- Jewish Mosaic
Kulanu: All of Us A Program and Resource Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Inclusion by the URJ Press

See you in July! Tacklingtorah will be taking the week after Pride off to re-coup abroad!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shavuot: Torah and Technology

Reflections on a Jewish Holiday you didn’t learn about in Hebrew School.

Please let me know if you learned about Shavuot in after-school Hebrew School. I certainly did not but yet it is one of the main Jewish festival holidays. It is also the holiday of “education” so to say. We celebrate receiving the torah and honor this gift by studying all night long! We also eat dairy which may cause some fellow lactards to mourn not celebrate. But nonetheless blintzes and cheesecakes allow us to learn all night with our Jewish community. Read more about why dairy on Shavuot:

Learning is an essential piece to Judaism. And in my own Jewish journey I’ve begun to understand that even more essential then learning what the torah teaches is questioning how it relates to our own lives. In that vein...

Here are my rushed reflections (apologies) on Shavuot this year:

A friend asked in her Facebook status, "What does Shavuot represent for you? (and/or, what are secular shavuot in your life)?" To which someone replied, "there is no freedom (Pesach) without responsibility (Shavuot)". This struck a chord for me. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology plays a role in our lives. We take communication freedom for granted. We lose sight of building relationships and community with the multi-tasking we’ve become accustom to.

More and more we are reliant on 24/7 internet access. Rather than testing our own memory and knowledge we quickly “google” our question. Rather than call, or meet someone in person we text or email. I’m not so sure computers are ample supplements for human contact. They certainly make information freer (relating to Peseach) but where is the responsibility (Shavuot) to one another and to our commitment to study and cumulative knowledge? Are we losing the skills we once had with our gadgets that do everything for you? How do we maintain our own brain power? Are we damaging ourselves by becoming spaced out from spending too much time with our devices?

On Shavuot we reconnect with the torah to remind ourselves of it’s vast teachings and application to current problems in our world. Shavuot can really focus on any theme you’d like and is just the practice of spending time studying torah (as well as something about the book of Ruth? I’ll have to look into that.) We thank God for giving us this gift of knowledge, and we remind ourselves of our responsibilities to learning the teachings of Torah. I suggest that this year we try and remind ourselves of the responsibilities we still have even with the current connection freedoms we’re accustomed to.

Let us remember the importance of family and friendship and not let take a backseat to our games, and phones, and emails. We have a responsibility to maintain our lives even with the advances that help us do so. We can’t forget math just because we have calculator access. Nor can we forget how to maintain conversations without the constant status updates, and notifications from our apps.

I’m currently reading a book in which a family takes a six month hiatus from their electronics in order to bond and remember what a communal home is like. ( The Winter of Our Disconnect by: Susan Maushart) It is very eye opening to me how my relationships with people have changed due to technology. It is often a background instead of the fore-front. If a text comes in the person your with becomes third wheel. Or even a news, sports or game report. iPhones have become like coasters on a table and they barge in whenever our attention spans drift. We no longer look up when we walk outside or read books when we travel, etc. Lately when out with friends the phones make just as much of an appearance as when you're alone which breaks my heart especially when I do the same. We also assume that people must respond instantly as well, because they have the capability to do so.

I certainly didn’t grow up this way but I see it becoming more and more of a problem among younger generations. Let us remember our responsibility to one another with our full attention so that we can prioritize the freedom we have been given. With remembering our responsibility to one another we will be able to build our capacity for knowledge from one another as well.

Inspiration for the post subject of Jewish learning/ Shavuot/ Technology and how it affects our lives/ skills…

Not sure this reflection was focused enough on Torah. To be perfectly honest I got a little distracted by multitasking electronics during this post. Since Shavuot will relate Torah to the topics which are at hand for you currently I felt it was appropriate. Comments appreciated. Hag Sameach!

Finding ways to celebrate together:

College students not learning enough

in other findings….

The Tanakah is a free app download in honor of Shavuot, check it out (irony to use your electronics to further learn Torah)