Tradition & Innovation

First Comes Law, Then Comes Marriage


May, 2012 

Contact: Eileen Fisher

First Comes Law, Then Comes Marriage
Ritualwell.org offers ideas for same-sex couples planning a Jewish wedding

Philadelphia:  Now that same-sex couples can legally marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia, thoughts may turn at last to the wedding itself. What does a wedding look like when there are two grooms? Should both brides wear white?  How might a couple’s children be included?  What about the vows? And friends of a long-term same-sex couple may question their urge to marry at all, when they have been fully committed for years.

Sanctifying intimate relationships elevates these unions and gives them a context of meaning and joy. But how can couples affirm what already exists, within the context of a ceremony that traditionally signifies the beginning of a life together?

Ritualwell.org, a website where seekers can find, create and share Jewish ritual, blends tradition and innovation to help same-sex couples design a wedding unique to them and their experience. Its editor, Rabbi Roni Handler, characterizes it as “more than a resource. We are building a community. Into this community we invite all of you: Jews by birth, Jews by choice, fellow travelers and seekers of all kinds. Ritualwell is a place where we share ideas, information, and lessons learned.”

Take, for example, the article called “Creating New Lifecycle Rituals,” by Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn, which identifies seven features that distinguish gay and lesbian weddings from traditional wedding rituals.  One of those is witnessing the ketubah, or marriage contract, in accordance with historical Jewish practice. Today’s ketubah is not about acquiring a bride.  “For gay and lesbian people, who have often had to live in hiding, the public reading of a document affirming their love and commitment is a liberating and joyful moment,” Kahn writes.

Another example is the “Blessing for Two Women on the Occasion of Their Wedding,” by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner. The prayer calls forth “the female in the Divine” and cites the biblical example of Ruth and Naomi who found “strength in each other” that “held them together in the worst of times and in the best of times.”

These and other resources for same-sex couples are available on Ritualwell.org. In addition, couples are encouraged to create and upload their own rituals to share with others.

Ritualwell is supported by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. In addition to the website, Ritualwell.org maintains an active Facebook page and a Twitter account (@Ritualwell) to help ensure broad access to its materials. Visitors to the site can watch videos, register for email updates, download a ritual or build their own to share with the online community.

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