Oy Vey! Conservative Jewish Women Compare Same-Sex Marriages to Their Own

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Tuesday September 11, 2012

The New York Post reported that a committee that creates laws for Conservative Jews has recently approved two ceremonies for gay couples that do not mention ownership, makes double-ring ceremonies officially part of the wedding and allows either person in the relationship ask for a divorce. These three items have long been hot-button issues for Jewish brides.

In a traditional, heterosexual Conservative Jewish marriage, a groom gives his bride a ring and "declares his ownership," the Post notes. The bride has the option of giving her groom a ring and saying anything she wants, including declaring ownership of her husband, but not many rabbis approve. One of the most common things a bride will do is recite a poem taken from the Song of Solomon: "I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine."

The Post points out that the Conservative Jewish movement has been working for more than 10 years on how to make marriages more equal for everyone without diminishing the importance of tradition. The Conservative movement tries to strike a middle road between Orthodox and Reform Jews. Orthodox interpret the myriad laws put forward in the first five books of the Old Testament as directly from God and hence, not able to be questioned, let alone amended. Reform Jews believe that the laws are of their time and that they are advisory only.

In 2006, the movement's officials voted to allow rabbis to officiate at same-sex unions but did not call the relationship a "kiddushin," or a sanctified marriage. The relationships were equal to a civil union and recognized by the community. (They are not considered valid in the State of Israel, however. Although Israel has been considered to be among the most progressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights, officials have yet to legalize marriage equality.)

Some believe the committee has done too well of a job with the liturgy and it could open "the door to a wholesale change in what marriage could look like for straights and gays alike," the Post article reads.

In the same-sex couple wedding ceremony, the two men or women don't offer to buy each other but declare a "kinyan," or acquisition, of the relationship.

Some Conservative Jewish women, however, are complaining that the committee's rules on same-sex marriage are better than what heterosexual couples can enjoy, like when it comes to divorce. Currently, only men in a Jewish marriage can request a divorce; but in same-sex marriages, either party can back out of the marriage.

One member of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Law and Standards, the group that voted on the liturgy, said he was impressed by the liturgy's language that he said he wanted "to start using this for my straight couples!" But the three rabbis who wrote the liturgy caution straight couples who want to use the liturgy.

"While some heterosexual couples may see in these new models of brit (covenant) and shutafut (partnership) for same-sex couples a basis for abandoning the traditional model of kiddushin, Conservative Judaism has taught us to respect ancient liturgy and to minimize modifications of text," wrote Rabbi Avram Israel Reisner, of Baltimore, who wrote the liturgy along with Rabbi Elliot Dorff of Los Angeles and Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

"Innovation has its rightful place beside tradition, but not in its stead," Reisner wrote.

Aurora Mendelsohn, 39, who writes about egalitarian issues in her blog said, "Anybody who sees the ceremony will say, 'I want that for me.'"

"I think it might put some pressure" on the movement, she said. "More people will see these totally egalitarian ceremonies and say, 'Why should I have less of a role than my groom, when these two men get to do something equal?' "

Dorff disagreed: "Our task was only to talk about homosexual marriages, but just like in medicine, sometimes drugs are used off-label, so this could be, too. It wasn't our intention for it to be used that way, but I don't see any reason why it shouldn't."

One of the reader's comments in the Post may have summed the read paradox: "Yes, everyone knows how submissive Jewish women are."

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