Sunday, December 11, 2011

R' Greenberg's Response to "The Declaration"


Steve Greenberg says:

To my colleagues and friends:
I would like to clarify what exactly happened last week. No doubt much misunderstanding could have been avoided had I shared this with you beforehand. (And for this omission, I apologize)
While it was a wedding according to the laws of the District of Columbia, it was not a kiddushin. My position was and still is that is that kiddushin is not appropriate for same-sex couples.
Here’s what we did. The ceremony consisted of a blessing over wine and a shehecheyanu to begin. Then we read their shtar shutafut. Earlier at a tish we did a traditional ritual of acceptance of the document’s terms that included lifting a bag with an object belonging to each party. This marked their partnership and since this partnership included emotional elements uncommon in business partnerships, the couple added those elements in their document.
However, both I and the couple found this wanting. Exclusivity is not articulate in an ordinary shutafut. A person may make multiple partnerships and for this endeavor, it is important to make limits clear. In order to do this, the men both took an oath to be loyal to the other in emotional and physical ways, conditional upon receiving a ring. When the partner gave the ring, he recited a descriptive sentence that made the moment of the neder’s legal force identitical to receiving a ring. That led us to the texts below:
Behold I vow that from the moment I receive from you a ring, I will set aside myself, body and soul, to our joint partnership and life together.
הרי אני נודר שמרגע שאקבל ממך טבעת אקדיש את עצמי, רוחי וגופי לשיתופינו זיווגינו וחיינו ביחד
The other party responded with the following phrase and gave his partner a ring:
Behold, by receiving this ring, you are set aside to me by virtue of the oath you have just made.
הרי אתה מוקדש לי בקבלת לטבעת זו בתוקף הנדר אשר נדרת
We followed with seven birchot shevah that the gentlemen chose and then the breaking of a glass. 
I did not and do not claim that this ritual was Orthodox. However, it was in my view, halakhically meaningful.  Whether it, or something like it, can be or will be accepted by any Orthodox authority in the future is not knowable.  Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein once said that things that could not be said ten years ago can be said today and things that cannot be said today will be said in ten years.  I am not invested, per se, in this effort being the last effort of its kind.  In retrospect I already see a number of flaws in it. However, I still feel that it was a good first effort.
What I hope it does is push the conversation further toward a deeper understanding that we are simply people built differently with the same desires for love and intimacy, commitment and family that most others desire. The halmark of love for one’s fellowman according to the Rambam demands profound empathy. What you would like for yourself do for others. Those who cherish their ability to give and receive lifelong love from a partner, to be nourished and challenged by a lover and friend, should want that sort of love for all of us.
Indeed, I have hesitated for over a decade to perform a same-sex ceremony, and have turned down a number of requests in the past because I was unready and I felt that the community was unready.  I only recently changed my mind.
My partner and I returned from India with our daughter last December.  During the year of planning for her birth I began to feel that it was time to give young people hope in a religiously coherent future as they find spouses and decide to put together families.  Naming her in an Orthodox synagogue and celebrating her birth there sealed my resolve. Things are beginning to move, in part, due to the empathy and courage of a number of my colleagues. While I do not expect any Orthodox rabbis to perform a ceremony of this sort any time soon,  I do expect that we come to earn their respect as we take the frames of halakhah seriously in constructing our lives together. I look forward to any thoughtful response, comments, questions and disagreements that in this blog are consistently offered respectfully and with a generous spirit.

1 comment:

  1. A rabbi that is honest and real. He is not hiding behind a tree as many do. He is straight forward on what his thoughts are and how important it is for the world to look at homosexuals in an equal and loving light!

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