Chuppa für Lesben und Schwule?!

Für einen Seminarbeitrag habe ich mir ein paar Gedanken dazu gemacht, ob Lesben und Schwule die Möglichkeit haben sollten, auch jüdisch zu heiraten, bzw. eine vergleichbare Zeremonie haben sollten, wenn sie es wünschen.

Um es Vorweg zu nehmen, ich bin eindeutig dafür und finde, dass die deutschen liberalen Gemeinden hier dringenden Nachholbedarf haben, aber vielleicht erst einmal der Reihe nach. (Der Text ist nachfolgend in englischer Sprache abgefasst, bitte verzeiht meine eher einfachen Ausdrucksweisen :-()

Two basic considerations

There are two basic considerations to be discussed first hand:

1. A social responsibility.
Since August 2001 lesbians and gays in Germany are able to establish a „Lebenspartnerschaft (registered partnership)“. This means on one hand that they can give their partnership a legal status – granting them almost the same legal rights and obligations as heterosexual couples -, and on the other hand enters, with this legal instrument their relationship the public scene. For Jewish couples, however, it is not possible, to get their partnership acknowledged in same way religiously in the German speaking Jewish community.

The reform movement in Germany tends to perceive itself as modern and open to all its members, no matter what gender, heritage or sexual-orientation they may have. But between this self perception and the reality often remains a big gap. For example the full equal treatment of women is based on a fragile pillow of political correctness, and lesbians and gays are more welcomed when they are invisible, and don’t express’ own wishes. In asking themselves how to continue the path of keeping Judaism connected to modern society, the reform movement in Germany should find a solution to recognize gay and lesbians wholeheartedly demands in order to fully integrate them and to meet their special needs according to one of the basic constitution of reform Judaism (as the bigger movements in the UK and US already have done *1*).

2. A religious responsibility.

“ וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, לֹא-טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ“ .
 „And the LORD God said: ‚It is not good that the man should be alone;“ *2*
„וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ“
„And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him;“ *3*

In the book “Progressives Judentum” *4* (what is regarded in some ways as a little constitution of the German Reform Movement) marriage and family life is described as follows:

„In the ideal case love, personal growth, emotional security and mutual support are signs of a marriage. In addition, it is the domestic base for a lived Judaism“ *5*

The combination of the political will of the reform movement, as it is written in its guidelines:

„We are welcoming in our congregations all Jews, regardless of their marital status or their sexual orientation“*6*

the self-perception as it is described above, and the manifold references from the Tana’’ch gives an idea, why lesbian and gay partnerships are to be considered equal to heterosexual ones. The questions of being part of the community I will discuss later in this paper.

Love (ahavah) as it is mentioned several times in the Tana’’ch is a reflection of holiness (kedusha) and does not differentiate between whom I love. Rabbiner David Lazar described in the “Jüdische Allgemeine” in February 2004 on the topic of holiness of partnership that gay or lesbian partnerships are fully comparable to this principle:
„They themselves [the couples] speak of Kiddushin. It became clear to me that these couples had spoken from a later, however, not lesser important understanding of the Hebrew kadesch – being holy – , of the Kiduschin [a Jewish wedding]. Two people who decide to get married can reach together a far higher level of holiness than each of them by themselves. If I take the mitzwah “make you holy [heiligt euch]” seriously, then it seems to me only natural to do everything to bring all couples, also lesbians and gays alike, under the Chuppa, so that they can bless each other with Kidushin.”*7*

I will not discuss the question of acceptance of homosexuality in an orthodox Jewish setting or the question whether being gay or lesbian is according to halakhah a non valid behavior or a “sin” or not. As Jews we have the obligation, to “correct” biblical or traditional ideas and interpretations when they are no longer transferable or ethical acceptable in our generation. As most of the temple laws are no longer valid, the biblical verses from Leviticus (*8* Lev. 18.22 / Lev. 20.13), which can be interpreted as priestly temple laws, could be regarded the same way, or they could be handled for example in the way, as the rabbinic tradition since the Middle Age has banned polygamy as a legal partnership model.

A ceremony as a “coming out” within the Jewish community

„Many Jewish gay men and lesbians have grown up with the hope and expectation that they would, one day, stand under the chuppa and get married“*9*

My idea of a ceremony for gay or lesbian couples has to aspects. On one hand it should recognize the wish of these couples to express their love and partnership also in a religious context. On the other hand, I think, it must be the strong interest of the Jewish community as a whole, to be the place where every single Jew can express her or his life in every relevant aspect.

“Joshua ben P’rachyah says … get yourself a companion. How so? This teaches that a person should find herself / himself a companion, with whom to eat, to drink, to study Torah and Mishnah, to sleep, to confide all one’s secrets, both spiritual secrets and wordly secrets.”*10*

Marriage in Jewish tradition is one, if not even the cornerstone of social life. It represents the core of the Jewish community and the place, from which is passed on from Jewish values. In evidence, if we keep in mind that the „Marriage is »the most elaborate ceremony in Judaism«”*11* Even though marriage and family in the conventional father-mother-offspring constellation represents only one, of several alternatives to present-day-“families”, it still is regarded as the institution and still the “preferred form of living together by all Jewish movements. I would go even further and say that some sort of „conditioning“ takes place in the education of children in direction towards marriage.

Interestingly the orthodox Rabbi Steven Greenberg, a graduate of the New Yorker Yeshiva University, sees the teaching and passing on of Jewish values endangered through the social marginalization of lesbians and gays:

“ … Same-sex marriage, like marriage generally, is a conservative institution expressing lifelong commitment, caring, love and support. It is fundamentally not about rights, but about duties. Central to Orthodox Jewish teaching is the importance of family. The rejection of gay coupling is hardly an expression of family values. Indeed, it is just the opposite. It is surely in the interest of families to support such unions that glue us all together by the force of our loving commitments to each other.…” *12*

„In the last fifty years, the Jewish family-life has fundamentally changed. In general, the family members no longer live to each other in close neighborhoods but rather in different areas of the country. Family ties and loyalty move into the background through the quest of independence and self-realization“*13*

I observe that however, the need for bonds and loyalty doesn’t decrease with this change but that the place for “bonding” has slightly shifted from the core family to the extended family, to friends and even to the Jewish communities. Jewish communities are per self definition not only places where religious rituals are being performed but where people meet each other. Particularly city-communities like Munich or Berlin now take over more and more functions, which took place traditionally within the family, as for example the common meal on Shabbat, Sederim etc.. The community turns consequently into a type of “Ersatzfamilie” (alternate family) or extended family.

In the past Jewish lesbians and gays often experienced a twofold separation, based on her/his/their sexuality. Beside the separation of the family (wanted or forced), a reception into the substitute-family (meaning the Jewish community) of openly gays and lesbians happened/s in only rare cases *14*. This led to the first foundations of GLBT-Synagogues in the seventies *15*, and enabled lesbians and gays to live a religious life, as far as they lived close to such a community. But it created also a ghetto-formation within the Jewish community and released the non GLBT-communities to deal issues of all (potential) members.

Harvey E. Goldberg describes marriage as the celebration in a woman’s life in a traditional Jewish context:

Marriages create a special social bond for both women and men, but often weddings are viewed as the celebration in the lives of women. *16*

Outside strict traditional norms, it is surely no more applicable that women are educated “exclusively on a martial-life” and the wedding is the single moment, in which “she moves for a short moment into the social daylight”. But I dare the thesis that in certain aspects an analogy can be drawn for a same-gender couple, too, by pointing out the importance and exclusivity of the event. A partnership ceremony would probably be the first moment (and most likely the only one), in which a same gender couple will stand as a unit in front of the community. For heterosexual couples, there will be other occasions like the Life-Cycle-Events of their mutual children (e.g. brit milah, baby naming, bar/bat mitzwah) to be perceived again as a couple by the community.

Even if same-gender couples could bring own children into the relationship, or can foster or adopt children, there will be a qualitative difference: they cannot be both the biological parents of the child. This will be of subordinate importance, but for the question, in what way a ceremony for both partners of a couple is accessible in full manner, it should be under consideration.

As I described in the beginning, in Germany, as well as in most of the Western European states by the way, same-gender partnerships are recognized legally and granted rights and obligations (almost) the same as for heterosexual partnerships. All legal thoughts between same gender partners are – comparably to the traditional marriages – through the processes at the registry office and/or by civil law partnership-contracts regulated and the original “legal” core of a religious marriage has been „high jacked“ by these procedure. Nor by a Ketuba or by a ceremony under the “Chuppa” a same-gender couple becomes spouses or partners but rather by a registrar – from the mutual surname, till to the divorce regulations. The „Liminal Moment“, the transition from being single to being part of a couple has moved in the same way to the “Standesamt (civil registry office)” as the legally subjects.

Exactly for this reason it is important to move the parts of the religious ceremony into the foreground – as well as to adopt them for a same-gender-ceremony – that expresses the love of the couple and its relationship to the Jewish community. It is important for me that nothing will be developed that reduces the Jewish community to a self-service-supermarket, in which everyone can pick out an event, what originates from his/her dreams and doesn’t stand in any context. As nobody can prevent some heterosexual couples not to show up again before or after the wedding, it will be true in the same way for gays or lesbians, but this is not a reason, not to create a ceremony that has the same obligation and traditional bracing, like the marriage-ceremony.

A partnership ceremony for same-gender couples can neither be an event just to make someone a favor (by declaring it to an exception) nor a mere act without any consequences. Such a ceremony has to be available for everyone who wishes to enter this stage of life, just like each heterosexual couple can marry. But of course, „access-prerequisites“ are needed which should be standardized like in a traditional wedding.

One condition for example has to be that the couple must have registered a life-partnership under civil law before the religious ritual, and if one or both have been married religiously before, this marriage also has to be “finished” in a proper religious manner (by a “Get”). Whether they should be members of the congregation or at least in one congregation of the reform-movement is less of importance, but should also be clarified.

For me, it is important to point out that they both must be Jewish. The current practice of the predominant majority of German-speaking rabbis, not to officiate at an interfaith wedding, should be adopted for same-gender couples as well. This would not only protect Jewish identity in the “new family” and ensure that children get a Jewish education in this family, but it is also relevant in terms of obligation and legal consequence, which arise from this „marriage.“ Not only that the ketuba can be a proof of Jewishness for the couple involved (e.g. by applying for membership in a Jewish congregation) but it can bear a relevance for future generations.

However, this aspect has also become more relevant most recently regarding the relationship to the state Israel. On 21 November 2006, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled 6-to-1 in favor of five same-gender Israeli couples who had married in Canada and sought to have their marriages registered in Israel, possibly setting a precedent which could allow other couples to do so*17*. Even if the formal acknowledgment of a „wedding-document“ still sounds like future-music, so it is not off the point to assume that it can be already of importance in case of an aliya or any other issues related to the state of Israel, to have further papers that document the Jewish status and the solidarity with Judaism.

I haven’t dealt with another aspect yet: The couple may wish to declare their love for each other in a more public space. This means that a “wedding” may not be only an expression of the Jewish community to transmit being Jewish “l’dor vador” but that it is also legitimate for the couple to express their affection for each other “publicly” in front of the community.

“…Our friends, gay and straight, treasured getting to know us as mates. As we attended relatives’ weddings, bar mitzwahs, Passover seders and Rosh Hashanah dinners, the nature of our relationship became clear to all … But we wondered about the nature and depth of ther apparent “acceptance.” How did all these people really conceive of our relationship?
We decided that a ceremony defining and declaring our relationship before family and friends would answer such question …” *18*.

This short quotes from the report, given by Paul Horowitz and Scott Klein of their own ceremony, shows that the publicly celebrated ritual can be part of a larger coming-out process. It puts the relationship of the couple into the realm of the visible, and enables the community to deal with the issue of being gay or lesbian. This, ideally, will lead from mere acceptance and tolerance of lesbians and gays to full respect.

Fußnoten


*1*
Resolution „Same Gender Officiation“ of the CCAR in March 2000, during the 111. Annual Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina: “We do hereby resolve that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual, and further resolved, that we recognize the diversity of opinions within our ranks on this issue. We support the decision of those who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-sex couples, and we support the decision of those who do not.” [Cited after: Homolka, Walter, Das Jüdische Eherecht, de Gruyter Verlag, Berlin/New York, ISBN 978-3-89949-452-5, Chapter 6 (Manuskriptfassung)]
*2* und *3*
Gen. 2.18a [Source: http://mechon-mamre.org, 19.03.2008]
Gen. 1.27a [Source: http://mechon-mamre.org, 19.03.2008]
*4*
  Romain, Jonathan A/Homolka, Walter, Progressives Judentum – Leben und Lehre, Knesebeck Verlag, München, 1999
*5*
  „Im Idealfall sind Liebe, persönliches Wachstum, emotionale Sicherheit und gegenseitige Unterstützung Kennzeichen einer Ehe. Zusätzlich ist sie die häusliche Basis für ein gelebtes Judentum.“ [Romain/Homolka, l.c. Page 244]
*6*
  „Wir heißen in unseren Gemeinden alle Jüdinnen und Juden willkommen, unabhängig von ihrem Familienstand oder ihrer sexuellen Orientierung.“ Liberales Judentum – 35 Grundsätze, Herausgegeben von der Union Progressiver Juden in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, Guideline 31
*7*
„Sie selbst sprechen von Kidduschin. So wurde mir klar, dass diese Paare aus einem späteren, jedoch nicht weniger wichtigem Verständnis des hebräischen kadesch – heilig sein – heraus über die Kidduschin sprachen. Zwei Menschen, die sich zur Ehe zusammenfinden, können gemeinsam ein weit höheres Maß an Heiligkeit erreichen als jeder von ihnen für sich. Wenn ich das Gebot „heiligt euch“ ernst nehme, dann scheint es mir nur natürlich, alles zu tun, um alle Paare, auch lesbische und schwule, unter die Chuppa zu bringen, so dass sie einander mit Kidduschin heiligen können.“ [Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung, Ausgabe 5. Februar 2004, Cited after: Homolka, Walter, Das Jüdische Eherecht, l.c.]
*10*
  Avot d’rabbi Natan, A, Chapter 8, cited after B’rit Ahava, 2005, l.c., Preface
*11*
  Chill, Abraham, The Minhagim: The Customs and Ceremonies of Judaism, Their Origins and Rationale, Sepher-Hermon Press, New York, 1979, p. 275., cited after: Goldberg, Harvey E., Jewish Passages -Cycles of Jewish Life, S. Mark Taper Foundation Book, Los Angeles, 2003, p. 1
*12*
Cited after: Homolka, Walter, Das Jüdische Eherecht, l.c.
*13*
  „In den letzten fünfzig Jahren hat sich das jüdische Familienleben grundlegend verändert. Im Allgemeinen leben die Mitglieder einer Familie nicht mehr in enger Nachbarschaft zueinander, sondern wohnen in verschiedenen Gegenden des Landes. Familienbande und Loyalität rücken durch das Streben nach Unabhängigkeit und Selbstverwirklichung in den Hintergrund“ [Romain/Homolka, 1999, l.c. p. 244]
*14*
  Meanwhile, all progressive communities in Western Europe and America probably will affiliate openly gays and lesbians as members, but in communities in the GUS, conservative communities and in the orthodox surroundings, an Outing still could be difficult.
*15*
  Romain/Homolka, 1999, l.c. p. 250
*16*
  Goldberg, 2003, l.c. p. 2
*17*
  Jerusalem Post, online edition: Jerusalem registers ist first gay couple: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1167467842994&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter [23.03.2008, 21.20 Uhr]
*18*
Horowitz, Paul and Klein, Scott: A Ceremony of Commitment in: Balka, Christie and Rose, Andy: Twice Blessed, Beacon Press, Boston, 1989, ISBN 978-0807079096, p. 126f

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