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New Text: Brit Ahuvim for Same-Sex Couples

posted by Arielle Angel on August 21, 2012

Today, Ketuv is proud to announce the inclusion of two progressive texts within our text offerings. One is Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s Egalitarian Text, which we’ll detail in another post. The other, which we’ll go over in this post, is the Rabbinical Assembly‘s new ketubah text for same-sex marriages. That’s right: the Conservative movement has officially sanctioned its rabbis to perform same-sex marriages, and has developed new “rituals and documents” for this purpose. They’ve outlined these “Rituals and Documents of Marriage and Divorce for Same-Sex Couples” in their Spring 2012 paper (click for full download). This document not only includes a ketubah text for gay and lesbian couples, but also includes outlines for two marriage ceremonies for observant same-sex couples. For many in the faith community, the idea of reconciling homosexuality has been difficult. The rabbis who have written this article defend their position brilliantly and eloquently:

“We acknowledged in our responsum that same-sex intimate relationships are comprehensively banned by classical rabbinic law, yet our teshuvah [response] cited the often repeated halachic principle, gadol k’vod habriot shedoheh lo ta’aseh sheba Torah, ‘Great is the demand of human dignity in that it supersedes a negative principle of Torah.’ [Bold is an editor’s choice]. On this basis, and on the strong scientific evidence we cited that current discriminatory attitudes toward gay men and lesbians do indeed undermine their dignity, evidenced by their much higher rates of suicide, we concluded that for observant gay and lesbian Jews who would otherwise be condemned to a life of celibacy or secrecy, their human dignity requires suspension of the rabbinic level prohibitions so that they may experience intimacy and create families recognized by the Jewish community. For this reason we wrote in favor of the creation of ceremonies of recognition of loving, exclusive, and committed same-sex partnerships. We acknowledge that these partnerships are distinct from those discussed in the Talmud as ‘according to the law of Moses and Israel,’ but we celebrate them with the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages.”

For those who don’t want to read the entire article, I’ll try to briefly explain the difference between the Brit Ahuvim, or Lover’s Covenant, text and the traditional ketubah text in layman’s terms. When we examine what makes this text different from the traditional ketubah text, we come up against the gender-specificity of the traditional ketubah text, created for heterosexual unions. There are specific responsibilities as regards husband and wife. Allow me to give a brief explanation of two of the main terms of traditional Jewish heterosexual marriage: the kiddushin and agunah. Kiddushin/Kinyan: The traditional ketubah text and the traditional kiddushin ceremony, undertaken by most observant Jewish couples, is a one-way agreement which involves a kinyan, an acquisition of the bride by the husband.* Agunah: According to Jewish law, the husband must grant his wife a divorce. If the husband does not authorize the divorce, a wife can become agunah, which means “chained”. Obviously, without the presence of two genders, neither of these ideas have clear applications. But wait! They don’t have clear applications for many heterosexual couples either! The rabbis who have written this article acknowledge that the kiddushin— where the bride belongs exclusively to her husband, but the husband does not belong exclusively to the bride– as well as the issue of iggun or agunah, are deeply problematic from an egalitarian perspective (and a whole host of other perspectives, but that’s for future blog posts). Their article details what the Conservative movement has done to minimize these dilemmas while still remaining true to the tradition. The Brit Ahuvim ketubah text (which owes a debt to the work of Rabbi Gordon Tucker, and to the work of Dr. Rachel Adler in Engendering Judaism), effectively removes the kiddushin/kinyan and the conditions that create agunah, by instead working from the traditional Jewish model of brit or covenant. This decision helps to preserve a distinctly “Jewish” ceremony and marriage. This text, though created for same-sex couples, in fact, addresses the concerns of many heterosexual couples who strive for more egalitarian partnerships. (For those couples, we recommend Rabbi Gordon Tucker’s Egalitarian text.) They represent important steps forward in the Jewish community, and Ketuv commends the Rabbinical Assembly for this important contribution. Below are the texts. Brit Ahuvim Ketubah Text for Two Brides: BritAhuvimL Brit Ahuvim Ketubah Text for Two Grooms: