Finding A Rabbi For Your Same-Sex Wedding
By Cigall Goldman
Selecting the rabbi or cantor for your wedding is an involved process for any couple. This is the individual who will structure the most meaningful part of your day. On top of many other aspects, same-sex couples have the extra task of finding an officiant who is as passionate about acceptance and marriage equality as they are.
There are many things to consider when making this choice. As Rabbi Dan Wiko, a New York-based officiant who performs all types of weddings, points out, “the couple should be looking for a Rabbi who genuinely accepts and respects the couple, and will create a ceremony that reflects their lifestyle.” From here, the priorities are fundamentally the same as any couple choosing a rabbi. Will your personalities work well together? Is their approach to Jewish tradition similar to yours? Will the rabbi or cantor spend time with you to share their teachings and get to know you in order to personalize the ceremony? It can also be helpful to seek out a rabbi or cantor who has performed a gay wedding ceremony before and can provide suggestions and insight from past experience.
Asking the right questions will be key to developing this pivotal relationship.
- Is the rabbi or cantor open to changing the traditional language in certain parts of the service, like the Seven Blessings? It is imperative to be on the same page regarding the ritualistic framework of the ceremony.
- The couple should not be afraid to inquire whether a rabbi or cantor has a personal relationship with someone who identifies as gay, and how that relationship has played a role in his/her life.
- Certain family members may have differing perspectives on faith and same-sex weddings. Rabbi Adina Lewittes, a New Jersey-based wedding officiant, encourages also asking, “Is the rabbi willing to spend time with family members who may benefit from a deeper understanding of Judaism’s approach to same-sex marriage?”
When structuring the ceremony, the majority of the traditional elements are maintained throughout a same-sex wedding. Cantor Sheera Ben-David, who is based in New York, noted that in her experience, “same-sex couples are so thrilled to be recognized as married by law, that it is very important to them that their ceremony be rather traditional as far as rituals go. They always want the Priestly Benediction chanted, the Seven Wedding Blessings (in a more modern interpretation – since the original Hebrew is not gay-friendly) and they want their vows to be in line with what is usually done.” Same-sex weddings often incorporate the chuppah, exchanging rings and breaking of the glass as well as the signing of the ketubah. Learn more about the traditions from this Jewish Wedding Cheat Sheet.
Consequently, some of the traditions do require a bit of modification from the officiant. Just as opposite-sex couples are moving away from the ancient language of men “acquiring” women, the adjustments in wording for a same-sex wedding are to affirm a level of equality and mutuality. Rabbi/Cantor Ronald Broden, an officiant based in New York, specified, “The only modification in terms of Hebrew is that the Seven Blessings as well as the opening blessing traditionally make reference to ‘chatan v’kallah’ – groom and bride. This, of course, is changed to either ‘chatan v’chatan’ or ‘kallah v’kallah’.”
Other Rabbis choose terminology with no gender reference at all. Some of the legal language in the ketubah may also have to be adjusted to reflect equality and mutuality as opposed to the historic consecration of one spouse to another. This is not to withhold any part of the tradition from same-sex couples, but rather to ensure that the rituals reflect the reality of the relationship.
With the number of same-sex weddings in the Jewish faith growing daily, the roles of rabbis and cantors are evolving. Broden shared, “whether conservative, reform or interfaith, same-sex couples have the right to a ceremony that reflects who they are and their feelings about their personal connection with Judaism.” As with any Jewish wedding, it is important to develop a relationship with the rabbi or cantor in order to create a ceremony that reflects your lifestyle and love and personalize the moment for you.
Cigall Goldman is the founder of Mazelmoments.com, the award-winning site to help you plan Jewish & Jewish-inspired weddings, bar & bat mitzvahs and baby celebrations. At mazelmoments, find your perfect venue, photographer, caterer and more! The mazelmoments blog shares expert advice for creating a memorable celebration, and keeps you up to date on the latest trends.
Photo courtesy Rabbi/Cantor Ronald Broden