Leaders of progressive Jewish movements in Israel as well as gay rights groups welcomed the adoption of guidelines for wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples by the Conservative Judaism movement in the US.
The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards – which rules on the Conservative stream’s stance on matters of Jewish law – voted on Thursday to provide the movement’s rabbis with guidelines for performing same-sex ceremonies.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, said the guidelines will provide Jewish same-sex couples in the country with the opportunity to turn to a Masorti (Conservative movement in Israel) rabbi, knowing they will be “armed and prepared with the appropriate liturgy and blessings for these commitment ceremonies.”
“It will also undoubtedly inspire religious gay couples to understand that Judaism can indeed sanctify and bless those relationships,” Sacks added.
Weddings conducted by non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized by the state, whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual, and no form of same-sex marriage conducted in Israel is accepted.
Same-sex marriages performed abroad are, however, recognized and such couples are entitled to almost all of the rights allotted to heterosexual couples.
The New York-based Rabbinical Assembly officially sanctioned gay relationships in 2006, although it stressed that rabbis were not obligated to perform such ceremonies – but could do so without violating the movement’s standards.
The movement published guidelines for two different same-sex wedding ceremonies, in order to provide guidance for Conservative rabbis asked to conduct them.
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, director of the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group in Israel, “wholeheartedly welcomed” the pronouncement, which he described as an exciting development.
“This decision is in keeping with the trend, that biblical prohibitions treating homosexual relationships as abominable and punishable by death are now obsolete,” Regev said. “New insight into human sexual behaviors, rooted in scientific discovery and respect for human dignity, require new outlooks – and this is something which these ceremonies provide.”
Regev added that the Reform movement has for a long time allowed offered its members gay unions, with religious ceremonies comparable to that of the traditional Jewish marriage ceremony.
The Rabbinical Assembly acknowledged that these partnerships “are distinct from those discussed in the Talmud as ‘according to the law of Moses and Israel,’” but said that Conservative Jewry nevertheless “celebrate[s] them with the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages.”
The ceremony most closely resembling traditional marriage is conducted under a huppa (wedding canopy) and uses what it calls a legal mechanism distinct from Jewish marriage to replicate the imagery of a traditional wedding – with the ring declaration as a statement of sacred partnership, not of acquisition.
Daniel Jonas, spokesman for the Havruta organization representing Orthodox LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in Israel, also welcomed the move.
“This kind of development is very important and helps advance the global discourse within Jewry on the issue,” Jonas said.
“Havruta is an Orthodox movement and I’m not sure anything like this can happen in the Orthodox world, but we welcome progress on this issue within all communities,” he added.
“It is not something we are pushing for within the realms of Halacha [Jewish law],” Jonas continued. “But there is no doubt that these kind of steps advance the standing of gay Jews, and so this is an encouraging step.”
Last month, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz proposed a bill in the Knesset to introduce civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples, on the basis of equality and civil rights. However, It was voted down in the Knesset plenum.