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My Beloved, My Friend: A Masorti Guide to Marriage and Relationships is a publication of Marom, the student and young adult division of Masorti Judaism. The views expressed are those of the individual authors and do not represent the positions of Masorti Judaism.

Editor: Atira Winchester Production: Yoav Guttman and Naomi Magnus Graphic design: Avigail Roubini Contributors:

Lindsay Banham is a graduate of the conversion course and a member of New North London Synagogue. Inbar Bluzer-Shalem is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union

Masorti Judaism Alexander House, 3 Shakespeare Rd, London N3 1XE Telephone: 0208 349 6650 Email: enquiries@masorti.org.uk www.masorti.org.uk

Copyright Š Masorti Judaism 2012 ISBN


College in Jerusalem and a former Marom Coordinator.

Jeremy Gordon is the Rabbi of New London Synagogue. Joel Levy is the Rabbi of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue and teaches at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism. Zahavit Shalev is the Conversion Course Coordinator at New North London Synagogue. Rabbi Chaim Weiner is the Av Bet Din of the European Masorti Bet Din and the Director of Masorti Europe.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg is the Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism and Rabbi of New North London Synagogue. Atira Winchester is the Programme Manager at the JCC for London, a former editor at the Jerusalem Post, and a member of Assif at New North London Synagogue.

Contributing Illustrators: Noa Roznak-Kellner, Gal Sadeh, Sari Dayan, Avigail Roubini.

5 >> Note from the Editor / Atira Winchester 6 >> Why get married anyway? / Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg 10 >> FAQs about Masorti marriage / Rabbi Chaim Weiner 12 >> Sex and the single Jew / Matt Plen 18 >> Is possession (kinyan) nine-tenths of the law? / Rabbi Joel Levy 22 >> What should a gay Jew do? / Rabbi Jeremy Gordon 28 >> Conversion and Masorti marriage / Zahavit Shalev 34 >> Conversion: A leap of faith / Lindsay Banham 36 >> The sound of jubilation? / Inbar Bluzer-Shalem

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NOTE FROM THE EDITOR An announcement of marriage always causes a flutter. The couple’s implicit faith in each other and their future imbues others with hope. Their love ripples out endlessly, affecting even distant friends and family across the globe. In the Talmud (Shabbat 118b) Rabbi Yochanan refers to his wife as his house. Rather than suggesting a life of domestic servitude, Rabbi Yochanan’s words can be understood to indicate that without a partner, a house is no more than four bare walls. And yet with a loved one, a house becomes home: a place for the heart to reside, a place to long for and bask in an absolute sense of belonging. In this publication, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg talks about how, with over 30 years of marrying couples, he has learned that marriage is something to be tended; how love grows and flourishes providing we give our most precious resource - time. Masorti partnerships often bring their own unique complications. For the perplexed, Rabbi Chaim Weiner offers some FAQs about Masorti marriage: How will a Masorti marriage affect my children’s Jewish status? Can a woman officiate at my wedding? How does the Masorti movement deal with the issue of agunot? (women who find themselves chained to a marriage that is no longer viable). Along with a celebration of marriage, we explore some of the most challenging circumstances and issues facing those who wish to marry within the Jewish faith: Zahavit Shalev, founder of the New North London Synagogue conversion course, discusses the obstacles facing a converting couple, along with the opportunities it creates for exploring one’s own Jewish identity; Rabbi Joel Levy grapples with the ancient notion of a woman’s kinyan — acquisition — in the Jewish wedding ceremony; Rabbi Jeremy Gordon explores the sensitive issues around the place of gay and lesbian Jews in the community; while Inbar Bluzer-Shalem looks critically at Israel’s political past, present and future and assesses the options available to those seeking to get married outside of the country’s Orthodox rabbinate. With fewer people choosing to tie the knot, and those doing so making the decision later in life, Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism, Matt Plen asks what place is there within our community for sex and the single Jew? This publication is by no means a comprehensive survey of all the issues that arise. Rather, it is the beginning of a conversation, an exploration of one of the fundamental milestones of our life. I hope that you find this guide an illuminating and thought-provoking read.

Atira Winchester

In Memory of

Susan Dorfman Benjamin 1937-2011

“Who Guided the Steps of Man”


My Beloved My Friend

Why get married anyway? What I have learned from 30 years of marrying couples Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg


is not good for the human being to be alone.’ These words, upon saying which, God separates man and woman and makes possible the first partnership, have remained Judaism’s motto with regard to marriage ever since. Life can be hard even with someone else by one’s side; Judaism’s overriding presumption is that life alone is even harder. The cold to which Ecclesiastes (4:9,11) refers when he says: ‘Better are two than one…for how can the one become warm?’ should be understood not just literally but also metaphorically. Further, Judaism understands that we are here on earth to fulfil ourselves, morally and spiritually, by doing what is right and just, but also physically and emotionally by giving and sharing love. Hence we thank God in the wedding blessings for the creation of the human being and for

the gifts of joy, friendship, partnership and love. Judaism has also always believed that a stable, sanctified relationship within the context of wider family and community is the best path to such happiness and fulfilment. There is also a hasidic ‘translation’ of the famous verse from Genesis which throws a different light on the key words heyot ha’adam: ‘It is not good to try to become a true human being on one’s own.’ In other words, we cannot fully develop our heart and soul or live out our values on our own. We need the context of relationships to help us grow and become our truest, deepest and most fulfilled selves. This applies to children, it relates to the many friendships we would hope to have over the course of our lives, but it is truest of all of marriage. So, at least, we hope. We are blessed if we

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Illustration: Noa Kelner-Rozank

have a partner who brings out the best in us. I sometimes ask couples to write before the wedding both about the values they bring to the marriage from their upbringing and about what is so special to them in their partner. I often read sentences like, ‘Her love and kindness have made me a much better person. She’s helping me to become the person I truly want to be.’ For many years I’ve run short courses for couples getting married. Naturally the first sessions tend to focus on the wedding itself. But I’m often reminded of the gift which Nicky and I received three days after our chuppah. It was accompanied by a short note: ‘Sorry this is too late for the wedding; we hope it’s not too late for the marriage’. The real issues concern the values underlying marriage. There is always the danger that preoccupations with

the details of the ceremony obscure every other concern and I was heartened when a girl said, about a month before the big day, ‘I don’t really care that much about the wedding. Well, I don’t exactly mean that, but it’s the marriage which really matters to me. I just want us to spend the rest of our lives together.’ So what are the key values underlying marriage? It goes almost without saying that there must be chemistry and romance. The rabbis interpreted, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ as prohibiting marrying couples who have not previously met; it’s cruelty to force two people together who experience no mutual attraction. But the ‘value’ I want to focus on is values themselves; a marriage is ultimately made sacred both by the values expressed within it - trust, honesty, fairness, consideration,


My Beloved My Friend

compassion - and by the values shared in the home love creates around itself and in its own image. A crucial question for a couple contemplating marriage to consider is, ‘What are our common values?’ Obviously, marriage isn’t the same as signing up to an ideology. But marriage is the creation of that space from which we go out into the world to live the life we consider most right and worthwhile, and to which we return at night to talk through our day. If we don’t share core values with our partner we are likely to experience a growing dissonance and isolation. An equally important matter to share is sharing itself. Perhaps worse than the ‘solitude’ of being on one’s own is the loneliness of being with another person with whom we simply can’t communicate what’s in our heart. But a relationship doesn’t simply happen. It requires one of our most precious commodities: time. ‘Love grows,’ a good family friend said to me when, a lot younger, I was hesitant about the whole idea of marriage. Love generally does, but not if taken for granted and neglected. Soon after I got married a relative told me, ‘When it gets late, I take my sewing and go upstairs; that’s the sign for my husband to join me and we spend the last few minutes of the day just talking to one another.’ Faithfulness in the context of marriage is too often thought of only in connection to its opposite, being unfaithful. It goes without saying that this is deeply wrong and profoundly wounding in the context of any relationship, let alone marriage. But faithfulness in marriage should be thought

“Marriage is the creation of that space from which we go out into the world to live the life we consider most right and worthwhile, and to which we return at night to talk through our day.”

of more as it is in the context of religion. Like its Hebrew original, emunah, it means trust, the sharing not only of our today but of our unknown tomorrow in the context of our bond with one another. The faith we give and receive in marriage is our readiness to share our one and only journey through this life. Marriage is a unique and exclusive bond, but not the only relationship which matters in our lives. Marriage fits within the wider

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context of family and community. Inevitably there are stresses and differences; the Talmud notes that there is no such thing as a wedding without family rows. A couple are truly blessed if their own relationship becomes a harmonious part of a supportive family network. It is equally important, and lies within our choice, to belong to a community, to share friendships in which we can live out our values, support and care for others, hopefully raise children and study, practise and celebrate our Judaism.


faithful partnerships. Judaism stands here for the same values of trust, love, stability and faithfulness as it does in the context of heterosexual marriage. In contrast, there are also times when it is understandable that people choose not to marry, not only when exploring if a relationship will or won’t work out. This may be the case after the pain of divorce or bereavement, or later in life when, because of each party’s children or complex family reasons, a supportive relationship may exist without for-

“Perhaps worse than the ‘solitude’ of being on one’s own is the loneliness of being with another person with whom we simply can’t communicate what’s in our heart.” Judaism is a major ally to marriage; Shabbat offers the gift of time to counterbalance the pressures of the working week, festivals bring a profound historical and spiritual context into the home, Jewish learning creates a framework in which tradition and values can be studied and shared together. Whereas marriage is Judaism’s ideal, it is important to include an appreciation of other relationships. Across almost the whole spectrum of denominations, Judaism has revised its understanding of gay people, acknowledging that sexual orientation is not usually a matter of choice. It must then be seen as cruel to preclude people from entering into and celebrating

malisation in marriage. These bonds, and the courage and faith in relationship itself which they represent, should be respected in the community. As everyone well knows, it is sadly the reality that marriage does not always work out. Judaism generally regards this as a matter of sorrow rather than blame and its chief concern is for the well-being of children and of each partner. The get is at once a document of divorce and an express authorisation to begin anew to seek a life-long partner. The faith in life, love and marriage remains. I dedicate this essay to Nicky, for whose love, intelligence and common sense I am daily grateful.



My Beloved My Friend

Rabbi Chaim Weiner


What is the difference between a Masorti wedding and an Orthodox wedding? How different will it look in terms of the ceremony and the Ketubah? Is it a ‘Kosher’ wedding?


How will getting married Masorti affect the Jewish status of our children? Specifically, how will it affect their school admissions, shul membership and marriage options?

Wedding ceremonies in the Masorti

The short answer is that there is no

movement follow traditional patterns. For

connection between the auspices under which

the most part they are similar to Orthodox

a person marries and their Jewish status. It

weddings. The couple stand under the

is a basic principle of Jewish law that a child

Chuppah, traditional blessings are recited, a

inherits its status from its mother. If a mother is

ring is given, and a glass is broken at the end.

Jewish then her children are Jewish regardless

In addition to these basic legal requirements,

of where she was married.

there is room within a traditional wedding

Some Orthodox synagogues and schools will

for innovation. As a result, there is a range

not accept a non-Orthodox Ketubah as proof of

of practices that can be found in Masorti

Jewish status. Practically speaking, this means

synagogues. Some of the more common options

that if you are married in a Masorti synagogue,

are: use of a Ketubah with an egalitarian text,

you may need to bring alternative proof of your

ceremonies in which both the bride and groom

Jewish status if you wish to join an Orthodox

give each other a ring, weddings conducted by

community. In most cases, this simply means

female Rabbis and Hazzanim, and introducing

keeping a copy of the bride’s parents’ Ketubah

additional readings during the ceremony. Many

to hand and submitting it together with the

of these innovations can also be found in some

membership application.

Orthodox ceremonies. Therefore, Masorti

Since the JFS court ruling, it has been illegal

weddings range from being very traditional

for schools to ask for proof of Jewish status

to feeling quite innovative. In all cases, the

when applying to a school, and schools no

basic legal requirements of a Jewish wedding are met.

longer ask for this.

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I have heard of couples who have both a Masorti and Orthodox ceremony, one after the other. Is that acceptable in the Masorti movement?


prevent this eventuality? We are committed to preventing Iggun in our communities. The European Masorti Bet

Once a couple have wed they are legally

Din is responsible for divorce proceedings in

married and it is not possible to marry a second

the movement, and will look into any potential

time. To conduct a second ceremony means

case of Iggun and work to solve the problem.

reciting unnecessary blessings - which is

We are best able to do this where the couple

forbidden in Jewish law. Therefore, if a couple

have been married in the Masorti Movement.

has previously been married in an Orthodox

This means that those who have had a Masorti

ceremony they will not be able to have a

wedding are unlikely to find themselves in this

subsequent Masorti wedding. There are cases

distressing situation.

where Orthodox Rabbis ask couples to have a second Orthodox ceremony after a Masorti wedding. This is a dubious practice which should be discouraged.


Will a Masorti Rabbi officiate at a mixed-faith marriage or ceremony? No. We will only conduct a wedding if both partners are halachically Jewish.

5. Will a Masorti Rabbi officiate at a

same-sex wedding ceremony?

Masorti Rabbis will not conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies. Some Masorti Rabbis conduct same sex commitment ceremonies i.e. innovative ceremonies that mark a couple’s commitment to each other that are not traditional Jewish weddings.

6. What active role can women take in

a Masorti wedding?

Women can take on a range of roles in a Masorti wedding. The wedding may be conducted by a female Rabbi or Chazan. The bride may sign the Ketubah, give her husband a ring, and female friends may actively participate in the ceremony. Our ceremonies range from fully traditional to completely egalitarian.


I am worried about the situation with Iggun. How can Masorti marriage help


If the marriage ends in divorce, will I need an Orthodox get, or will the divorce proceedings be handled by the Masorti movement? The European Masorti Bet Din issues gittin and deals with all questions of divorce in the movement. A divorcing couple may go to either an Orthodox or Masorti Bet Din for their divorce. There are many considerations when choosing which Bet Din to use - questions of status, where the original wedding took place and future plans for marriage are all relevant. You should consult with your Rabbi before choosing where to go for a divorce.


If I have lived with my partner before getting married, can I still get married through the Masorti movement? Yes. We will be happy to enable you to sanctify your relationship in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony.


I would like a woman to officiate at our wedding. Are there any Masorti women rabbis in the UK who can take on this role? Absolutely. We have both traditional and egalitarian communities. There are both female Rabbis and Hazzanim in the movement who would be happy to officiate at your wedding.

Sex and the Single Jew Matt Plen


sources have a lot to say about marriage, divorce and forbidden sexual acts, but talk very little about single people, relationships and sex. Sex between two unmarried people is not included in the Torah’s lists of forbidden sexual practices, (which include adultery, incest and many others), but this kind of relationship is clearly frowned upon by normative Jewish tradition. While this makes sense in the context of a conservative, religious culture, it poses a challenge in contemporar y society where people stay single longer and over 15 years are likely to pass between the onset of sexual maturity and marriage. Given Jewish law’s tacit disapproval of non-marital sex, when people choose to engage in it are they essentially entering into a ‘Judaism-free zone’? Alternatively, can we glean any meaningful guidance about this near-universal phenomenon from the tradition? One answer to this question was in a 1990 ruling by the Israeli Masorti movement’s

Jewish law committee, written by Rabbi Pesach Schindler. Asked whether it’s permissible for a single man and a single woman to establish a long-term sexual relationship without getting married, Rabbi Schindler declares unambiguously that Jewish law prohibits this. He concludes his ruling: ‘In an age in which the Jewish family is threatened, we must more than ever defend the central pillars of the Jewish family - erussin and kiddushin that have sanctified the Jewish people for thousands of years. We must influence the young couple through gentle persuasion to become sanctified by our sacred tradition so “that Zion may rejoice in her children.”’ Given that sex between single people is not explicitly prohibited by the Torah, what is this ruling based on? The Tosefta, a collection of early rabbinic traditions, provides a source: it states in the name of a Rabbi Lazar that the biblical prohibition, ‘Do not corrupt your daughter to be a prostitute, lest the land fall to prostitution and the

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land become full of foulness’ (Lev 19:29) refers to a single man who has relations with a single woman not for purposes of marriage. Rashi, the pre-eminent medieval biblical and talmudic c o m m e n t a t o r, agrees that the verse implies a ban on sexual relations between unmarried people. Maimonides, perhaps the most impor tant legal a u th o r i t y of th e middle-ages, also forbids extrama r it a l s ex , but bases the prohibition on a different verse (Deut 23:18): ‘No Israelite woman shall be a kadesha’ (a kadesha, literally translated, is a prostitute or, more specifically, a temple prostitute in the ancient Canaanite fertility cult). Following Maimonides, normative halachic (Jewish legal) tradition endorses not only the prohibition on casual or licentious sex, but al so on sexual relations which are performed as part of a committed relationship. This is despite the fact that the Mishna, the earliest comprehensive source of Jewish law, declares sexual intercourse to be one of the three acceptable ways of contracting a marriage. Thus the 16th century Shulhan Arukh, the most authoritative Jewish legal code, rules: ‘A woman is only considered to be married as a result of a properly conducted ceremony. If someone has sexual relations with a woman in the manner of prostitution, with no aim of


marriage, this has no bearing [on her marital status]. And even if sexual relations take place with the aim of marriage, she is not considered to be his wife, even if they have spent time alone together. On the contrar y: he is compelled to remove her from his house.’ The normative halachic bot tom line on sex outside of marriage certainly backs up Rabbi Schindler’s ruling. However, the tradition also encompasses dissenting voices. For example, the following Talmudic passage directly takes on the view of the Tosefta: ‘Rabbi Elazar [presumably the same as the Tosefta’s Rabbi Lazar] says: An unmarried man who has relations with an unmarried woman with no aim of marriage makes her into a prostitute; Rav Amram said: The halachah is not according to the opinion of Rabbi Elazar.’ Quoting this statement, the medieval commentator Nahmanides writes, ‘I do not understand [Rashi’s] view, as ‘prostitution’ in the Torah does not refer to sex with any single woman, as the halachah rules: an unmarried man who has relations with an unmarried woman with no aim of marriage does not make her into a prostitute.’ In this light, the Torah’s prohibition of prostitution has no bearing on the more general question of sex between two unmarried people. Rabbi Moses Isserles, in his authoritative

“Is such an intimate, personal issue really best dealt with in the black and white, authoritative terms of halachic argumentation?”


My Beloved My Friend

has a reputation for casual sex or already has another wife. Rabbi Schindler quotes several of these potential loopholes in his ruling but, rather than using them as an opportunity for a more nuanced discussion of the issue,

presence of witnesses [who can testify to the couple secluding themselves in a closed room together rather than actually watching them have sex], it should be suspected that the man intended marriage, in light of the assumption that a man does not generally have promiscuous sexual relations.’ This assumption, according to Rabbi Isserles, holds true unless the man

ultimately comes down unambiguously against extra-marital sex. While his ruling is both clear and reflective of normative Jewish practice over the centuries, it raises a serious problem for contemporary Jews. By ignoring the fact that the vast majority now have sex before they get married and are unlikely to be dissuaded from doing so by a rabbinical ruling, it sets

Illustration: Gal Sadeh

16th century commentary to the Shulhan Arukh, calls into question the idea that sex can never be used to cement a legitimate relationship: ‘There are those who say that if an unmarried man and an unmarried woman have sexual relations in the

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“While Rabbi Dorff is adamant that marriage is the best setting for fully living out the Jewish values connected with sexuality, he also accepts that some of these ideas can be partially expressed through sex outside of marriage.” itself up for failure, as a ‘decree which the public is unable to adhere to’. Many contemporary Jews, committed to the value of individual autonomy, are also likely to take issue with the legalistic framing of the question. Is such an intimate, personal issue really best dealt with in the black and white, authoritative terms of halachic argumentation? These issues are taken up by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, professor of philosophy at the American Jewish University and Chair of the American Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. In his book, Love Your Neighbour and Yourself: A Jewish Approach to Modern Personal Ethics, Rabbi Dorff describes Jewish attitudes to sex in terms of a spectrum, with forbidden activities such as adultery and incest at one end, and sanctified ones — essentially sex within marriage — at the other. He locates consensual sex between loving, committed, but unmarried par tners somewhere in the middle of the scale. While Rabbi Dorff is adamant that marriage is the best setting for fully living out the Jewish values connected with sexuality, he also accepts that some of these ideas can be partially expressed through sex outside

of marriage.

What are these values? Seeing oneself and one’s partner as human beings created in the image of God means that sex cannot be seen as a purely physical act — it has implications for our sense of self and must reflect our value systems and the personhood of our partners. While Jewish tradition sees sexual pleasure as a divine gift, we need to ensure that the way we derive this pleasure adds to our humanity and does not end up being animalistic. Seeing ourselves in the image of God is connected to the value of modesty: sexual activity should be conducted in private and should not be discussed in ways which demean one’s partner. ‘Bragging about one’s sexual conquests,’ writes Rabbi Dorff, ‘lacks both modesty and decency.’ This kind of respect for others also has wider implications. Minimally it means that sex must not be coercive. More broadly it means that we mustn’t lie, deceive or manipulate (dishonestly saying ‘I love you’ for example) in order to gain sexual satisfaction. Respect for others also implies honesty and fidelity. While


My Beloved My Friend

marriage by itself cannot guarantee that sexual relations will be respectful, honest and faithful, Rabbi Dorff believes that the ‘deep relationship that marriage betokens makes it more probable that the two partners will care for each other in their sexual relations as well as in all of the other areas of life.’ He continues: ‘If one is not married, sex cannot possibly symbolise the

“If one is not married, sex cannot possibly symbolise the same degree of commitment. Unmarried sexual partners must, therefore, openly and honestly confront what their sexual activity means for the length and depth of their relationship.”

same degree of commitment. Unmarried sexual partners must, therefore, openly and honestly confront what their sexual activity means for the length and depth of their relationship.’ In practical terms, this means we should avoid short-term sexual encounters and, instead, restrict sex to long-term, committed relationships. Other practical values mandated by Rabbi Dorff include health and safety — taking care of our own and our partners’ bodies by preventing the spread of STDs and AIDS through disclosing our sexual histories, HIV testing, using condoms and restricting the number of sexual partners. These steps are connected with one of the most important Jewish values — pikuah nefesh or saving life. Similarly, unmarried couples should bear in mind the risk of unplanned pregnancy, even with the use of contraceptives. Abortion is not prohibited by Jewish law, especially when the mother’s life or health are at risk. But, both because a foetus is considered a potential life and because of the psychological consequences involved, abortion should be avoided and certainly not used as a form of retroactive


Image: throughnothing

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contraception. Couples engaged in extramarital sex must carefully consider the implications of an unplanned pregnancy. Finally, unmarried couples are advised to consider the Jewish quality of their relationship. Just like married couples, they should discuss their attitudes to kashrut (dietary laws), Shabbat and festival observance, and to the kind of Jewish home they want to create. In addition, Jews are urged to date other Jews exclusively. This position stems not only from the contemporary phenomenon of assimilation and the fact that as many as 82 percent of the children of intermarried couples in the United States are not raised as Jews, but from the idea that the challenges of maintaining a relationship intensify when partners come from different religious and cultural backgrounds, (Dorff quotes a study which shows that divorce rates double among intermarried couples). Rabbi Dorff is adamant that Jewish norms should infuse every aspect of our existence — including and perhaps especially the most intimate areas — but emphasises that these norms are not-all-or nothing things.

Rather, it is up to individuals to bring Jewish meaning to their lives by striving to connect their behaviour to Jewish values wherever possible. Sometimes he draws seemingly inconsistent conclusions — he robustly defends the institution of marriage and insists that teenagers refrain from sexual intercourse, while simultaneously recommending masturbation as the ‘morally and Jewishly preferable choice’ and taking an extremely liberal, inclusive line on the place of gays and lesbians within the Jewish community. This position could be attacked as a wishy-washy attempt to gloss over the specific, plain meaning of our textual tradition in order to create a superficial connection between the two irreconcilable worlds of Jewish tradition and modern society. In fact, Rabbi Dorff’s approach represents a willingness to depart from the dichotomous, authoritarian tone of much legalistic thinking and to combine the tools of halachah (Jewish law) and aggadah (non-legal stories and ideas) to construct an approach to these sensitive issues which is at once wholly contemporary and convincingly Jewish.


My Beloved My Friend

Is possession (kinyan) nine-tenths of the law? Exploring alternative Jewish marriage ceremonies Rabbi Joel Levy

Getting married

provides an amazing opportunity for reflection. The last time the bride and groom stood up in public and underwent a significant Jewish rite of passage was probably at their bar- and bat-mitzvahs, and as 12- or 13-year-olds. they probably did not think overly much about the significance of their agreeing to participate in the ceremony. However, a couple’s decision to get married means that they need to choose whether and how they will sanctify their relationship in a public Jewish ceremony. In an open liberal society that choice is made, thank God, completely freely. This decision of how to get married is one that reveals a great deal about the participants’ relationship with each other, their relationship with history, with their parents and with their inherited tradition. Will the couple unthinkingly choose a traditionalist ceremony? Will they be independent, innovative and creative?

Will they seek to understand the ceremony? Will they blindly follow their parents’ directives? Will they listen carefully to each other’s articulated values and dreams? I know that many couples choose to marry in a Jewish wedding ceremony without ever reflecting on the nature of the contract that they are accepting and the nature of the ceremony that they are undergoing. However, I feel that if a couple wish to be able to stand under the chuppah with authenticity it is extremely worthwhile for them to think long and hard about Jewish weddings and what they mean. A wedding is an amazing opportunity for a couple to think through who they are and what they really hold dear. Thinking hard about the nature of the Jewish wedding ceremony can be a disturbing undertaking. As soon as we go back and look at the nature of Jewish weddings we discover a dissonance

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“The most radical approaches to the very real problem of Kiddushin involve going back and rethinking Jewish weddings from first principles and avoiding basing them on the laws of acquisition.”

between how we may conceptualise relationships between men and women and how they were understood by the Torah and the rabbinic tradition. Early sources describe a world of relationships that was thoroughly non-egalitarian. Deuteronomy 24:1 is the primary biblical source that shows the man as the active party both in taking and rejecting a wife: “When a man takes a woman and masters her, and it happens, if she does not find favour in his eyes, for he finds in her something vile, he may write for her a document of cut-off; he is to place it in her hand and send-heraway from his house.” This imbalance is reflected in the earliest rabbinic writings about marriage (Mishnah Kiddushin chapter


1) that place the acquisition of a wife in the context of the acquisition of other commodities such as slaves and animals. (“She is acquired by money, by document, or by sexual intercourse.”) The halachic (Jewish legal) implication of this inequality is that it is only the woman’s status that changes substantially when she marries and not the man’s; only she is liable for the harshest punishments under the law should she be sexually unfaithful to her husband; only she undergoes a substantial status change on getting married from being a “p’nuya” — “an available single woman” to being “Eshet-Ish” — “woman-of-a-man”.

“Thinking hard about the nature of the Jewish wedding ceremony can be a disturbing undertaking.” Given that the central act in a traditionalist Jewish wedding is still an act of acquisition (where money, generally in the form of a ring, passes from the man to the woman), anyone choosing to get married mindfully in this way will need to think through their relationship with tradition itself in a profound manner. There are many ways of justifying the continuing use of this ceremony - kiddushin: we can refer to other more egalitarian sources as a means of off-setting the essentially nonegalitarian nature of kiddushin; we may assert that we are free to re-imagine the meaning of kiddushin whilst remaining true to its forms; we might choose to tolerate a


My Beloved My Friend

difference between tradition and ourselves in an act of obedience to the system; we might attempt to defer utterly to tradition and allow it to determine the meaning of our primary relationships; we might simply choose not to study at all and to view the wedding as a personal act that has no reference to the past. Other more radical approaches may also be possible and I would encourage anyone interested to look at the “Kiddushin Variations” website: www.alternativestokidd ushin.wordpress.com to get a sense of some of the serious work being done at the moment to ameliorate the role of women established in the traditionalist Jewish wedding ceremony. Some scholars have even suggested that a radical change to the wedding ceremony may be necessary in our day. In Jewish law (halachah), in order for kiddushin to be valid, both parties must consent to the contract undertaken. This means that the woman may need to consent to “being acquired”. Professor Meir Feldblum, formerly of Yeshiva University and now of Bar Ilan University, has written on the current halachic implications of the lack of informed consent of women at the time of marriage. Feldblum writes that: “In light of women’s efforts in our day to achieve equality in all spheres of life, there is a presumption, even a categorical presumption, that many women were they to be informed would in no way agree to the acquisition nature of kiddushin/marriage.” Most women are not informed by their rabbis of what they are agreeing to, and for Feldblum this undermines the full validity of the contract itself. Even worse, if the

woman does indeed know the meaning of the ceremony and states explicitly beforehand that she does not believe in or accept the nature of kiddushin - something that has happened to me on a number of occasions - what does that do to the validity

“If the woman does indeed know the meaning of the ceremony and states explicitly beforehand that she does not believe in or accept the nature of Kiddushin - something that has happened to me on a number of occasions - what does that do to the validity of their wedding ceremony in Jewish law?” of their wedding ceremony in Jewish law? The most radical approaches to the very real problem of kiddushin involve going back and re-thinking Jewish weddings from first principles and avoiding basing them on the laws of acquisition. The American academic Rachel Adler has done just that in her groundbreaking book, Engendering Judaism. Her solution involves a ceremony rooted in the Jewish law of partnership rather than the law of acquisition. The central act of such a ceremony replaces

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬


Illustration: Noa Kelner-Rozank

the kinyan of kiddushin, where the man gives an object of value to the woman, with a ceremony where each partner places an object of value into a bag which they then raise together thereby indicating that they enter into a joint partnership. The terms of their contract are detailed in a “Covenant of Love”, one of the terms of which must be a promise of mutual sexual fidelity for the duration of the partnership. The down-side of such a radical innovation is that it clearly constitutes a radical break with the tradition of a hundred generations of marrying Jews. Many rabbis will baulk at the very idea of changing such a well established ritual, and many couples will also want their actions and words when they stand under the chuppah to be fully aligned with those of their ancestors so that their ceremony draws directly on those in the past. Other rabbis and couples will, however, be driven by the need for a different kind

of alignment - one between the wedding ceremony and the lived life of the couple. They will increasingly seek out, explore and utilise these and other yet-to-be discovered halachic innovations. The halachic validity of many such innovative kinds of wedding ceremony will be something that the liberal religious world will be forced to engage with over the next few hundred years. There is so much to think about when getting married. I am always delighted when the happy couple chooses to spend more time thinking about the underlying nature of their wedding ceremony than on the bride’s dress or the colour scheme at the party. When couples spend time working through these issues with their rabbi it gives them an amazing opportunity to deepen their experience of their wedding day, their understanding of each other and their relationships with both Judaism and modernity.


My Beloved My Friend

What Should A Gay Jew Do? Rabbi Jeremy Gordon

The issue

of homosexuality is complicated and tests our legal and practical sensibilities in a vast range of ways. It’s also hugely emotive both among those who are gay, or are gay supporters, and among those who fear Masorti is sliding away from the acceptance of the binding nature of our tradition. Faced with these complications we, as rabbinic leaders in the Movement, have largely kept ‘shtum.’ We hoped that members and others would deduce a general welcome of anyone regardless of sexuality without making that welcome explicit, partly out of our own discomfort and partly out of a desire to avoid the inevitable scorn that greets anyone perceived as treading too liberal a path on these matters. I’m not convinced that this silence is tenable or appropriate. For a Movement founded on the principle of speaking truths even if they bring criticism, this equivocation fails our raison d’etre. I don’t get asked, ‘Rabbi, should I be gay?’ The question simply doesn’t come to me. Rather I get what the rabbis call

‘b’diavad’ questions, post-facto questions. Since I am gay, am I still welcome in your shul? Since I have a gay partner, will you recognise us as a family? Since our son has same-sex parents, can you accept him in the cheder? Actually even these ‘b’diavad’ questions overstate what passes my metaphorical rabbinic in-tray on issues around homosexuality. Many gay Jews feel traditional Judaism views them and their hearts’ inclinations with such opprobrium that they simply avoid anything to do with us. Do I want to encourage them to be more involved or should I watch them disappear from our people? Others sit in the very back rows of our synagogues ducking eye contact, not sure who to trust and from whom they should hide — dishonesty fostered in what should be a house of truth. I am not, in this short paper, going to offer a fully worked through halachic position. Rather I am going to offer a whistle-stop trip through the principles which underlie how I read our masoret - tradition - on this issue.

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

? “I don’t get asked, Rabbi, should I be gay? ... I get asked: ‘Since I am gay, am I still welcome in your shul?” False Paths - Rights and Privacy Rights based discourse dominates much secular discussion of these issues, but that kind of language is largely foreign to Jewish thought. I don’t, as a matter of halachah, have a right to free speech or certainly any right to engage sexually with a chosen other. Judaism is built around systems of responsibility - I have the responsibility to speak carefully and kindly. So when I say halachic Judaism does not recognise the right of a person to choose a life-partner or sexual partner of any gender that’s not because I don’t care about ways in which a heart moves a person who is gay, but rather

21 Illustration: Avigail Roubini

‫ואהבת‬ ‫לרעך‬ ‫כמוך‬

because I don’t accept that halachic Judaism should use this sort of discourse. Equally I am unmoved by claims that what goes on in the privacy of a bedroom is not a religious concern. Judaism believes that whatever we do, we do it before God. ‘Know Before Whom You Stand,’ is a phrase often found above the synagogue ark and it applies equally under the covers. To the traditional Jew, everything matters — there is halachic discussion of the order in which a person should put on their socks, halachic discussion of the materials from which socks can be made, halachic discussion of the way in which the cotton can be picked and so on. Viewed in the context of Judaism’s concern with every aspect of life, the insistence that our sexual practices are of religious concern isn’t to obsess over sexuality. Rather it fits into a concern for all parts of life.

Halachic Nuance The halachic system requires rabbis to show a sense of proportion when opining on matters of same-sex attraction. As a general


My Beloved My Friend

Image: Kipa Pride - Paul Lowry

matter Judaism is very slow to castigate internal emotional states and feeling drawn to a person of the same sex is no sin in itself. But even when it comes to acts, as opposed to ‘mere’ feelings, there is more nuance than an oversimplified view might suggest. Maleto-male intercourse is deemed an issur d’oratia - a Torah mandated prohibition, but lesbian sexual engagement is considered pritzut d’alma - ‘generally lewd’ - the same level of disdain as is shown towards the wearing of red clothing (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 76a and Berachot 20a). Acts of male-to-male sexual intimacy short of penetration are prohibited, but less severely. And there are strange byways in the Talmudic corpus where actions that might be connected to homosexual intimacy are glossed over. This is not the place to fight out the precise meaning of these often elliptical texts but, for example, in Kiddushin

82a the Wise accept two men can ‘share a blanket’ in a context which suggests an awareness of same-sex intimacy. There are positions taken by the American branch of our Movement which do overturn many, if not all, of the prohibitions in the classic halachah but I am not going to argue that the forbidden be deemed permitted, but rather that a sense of nuance is preserved, especially when we are dealing with the need a person might feel for intimate companionship.

Morality, Halachah and Disobedience Morality - acts of goodness - and halachah - the Jewish legal system - are not one and the same. Judaism is not amoral, but the web of prohibitions, permissions, compulsions and exemptions are not only about morality. This is a particularly important point to make

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

in the light of some of the moral opprobrium directed towards those who are gay by some religious leaders. The Bible outlaws male to male intercourse as a ‘toevah,’ but the King James translators perhaps let some of their own discomfort with homosexual intercourse impact on their choice of ‘abomination’ as an interpretation of this strange word. The Bible considers eating pork or shellfish a toevah (Lev 11:10, Deut 14:3) but I don’t consider a person who eats ham to be acting immorally, even if they are Jewish. The very first time the Bible mentions the term toevah (Gen 43:32) it refers to the way Egyptians perceived what it would mean to eat with a Jew. Most frequently the term refers to Jews committing acts of cultic idonderlinelatry (Deut 7:25, 12:31, 13:15). A toevah is a national and particular wrong, not a universal or a moral one. A committed intimate relationship between two people of the same sex is not an immoral thing, even if it involves a breach of halachah, and I oppose the use of verses such as Lev 18:22 to suggest that it is. It’s worth noting that the halachic system imposes significant limits on physical intimacy between a married couple and certainly has much to say on intimate relationships between unmarried Jews, let alone relationships between Jews and nonJews. Let it be said, there are many people in our communities who, in their intimate relationships with life partners, breach the limits of halachah. We need to ensure that our response on issues of homosexual intimacy bears a sense of proportion to our responses on issues of heterosexual intimacy.


“We need to ensure that our response on issues of homosexual intimacy bears a sense of proportion to our responses on issues of heterosexual intimacy.” What Should A Gay Jew Do? This question goes to heart of the responsibility I feel in my engagement with this issue. The vast majority of my Orthodox colleagues expect a Jew who is clear about their gay sexual identity to live alone, without a central sanctified relationship with another they can love spiritually, emotionally and erotically. Frankly this has to be better counsel than the advice to marry a woman in pretence, or the suggestion that a firm gay sexual orientation can be ‘reversed’ through therapy. But there is a verse which speaks about such a life-sentence of loneliness — ‘it is not good for a person to be alone.’ (Gen 2:18). The Hebrew term used here — ‘tov’ — can only be translated to mean ‘good.’ Goodness is not cultic or particular. Goodness is the language of universal morality. This verse weighs particularly heavily on me especially in the context of the huge blessing I derive from my own finding of a partner with whom I hope to share the rest of my life in every way. It makes it impossible for me to feel able to insist that gay Jews live a life devoid of the intimacy which I, as a married hetrosexual,


My Beloved My Friend

enjoy so profoundly. I am deeply moved by this aggadic, (narrative or non-halachic) argument, but I accept there is also a theological issue at work. Maybe if my theology were more classically orthodox I would absolutely accept the inerrant truth of halachic prohibitions on gay sexual intimacy and vocally oppose all forms of it. But I am a Masorti Jew. I accept the obligation to observe the mitzvot, but I am niggled by the belief that human discomfort with gay sex may be influencing our halachic sources and that compounds my refusal to demand gay Jews live lives of loneliness. Seeing committed gay and lesbian Jews creating passionate and committed Jewish lives together also strengthens me to push towards the edge of what traditional Judaism has maintained in previous years. What do I want? I want Jews to find other Jews with whom to make lives together. I want them to commit to one another and treat that committed relationship as sacred.

“I want Jews to find other Jews with whom to make lives together.” As a rabbi I want to support such couples as they build ‘batim ne’emanim b’israel’ — faithful houses in Israel, and if such couples are blessed with children, through means natural or assisted by science or adoption, I will do everything I can to support the

children growing as committed Jews who feel rooted and inspired by their Jewish families and tradition. I want Jews who can only find such a partner among members of the opposite sex to do that, and I want Jews who can only find such a partner among members of the same sex to do that also. When it comes to matters of sexual intimacy I would hope that couples both straight and gay allow the restrictions the halachah imposes on all of us to influence the decisions they make sexually, and I hope and believe it is possible for couples both gay and straight to find opportunities for meaningful and profound intimacy within the corpus of permissions and regulations the halachic framework allows. But I am not going to use my power as a rabbi to point fingers at those — gay or straight — who might fall short of these rules on sexual propriety.. When it comes to the question of ceremonies which recognise these committed gay unions I struggle. For me the ability to perform both religious and civil wedding ceremonies for heterosexual couples is a tremendous honour and I understand the way in which many gay Jews will want their relationships to be sanctified by a representative of their own faith. Ceremonies are important; public blessings also strengthen a commitment between couples and allow friends and family members opportunities to share their own ‘Amen,’ but many of the elements of a traditional chuppah are not suitable for the consecration of a partnership between man and man and I don’t advocate plucking them from their hetrosexual realm and dropping them into a homosexual one. That said, I

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬


Image: Quinn.anya

know that offering gay Jews what might be perceived to be merely a quasi- or ersatz marriage can be seen as demeaning, even if that is not the intention. It may be that one way forward would be to explore using shutafut- partnership — language and ritual for both straight and gay celebrations, moving away from the traditional marriage rituals associated with kinyan - acquisition of a woman by a man in ways very close to the patterns of acquisition of chattel. Personally, as the rabbi of New London Synagogue and as a Masorti Jew, I feel there is much more to do in terms of exploring appropriate religious rituals (including, should it be necessary, in the case of separation of a gay couple) around this issue. That said I welcome and support

the governmental sanction and recognition of intimate committed relationships between gay couples not only as a marker of commitment but also for the important civil legal protections that these arrangements offer. There is danger in putting these thoughts in writing. The issue can be one which divides and fractures religious communities. My hope and prayer is that we, as Masorti Jews, are sufficiently used to the range of opinions which marks our engagement with complex issues such as this and sufficiently convinced of the importance of articulating the nature of our welcome to gay and lesbian Jews to make this contribution nonetheless welcome.


My Beloved My Friend


One of you is Jewish and one isn’t.

The Jewish partner

You love each other and are planning a

If you’re the Jewish member of a mixed

future together, but you’re overwhelmed by

relationship then you may have begun thinking

questions, both your own, and those of your

and talking about the importance of Judaism

family and friends. There are, it seems, so

to you since fairly early on in the relationship.

many more things to think about than if you

Maybe you never really thought about how

were both Jewish.

Jewish your children would be, but now that

And yet this apparent difficulty is actually a

feels like a burning question. Maybe you’re

blessing. It’s forcing you to think and talk about

suddenly aware of strong feelings when your

your values, how you hope to live and what

loved one eats a bacon sandwich or goes

you hope to pass on to your children. These

Christmas present shopping. And perhaps

discussions are the best possible preparation

you feel caught out now when asked to explain

for a life together.

what Yom Kippur is or why you do or don’t

Hopefully it’s comforting to know that

light Shabbat candles. Suddenly you need to

although your questions are very real and

know how Jewish you’d like your home to be,

require considered responses, you’re not the

how much non-Jewishness you can tolerate

first people to confront such a situation. Others

and what compromises you are able to make.

have dealt with the challenges of falling in love

Big questions bubble up — such as whether

outside of their religion and have gone on to

you will circumcise your children. Whatever

enjoy a wonderful life together. You can too,

you decide, you are now the lead partner on

as long as you can talk, listen, and try to see

Jewish matters in the relationship. How do

the big picture.

you feel about that?

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

“These days, most marriages are ‘mixed marriages’ to the extent that they are entered into by two adults who have normally lived independently for long enough to have developed their own beliefs and behaviours.”


The Jewish partner’s family If you were raised in a Jewish home you may sense that parents, grandparents or other family members see in your choice of a nonJewish partner a rejection of Judaism and the values you were raised with. They may be angry, upset and even ashamed. They may fear that they have lost you and that the children you will have will be lost to them too. They see (perhaps unconsciously) the situation as black and white — a Jewish partner would have meant success and continuity, a non-Jewish one means failure and an abrupt end to Jewish life. They may feel guilty and blame themselves for their part in your choice. They may also fear what others think, or worry that your decision will “open the door” for your siblings to find partners outside of the parameters they had

The non-Jewish partner If you’re the non-Jewish person in this

set for you. Even the possibility of your partner converting may trouble them lest the two of you alienate them by becoming too observant.

relationship you’ll be aware that Jewishness

Please be reassured that all of these

can be a formidable influence. If you have

concerns are versions of the “no-one is good

a strong attachment to your own religious

enough for my child” attitude parents often

tradition, there could be clashes. And if your

feel when introduced to an adult child’s

own religious background is neutral or merely

potential partner. Over time, parents often

nominal, you might find Jewish traditions

come round as they get to know your partner

overwhelming your own traditions. You may

and appreciate the depth of your relationship.

feel pressurised into exploring Judaism by your partner’s family and community, or perhaps conversely, your partner is actually

The Jewish community

keen for you not to become too interested.

The wider Jewish community may also

You may feel that you need to take a decision

treat you awkwardly. Your relationship may

about conversion without really understanding

arouse a concern about Jewish continuity,

yet what conversion actually entails (there’s

and people’s knee-jerk reaction may be to

more about conversion later in this article).

refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of

While you’re discussing all of these thorny

your relationship. If conversion is on the

questions, you also have to deal with the

agenda they may feel threatened that you’ll

possibly confrontational questions of family

become “too Jewish” or the opposite, that

and friends.

converts are not real Jews and so you or your


My Beloved My Friend

partner will always remain outsiders. They may tell you that your children are bound to be confused by their mixed heritage and the differences between their Jewish and nonJewish grandparents and cousins. But it’s becoming more and more typical to be atypical. What your kids grow up with so long as you talk about it and answer their questions - is going to feel normal for them and there is no reason they shouldn’t thrive as long as their parents are loving and honest.

The non-Jewish partner’s family The family of the non-Jewish partner may present a whole range of other (possibly subconscious) objections to your relationship.

child’s choice of partner. These concerns,

The lack of knowledge or the prejudices they

though they lie deep below the surface, are

hold about Jews and Judaism might inform

nevertheless valid. Almost all of them can

their attitude. Stereotypes (both positive

be allayed by keeping communication open,

and negative) about Jews may influence

getting to know one another, and encouraging

them — so perhaps they see all Jews as

them to read or ask questions about Judaism

ultra-Orthodox or brilliant in business — and

and the Jewish way of life.

these view might persist until they get to know a range of Jewish people. They may, at the most simple level, worry about what food and drink to offer you when you come to visit, or if you keep a kosher home, they may be worried about messing things up if they make a cup of tea in your kitchen when they come to visit. There may be confusion and ambivalence about whether they should

“Not choosing to convert at this time doesn’t have to mean turning your back on all things Jewish.” Conversion

or shouldn’t attend synagogue or Jewish

There may be pressure on the non-Jewish

family occasions with you, and fear of not

partner to convert and to do so quickly so

understanding or behaving inappropriately

you can have a Jewish wedding. Whilst

if they do. Worse still they may fear they will

conversion is ultimately desirable from a

not be welcomed to attend or participate at

Masorti perspective, it’s only a valid option

all. Finally, they may worry that the world

if the conversion is sincere and entered into

is hostile to Jews, and that their future

freely. (By the way, conversion is irreversible

grandchildren will suffer as a result of their

according to Jewish law.) In any case, the

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬


“These days, those who convert are not forced to conceal their past. With the admission that non-Jewishness - be it one’s own or that of one’s family or friends - is not inherently problematic; some of the psychological burden of conversion has been lifted.” decision to convert is one that cannot be

been Jewish. Whilst this attitude exists to

rushed. It’s possible to explore Judaism, to

promote equality between all Jews — whether

study, and even to embark on a conversion

born or self-made - it has unfortunately also

programme without being certain that

burdened converts with the sense that there

conversion is for you. The first step is to start

was something shameful about their life

experiencing Jewish life both in the family and

before they were Jewish. Converts have felt

synagogue settings, to read about Judaism,

that they must conceal their past and even

and to talk to Rabbis and teachers about the

at some level reject parents and loved ones.

requirements for conversion.

The Masorti community is diverse, and

If you are considering conversion you will

all the better for it. The hallmark of Masorti

no doubt have many questions, ranging from

theology, honesty, extends to the Masorti

what exactly conversion entails, to concerns

approach to conversion. These days, those

about whether a Masorti conversion will

who convert are not forced to conceal their

be recognised. The subject lies beyond the

past. With the admission that non-Jewishness

scope of this article but some preliminary

- be it one’s own or that of one’s family or

information can be found at www.masorti.

friends - is not inherently problematic, some


of the psychological burden of conversion has been lifted.

Life after conversion

This also means that if the non-Jewish partner converts and the two of you have

Traditionally, it was improper to ask a

a Jewish wedding, the officiating rabbi will

convert to Judaism about their former life.

have no problem ensuring that non-Jewish

Consequently, Jews by choice have felt

relatives are involved in the ceremony and that

compelled to try to “pass” as having always

their heritage is respectfully acknowledged.


My Beloved My Friend

Not converting Sometimes there are solid reasons for not converting. If the non-Jewish partner has their own religious beliefs, they may feel that they simply cannot in good faith abandon them. At the same time, they might be happy to raise their children as Jewish. In this case, it’s important to stress that not being able to have a Jewish wedding doesn’t mean you

“Most Masorti synagogues allow families to join even if one spouse is not Jewish, and find ways to include both parents at a Brit or Bar/Bat Mitzvah.”

can’t have a Jewish life. Or perhaps conversion isn’t out of the

Marriage, then, is frequently a process in

question, but the journey towards it might be

which two people learn to compromise,

taking place at a much slower pace than that

and their two lives gradually converge as

towards marriage and children. Not choosing

they form a family. Coming to marriage with

to convert at this time doesn’t have to mean

different religious backgrounds is a challenge,

turning your back on all things Jewish.

and a profound one, but so are all the other

The children of a Jewish mother and non-

differences people bring to marriage.

Jewish father will in any case be regarded as

Furthermore, the Jewish community is

Jewish and will be welcome to participate in

changing too. Whilst some Jewish people and

community life with both parents. The children

organisations are keen to categorise, others

of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother —

use increasingly broad criteria, often allowing

whilst not enjoying official Jewish status — will

you, to “self-certify” as it were, for inclusion.

nevertheless be able to participate in Jewish

This is particularly true in the field of Jewish

life while conversion (for both parents and/or

education where evidence of being Jewish is

children) remains a possibility for the future.

seldom asked for, and when it is, the bar is

Most Masorti synagogues allow families to

often set low to allow for maximum inclusion.

join even if one spouse is not Jewish, and

So if the question about how Judaism will

find ways to include both parents at a Brit

be observed in your marriage is not one you

or Bar/Bat Mitzvah. At most Masorti shuls

can answer fully, don’t worry. Instead inform

there are families with one Jewish and one

yourselves, keep an open mind, and above all

non-Jewish parent.

continue thinking, talking, and exploring.

Final thoughts These days, most marriages are “mixed marriages” to the extent that they are entered into by two adults who have normally lived independently for long enough to have developed their own beliefs and behaviours.

Zahavit Shalev set up the current conversion programme at New North London Synagogue and is its coordinator. She has worked with people converting to Judaism since 2004.


‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

Building grassroots Masorti communities

Masorti students and young adults Kelim - a month of learning at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem

Festival Kedem: the Marom camping experience

Egalitarian minyanim and Friday night dinners

‫תיקון עולם‬

London Citizens: social action with the UK’s biggest civil society network

Plus: Europe trips, Jewish learning, interfaith, leadership training, Israel programmes, social events and more.

Contact the Marom team 020 8349 6650 or students@masorti.org.uk Facebook Marom Fieldworker (for students) or Marom Coordinator (if you’re in London). Twitter @MaromUK

Masorti Judaism



My Beloved My Friend

Conversion: A Leap of

Faith Lindsay Banham

As the end of my time on the New North London Synagogue conversion course draws near, I have the opportunity to reflect and consider the ups and downs of the last 16 months, before looking forward to first becoming Jewish and then my wedding in the new year. Since I began the process in autumn 2009, my knowledge of Judaism has increased manifold, but what I know about myself seems to have grown so much more. In order to really change oneself and to embrace a new identity it is essential to understand who one is in the beginning. It has been both discomforting and rejuvenating in equal measure to wrestle with the questions ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who do I want to be?’ and ‘How do I want Judaism to change me?’ I think my greatest concern about undertaking conversion was the impact it might have on my family. My father died when I was a teenager, and my mother did an amazing job raising me and my

younger sister. I worried that she would see my decision to change religion as not just a rejection of my nominal ‘Church of England’ background but as a rejection of the values and traditions of my own family.

“Since I began the process in autumn 2009, my knowledge of Judaism has increased manifold, but what I know about myself seems to have grown so much more.” When it came down to it though, as ever, her concerns were of the more practical sort. If Dan and I had a family, would she be a “second-class grandmother” and be unable to participate in their upbringing if she was not Jewish? We discussed at length the importance of respect for both tradition and parents in Judaism, and she was reassured.

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

I think the most important thing was to ask what she was worried about early on, and to keep on asking, and listening. It is a huge thing to ask a parent to support their child’s leap into the unknown. I have found it immensely helpful to be open about what I was experiencing right from the beginning.

Image: Justin Oberman

“Becoming Jewish cannot and should not erase my own cultural heritage.”


certainly what is required to plan a wedding, especially one to bring together two families from different backgrounds. I think that our mission has been to create something that everyone can relate to and enjoy, and that will emphasise similarities as well as differences. Becoming Jewish cannot and should not erase

“It has been both discomforting and rejuvenating in equal measure to wrestle with the questions ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who do I want to be?’ and ‘How do I want Judaism to change me?” Now, near the end of the course, I can see why both candidates and their partners are asked to participate; dealing with both the spiritual and practical aspects of conversion is an opportunity for some essential marital teamwork to take shape. And teamwork is

“It is a huge thing to ask a parent to support their child’s leap into the unknown.”

my own cultural heritage, and out of respect for my own family, our wedding will be a celebration of English as well as Ashkenazi traditions. Trite as it may sound, when juggling these things becomes stressful, Dan and I try to keep in mind that however the details pan out, the success of our married Jewish lives together will not depend on canapés or colour schemes, but rather the sincerity of our commitment under the chuppah.


My Beloved My Friend

“The Sound of Jubilation Jubilation?” On The Reality of Marriage in Israel Inbar Bluzer-Shalem

21st-century Israeli law only permits marriage between two people of the same religion who marry in a religious ceremony. This denies at least half a million Israeli citizens the right to wed. The following article explores and examines the Israeli reality surrounding this issue, and investigates the status of Masorti weddings in Israel. It will take a brief look at the past, as well as explore some thoughts about the future.

On The Only Option for Getting Married in Israel In 1947, Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, reached a political agreement with the religious parties that was entitled the Status Quo agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, personal status issues - including marriage - would continue to be under the sole jurisdiction

of Israel’s religious authorities. This law was originally instated in Palestine’s Ottoman Period (1516-1917) and remained unaltered during the British Mandate. Ben Gurion wrote the agreement in an attempt to enlist the support of the Orthodox parties for the United Nations’ partition plan and the creation of Israel. These parties had expressed concern over the secular nature of the emerging Zionist state. Since 1947, Israel’s population has gone through many dramatic changes. Demographically speaking, the population of the state has increased tenfold, with much of the growth a direct result of mass immigration from Europe and North Africa. In the 1990s, one million new immigrants from Russia and 56,000 Ethiopians joined Israel’s six million citizens. The shift is also evident in the state’s value system. Today, 71% of Israeli citizens define themselves as non-religious. A growing group among the

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬


Illustrations - photo montage: Sari Dayan

* There is no fish without bones, like there is no love without trouble Jewish population define themselves as ‘traditional’, what they call masorti (with a small m) or Reform. The political system in Israel allows minority Orthodox religious parties to retain huge political power and thus, in spite of these changes, the law regarding marriage is kept as it was laid down in 1947, with no modifications whatsoever. It reads as follows: “Matters pertaining to marriage and divorce of Jews in Israel,

[whether they are] citizens or residents, will be under the sole jurisdiction of the Rabbinical Bet Din” … “Jews’ marriage and divorce will be performed in Israel according to the laws of the Torah.” For the Jewish community in Israel, the sole religious authority authorised to perform wedding and divorce ceremonies is the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. For other recognized religions (Christianity, Islam, Druze) there are parallel authorities who


My Beloved My Friend

* Love is a divine feeling, that’s why you only need one in a million are the sole authorities permitted to

purposes of marriage is made according

perform wedding and divorce ceremonies

to a strict, Orthodox interpretation of

for their communities.

Jewish law. According to these rules, for

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is controlled

example, a Cohen cannot wed a divorcee or

exclusively by the Orthodox, dominated

a convert. Similarly, a Jew who converted

almost exclusively by the ultra-Orthodox in

under the auspices of the Masorti or

fact, with only a small number of modern-

Reform movements either in Israel or in

Orthodox employees.

the diaspora cannot be wed in a Jewish

The decision as to who is Jewish for the

ceremony in Israel.

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬

“Today, 71% of Israeli citizens define themselves as nonreligious.”


This matter is further complicated when one of the sides wishing to get married is not considered one hundred percent ‘kosher.’ There are literally hundreds of thousands of Israelis who fall into this category and the mountain of personal stories affected by this rule grows yearly: one member of the couple

Because in Israel only same-religion

is an FSU immigrant whose parents have no

couples can be wed, a Jew who has

documents (the Communist authorities did

converted through Masorti or Reform - and

not permit religious marriages); a female

whose conversion is thus not recognized

conver t - who conver ted through the

by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel

Orthodox authorities - and a man who has

- cannot get married within the borders of

no proof that he is not a Cohen; inter-faith

the State.

marriages; single-sex marriages and, of

Many other Israeli Jews, regardless of

course, 300,000 FSU immigrants who are

the fact that both they and their parents

considered Jewish according to the Law

are Jews by birth and upstanding citizens

of Return (in other words, they receive

of the state, find themselves battling with

automatic citizenship in Israel, will pay

the Rabbinate in order to marry. They are

taxes and may be drafted into the army)

required to produce certificates verifying

but are not considered Jewish according to

that they are both Jewish and single. In

halachah. Since it is clear that they do not belong to any other faith, they are defined by the Israeli Rabbinate as being without a religion even if that isn’t how they selfidentify. As such, the Rabbinate gives them the status of ’unsuitable for marriage’. In other words, they are unsuitable for marriage of any kind within the borders of the State of Israel. Add to these categories the thousands of people in Israel who have no interest whatsoever in undergoing the Rabbinate’s marriage process because they consider themselves secular, because the Orthodox wedding ceremony does not reflect their own religious world view, or because they simply don’t connect to the ceremony which they believe to be archaic and unegalitarian. There are also those who oppose

addition, they must bring two witnesses apiece (men only, of course) who can testify to their unmarried status. In order to prove their Jewishness, they must bring their parents’ ketuba, their parents’ birth certificates and other forms of evidence. Frequently, the parents are also brought in to verify information. The couple have to receive “guidance” on how to lead an “appropriate” married life; in other words, how to establish an Orthodox Jewish home. This includes a view of women’s status in society which differs wildly from most Israelis’ values. In addition, the woman is expected to immerse herself in a mikveh in the presence of a female attendant. Many women find this process very invasive.


My Beloved My Friend

Israeli Rabbinate marriage because of their awareness of the institution’s unjustified in their opinion - political influence. These citizens are unwilling to cooperate with the Rabbinate, since cooperation would only increase the Rabbinate’s power.

The Path of NonRabbinate Marriage

“Today, more than 10% of Israelis getting married choose a civil ceremony abroad and that number is steadily rising.”

Following public protest, the Israeli government understood that it could not

relatively high socio-economic bracket

remain apathetic to the thousands of people

can finance a trip of this nature in order to

stripped of their rights by the Rabbinate.

realise their right to get married.

However, due to power ful Or thodox

The status of children of civil marriages

opposition, they could not overturn the

is also a sensitive issue. According to Israeli

Status Quo agreement. As such, they found

law, children of a woman who the Rabbinate

a way to circumvent the law: the State of

recognizes as halachically Jewish can

Israel would accept any civil marriage

marry through the Rabbinate regardless

carried out outside the borders of the

of how their parents got married. That

country. These people could then register

said, the Rabbinate does not recognize non-

as married with the Interior Ministry, even if

Orthodox conversions whether they were

they weren’t registered with the Rabbinate,

undertaken in Israel or in the Diaspora,

and thus receive the same rights and be

and as such the children of Masorti or

subject to the same obligations as any other

Reform conversions would not be allowed

married citizen.

to marry, even though they are eligible for

In the last two years, in the wake of a

Israeli citizenship.

high court ruling, the State of Israel has

In parallel to those who choose to get

also begun to register same-sex couples

married outside of the jurisdiction of

who have wedded abroad. Today, more than

the Rabbinate, there is also a steadily

10% of Israelis getting married choose a

increasing number of people who choose

civil ceremony abroad — and that number

common-law marriage (in Hebrew, yeduim

is steadily rising. Some of these people get

b’tzibur or ‘known in public’, a halachic term used to describe a couple known to be living together who are not married). These couples choose not to tie their relationship down within the institution of marriage. The organization “Mishpacha Hadasha” w w w.new family.org.il, established in

married in an alternative ceremony in Israel, with non-Orthodox rabbis, or in a completely secular ceremony and then go on to travel abroad in order to carry out a civil marriage. Obviously, this is only a very partial solution to the situation in Israel; only those in a

‫זה דודי וזה רעי‬


* The are many faces to love but your face is my love. 1998, advocates for equal recognition of

will cause the phenomenon of progressive

all couples who choose not to get married

weddings to expand.

through the Rabbinate, by means of a certificate of common-law marriage.

The more that aspiring voices are heard and organizations for change gain

And what does the future hold for us?

strength, the faster we will see change

It is widely recognized that as long as the

happen. Campaigning by pluralistic Jewish

electoral system and the structure of

communities in the diaspora will also speed

Israel’s government remain unchanged,

up the process.

the Rabbinate will continue to hold on to its

“I will not quieten, for my country has

strength. Against this fact, it is predicted

changed its face” states the song “Ein Li

that the distance between the public and

Eretz Acheret “(I Have No Other Land). We

the Orthodox institution of marriage will

continue to pray and work for the necessary

grow in such a way that the public will vote

change that will enable each and every

with their feet, continually wearing down

citizen of the State of Israel to realize

the strength of the Israeli Rabbinate and the

their right to marry according to their own

wider institution of marriage. This in turn


Warm, welcoming communities Noam - Masorti Youth and Marom - Young Adults

Lishma - Jewish Study Centres for open-minded Jewish learning Jewish Community Organising - powerful leadership training The European Masorti Bet Din - a compassionate approach to conversion, divorce and kashrut To get involved or for more information, please get in touch with us at www.masorti.org.uk, enquiries@masorti.org.uk or 020 8349 6650. Masorti Judaism in the UK


ISBN 978-0-9518002-9-4

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A collection of essays and reflections on key aspects of relationships by Masorti writers.


A collection of essays and reflections on key aspects of relationships by Masorti writers.

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