Rabbi Allen – Call It Marriage
What do I love about Beth Jacob? Let me count the ways!! There really are too many things to enumerate in one column, but let me just share one. On Shabbat morning, December 11, we woke up to a blinding snow storm or, as some would say, a blizzard. I got out of bed and dressed for the walk. It was brutal going, and worse on the way back. But that Shabbat morning showed Beth Jacob at its finest. True, there were “only”45 folks at shul that morning, but Shabbat was lovely and never more meaningful. It’s a story that joins others big and small in demonstrating the character of our community.
On that morning, we filled the Kahal with song as we celebrated the 15th anniversary of Esti Koen and Andy Meltzer. In the coming calendar year, we will celebrate another 15th anniversary as well. I officiated at both ceremonies and cannot help noting how much has changed in our community during the intervening years. Fifteen years ago, one ceremony was called marriage, but the other was called “Simhat Shutafim Ahuvim—the joy of loving partnership.” Both couples wanted to affirm the same thing—that the bond between two people was a sacred bond uniting their hopes and dreams. Both couples wanted to have their individual unions understood as a sacred bond between the two partners. Both couples desired to see our community affirm the sacred nature of their love and celebrate with them in meaningful ways. But the ceremonies were different. I had suggested to the two women that, perhaps even in our own shul, the community was not yet ready to call their relationship a marriage. At the same time, I believed that if we viewed this couple as we do any other married couple, the day would arrive when“b’chol daot—in all opinions,” their relationship would be viewed no differently than any other marriage. When that happened, the wonderful aphorism of Blu Greenberg would ring true—“where there is a will, there is a halachic way.” We have arrived at that moment.
Our shul is a diverse congregation, reflecting the greater diversity of the Jewish community at large. We work hard to demonstrate that affirmation and inclusivity are indeed Jewish values. We work hard to understand that Jewish law provides the contours of our decision making. Our new lifecycle guide, which will become part of the spiritual life of our shul, is now available on our website. In it, you will read that, even absent state recognition, I will officiate at the wedding of two Jewish people who are otherwise permitted to enter into a sacred union. By the way, how ironic was it that in meeting with several same-gender couples, they eschewed the words marriage and wedding? But at the end of the day, what else do you call two people who might be figuring out how to pay for the common roof over their head, who may be figuring out which partner picks up the kids from day care, and which partner cooks and which one cleans, and who fixes the garage door? And what do you call it when at the end of the day the last person you say goodnight to and the first person you wake up and say I love you to is your partner? I think you call it marriage.
There are many issues that I would love to discuss with any of you who might be interested in knowing how this decision was reached. But let me say, that the inspiration for this comes from a 14th century Spanish rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Almoli. In the preface to his work Megillat Esther, he taught “It is plausible that the knowledge and understanding of the latter generations should exceed that of the former ones for two reasons. First it is possible for a later sage to have intently studied a particular interpretation penetrating it with all of his intellect and energy that he has comprehended it better than his predecessors did. Second, we today, even studying with less intensity, comprehend much more in less time than did the ancients in considerably more time. This is because in their days many bodies of wisdom were unknown or incomplete, and they had to derive them themselves with enormous effort. But we have everything spread out before us like a fully set table, all of our predecessors words and demonstrations are well organized and are there to enlighten us.”
There are many reasons why I love this shul—but not the least of which is that it remains the best example of a living, vital Jewish community that takes itself seriously enough to challenge the truths which we have been given and the beliefs which we hold. And then again, where else but Beth Jacob can you daven with a kehilla during the fifth worst blizzard in Minnesota history? Let us make the coming secular year a good one for the Jews, the Jewish people and Judaism.
Rabbi Morris Allen