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Tweaking Tradition

Tweaking Tradition

Most Jewish worship and practice is the same for gay and lesbian Jews as it is for any other. But there are places where the needs of gays and lesbians are not addressed by the tradition, and so rituals and liturgies are invented.
New Rituals
While "coming out" for most gays and lesbians is a process rather than a discrete point in time, some mark the transition with a ritual. According to Rabbi Ayelet Cohen of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the rituals may involve immersion in the ritual bath known as mikveh, or a private ceremony, conducted with friends, around Havdalah, which separates Shabbat holiness from the rest of the week.
Others adapt the tradition of changing their Jewish name if facing a life-threatening illness, and change theirs if they are coming out of being closeted or some similarly difficult time, said Rabbi Cohen. The person will be called up to the Torah by their new Jewish name on Shabbat morning, she said.
Prayers of Worship
Even when a worship service is overwhelmingly the same as one would find in any other synagogue, language requires tweaking, said Rabbi Cohen.
"There are not a lot of reflections of same-sex love in biblical love poetry, for example. Some of the images in our siddur, like ‘Lecha Dodi,’ speak of the groom and bride rejoicing," she said. "That reflects one kind of loving relationship. I personally change the words to ‘as the heart rejoices in love,’ which fits in the syllables and uses the same image of lovers rejoicing but doesn’t limit to one love relationship."
Rabbi Cohen also penned a gay pride "Al HaNissim" piece that celebrates the freedom of gay and lesbian Jews, and mirrors the traditional liturgy thanking God for miracles of redemption, which is generally sung on Chanukah and Purim.
A growing number of "regular" synagogues (not those catering to homosexuals) are using it on Gay Pride Shabbat in June, she noted.
In most cases, slight language changes are made to alter conventional prayers and blessings.
For instance, in religious rituals a person is identified by his or her Jewish name: traditionally, the person’s first name, and then "daughter of" or "son of" the father or father and mother. For someone with two mothers or two fathers, that is changed.
For the brit milah of a boy with two mothers, mohel Cantor Phil Sherman suggests that they name a man (an uncle or good friend) to be the baby’s "hamegadlo," someone who will be involved in raising him when a male presence is desired. Adding this man’s name to the mother’s is done in the most traditional ceremonies when the biological father has died or is unknown, said Sherman. If the mothers desire, the mohel will include just their names, in English and in Hebrew.

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