Two Orthodox men were married by an Orthodox rabbi at what might be the first Orthodox gay wedding.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg, who has been an advocate for gays in the Orthodox community, married Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan last week before 200 guests at Washington, D.C.’s, 6th and I Historic Synagogue. The couple has been together since 2005 and agreed to marry in 2008, but waited until same-sex marriage became legal in the District of Columbia in March 2010 before planning a wedding.
Greenberg told the Jewish Journal that the ceremony he crafted is not technically kiddushin – the halachic, or Jewish legal, term for marriage. Rather, it is a legal partnership in which Bock and Kaplan each made a neder, a legal oath, to consecrate themselves to one another in body and soul. They entered into that partnership under a chuppah, but the ceremony did not include the phrase “k’daat Moshe v’Yisrael,” according to the laws of Moses and Israel, which is at the heart of the ring exchange in a heterosexual ceremony.
Greenberg says he recognizes that halachic kiddushin is structured around financial and sexual obligations and prohibitions particular to a man and woman.
“I did not do kiddushin, I did an amalgam of things that worked halachically much better. Kiddushin doesn’t work for this – it has not legs to stand on,” said Greenberg, who was ordained at Yeshiva University in 1983, and came out as gay publicly in 1999.
The wedding was originally reported in +972, an Israeli and American Jewish news website. Roee Ruttenberg wrote in +972:
Greenberg assisted Bock and Kaplan in creating a ceremonial text that reflected the uniqueness of the event while incorporating the traditional elements of a Jewish wedding. Those familiar with the latter would have noticed an alteration in many of the texts, including the changing of genders for several of the pronouns. “Harey at mekudeshet li,” or “Behold, you (female) are consecrated to me” thus became “Harey atah m’kudash li,” or “Behold, you (male) are consecrated to me.”
Elements of a traditional ceremony that, according to the couple and Greenberg, reflected gender inequality, were removed or substituted with more egalitarian and gay-friendly versions. The traditional “ketubah,” or “marriage contract,” in which the bride is essentially purchased by the groom, was replaced with a “Shtar Shetufim,” or “partnership contract.”
Greenberg is no stranger to controversy. He publicly admitted his sexuality following his ordination from an Orthodox rabbinical school, making him the first openly gay practicing Orthodox rabbi. While he was warmly received by many, his book, “Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” led him to be shunned by some in the Orthodox community and even by some gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews who felt his views did not align with Orthodox readings of Jewish law. His participation in Thursday’s ceremony will be viewed by some as a step that crosses a line of no return.
Greenberg is on the board of Eshel, an organization that works to build community for gays and lesbians in the Orthodox world. He is the director of Orthodox programs for Nehirim, a national organization which builds community for GLBT Jews, partners, and allies. A senior teaching fellow at CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Greenberg is the author of the groundbreaking book “Wrestling with God & Men:
Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).
Click here to read the Jewish Journal’s profile of Greenberg.