Posted on December 5th, 2012 1 comment
At Congregation Beth Adam and OurJewishCommunity.org (our bricks-and-mortar synagogue in Cincinnati and our global online synagogue), for more than 30 years we’ve been writing new liturgy reflecting our values as modern Jews. As a community, Beth Adam’s members have invested energy and resources in publishing services that speak to a contemporary Jewish experience. Our services give voice to a Judaism that celebrates personal autonomy, values diversity, and appreciates the evolving nature of Judaism; our liturgy has been core to defining our community’s uniqueness.
Recognizing a need, a small group of Beth Adam’s members joined together to write a ketubah that would be consistent with our voice. One of our congregational values states: we value acknowledgement of each congregant’s religious and spiritual journey supported through our unique liturgy. Our goal has always been to say what we mean and mean what we say.
For a ketubah, that meant challenging ourselves to think about the nature of modern marriages and how to speak about them in a poetic and meaningful way. We sought to create a text which would give expression to Judaism’s ever-unfolding religious experience and promote humanistic values of intellectual honesty, open inquiry, and human responsibility.
Before setting out to write our own text, we learned about the past and how our ancestors approached their Judaism. Dr. Samuel Greengus from the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion came to Beth Adam and taught us about the traditional ketubah and its basic structure and legal aspects. Not surprisingly, our congregants quickly noted that the traditional text is far from romantic or egalitarian – and that it is not meaningful to most people today.
While certainly there are many options for modern ketubah texts available these days, we sought to create a ketubah that was more customizable. Recognizing that “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t make sense when each relationship is unique, we decided to use a model similar to a Chinese food menu or the Build-A-Bear ® store – completely customizable. We created a series of categories (love, marriage, home, family, and traditions) and then within each category provide multiple sentences that people can choose from for their ketubah. That means that each ketubah is a reflection of each individual couple’s sentiments and vision for their marriage. Creating the ketubah also provides a great way for engaged couples to reflect upon their relationship and to envision their hopes for the future.
Of course, we also recognize the diversity of families – and it goes without saying that we created a document that works for every kind of partnership, whether straight or gay, interfaith or Jewish-Jewish. We also provided options for couples who already have children and want to acknowledge and celebrate the blending of their families. The texts work well for first or subsequent marriages. We think our ketubot are a perfect fit for many unaffiliated Jews, Reform Jews, secular Jews, humanistic Jews, and interfaith couples looking to capture their most important feelings on their wedding days.
For example, in the section on family, interfaith couples may include this sentiment: “We hope to welcome children into our family and will raise them with kindness and patience, creating a family that reflects the best of our individual traditions.” Families with step-children may include: “We are patient and kind to each other and each other’s children.” And others may choose not to mention children in their ketubah: “We are creating a family that embodies our shared values of compassion, respect, and individual responsibility.”
Beyond personalizing the text, couples can choose from several artistic looks and can select to include a biblical phrase as a decorative element. All of the choices are made available to people at our new website.
As rabbis, it is amazing to be part of a community that has created a liturgy in which we say what we mean and mean what we say. It is exciting that from here in Cincinnati, we are helping people around the world give voice to their dreams for their future together. Our ancestors created services and documents that reflected their beliefs and the world in which they lived. We have that same opportunity and responsibility today. We are thrilled that through the Internet, we can now share these texts with those outside the walls of Beth Adam – providing others with a chance to give expression to their unique Jewish journey.