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inclusivity LGBT Prayer Reform Judaism shabbat

The Updated Gender Language of CCAR Shabbat Table Cards Makes Room at the Table for Everyone

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz explains why the modernized gender language of the CCAR Shabbat table cards ensures everyone has a seat at the table.

In 2018, my first year as the editor of CCAR Press, we published an innocent looking, laminated table card for Friday nights. Thanks to Rabbi Dan Medwin, the card was almost finished when I joined the project, except for the pictures, the folding (if you do not understand how to fold and unfold it, follow the page numbers!) and two pieces: Praise for a Partner and Praise for a Child. Those two little pieces became the first two pieces I wrote for the CCAR and, in a way, for you. While writing those pieces, I made two decisions: I replaced the traditional praise for a Woman of Valor with the Praise for a Partner; and I merged two separate blessings for sons and daughters into one blessing, In Praise of a Child, including both the traditional male and female role models. 

Creating the cards marked the beginning of my work as editor of CCAR Press, but their publication was embedded in a conversation that began a long time before I sat down at my desk. For years, the CCAR has been engaged is conversation around gender in the rabbinate and in Reform Judaism, as seen in the use of “mi beit” in Mishkan T’filah, creative gendering of wedding blessings in Beyond Breaking the Glass and in L’chol Z’man V’eit, new Reform life-cycle certificates with gender-free options, etc. Since 2017, the CCAR Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate has addressed the reality of life in the rabbinate as experienced by women rabbis, and in 2018, the CCAR updated the guidelines for all submissions to CCAR Press to include non-binary language both for ourselves and for God.

This year, with the upcoming publication of Mishkan Ga’avah: Where Pride Dwells, edited by Rabbi Denise L. Eger, the CCAR is continuing to open its sanctuaries not only in acceptance, but also in celebration and gratitude, for the many LGBTQ voices, both of congregants and rabbis, that have made our Movement into what it is today. These voices will continue to guide us toward a deeply inclusive and holistic experience of our community and all of God’s aspects. At the end of the year, we are expecting the publication of Supplements 2020 to L’chol Z’man V’eit: For Sacred Moments/The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide (or, as you might also call it, “The Rabbi’s Manual”), which includes individual prayers and complete rituals mindful of the different identities and life choices we embody together. 

Jewish expectations are high and overarching, and they get reiterated again and again: in the words of the traditional Woman of Valor; in the Blessing for Children on Friday Nights; and in the form of Torah, Chuppah, and G’milut Chassadim at central moments of our lives. These liturgical texts make up a powerful framework to be measured against: to be smart, to be successful, to be learned; to be happily married, to have kids, to be a caring and supportive member of your family; to be a generous, active, and righteous part of both the Jewish and global community. Our expectations are high and their height is stressful. 

There are many different kinds of feminism. Some feminists focus on the protection, enhanced visibility, and full empowerment of cis-women. Others are engaged in questioning those very categories. For yet others, a feminist reading of society might lead to radical changes in their theology, politics, identity, and occupation. Some feminists make space for non-binary language; others speak and write about the pain high societal expectations so often cause for everyone.

The CCAR table cards do not lower expectations drastically: The partner described still fully embodies our Jewish values of ethics, productivity, wisdom, generosity, and care. Built out of traditional phrases that can easily be sung to traditional tunes, the Praise for a Partner still describes an ideal partner, and the gender-inclusive Blessing for Children is neither non-binary nor does it provide less-than-idealistic role models to the youngest of our family members.

It is all the more important, then, that we hold in our thoughts some guiding principles while our lips speak these renderings of traditional liturgy:

  • In the words of liturgist Marcia Falk: We bless our children for who they are right now—and for who they will become (Marcia Lee Falk, The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, The Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (New York: CCAR Press, 2017), p. 124–125). 
  • We bless our partners for all they are to us—and all they will become. 
  • It is our full acceptance and love for all this is that make Shabbat into a piece of the world-to-come (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 57b)—our knowledge that whoever we are right now might not be perfect, but it is good (enough) for this very moment.
  • Finding the balance between our acceptance and love of ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit and our openness and readiness to change is part of our often winding journeys: as adults, children, partners, parents, siblings, colleagues, bosses, and assistants.  

Because what we want, ultimately, is to create spaces that are filled with Shabbat, food, and blessings—for everyone present. For absolutely everyone. 

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