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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

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. 

Categories
Books lifelong learning

An Introduction to the Sacred Path of Reform Judaism

The beginning of 2019 has to shoulder much of the heavy heritage of 2018. Growing international and national political conflicts question our former assumptions about the local, religious, national, and international communities we live in­—and their future. The shooting in Pittsburgh is far from forgotten, it’s implications for our identities as American Jews and our sense of the country we live in and love are still unfolding.

This is a time, then, when we can only gain from the thoughtful learning and questioning of our own roots. What are the histories and values we, as Jews in America, have inherited from our forefathers and mothers in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa? How have the political ideas of European Reform Judaism impacted our contemporary ways to live as Reform Jews and Americans? How much of these histories, values, and ideals can nourish as in the current moment; what even may Reform Jewish spirituality be? And, and maybe this is most important, what are we to learn from the current moment? Are we heading into a time of increased fear? Are we singing toward a new sense of spiritual wholeness? Are we re-attuning our moral senses to an evolving Torah of social justice?

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh (BT Sanhedrin 27b) … We like to translate this sentence as “All of Israel is morally responsible for each other.” Originally, of course, that meant that every Jew was responsible for the halachic lives of other Jews —in front of God—a statement in radical contradiction to our sense and need of autonomy and privacy. Today and in the context of our theology, we can translate this sentence as “All Jews are responsible for the moral and spiritual well-being and conduct of the members of their various communities.”

In line with this sense of the sentence, the CCAR has created a curriculum for our time. This curriculum invites you into the conversation on who we, as Reform Jews, have historically been, who we are right now, and who we might be in the future. It provides opportunities for learning, personal reflection and assessment, and, so we hope, it also provides opportunities to explore Reform Judaism as an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual resource for the future. We want our movement to be a community of members who are invested in each other’s lives, who share a religious vocabulary and conversation, and who envision and build together a brave, informed, and caring future.

Happy New Year!

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz serves as Editor of the CCAR Press. 

CCAR Press has created a FREE, Movement-wide curriculum on the topic of Reform Judaism in honor of the 130th anniversary of the CCAR and the 200th birthday of Isaac M. Wise. We offer a 3-5 session curriculum, entitled A Life of Meaning: An Introduction To The Sacred Path Of Reform Judaism, An Adult Education Curriculum. This curriculum is anchored in our book A Life of Meaning: Embracing Reform Judaism’s Sacred Path, as well as documents like our Responsa and resolutions.  Please click here to learn more about the curriculum.

Categories
High Holy Days News

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

I am honored and excited to be the new editor at the CCAR Press. Under the leadership of Rabbi Hara Person, I will be listening to your ideas, reading what your write, and working with you to create books, apps, and online learning opportunities!

Think about me as your editor, liturgist, and teacher.

As I did for the last six years, I will spend the upcoming High Holidays at a JCC in Chevy Chase-Bethesda, Maryland, where I work as a cantorial soloist. Each year, I deliver the sermon on Erev Rosh haShanah. This is a snippet of the (oh, too many words) I am going to share on that Bimah:

 

I, personally, try to laugh that laughter more often these days. It’s a laughter that is forgiving towards myself, towards the human beings around me, and towards this entire mess of our chaotic world. I try to internalize that all we have is a little Torah (a book written after all,  on the skin of a dead cow) in order to help us figure out together the nature of this mystical creation, and write together the Torah of our lives, Torat Hayim, the Torah of Life, a living Torah.

In other moments, I, like so many others, grow impatient, and then I write poems (S. Pilz (2018): Creation. Unpublished.) like this one:

Creation: Fed up with Tohu

What if in the beginning
Something did get consumed?
With black coal a universe got written
Dancing, twisting, whimpering, crawling,
What if in the beginning,
Something was broken.

You and I, we shine together.

What if we were to learn
How to calmly tame our fire?
Will we then crush gently,
And rise,
With a kiss?

 

Most of our time on earth, it seems to me, gets spent trying to figure out how to live this life right here and now. We are getting used to ourselves and to others. We build relationships, co-creating our own entire little universes. This way, all of us re-create and change the world in every single second. This, now, is a moment when the world gets re-created by us. And now. At every single moment of our lives.

And in these moments, as all of us are sitting here together, creating a universe of prayer, Torah, singing, learning, the order of prayer, reflection, and beauty, I want to share yet another poem with you, a second poem by the American writer Mary Oliver (M. Oliver (1992): New and Selected Poems, from “The Summer Day”, p. 94.) who wrote the poem with which I opened my sermon:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz earned a doctorate from the department of Rabbinic Literature at Potsdam University, Germany; she holds Rabbinic Ordination from Abraham Geiger College, Germany. Prior to joining the CCAR Press as editor, Sonja taught Jewish liturgy, worship, and ritual at HUC-JIR, NY; the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University; and in many congregational settings. She served as a visiting rabbi and cantorial soloist in congregations in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, and the US.