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A Wedding, Both Personal and Historic     

This past weekend I had the privilege of officiating at a wedding of two sweet men in Philadelphia. They are members of Congregation B’nai Olam, the congregation in Fire Island Pines where I have served for the last seventeen years as the high holy day rabbi.

I have officiated at many weddings since becoming a rabbi, some straight and many gay. Some have been legal, though a good number of the gay weddings I officiated at before 2011 were not. They have all been special and beautiful in their own ways. Some have been particularly special, like when I officiated at weddings of close friends and relatives. But this wedding was its own kind of special.

First the personal. Of course, every wedding is personal. This lovely couple was together for forty-two years and fifty-one weeks before becoming legally married. That is mind-boggling – both the capacity to stay together through thick and thin, and despite the lack official sanction, and also the fact that they can now legally get married. What a blessing that was, to be able to stand together under the chuppah, supported by their family members, including the 95 year old mother of one of them. As they said to me, they never in their wildest dreams imagined that this day would come.

And that’s where it becomes historic. As soon as gay marriage became legal last year in Pennsylvania, they set a date and called me. The time had come. And so almost exactly a year to the date that gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, they got married. What a blessing this was too, that their own state would recognize their marriage. The date of this past weekend becomes even more dramatic when you realize that this wedding was also three days before the Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments that will hopefully lead to gay marriage becoming the law of the land.

There was another level of history as well, one which was perhaps only significant to me as the rabbi, but important nevertheless. This wedding was also the first one I officiated at using L’chol Zman v’Eit: The CCAR Life Cycle Guide commonly known informally as the “rabbi’s manual”. Having worked with Rabbi Don Goor, editor of the guide, for several years on this project, I was very excited to finally get to use it.


As Don and I worked on the guide, one of the guiding principles of our work was that a wedding was a wedding, no matter the gender of the couple. This was a natural outgrowth of the historic stances CCAR has long taken in support of LGBTQ issues in general, and gay marriage in particular. We wanted to create liturgy that was beautiful and fit the unique moment, with enough options to meet the needs of different kinds of couples. We wanted to break down the wall between a “normative” wedding and “non-normative” wedding. In planning the ceremony with this couple, I was pleased to see how well the material in the guide worked, and how easy it was to customize it for them. The fact that all the material I needed to meet their needs was there in the guide also sent an important message, that the CCAR and its rabbis fully accept and support marriage equality. This too is a blessing.

Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov!

Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press at the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Books News Rabbis Reform Judaism

L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The Time Has Come For A New Life-Cycle Guide

When I was ordained in 1987, Rabbi Alexander Schindler presented each of us with a Rabbi’s Manual. Over the years the binding of my manual split as I added favorite poems and creative pieces of liturgy.  Since the publication of THE RABBI’S MANUAL – MAAGLEI ZEDEK much had changed in the Jewish community and in the lives of individual Jews. So in 2010, a terrific group of colleagues came together to create a new rabbi’s manual which would allow for more creativity on the part of each rabbi.

With the following words we first articulated our mission:

Our shared work together is the creation of a new CCAR rabbi’s manual that will help Reform Rabbis develop and enhance meaningful ritual moments in the lives of those we serve.  This new manual, in both book form and as an on-line resource, will provide CCAR members with a collection of liturgy for essential life cycle moments, as well as new, creative liturgy for less traditional rituals, reflecting our time and the diverse community we serve.  While welcoming innovation the liturgy should maintain a strong tie to our tradition.  Our work will be to cull the best of existing liturgical material while updating and adding new material where necessary. 

Our work was guided by Rav Kook’s text:  הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש – The old will be made new and the new will be made holy.

Kavanah for Birth Chapter
Kavanah for Birth Chapter

As rabbis we know that Jewish rituals are continually being renewed and developed as we, members of the Jewish community, realize there are moments in our lives that need to be sacralized.

We also invited a group of cantors from the ACC, led by Cantor Michael Shochet, to work with us so that this new publication would become one that both members of the CCAR and of the ACC could use for life cycle and other sacred moments.

We are blessed that the rabbis of our tradition have bequeathed to us practices that continue to have the power to touch our lives.  Often these rituals succeed as they have for generations. However, often they have become routine and we must envision these practices anew in order for them to remain relevant in our world.

We also recognize that our personal and communal lives are not fully reflected in the rituals of our tradition.  There are holy moments that have not been recognized by our tradition.  Rather than merely relying upon the rituals of our past, our goal was to be open to the creation of new rites and ceremonies that reflect our lives and our world.

This new Life-Cycle Guide is designed to allow the officiant to create a meaningful ritual that follows the outline of the tradition while inviting flexibility and creativity.

Here are some of the features you will discover when you open your copy of L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide:

  • From the start we realized our charge was to create more than a manual.  We are not plumbers or electricians who utilize a manual to install new pipes or refrigerators.  Rather than using the familiar term “rabbi’s manual,” we have entitled our book L’chol Z’man v’Eit – The CCAR Life-Cycle Guide.
  • L’chol Z’man v’Eit does not present complete life-cycle services for our central ritual moments. Instead it enables the officiant to choose from among options for each stage of the ritual.
  • The opening of each chapter features a List of Sections that reflects the structure of the prototypical ritual. Within that structure you will find multiple options. Many are included within the printed volume, with additional options available online. These different choices reflect a variety of messages, theologies, and styles, as well as .gender variations.
  • The loose-leaf format allows the officiant to select the pieces for a given life-cycle event or ritual, and then to order them within the binder according to your needs.
  • The online version offers additional choices that can be downloaded, printed, and added to your binder as needed, or used on a portable electronic device.
  • L’chol Z’man v’Eit has a much greater emphasis on healing, recognizing the role of the clergy in helping congregants dealing with a wide range of issues.
  • Throughout the volume there is material that deals with the realities of contemporary life, ie natural disasters, stages of aging, being in or having loved ones in the military, and even a ritual of changing name upon changing gender identity.
  • A section on Community includes different kinds of blessings for moments in communal life, such as the installation of a new Executive Director, or honoring donors.
  • At the front of each chapter in the on-line version there is a kavanah for the rabbi’s personal use. It is our hope that these kavanot will help up prepare ourselves for the life-cycle event or ritual that we will be leading, thus enhancing our experience as an officiant.

One major innovation of this book, in addition to what is listed above, is the approach we have taken in the wedding section. There is now no differentiation between same sex and opposite sex marriage. A variety of options are presented from which the rabbi may choose based on the needs and wishes of the couple.  This decision was based upon the idea that Reform Judaism recognizes every wedding to be sacred.

הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש – The old will be made new and the new will be made holy. My prayer for each of us:   May לכל עת connect us deeply with that which is meaningful from our tradition.  May it also open to us new horizons through rituals that reflect our time.  And may we, through this volume, be blessed to bring holiness to the lives of those whom we serve.

Order your copy of L’chol Z’man v’Eit now, either the print book or the PDF, or both.