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Marriage Equality Leads Jews Back to Jewish Tradition

Cia, Elizabeth and Olivia JacobsWho would have believed that the arrival of marriage equality would return us to tradition?

But it did, when a warm-hearted lesbian married couple welcomed their baby into the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Naming a Baby

We were celebrating the Brit Bat (covenant and naming ceremony) for the beautiful baby daughter of Or Ami congregants Cia and Elizabeth Jacobs. This couple, a pair of Jewishly committed moms, were married five years ago in a ceremony led by my mentor Rabbi Jim Kaufman. Now, they were celebrating their the birth of their Jewish girl.

At first, the naming service seemed pretty straightforward: Welcoming the guests and the baby, placing the baby on Elijah’s chair, and illuminating the Brit Hanayrot (covenant of candles ceremony). We learned about Olivia Wesley’s names: Wesley was after deceased Papa Wesley. Hebrew name Netanya was chosen because, after years of fertility treatments, the moms consider her a “gift from God.” We drank wine from the same kiddush cup that they used to celebrate their wedding five years ago.

FullSizeRender-2Communal Blessing for the Baby

We teach that the most important blessings are those pronounced by those who will long be part of the baby’s life. So I invited the gathered guests to repeat part of the traditional Hebrew blessing, along with an English ine’er predation of the words:

K’shem sheh-nichnas la-vrit, kein tikaneis l’Torah, l’chuppah ul’ma’aseem tovim.

Just as this child has entered the covenant with God, so may she, with wisdom and kindness, grow up to a life of Torah and wisdom, of good deeds, and to find love worthy of God’s blessing.

When Tradition Mocks Reality

A more literal translation would encourage the parents to lead their child to the chuppah (the marriage canopy).

Yet because two men or two women were forbidden by American law to marry, many rabbis have altered have the traditional phrase. Twenty five years ago, when I was ordained, I settled on words that were at once inclusive yet honest, and which recognized that while many would find love, the law forbid some from reaching the chuppah to marry.

I asked the Holy One to help them  “find love worthy of God’s blessing.”

Chozer Ba-teshuvah: Returning to Tradition

But now, thanks to the ruling of the US Supreme Court, the law of our land embraces marriage equality. How fitting then that in naming a baby of these two married women, we could now reinsert the word marriage back into the blessing.

So we did. We returned to Jewish tradition

And then, with tears in our eyes at the multiple levels of meaning, we sang the shehecheyanu prayer! Thanking God for bringing us to this special moment. For all gathered, it was a double blessing; we celebrated the Jewish life of this child Olivia/Netanya AND we celebrated a new reality that lesbians and gay men can celebrate a marriage as Americans and as Jews.

A Blessing for Olivia

We pray:

K’shem she-nichnas … l’chuppah…

May these parents merit leading their young daughter Olivia to find love and celebrate it as she commits to her beloved in marriage under the chuppah, a marriage recognized by her state and country.

Surely that is worthy of God’s blessing!

And we say, “Amen!”


  1. Melinda Bailey-Rather says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. Cia and Elizabeth are a wonderful couple.
    I must say that I shed happy tears when they announced their pregnancy and again
    when sweet Olivia was born. Congratulations to all!

  2. June says:

    Elizabeth and Cia’s love for each other and for this cherished child is apparent to all who know them. I am honored to call these women my friends.

    Human love is a precious gift sourced from God – a reflection of His holy connection to His creations. This family of Elizabeth, Cia, and now baby Olivia/Netanya is a perfect example of His love working in and through us.

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