עוד ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה קול חתן וקול כלה
May there be heard again in the cities of Judaea and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.
I have to admit that Jewish marriage announcements make me wince. This language is an ultimately inconsequential barb that says, “you’re different.” It’s poetry and it’s tradition, and it shouldn’t go away, but it’s one of those little elements of this religion that I want the people I am praying, eating, and learning with to recognize as problematic even while accepting its durability.
This line comes from the sheva brachot, the seven wedding blessings recited for the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony itself and, in traditional circles, for the week after the wedding.
The idea behind this language, that the voice of brides and grooms is the epitome of the sound of joy and gladness, isn’t a problem for gay positivity.
Gay Jewish weddings are happening; my dream is that, like straight weddings, we someday have a standardized formula for what they look like. This 3000 year old tradition draws a lot of power from the uniformity of the words that are said by Jews all over the world. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t want “קול חתן וקול כלה” to bother me. Right now, everyone writes their own gay Jewish wedding ceremony.
I was at a tisch five weeks ago where there was a lot of talk about weddings. We were more broadly talking about joy and community, and so the talk of weddings, the joyous occasion par excellence, made sense. We were sitting on the floor in someone’s living room, going around the circle speaking divrei Torah and choosing songs to sing. Multiple times, people chose wedding songs, telling about the times that they had witnessed joyous brides and grooms. We heard about “marriage as the perfect union between a man and a woman,” men “finding their other half” in women, and the joy of a recent newlywed on his wedding day.
It wasn’t all about weddings, but for some reason that became the theme of the evening. I sat there, singing along, but feeling quite annoyed with heteronormativity. I recognized that the people speaking were not trying to exclude gays, were people who I know as allies, and yet who were unaware of how much better “the joy two people feel on their wedding day” would have sounded to me than “the joy a man and a woman feel on their wedding day.” When my turn to speak came, I passed. I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about what the proper way is to tell people who you know support you that they’re not doing enough.
I have a vested interest in making observant Judaism a better place to be gay. Because I want to live this kind of Judaism, and because the “gay” identity element is defined in relationship to other people, it’s important to me that I’m meeting other gay Jews and making those spaces that I call home better places to show off to them. But there are times I can’t escape the conclusion that I’m trying to sell a bad product.
I would have been profoundly embarrassed to have invited another gay Jew to this straight-marriage tisch. We are so far past this thoughtless heteronormativity in the secular settings in which most of us are choosing to spend our time. The people who were at this tisch, in their weekday lives, are past it as well, and it’s time to extend that open-mindedness to Shabbat.