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Simon Rocker

October 22, 2014

The British Masorti movement has followed the Liberals and Reform by taking a historic decision to allow its rabbis to conduct same-sex marriages.

Gay and lesbian couples will now be able to marry in Masorti synagogues in a move approved without opposition by the movement’s trustees last night.

Senior Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, who heads its largest synagogue, the New North London, said: “This is an important step forward. As a movement, we will continue to strive to be inclusive and to honour the dignity of all people, within the framework of Jewish law.”

Same-sex couples will be able to have a shutafut – partnership – ceremony, which technically distinguishes it from kiddushin, the traditional Jewish marriage ritual.But the ceremony will enable them to register as either married or as civil partners in English law.

Each of Masorti’s 12 communities will be free to decide whether to conduct the new ceremonies, although no community has objected to the innovation.

Masorti Judaism chief executive Matt Plen said that he was "proud to be part of a movement which considers this kind of important issue slowly and carefully, while taking into account the views of all its members and which demonstrates by its actions that traditional religious commitment can be combined with deeply-held modern values.”

The decision will put further distance between Masorti and Orthodoxy, which firmly rejects homosexual unions. Same-sex marriages were first legalised in Britain in March, although gay and lesbian couples had for a number of years been able to have commitment ceremonies which both the Reform and Liberals supported.

Masorti, which has always eschewed the “Progressive” label, is allied to the Conservative and Masorti movements in the USA and Israel. The American Conservatives have conducted same-marriages since 2012, while some Israeli Masorti rabbis also perform them, although they do not have the status of marriage in Israeli law.

The name shutafut – also known as a brit ahuvim or ahuvot, covenant of lovers – rather than kiddushin was chosen to show that the ceremony is an innovation in Judaism rather than something which is part of the normal halachic tradition derived from the Talmud.

Most Masorti communities run egalitarian services, although the NNLS and New London Synagogue both have traditional minyans, where men and women sit separately.


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