All rights reserved © 2017​ Susan Shamash  l  Vancouver, BC

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Malchuyot or Why I Perform Interfaith Lifecycle Events: A Torah Vort for Rosh Hashanah 5780

October 2, 2019

In her “Crash Talk”, Rabbi Benay Lappe, the groundbreaking talmud teacher Or Shalom brought to study with us a year and a half ago, teaches that the Judaism of 100 years from now will be unrecognizable to us.  Judaism is a living tradition that continually evolves and changes in response to time and place.  We are co-creators in that process.


I can’t identify the exact moment I decided to devote my rabbinate to performing interfaith lifecycle events.  The amount of learning and studying I did during rabbinic school opened a world to me of new perspectives on old questions, of changes that had occurred over time, and the efforts to resist them, of the development, creation and re-creation of our tradition.  I am part of a long tradition of challenging the status quo.  


I saw a serious gap in rabbinic services in Metropolitan Vancouver.  While synagogues say that they are open and welcoming to interfaith families, not one will permit their clergy to perform lifecycle events for interfaith families.  This, despite the fact that Metropolitan Vancouver has the highest per capita number of interfaith families in Canada.  Or Shalom has moved to offer blessings to interfaith couples both in aliyot to the Torah before weddings and at interfaith weddings, and at burials and funerals for non-Jewish partners.


Rabbi Benay enjoins us to see that our tradition has historically accepted, embraced, took what still worked, mixed the old with the new, and created a new tradition.  This flexibility and nimbleness is a hallmark and our strength.  To do that, we need to have, like the rabbinic sages, gamirna/learning and savirna/moral intuition.  So I took my learning and my moral intuition and saw my Torah.  I believe in widening our Jewish tent to embrace the social transformations that we are currently undergoing.
In the past year or so I have married ten couples, performed two baby covenanting ceremonies, and two funerals.  That’s a lot of lifecycle events.  Clearly there is a need.  I co-officiated with clergy of other religions at two of the weddings; another wedding featured a trilingual ketubah and an oriental ceremony of blessing.  

 

I always ask “my” couples why they want a Jewish wedding.  The answers are variations of “because I want to stand where my parents and grandparents stood when they got married, I want to say the same words and carry on their tradition.  I want to have a Jewish home and raise Jewish children.  For two of the weddings I will perform in the near future, the brides want to go to the mikveh because that’s what Jewish brides do.

 

If someone truly wants to embrace their Judaism at this significant moment in their lives, my philosophy and my theology is to just say yes.  I know that there is a lot of fear about assimilation, about the dilution of the Jewish people to the point where we won’t know who is Jewish anymore.  There is the Halakhah, and I freely admit that what I am doing isn’t (currently) accepted as halachically valid in the Orthodox, Conservative and Canadian Reform Jewish worlds.  But the Judaism of 100 years from now will be unrecognizable to us today and I believe that what I am doing is part of the co-creation of that unknown future of the Jewish people.


So what does this have to do with Malchuyot?  Rosh Hashanah is the coronation of the Infinite One.  Melech, malchut, malchuyot.  Malchut is another name for the Shekhinah, the Holy Presence, the feminine aspect of God that is closest to us here on earth.  On Rosh Hashanah, we set an intention to rebuild malchut, the world we live in.


An adapted teaching from Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank z”l:  According to Jewish mysticism of the festivals, during these "High" Holy Days the Malchut" level of all the universes is being rebuilt within.  To provide a better vessel in which to receive our inflow of Divine Light.  Therefore it becomes a better designed environment in which to perform our mitzvot, our holy work.  In so doing we also become better vessels for the Divine Will.  When saying "melech" in our prayers we are offering conscious support to the rebuilding of the universes; both inner and outer.  This is the Divine redesigning that is taking place during these days.  It is grounded and real.  I believe that, by performing interfaith lifecycle events, I am helping to create a better environment to receive the Shefa, the Divine Flow, God’s majesty.  I am doing holy work.

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