Nashville's West End Synagogue authorizes same-sex marriages

On June 3 the rabbi of Nashville's West End Synagogue, Joshua Kullock, announced that the synagogue would begin conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies within the congregation, making it the third Jewish congregation in Nashville to do so.

West End is one of the city's oldest Jewish congregations, and is the only one in Middle Tennessee representing Conservative Judaism.

The conversation about same-sex marriage within the congregation has been ongoing since the Conservative movement authorized congregations to begin performing such unions in 2006. The stunning advance of LGBT marriage rights in the last couple of years, however, made the issue more critical to address.

James Grady, managing print editor of O&AN and also a member of West End Synagogue, will actually be one of the first people affected by the congregation's decision. "As a member of the congregation, once my partner and I began to talk about marriage I urged the board and the rabbi to begin deliberating about the issue. People hear 'Conservative' Judaism and they think conservative, but that's not accurate at all. The leadership of the synagogue, including members of the older generations, were extremely supportive. But matters of Jewish law are ultimately in the hands of the rabbi."

After extended deliberation, and after inviting those opposed to gay marriage to offer their input, Kullock announced his decision, which he believes is "in agreement with both the halakhic [Jewish legal] principles of our movement and the moral imperative of k'vod habriot, human dignity...."

Judaism in America, and in Nashville, has a long history of remaining at the forefront of social movements. Nashville's own Jewish Community Center was bombed during the Civil Rights era, when it allowed members to bring African American guests.

"This decision follows the best tradition of the Jewish people," Kullock wrote, "which views the Torah [the Hebrew Bible and interpretive tradition] as a living document that allows room for new understandings, approaches and the development of new rites. As this synagogue did years ago when it became gender-egalitarian, now it is time to move forward in the inclusion of our brothers and sisters who are gay, granting them the equal opportunity to rejoice in their happiness, which is our shared happiness as well."

The synagogue will move forward with marriage ceremonies in keeping with the Conservative Jewish legal tradition, whether or not such unions become legally recognized by the state of Tennessee, depending on the outcome of the current case before the Supreme Court.

As Kullock said, "Since the State of Tennessee doesn't recognize the status of these unions, the ceremony will remain a wedding alone, with no legal effects for the couple [aside from within the tradition]. The ritual will be about the celebration of the mutual love that is shared by two Jews willing to formalize their relationship within their congregation and in front of G-d [sic], assuming the fundamental commitment of sustaining a Jewish home."

"I'm very pleased that the congregation is supporting what I view as a positive trend in history," Grady said upon hearing the news. "It's taken a while to get there, but I'm very happy to know that when new couples come to our synagogue, they won't have to wonder where we stand. They won't have to come to the leadership with their hats in their hands and wonder whether they'll be turned away. When you have to do that, you're automatically in a second-class position, but now LGBT people can come knowing they're fully included."


NOTE: On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., rabbis from local congregations will sit on a panel discussion of how same-sex marriage relates to Jewish religious texts, laws, and traditions, and how it fits into the various movements’ visions of contemporary Jewish life. The event will be held in the May Auditorium of the Gordon Jewish Community Center, and the Jewish community hopes that members of the LGBT community will join this conversation.





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