EQUAL VOWS: Same-sex Ketubot in Washington State October 4, 2012 Linda Hodges Gallery Organized and curated by David Jacobson
On October 4, 2012, the Linda Hodges Gallery in Seattle, Washington hosted a one-night showing of“Equal Vows: Same-sex Ketubot in Washington State.” Sixteen decorated marriage contracts (ketubot)were displayed, both straight and gay, attesting to the essential sameness of all loving couples.Though art exhibits of ketubot are commonplace, this marked the first time that same-sex ketubot hadever been exhibited together nationwide. It presented the story of 13 same-sex couples -- some old, someyoung, some who are Jewish, some who are inter-faith -- and of their multiple attempts to demonstratetheir commitment to one another. What united them was that they all latched onto a centuries-oldtradition which gave them the means of demonstrating their love and commitment to each other in ameaningful, beautiful and public way.
The Ketubah• he Ketubah marriage ceremony. contract. Ittraditional form,and signed by at least two the A ketubah (plural ketubot) is a Jewish wedding witnesses during a Jewish In its most is read out loud it stipulates in concrete terms husband’s obligations to his wife and is intended to protect the wife in the case of divorce or the death of her husband. It is so central to the Jewish notion of marriage that couples without a ketubah were not allowed to spend even one hour together. The tradition of the ketubah dates back at least 2,000 years. Since the ketubah was to be displayed publicly during the marriage ceremony, a tradition of decorating it evolved in many Jewish communities around the world. Though the text has remained largely the same until recent times, different decorative styles emerged in different countries. Today, thanks to the Internet, couples are able to choose from a wide variety of ketubah styles and artists. They can also customize the text, both in Hebrew and English. Many often choose to display their ketubot in a special place in the home, not only because of their beauty, but because they serve as a daily reminder of the sacred vows of marriage. Same-sex couples pose particular challenges to the tradition. First, the Hebrew text must be altered with gender-appropriate pronouns. Second, the traditional text, which focuses on the husband’s concrete responsibilities to his wife, has to be altered to reflect the equal commitment between same-gender partners. Today’s texts, particularly among Reform Jews, tend to stress mutual vows of love and commitment rather than concrete obligations. The contemporary appeal of such wording has led many same-sex couples to find the centuries-old ketubah an important vehicle to document their commitment to one another in the absence of civil marriage.
Nicola Schelley TagerKetubahAcrylic, 2008At Shayna and Allison’s Jewish wedding, “almosteverything was traditional… well, except for us.”They chose to have their ketubah designed by aco-worker, Nicola Schelley Tager, whose artdecorates every room of their house. Born inNorthern Ireland, Tager didn’t know what aketubah was at first, but agreed to take on theproject. She painted a stunning set of twin treesand birds. The couple ordered the text online,and asked Tager to affix it to a spot on the canvasshe had left blank. It’s not quite straight, which isa reminder to them that a friend made it. Theirketubah, they say, is “what makes us married,since we don’t get to have a legal marriage.”
Claire Carter“Intertwined”Giclee print, 2010Wendy and Marcia were married in 2010 by aclose friend at a lavender farm on Vashon Island.Guests arrived by school bus (Marcia is a fifth-grade teacher). The couple wrote the ceremonythemselves and stood under a chuppahsupported by poles made from driftwood. Theychose a limited edition ketubah by Claire Carterin purple and orange, their favorite colors. Theyused the same colors in the wedding, and worekippot to match. They were also inspired by theketubah’s imagery of a “threefold cord,” based ona verse in Ecclesiastes that recounts how two arestronger than one, but even stronger when God,the third strand in the cord, weaves the twotogether. “With marriage not being legal yet,”they say, the ketubah “felt like our own weddingcertificate.”
Mickie Klugman-CaspiKetubahLithograph, 2001Andrew and James were married in 2001, in thefirst Conservative Jewish gay marriage in theNorthwest and one of the first such ceremoniesin the United States. Conservative Jewry wouldnot officially allow individual rabbis to grantsame-sex marriages until 2006, but their rabbimade the brave and ethical decision to marrythem after extensive research and deliberation.Their wedding, or Brit Ahavah (covenant of love)as they refer to it, was a festive and joyousoccasion observed in traditional style with awedding contract, chuppah (wedding canopy),stepping on a glass, klezmer music, and Israelidancing. The text of their contract, designed byMickie Caspi, reflects their strong Jewishaffiliation and contains a promise “to create ahome amid the community of Israel” but isdistinguished from the traditional language of aketubah. They were legally married in Canada in2006.
Rainer Waldman AdkinsKetubahWatercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 1996Reuven, a Washington state representative, andhis wife Wendywere married at the top ofSeattle’s tallest building, the Columbia Center.The ceremony was personal, yet traditional.Despite initial reservations, Wendy agreed toperform the bride’s traditional circling of thegroom. Their ketubah, created by Seattle artistRainer Waldman Adkins, juxtaposes a traditionalAramaic text with a separate English text writtenby Reuven. It features a gold candelabra and agarland of irises, their favorite flower. Today ithangs in their bedroom, and reminds them of“that really intimate, special moment” before theceremony when the ketubah was signed by thecouple and each of their closest friends. Reuvenwas a co-sponsor of the same-sex marriage lawthat was enacted by the state legislature inFebruary and was contested by Referendum 74.
Betsy Teutsch“Trees of Life”Lithograph, with gold embossing, 2001Adrienne and Linda were married in 2001 atTemple Beth Am, surrounded by many friends.Since they couldn’t be married legally, theywanted the ceremony to be as traditional aspossible. Their ketubah, designed by BetsyTeutsch and titled “Trees of Life,” features theboughs of two trees forming an arched chuppah.Adrienne and Linda say they are inspired by itsmessage of longevity and vitality – both for eachother and in the world. “It is a statement,” theysay, “of who we are to, and with each other.”They plan to obtain a civil marriage when itbecomes legal in Washington.
Jewish Wedding TraditionsThe central feature of a traditional Jewish wedding is an exchange of property. The ketubah signing and thegiving and accepting of the ring, both witnessed, are the essential requirements for kiddushin, for a couple tobe married -- not even a rabbi needs to be present.The wedding liturgy is short, only filling about two pages. Much of the richness in tradition comes down to usfrom minhag, or custom, which differs from place to place and from era to era. These customs have come torepresent what is Jewish in a Jewish wedding and “persist with even greater symbolic and emotional powerthan religious prescriptions, ” writes Anita Diamant in The New Jewish Wedding.Chuppah: A Jewish ceremony takes place under a canopy, or chuppah, often a cloth or prayer shawlsupported by four poles. The chuppah is fashioned in the shape of Abrahams tent, which stood open on allfour sides as an invitation to all who passed by. The chuppah symbolizes the desire of the couple to build ahome as loving and open to friends, family, and community as Abrahams home.Circling: Upon arriving at the chuppah, the bride traditionally circles the groom three (or in somecommunities, seven) times. The circling is thought to represent the bride’s switch in commitments from herparents to her husband, or the bride’s being set aside for the groom alone.Breaking Glass: The breaking of a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony is perhaps the best-knowntradition in a Jewish wedding. To some it symbolizes the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem; toothers, a reminder that even amidst joy, the world remains broken and we are responsible for repairing it. Butto all it is a sign, loud and clear, that it is time to begin the festivities.
Debra BandKetubahPapercut with gold foil, 2000Marc and David were married under a chuppahby a Reform rabbi in New York in 2000. SinceNew York state did not then permit same-sexcouples to marry, the rabbi called on a “higherauthority” to bless their union. The next daythey received a civil union from Vermont, thefirst state to offer any form of same-sexmarriage. Their ketubah was designed bypaper-cut artist Debra Band after extensivelyinterviewing the couple to learn their historiesand the story of their life together. It representstwo flames coming together as one, illustratinga saying by the Baal Shem Tov, the founder ofHasidic Judaism, that when two souls find eachother, a single brighter light goes forth fromtheir united being. The artist chose Japanesepaper to allude to David’s years living andworking in Japan. David and Marc obtained anOregon marriage license in 2004, which waslater revoked by the voters of Oregon in areferendum. In December 2004, they receivedan official marriage license in Toronto, Canada,which remains in force today.
Rainer Waldman AdkinsKetubahWatercolor on parchment, 2006Remy and Sharon were married in a Conservativeceremony at the Daybreak Star (Native American)Cultural Center, overlooking the Puget Sound.The ceremony was traditional, and the coupleeven invited an Orthodox rabbi to do a blessing.Long active in public affairs and currentlyexecutive director of a think tank dealing withbudgetary affairs, Remy was involved, asgovernment affairs director for the JewishFederation of Greater Seattle, in the effort to addlesbians and gays to the state’s human rightscode. Sharon is a family doctor serving theuninsured and underinsured with the non-profitNeighborcare Health. In choosing the artist it wastherefore important to the couple that theychoose someone like Rainer Waldman Adkinswho shared their beliefs in progressive Judaismand who was able to bring inspiration from Araband Islamic artistic and calligraphic forms into thethe traditional Jewish ketubah.
Cathy ShiovitzKetubahSumi ink, watercolor and gouache, 1999Chris and Felice were married in a ceremonyblending Hebrew and English, Judaism andChristianity, a chuppah and “Ave Maria.” Lit onlyby candles, it “was such a nice blending of ourtraditions.” Searching for a ketubah at Seattle’s(now defunct) Jewish bookstore, they couldn’tfind an appropriate text, so the owner referredthem to local artist Cathy Shiovitz. She investedmuch time getting to know the couple, andincorporated many elements of their life andtraditions into the design: water, mountains,candles, starry nights, their wedding rings andgowns, even a hiking trail. Due to the couple’sdesire to have the “perfect content” in theirketubah, they didn’t connect with Cathy untillate in the wedding planning process and as aresult, the ketubah was not finished intime. However, Cathy cleverly arranged some ofthe art around the English text, leaving room forthe Hebrew translation to be added at a laterdate, so the couple could sign the document atthe ceremony.
Michelle Rummel“Life Dance IV”Giclee print, 2005Among the first to obtain a domestic partnershipin Washington state, Sandy and Rachel have beenprominent in the struggle to obtain same-sexmarriage rights. This past year, Sandy and their16-year-old son testified in front of the statelegislature. In 2005, though they had alreadybeen married in Canada, they decided tocelebrate their union in the Jewish style,signifying the commitment they made beforeGod and their faith community and friends. “Ourgreatest joy was that our parents andgrandparents were able to dance at ourwedding.” Their ketubah, designed by MichelleRummel, features two intertwining trees showing“how we will grow together in love andrespect.” They asked the artist to include afavorite expression, "I saw her, she smiled, and Iknew," which reminds them of how theymet. Hidden in the bark are the Hebrew namesof their three children, who signed theketubah. The family has swelled to include morethan 35 foster children over the years. “The wallsof our chuppah are open," say Sandy and Rachel.
Robin Hall“Harmony”Lithograph, 2006Mark and Michael were the first couple (straightor gay) to be married at Kol HaNeshemah’spermanent home, a progressive Reformcongregation in West Seattle they helped found.The wedding was originally intended as a party tomark their tenth anniversary, but it just got“bigger and bigger.” They were married under achuppah woven from Mark’s and Mark’s father’sprayer shawls; their mothers walked them downthe aisle. The ceremony was traditional, theysaid, “since it could not be legal, we wanted toemphasize the religious.” But they chose amodern ketubah inspired by Matisse. “We bothlike abstract art, and liked the way thecontemporary nature of this ketubah juxtaposedwith the traditional.”
Kari LombardKetubahWatercolor and calligraphy pen, 2010Though they have been together 30 years, Paigeand Rhian had never made a public commitmentto one other. So in 2010, they celebrated a“weddi-versary” to celebrate their life togetherwith their children, families and community. Theceremony borrowed heavily from a traditionalJewish marriage, and included a chuppah held bytheir two children, their children’s donor dad,and a mutual friend from before they were acouple. Their ketubah, created by their daughterKari Lombard, features traditional Shabbatsymbols such as candlesticks and a wine cup,because it was through their many years ofcelebrating and embracing Shabbat, that Rhianchose to become a Jew a year before the “weddi-versary.”
Jews, Judaism and Same-sex MarriagePolls show that 75 to 80% of America’s 5 million Jews support same-sex marriage, a higher percentage than inany other major religion. Judaism’s receptivity to gay marriage has been informed by a commitment to tikkunolam (repairing the world), the principle of b’tselem elohim (that all human beings are created in God’simage), and the notion of Judaism as a living and changing tradition.The Reform Movement, the largest segment of American Jews, issued a resolution in 1996 supporting civilmarriage for gay and lesbian couples. In 2000, it issued another resolution enabling Reform rabbis to performgay commitment ceremonies, the first time a major group of North American clergy had approved them.However, it allowed rabbis to decide for themselves whether to officiate at such ceremonies, and whether totreat them as equal, in spiritual terms, to male-female marriages.The Conservative Movement came on board in 2006, allowing rabbis to officiate at same-sex unions if theychoose (although some had already chosen to perform them). After issuing a statement in 2011 calling for fullcivil equality for same-sex couples, it proposed guidelines in 2012 for performing gay unions. Such unions, itsaid, should be celebrated “with the same sense of holiness and joy” but are considered to be “distinct” fromstraight marriages.By contrast, Orthodox Judaism continues to oppose same-sex marriage. However, a growing number withinthe Orthodox community say they should not oppose legalization of gay marriage, even if Orthodox rabbisrefuse to perform such ceremonies on religious grounds, because Orthodox Jews particularly benefit frompluralism and tolerance. “We should be especially hesitant” to take a political stand based on religiousconviction, writes Univ. of Georgia Professor Hillel Levin, “in which the rights of another American minorityare at stake. Instead, we ought to be grateful that we live in a society in which minority groups’ religious andcivil rights are respected, and in which equality is imposed by law.”
Gary FaiginCalligraphy by Cathy ShiovitzKetubahOil on panel, 2001Twenty-five years after Gary and Pamela elopedin Vancouver, they decided to celebrate theirmarriage in a much more public and spiritual way.Family and friends from the U.S., Canada, Franceand New Zealand attended. Unusually, Garydecided to paint the mat surrounding the Hebrewtext of the ketubah; the frame was customengineered so only the text in the center isprotected by glass. The ketubah incorporatessilhouettes of Gary and Pamela, set against theNew York skyline and a Pacific Northwestlandscape, as well as silhouettes of their twochildren, then aged 5 and 10. Emphasizing therarity of including children in a ketubah, twohands point to a pictogram illustrating the biblicalinjunction to be fruitful and multiply.
Maria Oliva TyraText by Mark Solomon and Rabbi Rachel NussbaumKetubahPen, ink and watercolor, 2011Judith and Kathryn were married on their 26thanniversary as a couple (they needed to be“halachically hitched” so their daughter wouldn’t beembarrassed when she entered rabbinicalschool). Unusually, they decided to combineseparately framed art and text to create a ketubah,which they say was a “critical” part of their weddingbecause they wanted “to be part of the pantheon ofJewish couples throughout history.” The art is byJudith’s high school best friend, Maria Oliva Tyra,and represents the couple with gears (Kathryn is awatchmaker), binary code (Judith works oncomputers), and books, cats and teacups (theirshared life). The couple wanted to use traditionallanguage for the text, but received criticism thatsuch language is unequal, and would mean that thatone partner would “own” the other. Ultimately,they settled on egalitarian language used by lesbianfriends. The text was printed on 100% rag paperthat they had acquired during their first daystogether and moved from place to place for 26years waiting for a good use.
Emily Harris and Rachel HarrisHebrew calligraphy by Julie SeltzerKetubahWatercolor and ink pen, 2012Alysa and Shellie were married in August 2012 ina ceremony that mixed Reform, Conservative andModern Orthodox traditions. Following muchstudy, they opted to retain many rituals (eventhose such as the bedeken, in which the groomveils the bride), but reinterpret them. “It wasimportant to us that we take the traditionalpieces and make them personal to us,” says Alysa,whose father is a rabbi. Their ketubah wascreated by Shellie’s first cousins, sisters Emily andRachel Harris. It features scenes of Jerusalem,where the two met, and nature. It is the Harrissisters’ first collaborative ketubah.
Gina JonasKetubahGouache, 1999Gretchen and Julie signed their ketubah on ayacht carrying them to their wedding ceremonyat the Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo. Unusual for aketubah signing, all 150 wedding guests werepresent and participated. The couple exchangedtheir vows under a chuppah overlooking thePuget Sound. The ketubah, which was theproduct of several months of collaboration withartist Gina Jonas, features two inter-twiningsunflowers, the couple’s favorite flower. Vinesframe the design, reflecting their twisting,turning, never-ending relationship. A band ofcolors progressing from sunrise to sunset framesa quote filled with meaning for them, “I am ajigsaw sunset, you are the piece that holds thesun.” They read the ketubah frequently as a way“to remember their commitment and the beautyof a very memorable day.”
Miriam Karp“Rainbow Circle”Giclee print, 2010Ron and Robert have been married three times.Their first ceremony was in 1992 “long beforeanything legal or religious was on the horizon.”Their second was in 2003 in Victoria, BritishColumbia’s seaside Beacon Hill Park, after B.C.had begun issuing marriage licenses to gaycouples but before they were available anywherein the U.S. And in 2010 they celebrated theirunion with a Jewish ceremony, after ConservativeJudaism became open to same-sex marriages,but before any formal liturgy had been proposed.“As our ceremony was a brit (covenant) ofpartnership and love, it was essential that wehave a document that outlines that partnershipand the responsibilities of each of us.” ThisMiriam Karp ketubah appealed, the couple says,because of its circular design, rainbow motif, andtext recalling the love between the biblical Davidand Jonathan.
About the ArtistsRainer Waldman Adkins is a Hebrew calligrapher, draughtsman, painter, and printmaker making ketubot and otherilluminated documents, expressive figurative and landscape works, and murals. Among Rainer’s most visible SeattleJewish community projects are the sanctuary mural at Congregation Beth Shalom and the dining room artinstallation at the Kline Galland Home. He is a teacher at an academic support and enrichment program at Seattle’sKimball Elementary School, and teaches art, art history, Jewish subjects and history. He is writing a curriculum onKadimas Women’s Torah, the first Torah to be written and adorned by an international chavurah of women; isworking to promote the artistic legacy of his mother Selma Waldman (1931-2008); and is a longtime advocate forMid-East peace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Debra Band holds BA honors in history from Concordia University in Montreal and an MS in political science fromMIT, and has worked in Hebrew manuscripts since 1987. Her extensive studies of Jewish texts and research intomedieval European and middle Eastern painting and manuscripts inform her work. Her work includes illuminated andpapercut ketubot and other works in group exhibits, private collections, community institutions and galleries. Heroriginal paintings of the Song of Songs and Psalms have toured the United States and Canada. She can be email@example.com.Claire Carter graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1997, earning a BFA in painting with high honors. Shebegan working with MP Artworks at the Florida Studio in 2001. Encouraged by the work of the other artists in thestudio and the art of ketubah making, she then began to explore and connect her Jewish heritage to her painting.Her works have appeared in exhibits throughout the U.S. and Canada and can be found atmpartworks.com/claire_carter.htm.Gary Faigin is an artist, author, critic, and educator. He studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Ecoledes Beaux Arts in Paris. Faigin’s paintings explore his two favorite themes: altering one’s perception of thecommonplace and developing mood through intense contrasts of light and dark. Faigin is the artistic director and co-founder of Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. He is the monthly art critic on Seattle’s NPR station, KUOW. He has hadover 15 one-person exhibitions, including a retrospective of his paintings at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 2001.His work can be found at www.garyfaigin.com.
Robin Hall has devoted almost her whole life to art. The Juilliard-trained dancer started lettering at 16, Hebrewcalligraphy at 20. She created her first ketubah in 1977. Inspired by ancient manuscripts and Matisse, Hall’screations also feature personalized hand-lettered text for weddings, anniversaries and same-sex marriages. “It’s ahigh, working on a ketubah,” she says. “You’re writing something that’s sacred and holy.” Her website iswww.robinketubah.com.Rachel and Emily Harris are educators, artists, musicians, and are active in the Jewish Renewal community in theSan Francisco Bay Area. They are also sisters. This is their first collaborative ketubah.Gina Jonas recently retired from a 41-year career as a professional calligrapher specializing in Hebrew calligraphyand the ketubah. She is the author of Finding the Flow: A Calligraphic Journey and Hebrew Calligraphy Styles, andis currently at work on a new book integrating the “flow” with letterform. Her website iswww.ginajonascalligrapher.com.Miriam Karp has been creating hundreds of one-of-a-kind ketubot since 1976. She holds a Master of Fine Arts inPainting from Indiana University in Bloomington and has been awarded two National Endowment for the Artsawards for her paintings. Her work, which has appeared in solo and group exhibitions throughout the UnitedStates, is in private and public collections in the U.S. and abroad. Her work is displayed atwww.customketubah.com.Mickie Klugman-Caspi is an Israeli-American artist and calligrapher who has been specializing in Judaica since1980. She was one of the first to offer gender-neutral ketubot. Among the many sources that inspire her delicatewatercolor designs are traditional Jewish motifs, Persian and Arabic illumination, contemporary graphics, as wellas art nouveau and art deco. She studied art at Columbia College in Chicago where she discovered a love for thesimple elegance of calligraphy. She spent seven years as a freelance artist and calligrapher in Israel. Her website iswww.caspicards.com.
Kari Lombard is a writer, farmer, teacher, cook, and artist raised and based in Seattle. She graduated fromWashington University in St. Louis in 2009, and since then she has been traveling, working on farms, andfollowing her interest in food justice. She also dabbles in the creation of non-traditional ketubot.Michelle Rummel specializes in hand-painted watercolors. Although she is primarily self-taught, her formaltraining at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and the University of Maryland’s textile design program inspiredher love of texture and color. Her work has been featured in juried art shows, fine art exhibition and nationalpublications, and has been collected by thousands of private and corporate art patrons in the U.S. and abroad.Her website is www.shellartistree.com.Cathy Shiovitz is a working artist specializing in calligraphy and multi-media. She teaches art classes tostudents of all ages, and is the recent past president of Write on Calligraphers, a local calligraphy guild. Shecreates personalized ketubot in watercolor and papercuts, drawing inspiration from traditional text, Jewishcustoms and nature. Using paint, mosaics, papers, fabrics and calligraphy she designs new Jewish ritualobjects and symbols celebrating the joys of life. Her work is privately displayed in homes across the countryand publicly in schools and the Washington State Legislature. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.Nicola (Schelley) Tager started painting at age three in Northern Ireland where she was born. Her mother washer mentor. Her father built an easel and carved a small palette to fit her fingers. But it was not until she wasraising her own two children, long after she had moved to the United States, that Nic picked up the paletteagain to begin professional work as a painter. Her URL is www.nicolatagerart.com.Betsy Teustch specializes in illuminated Judaica and Hebrew calligraphy. She has designed custom andlithographed ketubot for the past 38 years. She illustrated Michael Strassfelds classic, The Jewish Holidays,and was art editor and illustrator for Kol Haneshamah, The Reconstructionist Prayerbook Series. She is thecoauthor of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. She majored in Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and hasa masters degree in Jewish education from HUC-JIR. Her work is available at www.kavanahcards.com.
Maria Oliva Tyra told her parents at age four that she was going to be an artist when she grew up. Shereceived an associates degree in illustration and in advertising design from Oakland Community College butplans to move on to art school were derailed by marriage and motherhood. After a 13-year hiatus, she turnedback to her first love: art. Maria draws purely from the subconscious, juxtaposing nature’s creations withhumanity’s. The artwork that results are surreal still lifes with a steampunk influence that have beendescribed as “elegantly demented.” She can be reached at email@example.com.
Thank You Linda Hodges Karen Yurkovich Vickie Vellinga Gary Faigin Zach Carstensen Josh Furman Rainer Waldman Adkins Sabina Burd Sharon Liberman-Mintz Anita Diamant Rabbi Jonathan Singer Rabbi Jill Borodin Shoshana Bilavsky The Pride FoundationAnd most importantly, the artists and couples themselves, who have made art of their love for each other..
For those who were inspired by this exhibit of straight and gay ketubot, Iam accepting entries from other couples around the country, bothstraight and gay, who wish to display their ketubot in an expandedversion of this exhibit. Please send a high-quality photo of your ketubahand text describing your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.David Jacobson