The Jewish community is continually evolving and discovering innovative ways to reach out and make sure everyone can find meaning in Judaism. We believe such progress helps strengthen our community, and that is why we were excited to learn of the publishing of two prayer books developed to meet the needs of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Jews. Ben Harris of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes about the prayer books from Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York and Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco in “Gay shuls in N.Y., S.F. set to release prayer books”
Both congregations had been using spiral bound versions of the prayer books internally, but they will now be made available to a wider audience. The prayer books include traditional liturgy as well as prayers that have been adapted and made more inclusive. Harris writes:
Though both works include the staples of Jewish worship in traditional form, they also feature liturgical changes that aim to make the service less exclusively male and heterosexual. CBST’s prayer book, Siddur B’chol L’Vav’cha (“With All Your Heart”), for example, compares God’s rejoicing not to a bride and groom, as in the traditional version of the Shabbat evening L’cha Dodi prayer, but to the more general “heart [that] rejoices in love.”
In addition to some of their more subtle adaptations, the prayer books address lifecycle events specific to the LGBT populations. For example, the Sha’ar Zahav prayer book includes “prayers for the onset of puberty and menopause, a first kiss, taking an HIV test, being single and coming out regarding one’s sexual orientation.”
“Gender neutrality is now standard practice in Conservative and Reform prayer books,” Harris writes, and we see this is a reflection of the increasingly diverse Jewish community. By developing this new prayer book, congregations like Beth Simchat Torah and Sha’ar Zahav, which open their gates to Jews of all sexual orientations, have provided a much needed resource for any synagogue that wishes to better include LGBT Jews, their partners and their families.