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October 4, 2010
Many interfaith/Jewish weddings include the Seven Blessings. I was recently asked to officiate a ceremony with a Secular Humanistic non-theistic Hebrew/English version of the Seven Blessings. I searched for a Hebrew version (I found only one or two), and nothing I found felt right, so I resolved to write one myself. It was important to me to preserve most of the original words, which would give it a traditional feel, and enable me to chant the blessings in the traditional tune. I also decided to try to write in a way that each of the six blessings (the seventh is the standard blessing over the wine) would parallel one of the six principles of the Humanist Manifesto III.
Praised be the enlightened one amongst humans, who understands that the world was not created for him.
The traditional blessing blesses the deity for creating everything for his glory; humans are not the reason for creation. Humanists agree with the latter. The first Manifesto principle states that, "Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation and rational analysis." It is these very tools that have made it clear that the vast universe was not created, and certainly not with us in mind.
Praised be the one who is thankful for the evolution of humans.
The traditional blessing thanks the deity for creating humans. The second Manifesto principle states that, "Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change." This does not belittle our existence. On the contrary, our existence is something that Humanists celebrate and marvel at, feeling lucky to be alive in such a wondrous world. Hebrew does not have a word for evolution, so I preserved the word yatzar, which does not have a definite ex nihilo tone to it.
Praised be the one, who loves all humans as one's self, as one's very own self, and loves every human as one loves one's spouse. Praised be the one who is thankful for the evolution of humans.
The traditional blessing thanks the deity for creation in his image, the Mosaic rationale for according each human respect. The third Manifesto principle states that, "Humanists … are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity." The Humanist sees no need to ground respect for fellow humans in anything beyond the Golden Rule. We treat everyone as we would want to be treated or want our loved ones to be treated. The Hebrew word tzelem, in this context, means "himself," rather than "his image."
The traditional blessing is obviously aimed exclusively toward heterosexual couples, and hints at the dividing of primordial androgynous "Adam" into two different gendered beings, one male and one female. The deity built the woman out of one of these sides, and they rejoin each other now in marriage. This Humanistic blessing is more inclusive to include couples of varied sexual preferences. It removes the references to differing genders. Instead it uses a neutral word for spouse, ezer, which means helpmeet, which ideally each of us, heterosexual or homosexual, should be to our mate.
Let the barren (city) be joyful and exulted at the ingathering of her children into her midst in gladness. Praised be the one who shares in the gladness of Zion at the return of her children.
The fourth traditional blessing prays the barren Israel/Jerusalem will one day (anthropomorphically) rejoice in the Jewish People's return. This speaks of the future, since it was written at a time when the Jewish People were still in exile, with the land occupied and/or laying in ruins. The fourth Manifesto principle tells us that meaning is not imposed by the deity. We "animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies." We can derive meaning from human history and culture. As Jews, we are proud that we rose from the ashes and fulfilled the "2,000-year-old hope," returning to Israel, which serves as a beacon of democracy and Jewish culture.
Let us gladden the loving couple, (so they may enjoy gladness) like the legendary gladness of paradise. Praised be the one, who gladdens the bridegroom and the bride.
The fifth traditional blessing implores the deity to gladden the couple as he gladdened Adam and Eve. The Humanistic blessing is explicit about the non-factual nature of this couple, but still embraces the idea of two people feeling like they were made for each other. The fifth Manifesto principle reminds us that, "Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships." The peak of human relationships is that of true lovers. The ending of numbers five and six emphasizes that it is we who should gladden the couple.
The ending of the last two blessings can and should be modified for same-sex couples to groom and groom for two men, and bride and bride for two women.
Praised be those who increase joy and gladness, bridegroom and bride, exultation, song, pleasure and delight, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. May there soon be heard, all over the world, as in the cities of Judea and as in the streets of Jerusalem, the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the happy shouting of bridegrooms from their weddings and of young men and women from their song-filled feasts. Praised be the one, who causes the bridegroom and bride to be glad together.
The sixth traditional blessing thanks the deity for creating happiness and implores him to hasten the day when liberty may return to Israel, so weddings may regularly occur thereii. The sixth Manifesto principle also discusses happiness and liberty. It tells us that, "Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness," and that we must "minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability … so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life." To get there, we must "uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties." The return of our own right of self-determination as Jews, coupled with Israel's democratic nature, inspires us to work toward a world where all people live happy and free.
I hope these blessings will enhance future wedding celebrations. In the words of the Manifesto, may we be "guided by reason, inspired by compassion and informed by experience," and through that "live life well and fully."