DOWNLOAD: PDF | IDML (editable)
Lara Chausow and Lauren Weiss live in Washington, DC. They met at Tikkun Leil Shabbat in 2015 and married at Adas Israel in 2018, and they still attend multiple shuls. Lara is a data analyst for the government, and Lauren is a lobbyist for an association of family planning health centers. They write,
כׇּל יֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל Kol Yoshvei Tevel ”All inhabitants of Earth,” Isaiah 18:3 partial. Also Psalms 33:8 and Lamentations 4:12. is a bentsher that my wife and I made for our same-sex wedding, designed by Hillel Smith, based on a base text by José and Josh Portuondo-Dember. It is: fully egalitarian, has full transliteration, has non-gendered language for G-d, and has full option of wife/husband/spouse pairings for sheva brachot. The PDF (linked above) is for anyone to use (it has a couple of errors, sorry about that), and if you want, you can download the IDML file to edit and create your own bentsher!
We hope that this bentsher will provide our guests with a valued memento from our wedding. As with our entire wedding, we strove to create a bentsher that represented our values, both as individuals and as a couple. The title of this bentsher, “Kol Yoshvei Tevel,” translates to “all who dwell on Earth.” This is a phrase that many add to prayers for peace that traditionally are for “us” (those saying the prayer) and “for all of the people of Yisrael” (Jews everywhere). By expanding the prayers, we are not only wishing for peace for all people, but also stating that we are part of, and cannot be separated from, all of humanity.
Additionally, this bentsher uses gender-neutral words for God and for humanity, includes our foremothers as equals to our forefathers, and normalizes both same-sex and different-sex couples. In keeping with our understanding of the gendered nature of Hebrew, we have provided options for brides and grooms. We welcome you to use additional terms for spouses as you feel best meets your and your spouse’s gender identity. We have included transliterations, translations, and explanatory notes in hopes that the text is accessible to all, no matter one’s level of familiarity with these prayers or fluency in Hebrew. As we could not find an existing bentsher that met these needs, we decided to make our own. We are deeply indebted to José and Josh Portuondo-Dember, who gave us the files for the bentsher they created, and to Hillel Smith, who designed this bentsher. We hope that others will want to use this bentsher going forward, either as is, or as a building block for their own creation. Contact us at email@example.com for the files.
May you use this bentsher in happiness and merriment for years to come!
|1||”All inhabitants of Earth,” Isaiah 18:3 partial. Also Psalms 33:8 and Lamentations 4:12.|
|2||Jews from different communities have different formulations for some of these blessings. We each come from Ashkenazic (generally, Eastern European Jewry) families, and have thus chosen to use the phrasing common to that tradition.|
|3||In keeping with our understanding of the gendered nature of Hebrew, we have provided options for brides and grooms. We welcome you to use additional terms for spouses as you feel best meets your and your spouse’s gender identity.|
“כׇּל יֹשְׁבֵי תֵבֵל | Kol Yoshvei Tevel: the L&L Wedding Bentsher, by Lara Chausow and Lauren Weiss (2018)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
Works of related interest:
סִימָן לְבָנִים | Siman l’Vanim: a birkon celebrating the wedding of Honi Sanders and Simona Dalin (2019)
חֶסֶד־וּמִשְׁפָּט אָשִׁירָה לְךָ | Ḥesed uMishpat Ashirah Lekha, a bentsher celebrating the wedding of Isaac Brooks and Eliana Fishman (2018)
ברכות והודאות | Brakhot v’Hoda’ot (Blessings and Thanksgivings): A Birkon for the Bar Mitsvah of Yeshayahu Yisraeli (2016)
What music to play?Dances and customsBirkat Hamazon
What music to play?
Many traditional Jewish wedding songs, like “Od yeshama,” include the phrase “chatan vekallah.” For a same-sex wedding, that may feel strange or inappropriate. One solution is to replace the words with “chatan vechatan” or “kallah vekallah,” as some of the alternate sheva brachot did. But since the songs are well known, couples may be wary of making guests feel badly who inadvertently slip into the regular words. To that end, here is a list of other songs to give to the bandleader to keep energy high and keep the songs on-point.
Dances and customs
Some families have traditions like the mezinke or krenzl, celebrating mothers or parents who have married off all of their children.
Sheva Brachot are traditionally recited again after birkat hamazon following the wedding meal. This birkat hamazon also includes a special zimun. As this is not a “traditional” wedding, some may object to including this special zimun and/or sheva brachot, especially if the sheva brachot are not the traditional set. Check with your rabbi/officiant to discuss what everyone would like to do and feels comfortable doing.
The same questions would be relevant regarding the celebration of sheva brachot—the festive meals held in the couple’s honor for the for the week following the wedding with new and returning guests.
Providing personalized bentchers (also spelled bencher, bentsher, or bentscher as a transliteration of the Yiddish, also known as birkonim in Hebrew, or small prayer books with the Grace After Meals) as party favors/souvenirs is a common occurrence at simchas like weddings and b’nai mitzvah. However, almost no commercially available bentchers include multiple gender options for the wedding meal sheva brachot, and obviously will not have text customized or written by the couple.
One available bentcher that does have both the full traditional birkat hamazon text, multiple gender options for sheva brachot (as per Approach 1 in Sheva Brachot), and gender neutral translations throughout is Seder Oneg Shabbos.
Another possibility is to produce custom bentchers for the occasion. What used to be a complicated an expensive endeavor is made easier by modern publishing software and online printing. Since these are fully custom books, they can include anything, including details of the wedding program to make a combination program-bentcher, the couple’s favorite songs, translations and transliterations that conform to the couple’s taste, photos, and whatever else the couple can dream up.
PDF and InDesign files for their Kol Yosvhei Tevel bentcher are available on Open Siddur for other couples to download and customize.
Where to find Hebrew prayer texts:
Wikisource, among other places, features Hebrew texts for birkat hamazon from which they can copied and pasted and edited as desired, as well as a large selection of other texts.Sefaria has birkat hamazon with a copyright-free translation (dated to 1915), as well as other liturgical texts.Zmirot Database has a large selection of traditional songsFree Siddur Project has a wide selection of texts with line-by-line transliteration.Open Siddur Project has an array of open-source Hebrew fonts, as well as interesting user-submitted texts.
Be aware that while traditional Hebrew texts are not under copyright, translations, transliterations, and contemporary songs and compositions may have copyright restrictions. Texts older than 96 years (including translations) are in the public domain, as are texts intentionally released as copyright-free. Others may have a Creative Commons license permitting reuse with certain requirements.
Files can be set up in Microsoft Word, InDesign, or other desktop publishing software. There are tutorials online that explain how to work with both left-to-right and right-to-left texts in each of those programs. Custom design means couples can choose to have translations and transliterations parallel to the text or following the text, add explanations and personal reflections, and consider how they, their families, and their friends would use the bentcher in guiding the layout and copy.
How to print your own bentchers: Many companies online offer print on demand books. These companies allow customers to upload files and print bound books for relatively low cost. Companies generally offer a set of pre-set sizes (measure the bentchers in your home to see what feels right), binding options (staple-bound, paperback, or hardcover), paper types, and printing options (black and white or full color), and costs will vary according to those options as well as by page count and quantity ordered. Commercial bentchers can cost anywhere between $1 and $10 per unit. Using print-on-demand publishers, custom bentchers can cost the same or less, but do require more work. Couples can consider hiring a graphic designer to assist. Since many publishers may be unfamiliar with printing right-to-left books, calling them to confirm and requesting a proof before production is recommended.