The female Rabbi championing same sex marriage


Jacqueline Ninio

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio preaches at the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra, Sydney. Her synagogue performs commitment ceremonies for gay couples.

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio.

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio. Photo: SBS

I will always remember the day I stood beneath the chupah (the wedding canopy) with two men who care for and love one another deeply, and for the first time was able to consecrate their union within the religious traditions that meant so much to them.

We all had tears in our eyes as we recited the ancient words which would formally unite their lives. They were a couple, like any other, celebrating their love in a public, religious ceremony.

Since that day, I have been honoured and blessed to stand with other same sex couples celebrating the sanctity of their relationships and I never cease to be struck by how beautiful and significant these ceremonies are. For many, it is the first time they have been embraced and publically affirmed for all they are – there is no hiding, no pretense, as we celebrate their relationship and their love as a community.

I wish I could call the ceremony I perform at my synagogue a ‘wedding’ and I wish I could celebrate the couple’s relationship as a ‘marriage’, but until the secular law changes I can’t to do so without the risk of prosecution. So I officiate at commitment ceremonies, which I call ‘brit ahavah’, or ‘a covenant of love’, inspired by the Liberal Judaism ceremonies currently performed in Britain. I know the day will come when I will be able to perform ‘marriages’ and they will be recognised by both the state and my denomination of Judaism.


I have been an advocate for same sex marriage within Judaism and even more so in the secular community from the very beginning. Progessive Judaism in Australia, as indeed in the world, wrestled with the issue of whether or not the clergy could or should officiate at same-sex ceremonies. After much discussion of Jewish texts and with the gay and lesbian members of our communities, five years ago the Rabbinic Council of Progressive Jews and the Australian Progressive Movement in Judaism endorsed its rabbis to officiate at same sex ceremonies between two Jews. It is time for the Australian government to follow so many in the rest of the world and legislate for marriage equality. It is a basic issue of human rights and providing equal treatment under the law for all people.

It is extremely important that the legal unions be called marriage and not another term, as I believe the coming together of same sex couples is just as much a marriage as unions between men and women, and they should be afforded all the legal rights of marriage. If religious and other communities do not wish to perform marriages between same sex couples, that remains their right and their choice, but that objection cannot be the grounds for denying couples the legal right to marry in civil law.

The position in Jewish law has become equally as clear to me during my years of wrestling with this question. We are taught that we are all created in the image of God, and I believe that sexuality is a part of that reflection of God within us. We are also taught human beings are not meant to be alone – we are created to be in relationships, to find a life partner and join together with them in sacred union. It would be a cruel God, and not one I could easily accept, who would create people that are same sex attracted and then deny them the fulfillment and happiness of a life partner. The God of my belief is not so cruel and wants people to live full, rich lives in partnership, not suffering from hiding or fighting against who they really are.

Marriage has changed and evolved over time as our understanding of relationships and partnerships has changed. Marriage in Judaism was once defined as the union between one man and more than one woman. The age at which it was permissible for marriage has changed as our conception of childhood has shifted. As our understanding of sexuality has changed, it is time for us to broaden our definition of marriage to include same sex couples. Marriage is not about gender, it is about the relationship between two people who wish to publically, before community, family and in the religious context, God, commit their lives to one another. I look forward to the time when I will have the opportunity under Australian law to officiate at weddings which are both Jewish and legal.

Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio is a guest on SBS's Insight program tonight, 8.30pm on SBS ONE which explores the cultural, religious and political barriers to same sex marriage being accepted in Australia. In the lead up to the federal election, Labor Senator Penny Wong joins religious leaders, Liberal party supporters and community members in a fiery and emotional debate. 

6 comments so far

  • It is Rabbi's like this that make me proud to be Jewish.

    Orthodox Judaism will always fight change. I truly believe that half the Orthodox communities only disagree with gay marriage because it's "changing the Laws of HaShem". I know some ultra Orthodox Jews who while they would never publicly say so, for fear of being denounced, fully support gay marriage. This issue, along with the stubborn refusal to live in the present, is a reason why I an no longer an Orthodox or even a Modern Orthodox Jewess.

    Shavua Tov Rabbi Ninio.

    Jew In The City
    Date and time
    August 13, 2013, 9:16AM
    • This is just bogus. Not sure why they call it Judaism. This woman is not a rabbi, she's the leader of some group that call themselves Jewish, but are clearly not. Some will say that it is Judaism, but its not, it's part of a stream that decided to have its own set of rules and laws within the last 200 years and calling it Jewish as well.

      What I'm saying here, is that you can call yourself anything you want and if you have a few people that believe you and identify with you, great, but it doesn't mean that its real.

      Nowhere in the first testament or any religious books of Judaism does it say that women rabbi's are part of the Jewish religion - thus making her actions nil and void under Jewish law.

      Women rabbi's are a modern concept that started in the 1930's, the Jewish religion is almost 6000 years old - she's as legit as Scientology. In fact, I'd give Scientology more credibility since its original.

      I'm neither for or against women in power or gay marriage, I'm just saying that these guys got married under a type of "sect" not under Jewish law, despite of what they think. And yes, normal laws can change and evolve, but not Jewish law, which was commanded by God and not man.

      Date and time
      August 13, 2013, 2:39PM
      • Nowhere in the first testament or any religious books of Judaism does it say that women rabbi's are part of the Jewish religion - thus making her actions nil and void under Jewish law.

        Nowhere in Leviticus does it say that homosexuality is wrong, other than "a man should not lie with a man as he does a woman" - and that is an English translation. So that makes using Leviticus to promote all sorts of gay hatred nil and void too.

        As you say, Jewish law is commanded by G-d and not man, so why then is B'al Teshuva and Conversion such a money spinner these days when Ruth just decided to up and join the Jews and was accepted as is? Moses was raised by Pharaoh's daughter so he was B'al Teshuva but no one made him undergo mikveh and pay to convert.......

        Don't you hate when people twist the Torah or Bible to suit themselves?

        Jew in the City
        Date and time
        August 13, 2013, 3:49PM
      • Out of interest can you let us know where it states the women can not be Rabbbi's

        Date and time
        August 13, 2013, 3:59PM
      • Actually John, Judaism is a fundamentally monotheist religion full of customs and tradition that diverges across various points in history, creating clear definition among different ethnic Jewish groups such as Ashkenaz, Sephard and for want of a better example, Ethiopian Jews who weren’t considered Jewish by those of European decent. Just because a stream of Judaism does not match the way you were brought up does not necessarily make it any less Jewish.
        If you are learned in the Torah you will realise that Halacha is full of “reforms” of laws that were amended in order to be better tailored for the Jewish people of that generation (ie stoning of a wayward child), rather than for the tribes of farmers living in the Middle East in ancient times. Just because you and your parents and probably their parents were raised in a certain way, unless you come from Temple times your familiarity with the practice of the faith does not give you the right to say what is Judaism and what isn’t, when it is much wider than the scope you believe is all that can be. God is the judge of that. And I’m pretty sure that 6000 years ago Jews did not have two kitchens each nor did they segregate the sexes as is widely practiced today. If you want to talk about Judaism not evolving because you can only change what you see fit, here’s your starting point.
        I also recommend looking up the origins of marriage ceremonies in Jewish law. All that is required is a bedroom (not even) and two witnesses. No rabbi in sight, male or female.

        David .
        Date and time
        August 14, 2013, 4:17PM
    • Well said Rabbi Ninio. If unmarried consenting adults want to get married then what business is it of ours to prevent them?

      Date and time
      August 13, 2013, 3:46PM

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