Famous scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, spoke about Shabbat as a “palace in time” – a holy space of 25 hours carved out from the 168 hours of the week, dedicated to something beyond. The two of us have been thinking about a “sanctuary in time” – a space that is made holy by setting it apart. The palace, or sanctuary, of Shabbat is sacred and beautiful because it is dedicated to rest, rather than to work.
In addition to all of the work that goes into a typical week, queer community members often end up having to do an extra layer of work: The work of passing, of proving that you are “queer enough,” of educating family/peers/strangers, and/or repeatedly feeling pressure to come out. Just by virtue of being who we are, we often end up becoming activists, too. Even when this work feels holy, it can feel tiring.
Take a moment now, to think about other forms of work that you, as a queer person, might want to name. What else would you add to this list?
On Shabbat, we get to set that down and create boundaries around ourselves and our community. We get to take a break and nourish ourselves physically and spiritually, as sacred beings. Shabbat is an invitation to cease from this work, to put it down if only for a day (or even just a Friday night dinner!), and to lean into self-reflection, self-nourishment, and self-affirmation.
Yet, we can’t just snap our fingers and have it magically be Shabbat. Our brains and bodies need a way to bridge between spaces, to move us from the time of work to the time of rest. Ritual is a way of grounding us in our bodies – our queer bodies! – and making that transition feel purposeful and personal.
If queerness is about reimagining, reinterpreting, and forging our own ways of being in the world, then queering ritual means coloring within and beyond the lines of the templates that have been handed down to us.
Here, we suggest ways to queer the four traditional opening rituals of Shabbat. We hope you find inspiration in them – and if they spark a new idea for you, we’d love to hear it! (You can share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @onetableshabbat on Instagram.)
Let’s dive in.
Note: Here, we borrow blessings from the Nonbinary Hebrew Project. There are tons of awesome queer Jewish resources out there; let us know if you find another source you love!
As the first ritual of Shabbat, candles serve a blended spiritual-practical purpose. Candles create lighting for the dinner that enables us to see our food and each other. Lean into this aspect, and share a bit about what makes you feel seen in your truest self. Lighting candles, especially in a darkened room, exercises agency over our space, yet also dims the surrounding space by comparison; this can help us dim our focus on distractions and focus on the space we are creating. While the space feels smaller, it also feels more intimate and more intentional.
בְּרוּךֶ אָתֶה ײַ, אֱלֹהִימוֹתֵינוּ מַלְכֶּת הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשֶׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶיהֶ וְצִוֶנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַבָּת
Bruche ateh (Adonai or Yah or HaShem or whatever people use) Elohimoteinu Malket ha’Olam asher kidshenu b’mitzvoteihe, v’tzivenu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are you, GOD, our god, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with their commandments and commands us to kindle the light of Shabbat.
As we bring in the light of Shabbat, make space for one another, and see each other clearly and powerfully, together we burn brighter in community.
Kiddush (wine/special drink)
Months ago, a OneTable staff member found a Tumblr post quoting Daniel Lavery, an American author, from his book “Something That May Shock and Discredit You,” and immediately thought of Shabbat ritual — “God blessed me by making me transsexual for the same reason God made wheat but not bread and fruit but not wine, so that humanity might share in the act of creation.” Tumblr user normal-horoscopes responds, “God made trans people for the same reason [God] made grapes but not wine. Who are we to deny the divine alchemy of the self?” Who indeed! What a beautiful take on this ritual.
Jewish tradition holds that the Divine is like the color white – genderless and yet encompassing of all genders. If humans are made in the image of the divine, then the fullest reflection of the divine includes the fullest diversity of approaches to gender and sexuality that humanity has to offer.
בְּרוּךֶ אָתֶה ײַ, אֱלֹהִימוֹתֵינוּ מַלְכֶּת הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרָאת פְּרִי הַגָּֽפֶן.
בְּרוּךֶ אָתֶה ײַ, אֱלֹהִימוֹתֵינוּ מַלְכֶּת הָעוֹלָם, מקדשה השַבָּת.
Bruche ateh (Adonai or Yah or HaShem or whatever people use) Elohimoteinu Malket ha’Olam, borat p’ri hagafen. Bruche ateh (Adonai or Yah or HaShem or whatever people use) Elohimoteinu Malket ha’Olam, mekedesheh hashabbat.
Blessed are you, GOD, our god, ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Blessed are you, GOD, our god, ruler of the universe, who makes Shabbat holy.
In blessing wine (or any special beverage), we bless the joy that comes through change and honor the reflection of divinity that each of us hold.
Our tradition dictates that the proper preparation for bread-breaking ritual requires clean hands. Because handwashing is so tied to the Motzi ritual that follows, one tradition calls for folks to move into the hand washing ritual with a communal silence that is broken only by the words of the Motzi blessing. We can use this time for a quiet self reflection and a personal check-in. Queerness is a journey of self discovery that requires flexibility, intentional self-evaluation, and brave exploration. There are so many pre-written narratives out there, and it requires a well of bravery to sift through them to find our personal truths. This bravery deserves celebration! So much of queer celebration is loud and joyful, full of bright colors and energy. Yet, quiet reflection is a deep part of queerness, too.
בְּרוּךֶ אָתֶה ײַ, אֱלֹהִימוֹתֵינוּ מַלְכֶּת הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְשֶׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתֶיהֶ וְצִוֶנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם
Bruche ateh (Adonai or Yah or HaShem or whatever people use) Elohimoteinu Malket ha’Olam asher kidshenu b’mitzvoteihe, v’tzivenu al nitilat yadayim
Blessed are you, GOD, our god, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with their commandments, and commands us to lift up our hands.
Here, as we wash our hands and return to the table to sit in companionable silence, we honor the self that has persevered to find its truest form in a world with so much noise.
We both love bread – it’s often the Shabbat ritual we most look forward to. Breaking fresh bread can quickly turn even strangers into new friends. As Ashkenazi Jews, both of us grew up using challah as our main Shabbat bread. Yet, as we’ve grown into our Jewish adulthood (and Naomi has become gluten-free and vegan!), we’ve learned that the Motzi blessing isn’t synonymous with challah. Jewish cultures around the world use different kinds of bread for this blessing, which means that the Motzi is a perfect opportunity to showcase other identities you hold or the diversity around your Shabbat table.
בְּרוּךֶ אָתֶה ײַ, אֱלֹהִימוֹתֵינוּ מַלְכֶּת הָעוֹלָם, הַמּוֹצִיאֶה לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
Bruche ateh (Adonai or Yah or HaShem or any other divine name you’d like to use) Elohimoteinu Malket ha’Olam, Hamotzi’e lechem min ha’aretz.
Blessed are you, GOD, our god, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
Using a new kind of bread (e.g. injera, rye, pita, arepas, cornbread) can be a tangible way to experience the changing of ritual over time, and the way communities customize ritual and imbue it with new meaning. It’s also very queer – queerness is groundbreaking at its core!
Queer-ing ritual is the act of taking a blueprint, and re-imagining it to be more attuned and aligned with yourself and your purpose. It is going against the grain – the challah if you will — it is a holy rebellion that centers questioning rather than answers. Your identity is yours, and so too is your ritual. We invite you to take what resonates, to dream up something else, and to create a Friday night that speaks to you.
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About the Author:
Naomi Davis(they/them) is the Miami Field Manager and Anne Prusky (she/her) is the Senior Development Manager, Data + Research