Two women married by rabbi in Tel Aviv ceremony

JERUSALEM — A Reform rabbi married two women in a Jewish wedding ceremony in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, an Israeli newspaper has reported.

The gay wedding came as Reform and Conservative leaders met with government coalition members last week to discuss a compromise over the controversial conversion bill, which would ban Conservative and Reform conversions in Israel.

Rabbi David Ariel-Yoel, of the Harel synagogue in Jerusalem, performed the ceremony at a Tel Aviv catering hall, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported. The two women arrived at the hall, each wearing an evening dress and carrying a bouquet of flowers. Guests held a tallit over the couple to serve as the chuppah.

The couple signed a ketubah in the presence of witnesses, and exchanged vows and rings. At the end of the ceremony, Ariel-Yoel invoked the priestly blessing.

The rabbi told Ha'aretz that it was the first time he had performed a wedding for a lesbian couple.

He said it was important that Jewish couples mark their union with some sort of religious ceremony, even if they choose not to do it with Orthodox rabbis.

"In my eyes this was certainly a wedding, and if…these women ever choose to separate, they will have to do this through a ceremony with religious context."

Ariel-Yoel said he was aware of two other same-sex wedding ceremonies that had taken place in Israel.

The Reform movement in Israel has not taken an official stance on the issue of same-sex marriage ceremonies. The movement's rabbinic council has been holding deliberations on the matter over the past two years, and has not yet released its final conclusions.

Ha'aretz reported that a number of Reform leaders in Israel were surprised by the wedding and expressed concern that it could hurt efforts to reach a compromise on the conversion bill.

Reform and Conservative leaders reached an agreement in principle two weeks ago on the bill; the coalition chairman, Michael Eitan of the Likud Party, agreed to suspend legislative and judicial proceedings on the bill to give a committee of officials from the three main streams of Judaism time to try to resolve the dispute.