Rabbi Peter Knobel of Evanston, Ill., is also heading a Central Conference of American Rabbis committee creating a guide to same-sex wedding ceremonies. The committee was formed more than two years ago when the Reform organization approved the right of its members to officiate at such rituals, but is only now becoming active, said Rabbi Knobel in an interview from his congregation, Beth Emet-The Free Synagogue.

Several years ago the Reconstructionist movement did, however, create an egalitarian divorce document and ritual that works equally well for gay and lesbian Jews as it does heterosexuals. It can be initiated by either half of the couple.

In just about all same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies, the language of the traditional seven blessings, which speaks of the groom and bride, is changed.

Many same-sex couples (and progressive heterosexual ones) look to the "Brit Ahuvim," or Lovers' Covenant, developed by feminist theologian Rachel Adler and published in her 1998 book "Engendering Judaism."

Adler breaks from the traditional Jewish wedding contract, in which the language is about the man legally "acquiring" the woman and his fiduciary obligations to her. Adler's ritual, instead, contains, in both Hebrew and English, the language of mutuality, describing it as "a covenant of distinction," one of "devotion" and "mutual lovingkindness," and quotes the first Book of Samuel in which Jonathan makes a covenant with David.

Not everyone is keen on the overall trend.

"We in our community find the whole approach of legitimizing such unions and adapting liturgy to such ceremonies to be unacceptable and deeply disturbing," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the fervently Orthodox organization Agudath Israel.

"Jewish tradition is very clear on the meaning of marriage and equally clear on homosexual acts. It's entirely at odds with Jewish religious tradition to give an imprimatur to any such ceremony," he said.

Rabbi Ayelet Cohen of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, New York's gay and lesbian congregation, and other experts credit feminism with having opened up the idea in recent years that the language of liturgy can and should reflect the needs and hopes of the people reciting the prayers.

But, they say, the notion is rooted even further back.

"Serious students of liturgy can tell you that Jewish liturgy's evolution has always allowed for a fair amount of innovation and diversity, and so it's really building on that tradition," said Rabbi Cohen.

The Internet has contributed greatly to the popularizing of these new rituals because for the first time, they are accessible to anyone with a modem.

One example is Ritualwell.org, a Web site compilation of lifecycle rituals and blessings for just about any occasion. The wedding section includes several same-sex accounts and ceremonies, and there are coming-out ceremonies as well.

Wanted: A Female Mohel
Sarah and Michelle, who asked that their real names not be used, are both from Orthodox families which, they say, have come to accept their relationship.

But it is out of respect for the integrity of traditional Judaism that they are not using conventional Jewish legal wedding terms like "kiddushin."

"We're actually having a Jewishly legally binding commitment to each other," said Michelle, who works in the arts in Manhattan. "There's a place in everything for halacha. What we're trying to do with our ceremony is find that place. As women and as lesbians, we've been challenged to find our way in Orthodoxy, but we're not giving up yet."

When Hope and Melanie Levav married in a Reform sanctuary under a chupah, and with even some Orthodox relatives in attendance, they were comfortable with using terms like "kiddushin."

They both shed their surnames and jointly picked one they now share. The night before the wedding was a Saturday, and they invited a bunch of friends to their Brooklyn apartment for a "melave kallah," or celebration of the brides.

"There was singing, some blessings, we did Havdalah at the end and we sat in a circle and passed around a Miriam's cup with wine," said Hope, a teacher at the Hannah Senesh Community Day School. "When the cup got to them each person told stories about us. Each person also got a pretty piece of paper and wrote a blessing for us, and a friend made us a collage with them."

Using the same quasi-religious folk custom as an Orthodox couple would, they broke a plate to symbolize their commitment to each other.

"It was really intense," Hope said. "We got comments from the women who were there, most of whom are straight, about how meaningful the experience was, which it was for both of us, too. We had been to many rehearsal dinners for other weddings and things that were fun but didn't seem particularly Jewish. With this we were relaxed, but it also had a spiritual dimension and got us in the mind-set for the next day."