Erika Davis (blogger at www.blackgayjewish.com), discusses acceptance in being a part of the Jewish people.
Erika Davis (blogger at www.blackgayjewish.com), discusses acceptance in being a part of the Jewish people.
A little something different this week. Enjoy!
By Danny Stauffer
One day as I was studying the Torah I noticed that the commandment to love the stranger was repeated several times. I’m sure as good Jews we’ve all read the Torah and noticed the same thing. In fact, I think anybody, regardless of your level of observance, has come across that commandment several times during their studies.
Why is it repeated so many times? One could assume that a commandment repeated is probably pretty important. So the reason? Because we were once strangers in Egypt. It’s all about not sympathy, but empathy. We have been there before. In fact, we’re there now. If you live anywhere outside of Israel, you’re not in a Jewish nation. So, you could say that we are strangers once again in another’s land.
None of that is news to any of you, I’m sure. What might be news to you is that this commandment seems to be quite often forgotten. If not forgotten then outright ignored! I, believe it or not, am a stranger. I did not come to Judaism through the womb but instead through conversion (which I’m still in that process). And oddly enough, some of the most discouraging people have been Jews. I have been told by Jews that because I’m a homosexual, even with an Orthodox conversion, I’d never be a real Jew. And I’m not the only one.
During my time as a “Jew Under Construction” I’ve developed a network of other converts and people who are converting. And would you believe it? I’m not the only one who faces these issues. A very good friend of mine was so immersed in her Jewish community that even the men (it was a Frum community) were astonished by her knowledge. Yet many refused to call her a Jew. She eventually gave up. No community wanted her to be a part of it so she became a Muslim in order to have a community to pray with (there is nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s just unfortunate that she had to seek elsewhere for a religious community.). After her conversion to Islam her rabbi encouraged her room mates to move out of the apartment.
Where is the kindness to strangers there? Perhaps the more frum will say that we need to segregate ourselves to keep us free from outside influences. But what will that accomplish? I find more segregated Jews leaving their faith than integrated Jews. I can understand being against intermarriage, but let’s face it; we live in a world of non-Jews. We can’t just ignore the rest of the population. I always thought the whole idea behind Judaism and Tikkun Olam was to lead by example. Therefore, when somebody wishes to follow our example, even if not in our exact idea, should we not encourage it? Should we not assist in it?
I have accepted the fact that no matter what route I take for my conversion there will always be large portions of the Jewish community who don’t see me as Jewish. For the most part, I am fine with just ignoring them. With or without a conversion I consider myself Jewish and bound by Jewish law. And part of that law tells me that I have to treat the stranger with kindness and respect. And some day, when the stranger approaches me and asks me how he, too, can become a Jew, I wouldn’t dare tell him to think twice. I wouldn’t tell him he can’t be Jewish because he’s different. I won’t judge him. I will instead give him a hug and call him brother.
By Jeremy Wood
On August 1 2009, a gunman entered the “Aguda” building in Tel Aviv where an Israeli Gay Youth event was being held and opened fire on the crowd, killing two LGBT activists, one of them just 17 years old. The gunman has been suspected to be ultra orthodox; regardless the ultra orthodox press in Israel was quick to blame the victim, calling them depraved and stating that any blame for the murders lay solely with the owners of the club who put minors in danger of incurring the wrath of G-d.
And yet half the time we give these guys our Torah. We assume they’re right about the Pasuks they use to hate. We assume that to reject the interpretation requires that we reject the text.
However, my tradition teaches that every word of the Tanakh, has value and I believe this—so if you’ll allow me I’d rather deconstruct than reject. I don’t have the Christian privilege to simply say “and then Jesus came and it was all better.” Judaism teaches that we need to weed through the garbage, including homophobic manipulations of scripture and pull out the light for there is light in everything. Here’s an example: Vayikra 18:22 reads “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Many of us have let ourselves be convinced by bigots that this simply refers to sex between men (the Bible never references sex between women, silencing female sexuality but not forbidding its queer expression) whether in a pagan temple or anywhere else as a crime. But if we read it carefully, there is more going on here. What does “as one lies with a woman” mean? In a heteronormative society that placed a high priority on fertility the central act of heterosexual sex, the way in which one “lay with a woman” was vaginal penetration, taken here to extend to anal penetration. To the biblical writer penetration was a show of dominance. In the patriarchal context of the bible, vaginal penetration is a show of men’s dominance over women. To penetrate a man is to dominate him, just as the people of Sodom threatened to penetrate the guests of Lot.
Penetration only becomes domination in a context that conceives of sex as a field of power relations. If we recognize that no sex act is inherently dominant or submissive then we are forced to read the line from Leviticus as referring not to the sexual act so much as to a context of domination. The official position of my own denomination, Conservative Judaism, does not make this inference. It supports marriage equality elsewhere, gay ordination elsewhere but insists that this verse must be taken to forbid one act, that of anal penetration between men. Yet the Bible states that “a man shall cleave unto his wife and become one flesh [through penetrative contact].” My tradition recognizes that penetration is not simply an act of pleasure and is not an act inherently of dominance but rather one that strives to unite two bodies into one. I refuse to deny such union to same sex couples.
To forbid a man to dominate a man as they would a woman still relies of course on a deeply misogynist assumption that women are to be sexually subservient, below men. If we come to the verse rather with an understanding that women and men are entitled to the same sexual respect, we can understand it to command that you shall not have sex with anyone (men, women or intersex persons) with an intent to dominate.
There are real scraps of queer love that made it into the texts and these texts are of course empowering but as long as we let the homophobes monopolize other passages like the line in Vayikra we will be saying to queer Jews that they cannot have this line. They will have to bite their tongue and leave it alone. We will be inferring that in their community they will have to stay in the closet or leave the community.
A Judaism that intends to remain meaningful to all Jews requires that Jewish communities, queer, ally and otherwise reform the way they treat sexual and gender diversity. It is incumbent upon all Jews that we make new space for queer people, their partners and the families they form rather than compelling them to inhabit tired closets. At its truest heart Judaism teaches that humanity is made to love, including in bed, in whatever way G-d has led them to see fit and that such love, straight or queer and the families that such love creates are the most important foundation of Jewish peoplehood.
by Matthew Gindin
(This is an edited version. The full piece can be found here.)
Vayikra 20:13: “And a man who will lie with with a male like laying with a woman: the two of them have done an offensive thing. They shall be put to death.”
What made “laying with a man like laying with a woman” fatally unholy?
One possibility presents itself: laws like these were intended to differentiate the Israelites from their neighbors. Ancient Egyptians had a custom of sibling marriage and anthropologists claim that some tribes in Canaan practiced ritual homosexual rape. Rabbi Gershon Winkler has argued that these laws were intended to outlaw homosexual rape specifically because it was widely practiced in Canaanite temples.
This is possible, but doesn’t seem that strong an explanation. It does seem reasonable that the phrase “laying with a man like a woman” does refer to anal sex. This is the interpretation that Conservative Jews have adopted and they have ruled that homosexual romance and marriage are permissible but not anal sex between men.
Rabbi Steven Greenberg (an openly gay Orthodox rabbi) has suggested that the problem is not anal sex but the use of other men not for their own sake but as a mere replacement for a woman. In his reading one should lay with a man like one is laying with a man, not like one is laying with a woman.
Richard Elliott Friedman has suggested that homosexual anal sex is outlawed here not because it is offensive to God but because it is offensive to Israelites. The verse says, “Do not do X. It is an offensive thing.” Friedman suggests that the Torah is in effect saying “Do not have homosexual intercourse. It is something people generally find offensive and you are trying to be a refined, disciplined, holy people. Therefore abandon it.”
One other possibility is that homosexual intercourse was outlawed because it was perceived as against the way of nature. The Tanakh is filled with praise for the divine wisdom inherent in nature. Some of the laws, like those limiting breeding hybrid crops or mixing certain types of fabric, seem to reflect this.
This presents two problems for us today. The first problem is that we now know that homosexual desires are not a perverse inclination of the human heart but a natural inclination grounded in genetic predisposition. We also know that it is impossible for homosexual men to be “cured” of their desires. The evidence suggest that homosexual desire is in fact natural. This seems to conflict with the rationale we perceived above.
I am reminded of the words of orthodox Rabbi Simon Rappaport. He pointed out that to fail to observe this mitzvah is no worse than failing to observe any other. To judge those born with desire for other men, or to (has v’shalom) publicly condemn or persecute them, is as unacceptable as publicly shaming and assaulting those who talk during prayer or smoke on shabbat. Sadly some fundamentalist thugs might advocate doing that these days, but it is clearly against traditional Jewish law.