Archive for May, 2008

Od Yishama*

My friends just got engaged- after about two decades together. They have grown together, learned together, built a Jewish home together and served their jewish community- passionately. They have taught me alot about what it means to be in relationship- to each other and to the Jewish people. But legally, they are two single women who happen to live together- for a really long time.

So when the state of California ruled that gay people had a right to marriage along with their straight counterparts, my friends got engaged. When they told me, I wondered a little why it mattered. I knew it was not about the benefits. They would go back afterwards to their home state, where no benefits are extended to lesbian couples. It wasn’t for a sense of commitment, or seriousness, either, they already have that. Tonight, when I was thinking about it, I understood that this was about being heard. I began to understand a song I had sung many times:

“It will still be heard in the cities of Judah and in the outskirts of Jerusalem- The sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride”

The song expresses happiness- not only with the marriage of the couple, but with the presence of so many members of the community, who hear and recognize their joy. For my friends, that recognition and celebration are long overdue. I am happy to have had the privilege to hear their joy and to see the commitment and love- for each other and for judaism that they bring into their relationship.

I hope the state of California will have the courage to hear them soon.

Posted by queeryeshivameidel

* I hope to post later- and separately, on the subject of lesbian marriage in halacha, both civil and religious.

May 29, 2008 at 11:08 pm 1 comment

Eshes Chayil (Woman of Valor)

Grace is elusive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears G-d — she shall be praised.
Give her credit for the fruit of her labors, and let her achievements praise her at the gates.
-Eshes Chayil

I. AUTUMN

She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong.

The Rebbetzin of my local small-town Chabad House holds a Women’s Shabbos on a weekend when the Rabbi is away. As the only traditional Jewish community in my area, Chabad House has become a slightly uncomfortable yet welcoming place for me to spend Shabbos. Just as men sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no women around, women sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no men around. So tonight around the table 15 women sing the ancient words. I wonder if I am the only one who feels the power of a group of women singing this song together with no men around, singing this song to ourselves and to one another. I am sure I must be the only one who replaces the word “husband” with a gender-neutral concept in my mind while we sing. If I am lucky enough to share a home and a life one day with the woman I have been dating, I wonder if we will sing this song together on Shabbos. Will we replace a few of the words to better reflect our own realities? Or will we scrap this part of the Shabbos meal (it is only a custom rather than halacha, after all) because of its focus on the heterosexual marriage neither of us will ever be part of?

II. SPRING

Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.

My partner and I are standing around the Shabbos table with the ultra-Orthodox family who is hosting us, and their other guests. My relationship with her has grown ever more serious as we begin to plan for our future together. Everyone has just finished singing an especially spirited Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the angels of the sabbath. As usual, we begin singing Eshes Chayil, a section of Proverbs that is one of our tradition’s most beautiful odes to women. “Eshes chayil mi yimtza ve-rachok mi-peninim michrah…” (A woman of valor, who can find? She is more precious than pearls…) This is a tradition that was not part of the Shabbos rituals of my childhood, and I love watching the men in the families I spend Shabbos with singing this song of admiration to their wives.

Tonight I want so badly to turn towards my own partner and look her straight in the eye as I sing this song directly to her. I hope she knows that as I sing, struggling with the words as our host sings faster than I can possibly read the Hebrew, I am thinking of her alone. We are in a warm Hasidic household where my partner is a beloved member of the extended mishpacha and where we are accepted as a couple, but where also make sure to keep physical space between us. We do this not just because we don’t want to make our hosts uncomfortable with our queerness, but because in this home couples of any orientation just don’t touch. This is a space where even holding this beautiful woman’s gaze for too long in front of everyone else would feel like too much intimacy to be appropriate. So I keep my eyes to myself, but I imagine that we are standing alone together in our own kitchen, where I could hold her hands in mine and look at her while I sing, and where I could tell her that this song is for her, that she is my Woman of Valor.

Her valor is the bravery to be who she is and her refusal to compromise her yiddishkeit or her ability to love and be loved. Her valor is her hard-won sense of self-worth and self-respect. Her valor is her refusal to internalize shame, and her outspoken defense of those who are vulnerable. Her valor is her love for children and her sense of ethics. In the coming years, G-d willing, her valor as an amazing wife and mother will have the opportunity to shine. Unlike in the words of the song, no husband is required for this particular Eshes Chayil’s strength, beauty and faith to illuminate the world.

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

May 29, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Call for Submissions: Anthology of Writings By and About Orthodykes

We saw this call for submissions and knew that our blog would be the perfect place to pass it on. This anthology will be the first of its kind so if you know of any queer religious Jewish women, let them know about this.

Call for Submissions:

KEEP YOUR WIVES AWAY FROM THEM:
AN ANTHOLOGY OF WRITINGS BY AND ABOUT ORTHODYKES

Deadline: July 31, 2008

Jewish women who are bisexual, transgender, lesbian or queer-identified live lives that can often be fraught with discord. But they have also mined the complexities and contradictions that come with these identities as sources for spiritual change, ritual innovation and community building. Keep Your Wives Away From Them is an anthology of professional scholarly essays and personal journalistic pieces that will document the stories of those who have lived in the meeting-ground of Judaism and queer desire. This anthology, in calling attention to an otherwise hidden or silent population of women, will unravel the puzzle of a seemingly impossible identity. It will also document the rich innovations in Jewish and queer life in the communities of Jewish LBTQ women and female born genderqueer individuals that have developed in around the world over the past 25 years.

Some topics KYW will address:

Life as a LBTQ person: What are the dilemmas and difficult elements of maintaining simultaneously and LBTQ identity? What are the joys and triumphs?

Family Ties: Personal stories may describe shifting filial or sibling relationships and severed or renewed family ties.

Community: Have traditional communities integrated LBTQ women into their midst? What rules must be followed to blend in?

Trans/intersex experiences: What are the challenges of being trans/intersex/genderqueer in the religious world and what resources are there for dealing with them? How do trans people adapt or relate to Jewish law, which so rigidly distinguishes between male and female obligations?

Ritual and Jewish Law: Often discussions of “homosexuality and Judaism” are focused exclusively on men. What are the sources of Jewish law, ritual, and halakah for interpreting classical Jewish teaching on lesbianism?
(more…)

May 29, 2008 at 12:01 am 7 comments

Think of the Children [A Guest Post by Rochel]

This is our first guest post, written by Rochel, a member of Tirtzah.

When I started coming out at shul, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t naïve enough to hope that everyone would be supportive or understanding but at the same time I did try to be optimistic. After attending this shul for over four years, I had developed many close friendships and in fact considered many of the members more like family than friends. These were the people who had celebrated with me when I finished grad school, cried with me when my father was battling cancer, opened their homes to me week after week so that I could experience what it is like to have shabbos with family… this community taught me about the value of chesed (loving kindness) and I desperately hoped that they would respond to me with kindness when I opened up to them about my sexuality.

I chose different approaches to coming out to the people that I was closest with at shul. Some people I spoke with in person or on the phone, and cases where I was most nervous I wrote an email. While in the end, people have had different responses and offered varying degrees of support, initially there did seem to be one theme.

“Think of the children!”, everyone seemed to be saying…
(more…)

May 28, 2008 at 11:46 pm 2 comments

My Queer Shidduch

I am excited to be heading off to the East Coast Nehirim retreat on Friday. It’s hard to believe it was just a year ago that I stood at the last retreat, surrounded by a small group of frum lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jews as they offered me a bracha for a shidduch. This was a turning point in my journey towards becoming more religious. That weekend in Connecticut helped me see that there were possibilities, that I didn’t have to choose between being who I am (a woman who loves women) and pursuing G-d, Torah and Jewish community. At a retreat that consisted largely of LGBT Jews who took less halachically oriented approaches to Judaism than I do, a group of attendees who were interested in halacha came together and formed deep connections that have turned into friendships over the last year. The bond that is formed when people come together who are committed to loving and accepting ourselves as queer Jews while pursuing Torah and yiddishkeit is a powerful one. Many of us don’t get to connect with others who are like us outside of such retreats, or perhaps the internet. The isolation can be torturous and crazy-making. I felt tears rushing into my eyes at the end of the weekend when these new friends offered me prayers that I should meet someone who I could build a healthy, happy relationship with. I had believed that if expecting to meet a Jewish woman was asking a lot, even daring to hope to meet a frum Jewish woman who shared my love for Judaism was unrealistic and impossible. I was expecting too much, I thought. My experiences with online dating only furthered this impression, as I found most lesbian women to be very intimidated by, or hurt by, religion. So imagine my surprise when not much more than a month after I received this bracha, a woman came into my life who I couldn’t have dreamed up. An Orthodox, kind, beautiful woman who has since become my partner. Baruch Hashem, this year I get to bring her to the retreat where I first began to integrate the disparate parts of my life. It is the closing of a beautifully full circle. I am truly blessed.

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

May 28, 2008 at 5:00 am 4 comments

Why this blog?

In the coming weeks you will see posts here from a number of different authors. What we all share in common is that each of us is a woman who identifies as lesbian, bisexual or queer… and that we are all religious Jews, who strive to live full and integrated lives.

Tirtzah is not just a blog. We are also a community of frum queer women. We hold events in the New York City area, and we have an e-mail discussion list as well. We are focused on gathering to celebrate and study our yiddishkeit. As our mission statement says, “we are committed to the value of shleimut (wholeness) and to supporting one another in observing a meaningful, integrated, honest and joyful Jewish life.”

If you are a woman who is lesbian, bisexual or queer, and you are currently a frum (religiously observant) Jew or are working towards becoming more halachically observant – We hope you will join our e-mail list. We are also eagerly seeking guest blog posts and hope you will consider sending us your writing on any topic relating to being frum and queer. Personal narratives, halachic explorations, and other types of posts are welcome. You may use a pseudonym, or just your first name, if you would like to maintain anonymity.

We hope you will keep reading and help us spread the word about this resource.

B’shalom,
The Editors

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

May 28, 2008 at 4:37 am Leave a comment

Coming soon!

This is a placeholder for our new blog. Sit tight!

May 23, 2008 at 12:45 am 1 comment


About Tirtzah

We are a community of frum queer women who gather to celebrate and study our yiddishkeit. We are committed to the value of shleimut (wholeness) and to supporting one another in observing a meaningful, integrated, honest and joyful Jewish life.

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