Posts filed under ‘Community Events & Announcements’
Tirtzah is proud to be a part of Eshel, which will be hosting it’s first Orthodox LGBT community Shabbaton this January.
Eshel welcomes gay and lesbian traditional Jews to join us for this first-ever shabbaton, being held January 21-23 at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, two hours from New York City. The Shabbaton will bring together Orthodox gay Jews of all kinds (including the ex-Orthodox and ‘Ortho-curious’) to an event aimed to create a community of support, learning, growth and leadership.
The shabbaton will include shiurim, zmiros, sessions on relevant to our lives as gay and lesbian frum (or formerly frum) Jews, wonderful ‘geshmak’ davening, delicious organic kosher food, and plenty of time scheduled to just hang out, sit by the fireplace on Saturday night, and get to know all the members of this growing community. This will be an informative, fun, and spiritually inspiring weekend.
On Sunday, we will convene a Leadership Development Day from 9am-3pm that will address the crucial questions regarding our shared commitment to a more welcoming Orthodox world. The day will include sessions for developing speaking skills, understanding grant writing, conducting effective meetings with community leaders, and learning about different community organizing models that can help us engage with the Orthodox community about the issues that matter most to us.
The operations of the shabbaton will be handled by Nehirim, which has run retreats for LGBT Jews for many years. The program for the shabbaton is being created by the Eshel board, which includes many leaders from the gay Orthodox world, including Rabbi Steve Greenberg, Mordechai Levovitz (JQYouth), Chasiah Haberman (Tirtzah), Miryam Kabakov (Keep Your Wives Away from Them), and others. There will also be “open space” time during the retreat for participants to facilitate workshops and conversations.
All food will be strictly kosher, the retreat will be shomer shabbos, and the davening will include traditional, mechitza davening. (Depending on community interest we may have davening alternatives as well; on the registration form, you’ll be asked what kind of davening you’d like to participate in during the weekend.) We will offer a variety of learning options, from traditional text study to workshops on issues of gay and lesbian interest.
Registration and Pricing
Pricing starts at $250 for the entire weekend, including room and board, and thanks to our donors, we have generous financial aid available. If you register before November 15, you can also qualify for EARLY BIRD pricing — simply enter “EARLYBIRD” as your coupon code, and you’ll receive $50 off your registration.
Complete Pricing information is as follows:
Dorm triple/quad (bathroom down the hall): $250
Economy (shared bath): Double $300, Single $350
Standard (private bath): Triple $275, Double $375, Single $450
Luxury (Weinberg building): Double: $425, Single: $500
Child in room: $150
Thanks to the generosity of donors and community members, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The financial aid application will be available here in late October. All aid requests will be considered confidentially.
The shabbaton will be fully shomer shabbos: no electricity or musical instruments will be used in any program on Shabbat. The eruv is checked weekly. All food will be supervised kosher — cholov yisrael and pas yisrael is available upon request at an extra cost.
Faculty and Schedule
The retreat will begin at 4pm on Friday, just before Shabbos. We will post information about the exact schedule and faculty in November, 2010.
For directions and transportation information, please visit the Isabella Freedman website. To offer or request a ride to the retreat, we will create a Ride Board in November. The retreat center is available by train, and a shuttle is available for $15 from the Wassaic train station, for the MetroNorth train leaving Grand Central Station at 11:15am. For other pickup times or locations, Lakeville Taxi, (860) 435-8000, is available. Lakeville Taxi is a reservation service. Voicemails for the purpose of reserving rides must be left before 5pm and at least 24 hours in advance. Neither Eshel nor Nehirim is providing transportation to the retreat — we advise you to use the ride board, since there are always plenty of rides coming from New York, Boston, and other cities as well.
Questions? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 24th and 25th
Being Frum and Gay
This weekend, the Orthodox Community at Penn (OCP) and JQYouth (JQY), a group that provides support to LGBT Orthodox Jews (www.JQYouth.org) collaborated to develop a shabbaton aimed at addressing issues that gay and lesbian Jews face within the Orthodox community. The shabbaton built upon the format and ideas originally presented at the “Being Gay in the Orthodox World” panel that was held at Yeshiva University this December.
On Friday night, the invited speakers from JQYouth shared their stories in a general panel session. The evening began with a brief statement by one of the organizers from the OCP, and a message from Rabbi Mordy Friedman, the Orthodox Rabbi at Penn, framing the shabbaton as a weekend intended to raise awareness of issues that already exist within the Orthodox community, and that it is not intended as a forum to discuss halacha (Jewish law). The panelists then each discussed topics ranging from their experiences coming out to family members and rabbis, to issues faced by Orthodox Jewish lesbians, forming communities for LGBT Orthodox Jews, and forming more inclusive Orthodox communities. There were over 150 people in attendance, and the audience was generally supportive of the speakers, applauding after each panelist spoke. The panelists were then asked questions from the audience ranging from whether they envisioned themselves forming families, whether being gay and Orthodox creates a crisis of faith, and whether there are generational or communal differences in terms of levels of tolerance that the panelists have experienced. The session only came to an end after the Hillel building needed to close for the night.
After morning services, Rabbi Friedman held a brief survey of contemporary literature on homosexuality. Taking a neutral stance on the issue, Rabbi Friedman reviewed responses spanning from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s t’shuvah (response) stating that homosexuality reflects a deliberate act of rebellion against God, to contemporary approaches of Rabbi Chaim Rapoport and Rav Yuval Sherlo, that go so far as to deal with questions such as whether lesbian couples should wear hair coverings and observe laws of ritual purity.
In the afternoon, four sessions on various topics relating to homosexuality in the Orthodox community were held. From 5:00pm to 6:00pm a session on ally training was held by Nicole Riley, Shaina Adams-El Guabli, and Fran De La Tor, three straight female allies of the LGBT community who have had experience leading similar workshops in the past. Nicole, Fran, and Shaina facilitated conversation regarding LGBT-specific language and stereotypes of the LGBT community, as well as group exercises to provide various strategies. These strategies included how to respond when a friend comes out, and when one overhears derogatory comments, such as “That’s Gay,” used in different social circles.
Simultaneously, Josh Teplitsky and Justin Spiro held a discussion on language as boundary. During this session they discussed a statement that Josh has heard several times after speaking at the Yeshiva University panel that “We should provide sympathy to the struggling homosexual.” Josh and Justin engaged the audience in a discussion of what the word struggle means as well as when it is appropriate to provide and withhold sympathy for others. The audience discussed how religious struggles are not unique to LGBT Orthodox Jews and discussed their own struggles with issues of faith and sexuality. During the workshop, one of the audience members expressed her frustration with that statement and discussed how she was upset by the question posed to the panelists the previous night about whether they’ve experienced a crisis of faith. She stated that the crisis of faith shouldn’t only apply to the gay individuals in the community. Instead, she suggested that the crisis of faith should apply to the entire Orthodox community because there are community members who are suffering because of their sexual orientation. This sentiment was echoed by others present for this discussion as well as other discussions over the course of the evening.
Josh reiterated this point by making a distinction between a psychological struggle characterized by an individual experiencing distress over his or her sexual identity, and a philosophical/intellectual struggle that involves grappling with the halachik implications of a gay identity. Josh concluded by stating that when we view it as a philosophical struggle, then it belongs to the entire community rather than the homosexual individuals themselves.
From 6:00pm to 7:00pm Chasiah Haberman, founder of Tirtzah, a community of frum queer women, held a discussion on halachik questions facing Orthodox LGBT people. The thrust of the session was to build awareness of the technical challenges that a gay Torah-observer faces in a religion whose commandments presume heterosexual attraction. With Chasiah’s help, the group managed to pinpoint several areas such as mechitza (separation), nida (purity), shomer negia (touching of the opposite sex), and tzniut (modesty) that pose an interpretive challenge to the gay observant Jew. Chasiah rendered the discussion universal by asking everyone to mention a personal halachik challenge, demonstrating that it is all observant Jews, not only gay observant Jews, who struggle to observe halacha. The session was concluded with a reading from Jewish scholar Eliezer Berkowitz. Berkowitz tells an anecdote from Raba in which the Babylonian sage expresses that halacha is alive and eternal, and is always interpreted and reinterpreted by the Sages of the generation.
At the same time, Erez Harari and Chaim Levin held a panel discussion on reparative therapy. Erez, a student at Fordham working on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and co-founder of JQY, discussed the history of therapies aimed at treating homosexuality, as well as the theory and research behind modern day reparative therapy. Erez critiqued the theory behind reparative therapy and the research that has been published in support of it. Erez then discussed the potential for harm when engaging in these treatments. Chaim followed with his personal experiences being involved in reparative therapy for several years and reviewed the techniques used to try to alter his sexual orientation. He concluded by mentioning how he was led to blame himself for not trying hard enough when his sexual orientation failed to change, as well as how his community ended up blaming him for “choosing” to be gay once he decided to stop attending treatment.
After the evening meal, Chasiah gave a speech to a standing room only crowd of over a hundred people. Chasiah discussed the notion of “hating your brother in your heart,” which appeared in this week’s Torah portion, and how this verse is interpreted to mean that you are so hateful towards fellow Jew that you aren’t even willing to engage him or her in dialogue about what it is that’s making you hateful. She then thanked the crowd for demonstrating ahavat yisroel (love of your fellow Jew) by being willing to attend the event and engage in a dialogue about these issues.
The shabbaton concluded with a screening of the film V’ahavta (And thou shalt love), an award-winning short film about a gay yeshiva student in Israel, followed by a discussion on how to create a more inclusive Orthodox Community. This discussion, moderated by Matthew Feczko and Isaac Alkolomber, two members of the OCP and JQY, generated a number of different suggestions by the audience, who seemed generally in favor of working towards creating a more welcoming environment for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews at Penn. Suggestions ranged from reaching out to those who seem isolated, to speaking publicly against homophobic statements and creating joint events with J-Bagel, the gay Jewish group at Penn. A distinction was made during the discussion between implicit and explicit methods of inclusion, and the importance of understanding that for an Orthodox gay person, the implicit message is often one of exclusion, and that explicit messages are often necessary to make someone feel fully included. Some of the speakers expressed the hope that this weekend becomes a template for future programs at other campuses, schools, and synagogues. Isaac then closed the discussion by posing a question to the crowd, asking them how each of them plan on conveying this message of inclusiveness once the shabbaton is over.
The events of the weekend were widely considered a success drawing many people from diverse communities on campus. The event, according to one of the organizers, Isaac Setton, was a kiddush hashem as many people from many different backgrounds saw the Orthodox community coming together in support of the LGBT community. The Orthodox Community at Penn was able to organize and facilitate many discussions about the future of Orthodoxy and Orthodox education. One participant remarked, “One day, the people being educated at this event will sit on the board of shuls and schools and it will be up to them to make sure that when this issue comes up it is not a shock and is dealt with properly.” The people who attended the event were all glad they were provided with the opportunity to engage with this issue.
Video of segments from “Being Gay in The Orthodox World: A conversation with Members of the YU Community”
YU has not released an official transcript of it’s event this week in order to protect the privacy of participants. Several participants, however, have allowed footage of their comments to be shared on Youtube, and we are including these videos here. If others who were at the event are willing to share their comments, we will be sharing them as well.
View of the Audience:
Rabbi Blau’s Intro (we are waiting for permission to publish this)
1st Panelist: (pending permission)
Closing Remarks: Dr. Pelcovitz:
View of the Crowd at the end:
On Monday night in Manhattan, members of the Tirtzah community attended a community-wide memorial and prayer service for those who were killed, physically and psychologically injured by the attack in Tel-Aviv. Chasiah Haberman offered the following introduction to psalm 130 on behalf of the Tirtzah community, of which she is a founding member.
When I was younger, my father told me a story about a man who committed a crime. He was caught, and taken to prison. When he arrived- the parts of his body began to argue with each other. The head accused the hands of committing the crime, the hands accused the feet of getting them to the scene, and the feet accused the head of planning it all. They were all right, my father explained, except that it makes no sense for a person to fail to understand himself as one man.
But, sometimes, in a time of crisis, we dissociate. We point fingers, we blame those who are really part of us, saying that we have nothing to do with them. We forget our interrelatedness. In Masechet Nedarim, the Jerusalem talmud teaches us that if a man cuts his finger by mistake we do not go to that man and rebuke him- we know that a man does not intentionally cut his own finger. And so it should be in the life of a nation, we are like the parts of one body- a pain in our finger is felt in our entire being.
And since last Saturday night, we as a people have shared a pain. We have seen two young people shot and killed, and many others injured. We have seen a community of gay young adults and teenagers, who came together to support one another, to bring kindness and understanding to one another- targeted by violence. This pain- as pain often does, has brought us together and has driven us apart.
Some cannot imagine how an attack on a gay center in tel aviv has anything to do with them. Some of our leaders have been silent. Some individuals have, unbelievably, threatened additional violence.
But for many of us, this has been a time to come together. Jews all over the world recited Tehillim- and in particular psalm 130, which we are about to read. The day after the attack- myself and the women of Tirtzah, a community of religiously and halachically committed Jewish Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans women gathered in a room in this JCC for our usual meeting. We began with Tehillim, and then dedicated our study to the memory of those who were killed, and to healing for those who were hurt and who were injured.
Online- people from all over the world connected to stand in solidarity with the victims of the attack, to mourn together and to pray together, and to comfort one another. In New York and Tel-Aviv, in Boston, In Chicago and in Germany, people came together from many different walks of life- to speak, to recite tehillim, to light candles. Rabbi Linzer of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah wrote a prayer which was recited in many Synogogues in the United States this shabbat, including the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where I prayed, with my girlfriend, this past Shabbat.
All over the world, many of us turned to the words of Psalm 130 (which we will soon recite). Our natural response to pain and tragedy might be to cast blame, to distance ourselves from one another, to live in fear and isolation- But the psalmist reminds us that none of us is entirely blameless
” Im avonot tishmor Ya- adonai mi ya’amod”.
“If you hold on to our sins, Oh G-d, Lord, who will stand”.
The psalmist turns to G0d, the merciful redeemer, and asks that we be lifted up- that God guide us past our current imperfections.
This is a time in which we need, as a community, to come together, to reawaken our sense that we are one body- one that cannot disown any of its parts. It is a time for each of us to think about what we can do to create a world that is more caring, a safer world for the gay teenagers who met in the gay community center in tel- aviv, and for each and every member of our communities.
So now, as we recite psalm 130, we pray for: the dead, the wounded, their families, communities. We pray for those who were hurt in body and in spirit by this attack. And we ask God to give us the strength not to dissociate, but to continue to reach out towards one another, despite all of our limitations, with love and with mercy.
A Prayer for the Slain and Injured at the Gay Community Center in Tel Aviv — by Rabbi Dov Linzer
This prayer expresses grief and sorrow over the horrific and murderous attack at the gay Community Center in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2009 and the heightened sense of responsibility and obligation that all Jews and communities, across the denominations, must share in response. This tfillah was recited in numerous synagogues on Shabbat Parshat Ekev (August 8, 2009), both Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and was delivered at an interdenominational memorial and tehillim service at the JCC of Manhattan on Monday night, August 10, 2009.
מי שברך אבותינו אברהם יצחק ויעקב ואמותנו שרה רבקה רחל ולאה, הוא יברך וירפא את החולים והחולות שנפגעו
בפיגוע החבלני והרצחני בתל אביב, בארצנו הקדושה, בעבור שאנחנו מתפללים בעבורם. בשכר זה, הקב”ה ימלא
רחמים עליהם, להחלים ולרפאותם, ולהחזיקם ולהחיותם, וישלח להם מהרה רפואה שלמה מן השמים, בתוך שאר חולי
ישראל, רפואת הנפש ורפואת הגוף, שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא. השתא בעגלא ובזמן קריב ונאמר אמן.
Master of the Universe, watch over the souls of the slain and bring healing to those who were injured in the violent and murderous attack in Tel Aviv in our Holy Land. See how not only the bodies, but the souls and lives of these persons have been shattered. See how this support group for teenagers – this place which for many of them was their one refuge of protection, support, and acceptance – how this haven has now been violated and has now become a place of danger, of vulnerability, and of death. Heal their bodies, heal their souls and heal their spirits.
O Lord, you have taught us in Your Torah the mitzvah of the עגלה ערופה . You have taught us that when a person is murdered and it is not known who the murder is, or what the motives are behind the murder, that it is the leaders of the community who must look inward and ask what sins of commission or omission could have possibly contributed to this tragedy. Who among us in the Jewish people, whatever our denomination or affiliation, can say ידינו לא שפכו את הדם הזה, that we have done everything in our ability to protect against such a tragedy? Who among us, throughout the Jewish people, can say, לא ראינוהו ופטרנוהו בלא מזונות ובלא לויה, that we did everything in our power to ensure that these victims were cared for physically and emotionally, to ensure that we gave them friendship and protection? O Lord, we cannot make this declaration of innocence.
Master of the Universe, give us the courage to stand up to and reject all forms of hateful speech and violence. Give us the strength of spirit to refuse to tolerate the rejection of any human being, each of whom is created in בצלם א- לוהים, in Your Divine image. Help us to internalize in our hearts and to manifest in our actions the mandate of the verse in this week’s parsha ואהבתם את הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים, that it is our responsibility to care for, to love, and to protect all members of our society, and in particular those who are most vulnerable and most likely to feel estranged and rejected. Help us to value every member of our society for whom he or she is, to care for them, to support them, and to recognize that they are an equal part of our community כגיהיה. Give us the strength to fully actualize – in our speech and in our actions – the maxim that כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה , that the entirety of the Jewish people, straight and gay, is interwoven with and
responsible for every one of its members.
We cannot change the past, but we can work to change the future, so we pray, O Lord, that You accept our mourning and our prayers, and give us the strength to change. We pray that we can make the necessary sacrifices to live up to our obligations to You and to every human being who is created in Your image, and that this can bring partial atonement for the,דם נקי בקרב עמך ישראל for the innocent blood that has been shed and allowed to have been shed in the midst of Your people, of Israel.
כפר לעמך ישראל , Atone for Your people, O Lord, bring us healing, a healing of persons, a healing of society, help us create a society where all are protected, cared for, and valued, and let no innocent blood ever again be spilled. Now and speedily in our days, and let us say, Amen.
Click to dowload the prayer in PDF: A Prayer for the Slain and Injured in Tel Aviv
Memorial and Solidarity Tehillim Service
for the Victims of the Attack on the Tel Aviv gay and lesbian Jewish Youth Group
Last Saturday night, an unknown assailant opened fire on a Jewish support group for gay and lesbian youth, killing three and injuring ten minors. Join us for a community-wide memorial service as we stand in solidarity with the victims and renounce violence in the Jewish community. Speakers will include Rabbi Yosef Blau (Mashgiach Ruchani of Yeshiva University), Rabbi Dov Linzer (Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah), Mrs. Elana Stein Hain (Lincoln Square Synagogue clergy), Rabbis from local Jewish synagogues and schools, Benjamin Fink (NFTY-NAR regional advisor) representing Jewish youth across the nation, as well as members of Jewish GLBT Youth groups. The service will include Rabbinic messages, the reading of tehillim (psalms) and personal accounts of what its like growing up gay and Jewish.
Where: JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam ave. @ 76th st. New York, NY 10023
When: Monday, August 10th 8:00pm – 9:00pm
Co-sponsored by NY based organizations offering support for LGBT Jews: JCC in Manhattan, JQYouth, GLYDSA, Tirtzah, CBST, Nehirim, and Hebro.
Just a reminder to say tehillim tonight at 7:00 EST for those who were slain and wounded in Tel- Aviv, as well as for their families, friends and communities. Tehillim can be recited in whatever city you may find yourself, on your own, or with others.
In addition: On Monday night at 8:30pm, Mt. Sinai Jewish Center will be reciting Tehillim for those who were killed or hurt in the attack following Mincha/Ma’ariv services. They are located at:
Mount Sinai Jewish Center
135 Bennett Avenue
New York, NY 10040
I hope those of you who live in New York will be able to make it. If anyone knows of other services/ tehillim gatherings, please list them in the comments section below.
We mourn the loss of three people who were murdered in a shooting at a weekly support group for youth in a gay community center in Tel-Aviv late Sat. , and pray for those who were wounded in what may have been the worst homophobic attack on the gay community in Israel. The New York Times reports that as of this writing no arrests have been made, and the motives are unknown, but that government officials and leaders of glbt organizations in Israel believe it to be a hate-crime. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this attack, their families, friends and communities.
Sunday, Aug 2, at 7:00pm EST, we urge you to take a moment to think of those who have been killed and wounded in this attack and to recite Tehillim (psalms) on their behalf. Specifically, we will be reciting psalms 70,20, and 130. May God comfort the mourners among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and bring a speedy recovery, in body and in spirit, to all those injured by this attack.
Tirtzah: A Community of Frum Queer Women invites you to join us for our next event:
DAVENING AS A FRUM QUEER WOMAN
Sunday, August 2nd, 2009
New York, NY
We will be exploring questions such as: What is your relationship to individual and communal prayer? How is your relationship to Hashem affected by your being lesbian/bisexual/queer/questioning? Has your relationship to prayer and to Hashem changed as you have come out to yourself and/or your community?
We will begin with some text study, as always, and then delve into discussing our personal relationships with prayer and with G-d, and the feelings and experiences that come up for queer women during prayer.
Light kosher breakfast refreshments (bagels, fruit and juice) will be provided. We will ask for a donation of a few dollars to help defray the costs of photocopying & food, but we will not turn anyone away for lack of funds.
PLEASE COME ON TIME, AND PLEASE RSVP IF POSSIBLE!
IMPORTANT: In order to maintain safety and confidentiality, this event is only open to members of the Tirtzah Community. See below for directions on joining our e-mail discussion list. If you do not wish to join the list and still want to attend an event you will need to e-mail us for the location of the meeting. We require women who are not on our e-mail list to speak with one of the group leaders before attending an event.
WHAT IS 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. We operate an e-mail list for women worldwide and we offer in-person events in the New York City area.
HOW DO I JOIN TIRTZAH?
If you are a lesbian, bisexual or queer identified woman who is religious, observant and/or Orthodox… or is on the path to becoming more halachically observant… we welcome you to join our e-mail discussion group. We aim for it to be a positive and non-judgmental space for women who are currently frum or are becoming frum*.
To join the group, go to http://groups.google.com/group/Tirtzah. You will need to create a Google account (free of charge) if you don’t already have one.
*We use the word “frum” to mean a person who is dedicated to observing the mitzvot, and is constantly working on doing a better job of that. We use this term to refer to someone who is engaged with halacha, who is aiming to grow in their Judaism, and who is serious about it. A frum person is someone who sustains and works towards a traditional Jewish spiritual life.
The following is a guest post by Dina Berman and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick of Bat-Kol :
Second Passover: Dina Berman and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick
In the Book of Numbers, Chapter 9, we read that the Israelites observed a certain
mitzvah while they stayed in the desert. God orders Moses, who passes on the order
to the people, and the people obey and perform the Passover rites at a particular
time, as it is ordained. So far, there is nothing unusual in this description, but later on
something strange takes place. The following verse tells of something unique. After a brief description of the sacrificing of the Passover lamb (and one can only imagine the festivities that took place while this mitzvah was performed by those who actually left Egypt with Moses), some Israelites turn to Moses with an unexpected plea:
“But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day
before Moses and Aaron, those men said to them: ‘Unclean though we are by
reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the LORD’s
offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?”
The people who were ritually impure at the time of the observance of the Passover
rituals, and therefore could not take part in the mitzvahs of Passover, approach
Moses and Aaron and call out “why should we be excluded?” Let’s think for a
moment about their claim: On a superficial level they have no case. After all, these
people were prevented from carrying out the mitzvah because of their bad luck, or
perhaps their own bad planning or negligence. They were not targeted or injured
personally, it was simply bad timing that prevented them from fulfilling this specific
mitzvah. They should be satisfied that no punishment is due them because of it. But
these people feel that being prevented from performing the mitzvah harms them by
excluding them from the community, and they demand to be included and to sacrifice the Passover lamb.
Moses, the greatest of sages, is lost for words, and his response is that he needs to
receive instruction from the LORD about what must be done. The answer he gets is revolutionary:
“Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a Passover
sacrifice to the LORD, they shall offer it in the second month, on the
Fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened
bread and bitter herbs; and they shall not leave any of it till morning. They
shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accordance with the law
of the Passover sacrifice”.
The LORD’s answer is that there exists a “second chance” for the mitzvah of the Passover sacrifice. People who couldn’t sacrifice the Passover lamb in time (because of impurity related to death or physical inability to reach the site of sacrifice) should celebrate Passover on the Fourteenth of Iyar, and the LORD explicitly states that their Passover (Pesach Sheni) should be identical to the regular one, including matzoth and bitter herbs and all the special laws relating to Passover. This is one of the strangest cases ever described in the Bible. On what is a completely ordinary day for almost all of the people of Israel, a certain group of people celebrate the Passover. On this day, as evening falls, they come to the temple dressed in their best, sacrifice the Passover lamb and eat it, matzoth and all. For these people this Passover is the real Passover, regardless of the fact that it is an ordinary day for the rest of the Jewish people.
Let us take note that the initiative does not come from the LORD, nor from Moses.
The possibility for a second Passover arises only because of the demand of the
ritually impure. That is the essence of this day: the LORD could have ordained it
from the beginning, but he waited for the insistence of those people who refused to
accept their fate, and fought for their place.
What can be learned from this extraordinary mitzvah? As we read the story of
Pesach Sheni we discover that consideration towards a minority is a Divine virtue,
one that humans must learn from, as part of “You shall follow His ways”. For what
we have here is a situation in which the majority of the Israelites sacrifice the
Passover lamb at its ordained time, while a minority is prevented from observing this
mitzvah. Our guess is, that if it were up to humans to solve this problem, they would
just shrug their shoulders and claim that it’s not their problem that ritually impure
people cannot sacrifice as prescribed: the writ of the LORD is perfectly clear and
there is nothing to be done. Only the LORD himself could come up with this solution,
of allowing the minority the place and the possibility to be part of the whole – for the
sacrifice of the Passover lamb together with the covenant of the circumcision,
signifies inclusion in the Jewish people – and all this without diminishing anything
from the original directive.
The second thing we can learn from Pesach Sheni is that some things must start at
the bottom. The initiative for the Pesach Sheni reform came from the ritually impure
and from distant travelers, and not from the LORD. In Hassidut, the month of Iyar is
viewed as the month in which redemption will come from the people while the month
of Nissan is that in which redemption came from the LORD. In our time, on the same
month of Iyar, we have been blessed to celebrate the beginning of the Jewish
people’s emancipation in their own country. It is very fitting that Yom HaAtzma’ut
(Independence Day) is celebrated in Iyar along with Pesach Sheni, as another
example of a groundswell demand that resulted in action.
The revolutionary aspect of the Divine solution to the problem of the celebration of
Passover by the ritually impure should not be taken lightly. It is a mitzvah whose
timing is crucial since it symbolizes a historical event, the exodus from Egypt which
took place on Nissan the Fourteenth, not Iyar the Fourteenth! As we can see, after
the LORD ordains Pesach Sheni he also warns: “But if a man who is clean and not
on a journey refrains from offering the Passover sacrifice, that soul shall be cut off
from his kin; for he did not present the LORD’s offering at its set time, that man shall
bear his guilt.” The creation of a solution for the minority does not open a way for
abrogating the original directive for the majority. If there is no justifiable reason for
not celebrating the Passover at its proper time, the punishment for not sacrificing the
Passover lamb is excommunication, a rare and severe punishment for the
contravention of a mitzvah that exits for only one other mitzvah – circumcision.
In the past few years some of us have been crying out “Why should we be
excluded?”. Religious gay men and women and aging single women would like to
build Jewish homes, and take part in the mitzvah of procreation and to be, in the
most basic sense, a part of the fabric of the nation; agunot would like to remarry
within the strictures of Jewish law, and find a halachic solution to their problem;
women would like to participate in mitzvot such as Torah study, and to be full
participants in their communities and synagogues. These cries, like the cries of the
ritually impure men, stem from a sincere and truthful desire to obey the laws of the
Torah, out of a deep understanding of the meaning of belonging to the Jewish
people, but without the ability to find their own place in the current tapestry of
The response of Rabbis and religious leaders to these problems was that there are
no existing halachic solutions: a Jewish home must be comprised of a male and a
female; the normative family is the basis of Jewish existence; there is no option to
change even some of the divorce laws for fear of a “wrongful divorce” and similar
problems; there is no place in the halachic framework for the full integration of
women in the public sphere of religious life. Pesach Sheni teaches us that creative
solutions must be found, special and unique solutions of the kind that challenges
even the most basic of assumptions. Pesach Sheni teaches us that there are parts of
the Torah that the LORD requires us to write ourselves, that arise from the demands
of the people, and that some halachot are written only in answer to a true and honest
plea for inclusion within the nation and in the framework of the law.
However, Pesach Sheni teaches us that not every change is the start of a slippery
slope. It teaches us that a solution can be found for a minority without changing
anything relating to the majority. The Fourteenth of Iyar is only for those who are
ritually impure or on the road, and is a regular day for everyone else – and the
mitzvah of Passover is not diminished because of the innovation of Pesach Sheni. In
the same way, halachic and intellectual solutions can – and should – be found for the
current cries of “Why should we be excluded?” that will allow minorities to coexist, at
the deepest level, with the rest of the Jewish people, without harming the halachic
norm that governs the majority.
The Fourteenth of Iyar, Pesach Sheni, is not celebrated today. Beyond the symbolic
gesture of not saying Tachanun, the penitential prayer recited daily, the day is not
marked. This is why we suggest turning the Fourteenth of Iyar into the day of
religious tolerance. A day that will remind us all of the necessity of halachic solutions
to real problems, to consider the difficulties of minorities, and to make a commitment
towards the “other”, whoever that may be. On this day we will remember that there
are still things to correct that will never be initiated from the top. On this day we can
remember that it is both possible and imperative to stretch boundaries, so as to
create a holiday on an otherwise ordinary day, one that enables all of the Jewish
people to participate in the world of the Torah. On the Fourteenth of Iyar we shall
recall the lesson that is taught, not by sage nor by messenger, but from the LORD
Himself. On a date that is but a few days after the day of celebration of our political
emancipation, let us celebrate the day of halachic responsibility – the day of religious