Posts filed under ‘Dating & Relationships’
The following is a guest post by Tirtzah member Aviva Yael:
I spent about 15 years in the ultra frum community out to myself and the man I was married to, but no one else in the frum world. At that point I didn’t see any reason to be out to anyone… I decided that since I had decided to marry a man and live as if I was straight… there was no point to bothering with that level of honesty… even to my closest friends who would have understood. I always felt like this was a little bit wrong. People who loved me and thought they knew everything about who I am, were missing a huge chunk of what makes me… me. There was always this slight buzzing in my head of cognitive dissonance within my own life. I am no longer married and I am now out in every aspect of my life.
For me… (not necessarily for everyone) being out (didn’t say coming out) has been a gigantic breath of fresh air. I no longer feel a constant dissonance buzzing in the background of my life. When I walk down the street, go to work, take my kids to the park, sit at a shabbos table or daven in shule… I know who I am and am who I am… from the inside… all the way to the outside, top of my head to the tips of my toes… and I love that.
I also love the fact that by being out, I’m making the world a better place for others who are yet to come. Today, my wife and I had the women from our shule over for a women’s Rosh Chodesh Shalosh Seudos. We are out in the shule and pretty much everyone knows about us. It is a modern orthodox shule and a particularly warm and accepting community. I’m convinced that two of the women who came for shalosh seudos who come very rarely to our shule or are new to coming to our shule just got introduced to the idea that women can be orthodox and lesbian and choose to build a home together. They were lovely guests and now are more sensitive and aware that this can exist and be ok.
This is a guest post from Bas Avraham- a member of the Tirtzah community:
I don’t know how to tell people I am queer.
Not that it’s so hard, mind you. In fact, maybe it would be better to write that a different way: I don’t know how to tell people *how* I’m queer. It’s not simple, and it doesn’t have very much to do with identity politics, with my gender, or even with the biological sex of the people I want to have relationships with. At least, not right now.
I could try to explain everything, but in the end, I realized I can’t fit
all of that into something suitable for internet consumption. Instead, I am writing from where I am.
Where I am is in the middle of trying to find a chasan, a
groom, a partner in life. As anyone can tell you, it’s hard work. As a
convert in my late twenties who doesn’t have a lot of experience dating, it’s also a bit scary for me. I am new to dating, new to the frum world, and not exactly sure where I fit. Right now, I am spending a lot of energy trying to figure out whether I want to be in a more “yeshivish” community or in a more modern orthodox community. Truthfully, I don’t really understand why I have to make that choice, but it seems like it is important to most of the men out there, at least the ones I seem to be meeting.
In order to find people to date, well. At first, I didn’t have to find people. I dated the same person for a year and a half – a man, who was my first love and also the first experience I ever had dating an orthodox person. We met by accident, at a shul, and one of the first things I asked him was “how would you react, if you had a gay kid?” His reaction was interesting; not extreme, not scared. It made me more or less happy – the truth is, I was happy enough that he didn’t run away.
At the time when I met him, what I wanted was to find someone who would join me in trying to find halakhically (that is, legally, according to Torah law) viable ways to advocate for the queer frum community at large. At the bare minimum, I was looking for someone who would support my pursuit of that work. The substance of that work has already changed, as I learn more about the Torah and the obligations and ideas it has on the subject, but my committment to the work itself, to partnering with other Jews to try to be a community where all of us can try to serve Hashem “b’chol levavcha, u’v'chol nafshecha” – with all our heart and blood – is non-negotiable.
The truth is, he was dedicated to that work too. To this day, I don’t know what really went wrong in that relationship. But his horror at learning that I was interested in actually introducing queer frum Jews to one another, for the purposes of matchmaking, served, in an ironic twist, to hasten the end of my own match. To me, my dedication to that type of advocacy ought to have been a conversation. Instead, it was a shouting match, taking place over the course of two days. The temptation to “give in” was very strong.
But ultimately, the result of the argument – which side won – wasn’t what disturbed me. What disturbed me was that he was willing to ignore parts of reality in order to try to uphold a “Torah law”. And to me, since I believe that the Torah deals in the ultimate reality, enacting it and its laws in the world really do have to take all of that world into account. Whether there are good halakhic
arguments for queer matchmaking or not is really not the point. The point is that in considering the question, the people doing the considering need to include things like the following realities:
1. The existence of frum people who have feeling exclusively for people of
”non-halakhically optimal” genders – i.e., the continued existence of queer
frum people, whether they are interested in identifying as queer in a political way or not.
2. A concern that as many Jews as possible do as many mitzvot as possible.
3. A concern that Jews remain affiliated with other Jews.
4. A concern that we as a Jewish community give one another permission to
live our lives according to as many Jewish values as possible – this
includes the value of tznius (modesty/humility) which problematizes many
things that go along with secular dating.
5. A concern that people who are not permitted to get what they need openly
often do so in ways that are risky or life-threatening, and are almost always dishonest to someone, somewhere along the way.
6. A concern for the high suicide rate among all queer youth.
Since I believe that at least one act potentially involved in queer male relations is an issur d’oraisa (a Torah prohibition), and all bets are off as to the halakhic status of various things we women might do or relationships we might be in, the violation of a Torah prohibition is also one of these considerations – and obviously it is extremely weighty. Probably more weighty than most of the other considerations. But the other considerations are still there. They don’t simply disappear. The Torah is not an arbitrary document. It represents the will of G-d, and the last time I checked, G-d made the universe, with all the statistics and considerations and queer people in it.
After man no. 1 and I broke up, I joined a dating website - the kind where you hire a shadchan (a matchmaker), and the shadchanim match you up. I got matched after a good long while, and recently went on a first date with a new man. He seemed pretty interesting, so we went out again. Finally, on the third date, I asked him my killer question: “what would you do if you had a child who told you he was gay?”
Afterward, he told me his first thought was “what kind
of orthodox Jewish conversation is this?”
And I thought to myself, that’s just the trouble. Why isn’t this an
orthodox Jewish conversation? Is being orthodox really about being in denial?
I hope not.
The status of lesbians in Halacha is, for the most part not mentioned. Modern books on the halachic status of homosexuals tend to focus mainly on men, and mention women only glancingly, if at all. Recently, learned women have begun to research the subject and sift through the sources for a greater understanding of the halachic traditions approach to lesbian sexuality and family life.
While they are not Poskim and certainly do not claim to be, Lisa Liel of Orthodykes and Ziva Ofek of Bat-Kol have written learned articles on the subject. They are available on the Orthodykes, and Bat Kol websites. Lisa Liel has written in English, including translations of the origional halachic texts, and Ziva Ofek has written in hebrew (I hope she will consider translating her work to Enlgish to make it more accessable).
I am glad to see that these women, for whom halacha is so important, have chosen to share their thoughts and insights with us.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.
I have never had a cheeseburger. Not once.
They might taste good. I like cheese, and I like burgers, and it’s possible that they would be good together. I’ve heard people say so, and I’ve even lived in a country (the U.S.) where they are advertised relentlessly. Somehow, despite the influences of Pop Culture and the Secular World- I’ve managed (gasp!) not to eat milk and meat together at all.
So I find it confusing when, every once in a while, in a conversation about the place of lesbians in the orthodox world- someone mentions that there are no communities for frum jews who eat cheeseburgers. No support groups. A decent orthodox Jew has never been seen walking into shul and receiving an Aliyah with a cheeseburger in his hand. As such, they say- gay jews should not expect to be welcomed along with their partners to shul. Certainly, there is no cause for communities to support lesbians, they say.
And if the woman of my dreams was a cheeseburger- they would be right. But women are not fast food. I wonder if these people conceive of their own sexual and romantic relationships as being akin to a meal in McDonalds- a cheap food with dubious nutritional value? If so, I worry about them.
For those who have found themselves in a loving frum relationship, be they queer or straight, I’m sure that relationship is nothing like a cheeseburger. We do not seek it merely to satisfy a fleeting and exclusively physical desire, nor would jewish values allow us to do so. The way in which we are asked to relate to one another as frum people, the values of “v’ahavtah l’reiacha kamocha” (loving your fellow human as you love yourself) , gemilut chassadim (acts of lovingkindness) and “areivut” (mutual responsibility), would make it impossible. What we seek in relationship is to become “Reyyim Ahuvim”, (beloved companions) to one another, supporting each other in a life of Torah and Mitzvot. Kohelet teaches us:
“Two are better than one, as they have a good reward in their labor. For if they fall, one will raise his companion upright, and woe to the one who falls without a companion to raise him up. Also, if two lie together it will be warm for them, and for one- how will it be warm? And if one attacks him, the two will stand against him, and the three-ply string will not easily break. “ (Kohelet IV:9-12)
When I seek community with my fellow frum queer women, it is because I know that we have much to teach each other and celebrate together. Their insights, humor and camaraderie have kept me going, and strengthened me in my commitment to living a frum jewish life. When I come to my orthodox shul with my girlfriend, I am proud to share my life with someone as kind, wise, and caring as she is, and grateful to Hashem (and to our very wonderful friend- who made the shidduch) for helping us to find each other.
Posted by queeryeshivameidel.
My partner and I are moving in together in less than a week. I am very excited, a little nervous, and very hopeful. I have lived with partners before but this is different. This is my first time creating an observant, frum Jewish home with someone. How do two lesbian, bisexual and/or queer women create an observant Jewish household together? I don’t know the answer to that yet. But I have some thoughts on my mind about this topic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tables, and what takes place around them. When we can afford it, we want to buy a big table. As my partner said, a table big enough to have a bunch of people sitting around it and room for food in the middle. Why a big table? Because having people over to our home for Shabbos and yuntif meals will be a big way for us to feel like we are a family (yes, two people can be a family!) and to be able to have our community of friends and family be part of our lives in a different way. Right now we go over to other peoples’ houses for most Shabbos meals. Now we will be able to have people come to us. We will be able to have a bunch of people sitting around our table eating my our home-cooked food and singing Shabbos zmiros with us. A table is more than just furniture! In a Jewish home, it is a symbol of family and community and joyful celebrations.
We have fallen into certain roles in our relationship when it comes to Jewish ritual. I’m sure not all “orthodykes” and other Jewish same-sex couples do this – Some couples are more egalitarian than others and switch off more than we do. But I’ve just naturally fallen into doing kiddush and the brachos for havdalah every week. It just feels right. She davens more regularly than I do, and her doing so wordlessly reminds me to pick up my siddur. I wonder how this will unfold as we live together and (G-d willing) have children. There are no written rules for how to divide Jewish ritual (or household labor, or parenting) when you are a same-sex couple.
Another issue that comes up when a queer frum couple move in together is how to fuse two peoples’ personal hashkafas (outlooks on Judaism). Disagreements about kashrus can be fraught with tension. My love tells me I’m too machmir sometimes, which makes me laugh. I didn’t grow up kosher so I’m still learning the ropes. We have had some back and forth about whether to have a dairy kitchen or both meat an dairy. We are two different people, and compromise is the name of the game. Of course there is also always the question of which of our friends will eat at our home and who won’t. Yes, ultimately we are dealing with the same issues as most frum couples… except there is no rule about whose minhagim (customs) we will defer to. What it comes down to is that most of the eternal Jewish questions and issues faced by newly married and/or newly cohabitating couples don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation!
Posted by queerbasyisroel.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.