Posts filed under ‘Holidays’

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow on Pesach Sheini and the need for inclusion in the Jewish community

In an article for Yediot Achroniyot, Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Petach Tikvah, explores the exclusion of the “other” in the orthodox community. He argues that “The main issue facing the Torah of Israel today is the relationship with the ‘Other’. ” It is not only the “Othering” of the Gentile that we grapple with as a community, he says- but the “Othering” of our fellow Jews. He emphasizes that “those who are attracted to members of their own gender cannot be removed from the community.” He explores the idea, which has been written about by Dina Berman and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick of Bat-Kol, that Pesach Sheini offers us a perspective that allows us to keep Halacha as it has been traditionally understood intact while finding a place for GLBT people in the Orthodox community. “We recognize”, he says, ” in Halacha there are many instances where the Halacha develops in order to redeem a human being from crisis. This development is always a limited, temporary one, and does not destroy the structural foundation. So it is with Pesach Sheini- Pesach Sheini does not speak towards changing the essence of Pesach, but about a solution to a crisis, in a way which is described well by the article…” By engaging honestly with the questions facing the “Other” in the Jewish community, he argues, we are able to find “at least partial redemption for a painful reality.”

April 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm 1 comment

Out in the Frum Community

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.

June 3, 2009 at 5:14 pm 3 comments

Pesach Sheini

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
mitzvoth.

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
tolerance.

May 5, 2009 at 9:37 pm 5 comments

The Few and the Many

Chanukah celebrates small things- a tiny leftover jug of oil, a small army, a slim chance. We celebrate the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people- who have always been vastly outnumbered by the nations of the world. We celebrate a world  in which the importance of things is not measured by their size or their power- but by their righteousness. 

As an Orthodox Lesbian I am part of a minority within a minority.  The majority of people I meet, inevitably, find my experience to be different from theirs. Some of them wonder why I continue to live as I do. Wouldn’t it be easier, they suggest, to closet my identity as a queer person- or to abandon religion and live in a secular world that (they imagine) would better embrace me?  Can’t I find a way to be less different- less of  a minority? 

I’m sure I could. But Judaism has taught me to celebrate the survival of a small minority, despite many difficulties, in a large world. In the time of the Macabees- the Jewish people could have chosen to disappear and become a part of the many. Instead- they resisted, maintained their integrity and identity as a small nation of jews, and persevered. 

Sometimes it is hard for me to live as a minority in a world that does not always accept me. In the Orthodox Jewish world, it can be hard for people to understand my choice to live as an out lesbian woman, and sometimes those people make my life difficult.  I have had to hear comments from people that I have found hurtful.  I’ve had to worry that my family would reject me, and I find it hard to visit the neighborhood I grew up in- because I don’t know whether the community that nurtured my childhood and adolescence would continue to support me now.  I know that there are places where I am not welcome to learn Torah, Daven, eat a Shabbat Meal, or set up a household.  It is possible that it would be easier if I was in the closet, married to a man I did not love and could not love, and appearing as though I was like everybody else. I would blend in, perhaps- but it would be the wrong thing for me to do. 

There are also communities, Jewish and otherwise, who are able to accept me as a lesbian, but who cannot respect my religious convictions or my Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.  There are people who would love to “cure” me of my “oppressive” religion, which they imagine is at the root of all my problems- or who hope that one day I will “loosen up” and keep less of the Mitzvot. They find it difficult to believe that I have faith in a g-d who hears my prayers, gave my people the Torah, and sustains the world each and every day.  Perhaps I could be more quiet about my frumkiet. I could live in a way that would make it less obvious- or abandon it altogether.  I could become more similar to the people around me, stick out less, and find a place where it is always safe to be queer.  But that also would be the wrong thing for me to do.  

Fortunately, I haven’t had to make either choice.  I have found small parts of the jewish world where I can feel fully comfortable and accepted as a queer person, while working to live my life according to the Torah I believe in. I have found a minority of people who would support me in living as my full self, and a few special rabbis and religious teachers who have supported me in seeking to understand how to live my life in a way that would be most consistent with my deeply held beliefs.

Today, as Chanukah is about to end- I look at my life and see that what has allowed me to survive thus far, has been the ability to celebrate these small things.  My Jewish tradition, whose bearers have always been a small minority among the world religions, has taught me to celebrate the light that comes from a small jug of oil so small that it seemed, at first glance, inadequate to the task it was given.

Posted by queeryeshivameidel.

December 29, 2008 at 4:10 am Leave a comment

Community Wide Chanukah Party

Annual Community-Wide Chanuka Party

With special guest performer: NESHAMA CARLEBACH!
Thursday, December 25
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
LGBT Community Services Center, 208 W. 13th St. NYC
$10 ($5 if under 21)

Join over 200 old and new friends as we celebrate Chanukah with music, dancing, and holiday treats! This year we are thrilled to have famed Jewish singing star Neshama Carlebach bless us with her voice and song. Continuing the tradition of her father Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z’tl, Neshama intends to spread the warmth, soul and love of Judaism to all Jews unconditionally. Come early, le’Chaim’s begin at 7:00, show starts at 8:30, menorah lighting at 9:15 and shmoozing will continue till 10:00. Light your inner menorah, be inspired, and make some new friends this holiday! This event is open to the entire LGBT Jewish community along with their friends, families and allies. Co-sponsored by GLYDSA, JQYouth, The JCC Mahnattan, CBST 20′s and 30′s, Gayava, The GoJC, He’bro and other GLBT Jewish groups in NYC; this is the event you don’t want to miss!

For more info, contact: admin@jqyouth.org

December 19, 2008 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

Join the Tirtzah Community at our Sukkot Gathering in NYC

Are you a religiously observant Jewish woman
who is lesbian, bisexual, queer or questioning?

Please join us at:


TIRTZAH’S SUKKOT GATHERING

Sponsored by Tirtzah: A Community for Frum Queer Women

*When and Where?

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2008 at 4:00 PM in Manhattan – Join our e-mail listserve for location details


*Who Is Welcome?

All lesbian, bisexual or queer identified Jewish women who are Orthodox or traditionally observant… or who are on the path towards becoming more halachically observant. Feel free to bring your children.

*What Is This Event?

This chol ha’moed gathering is a chance for members of the Tirtzah community to talk, eat, enjoy each others’ company, and maybe even learn a little Torah, in a supportive and positive environment.

*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 have a wide variety of religious backgrounds and identities, but we are all halachically-engaged observant Jews in addition to being lesbian, bisexual or queer identified. We come together to have social events, learn Torah, discuss topics relevant to our lives, and celebrate holidays. We have an active e-mail discussion group and a blog, and we hold in-person events in the New York metropolitan area. Find out more about us at http://tirtzah.wordpress.com

*Want to Attend?

This is a private event for members of our e-mail discussion group. If you are a frum L/B/Q woman who’d like to join us at this gathering, please join our e-mail list at http://tirtzah.wordpress.com/our-e-mail-list/ for more information. Please e-mail tirtzahcommunity@gmail.com if you need assistance or have questions.

We encourage you to RSVP to tirtzahcommunity@gmail.com.

We ask for a $5 donation to cover the costs of (kosher) snacks which we’ll be providing, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

October 7, 2008 at 2:53 pm 3 comments


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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