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.
In his article for the Jewish Week , “The Cost of Standing Idly by”, Rabbi Steve Greenberg writes movingly of his confronting the Rabbi of his community Shul, who has forbidden him to attend services. He writes “The rabbi of the shul called apologetically to inform us that the ruling had come from a rabbi whose authority exceeded his own. I decided to call this rabbi, who is the head of a prominent yeshiva and a respected halachic authority. I wanted to meet him personally to discuss the decision with him. He agreed to speak with me on the phone.
He said that he had heard that I advocated changing the Torah. I told him that this is not true, that in fact I am trying to find a way for people who are gay or lesbian to still be a part of Orthodox communities. I shared with him that people who are gay and lesbian who want to remain true to the Torah are in a great deal of pain. Many have just left the community. Some young gay people become so desperate they attempt suicide.
His reply: “Maybe it’s a mitzvah for them to do so.” ”
He writes of his own response to the Rabbi’s statement and calls upon the Orthodox community and especially communal leaders to cease “standing idly by” and begin to take responsibility for the safety of Orthodox Gay and Lesbian people who may become suicidal. He urges communal leaders to publicly denounce homophobia and bullying, sign the Statement of principles, which was written and signed by a group of Orthodox Rabbis, and end the harmful practice of “reparative therapy”. He also argues that in light of the high rates of suicidal ideation and attempts among Gay and Lesbian youth, the Orthodox community must find a way to ” make it possible for a 13-year-old to expect that life will be good”
What will you do to stop “standing idly by” and begin to actively include and give hope to Gay, Lesbian and Trans members of the Orthodox 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.”
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
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.