Posts filed under ‘Halacha’

Writing From Where I Am

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.
 

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January 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm 4 comments

Some Halachic Writings by Frum Queer Women

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.

November 25, 2008 at 1:34 pm 5 comments

Thousands of Years of Tradition

This shabbos was a long one, and I got to sit and learn for much of the afternoon. I learned some Aruch Hashulchan and a bit of Masechet Ketubot, and of course, much of that was about jewish marriage. As I read, I could see how my married sisters had ceremonies that were remarkably similar to those described in the Talmud Bavli. There were differences. My sisters opted to include the RCA pre-nuptual agreement (and I hope more and more people will follow their example) . One of them gave her husband a ring as a gift (but was careful to wait until they were married to do so). But for the most part, much of the ceremony was the same.

Sometimes I feel lucky that, as a lesbian, I have the opportunity to take part in developing my own ritual. It’s not something we do all the time in the Orthodox community. Some people who choose to marry according to the traditional framework have deep difficulties with it. They worry, as I often do, that the ceremony is unbalanced, and structures the relationship along gender lines in ways that are disturbing. The man is the only one who can initiate the marriage, and, g-d forbid, a divorce.

But this shabbos, when I was looking at the tradition from up close, at all the different components of it, and the deep meanings behind them, I could not bring myself to celebrate my exclusion from this ceremony. I love the chuppah, the badeikin, the blessings, the communal celebration.

On some level, I just love that a jewish wedding is such an old tradition. We don’t just wake up one morning and recreate everything that it means to be in a committed loving relationship. Instead, we enter into the sort of agreement that we have watched our mothers and their mothers enter with their spouses. It is holy, reflective of the couple’s relationship to one another, their people, and g-d. They hardly even need to be conscious of it.

Personally, I feel a little bit lost, trying to figure out a way to navigate a queer wedding that is faithful to the tradition and able to create and describe the sort of relationship I want to enter into. I know that for me as a queer person, along with the usual questions of “who to marry” or “when to marry”, I must add “whether to marry” and “how to marry”.

I’m not the first to ask these questions, and I hope I will not be the last. I know that I have a lot of learning to do.

Posted by queeryeshivameidel

June 22, 2008 at 11:54 am 1 comment

Drisha Offers Class on Clothing and Gender Construction in Halacha

Drisha Institute in New York City is offering a weekly co-ed class this summer that is open to the public and may be of interest to our readers who are interested in issues of gender, clothing and sexuality. Chasiah Haberman will be teaching “Pink Shirts and Pinstripe Trousers: Clothing and Gender Construction Halakha.” Here is the class description from Drisha’s site:

Pink Shirts and Pinstripe Trousers: Clothing and Gender Construction Halakha

What do women wear? What constitutes a uniquely male garment? Is modesty a gender-specific concept? How do assumptions about gender shape ideas of appropriate dress for men and women? We will study both traditional and contemporary halakhic literature.

Chasiah Haberman
Tuesday, 7:45 – 9:15 p.m.
Tuition: $125

Financial assistance is available. Space is still available. This class is co-ed.

Register soon, as the class starts on July 1st!

Posted by tirtzah.

June 17, 2008 at 8:52 pm Leave a comment

Review of “Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View” By Rabbi Chaim Rapoport

When he published his book Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View in 2004, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport was one of the first Orthodox Rabbis to speak seriously about the Halachic and Social issues facing lesbians. Since then, he has spoken to Orthodox communities, counseled many people privately, and met with Orthodox gays and lesbians. His understanding of medical ethics and of halacha has led him to counsel against unproven and potentially harmful forms of therapy. He has emphasized the importance of an inclusive Jewish community, and challenged gay and straight Orthodox Jews alike to view themselves and those in their communities as works in progress, to be encouraged in their path to greater observance of Halacha.

Rabbi Rapoport counsels queer people to remain single, rather than entering into a heterosexual marriage. He does not outline how a gay couple could function within Halacha in great detail, which is a shortcoming of the book for those of us who are seeking to form committed frum relationships. He has spoken publicly, since, of his support for those gay people who decide to find frum partners to live a halachic life with, as well as his feeling that promiscuity is far more unhealthy and problematic than a committed relationship.

While he devotes most of his book to a discussion of gays and lesbians as a unit, he devotes parts of his book specifically to the subject of lesbians, and to our status in Halacha. It’s an important read for anyone who wants to engage seriously with the halachic dimensions of the lesbian orthodox experience.

Posted by: queeryeshivameidel.

June 13, 2008 at 8:38 am 4 comments

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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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