Posts filed under ‘Homosexuality and halacha’

Memorial and Solidarity Tehillim Service

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.

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August 6, 2009 at 8:30 pm 2 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

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Challenges Religious Establishments to Accept Homosexual Jews

 Ynet. Reports:

At the Limmud Annual Conference, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin stated that in his view, while he does not support marriage for gay/lesbian people, he favors greater acceptance for gay and lesbian people in Orthodox congregations.

As someone who has gotten to know Orthodox gay and lesbian people, he says “I don’t object to gay-lesbian parents or single mothers bringing a child into this world, as long as they do so responsibly”.  

In addressing the way the community should respond to it’s gay/lesbian members, hes says: “The synogogue is meant to accept any Jew. I must love the foreigner, as well as those who are different. Our role as parents is to love our children, and the rabbis’ role is to love the members of their congregation”.

Posted by queeryeshivameidel.

January 8, 2009 at 4:23 pm 4 comments

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.
 

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

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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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