Posts filed under ‘Marriage & Commitment’
April 24th and 25th
Being Frum and Gay
This weekend, the Orthodox Community at Penn (OCP) and JQYouth (JQY), a group that provides support to LGBT Orthodox Jews (www.JQYouth.org) collaborated to develop a shabbaton aimed at addressing issues that gay and lesbian Jews face within the Orthodox community. The shabbaton built upon the format and ideas originally presented at the “Being Gay in the Orthodox World” panel that was held at Yeshiva University this December.
On Friday night, the invited speakers from JQYouth shared their stories in a general panel session. The evening began with a brief statement by one of the organizers from the OCP, and a message from Rabbi Mordy Friedman, the Orthodox Rabbi at Penn, framing the shabbaton as a weekend intended to raise awareness of issues that already exist within the Orthodox community, and that it is not intended as a forum to discuss halacha (Jewish law). The panelists then each discussed topics ranging from their experiences coming out to family members and rabbis, to issues faced by Orthodox Jewish lesbians, forming communities for LGBT Orthodox Jews, and forming more inclusive Orthodox communities. There were over 150 people in attendance, and the audience was generally supportive of the speakers, applauding after each panelist spoke. The panelists were then asked questions from the audience ranging from whether they envisioned themselves forming families, whether being gay and Orthodox creates a crisis of faith, and whether there are generational or communal differences in terms of levels of tolerance that the panelists have experienced. The session only came to an end after the Hillel building needed to close for the night.
After morning services, Rabbi Friedman held a brief survey of contemporary literature on homosexuality. Taking a neutral stance on the issue, Rabbi Friedman reviewed responses spanning from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s t’shuvah (response) stating that homosexuality reflects a deliberate act of rebellion against God, to contemporary approaches of Rabbi Chaim Rapoport and Rav Yuval Sherlo, that go so far as to deal with questions such as whether lesbian couples should wear hair coverings and observe laws of ritual purity.
In the afternoon, four sessions on various topics relating to homosexuality in the Orthodox community were held. From 5:00pm to 6:00pm a session on ally training was held by Nicole Riley, Shaina Adams-El Guabli, and Fran De La Tor, three straight female allies of the LGBT community who have had experience leading similar workshops in the past. Nicole, Fran, and Shaina facilitated conversation regarding LGBT-specific language and stereotypes of the LGBT community, as well as group exercises to provide various strategies. These strategies included how to respond when a friend comes out, and when one overhears derogatory comments, such as “That’s Gay,” used in different social circles.
Simultaneously, Josh Teplitsky and Justin Spiro held a discussion on language as boundary. During this session they discussed a statement that Josh has heard several times after speaking at the Yeshiva University panel that “We should provide sympathy to the struggling homosexual.” Josh and Justin engaged the audience in a discussion of what the word struggle means as well as when it is appropriate to provide and withhold sympathy for others. The audience discussed how religious struggles are not unique to LGBT Orthodox Jews and discussed their own struggles with issues of faith and sexuality. During the workshop, one of the audience members expressed her frustration with that statement and discussed how she was upset by the question posed to the panelists the previous night about whether they’ve experienced a crisis of faith. She stated that the crisis of faith shouldn’t only apply to the gay individuals in the community. Instead, she suggested that the crisis of faith should apply to the entire Orthodox community because there are community members who are suffering because of their sexual orientation. This sentiment was echoed by others present for this discussion as well as other discussions over the course of the evening.
Josh reiterated this point by making a distinction between a psychological struggle characterized by an individual experiencing distress over his or her sexual identity, and a philosophical/intellectual struggle that involves grappling with the halachik implications of a gay identity. Josh concluded by stating that when we view it as a philosophical struggle, then it belongs to the entire community rather than the homosexual individuals themselves.
From 6:00pm to 7:00pm Chasiah Haberman, founder of Tirtzah, a community of frum queer women, held a discussion on halachik questions facing Orthodox LGBT people. The thrust of the session was to build awareness of the technical challenges that a gay Torah-observer faces in a religion whose commandments presume heterosexual attraction. With Chasiah’s help, the group managed to pinpoint several areas such as mechitza (separation), nida (purity), shomer negia (touching of the opposite sex), and tzniut (modesty) that pose an interpretive challenge to the gay observant Jew. Chasiah rendered the discussion universal by asking everyone to mention a personal halachik challenge, demonstrating that it is all observant Jews, not only gay observant Jews, who struggle to observe halacha. The session was concluded with a reading from Jewish scholar Eliezer Berkowitz. Berkowitz tells an anecdote from Raba in which the Babylonian sage expresses that halacha is alive and eternal, and is always interpreted and reinterpreted by the Sages of the generation.
At the same time, Erez Harari and Chaim Levin held a panel discussion on reparative therapy. Erez, a student at Fordham working on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and co-founder of JQY, discussed the history of therapies aimed at treating homosexuality, as well as the theory and research behind modern day reparative therapy. Erez critiqued the theory behind reparative therapy and the research that has been published in support of it. Erez then discussed the potential for harm when engaging in these treatments. Chaim followed with his personal experiences being involved in reparative therapy for several years and reviewed the techniques used to try to alter his sexual orientation. He concluded by mentioning how he was led to blame himself for not trying hard enough when his sexual orientation failed to change, as well as how his community ended up blaming him for “choosing” to be gay once he decided to stop attending treatment.
After the evening meal, Chasiah gave a speech to a standing room only crowd of over a hundred people. Chasiah discussed the notion of “hating your brother in your heart,” which appeared in this week’s Torah portion, and how this verse is interpreted to mean that you are so hateful towards fellow Jew that you aren’t even willing to engage him or her in dialogue about what it is that’s making you hateful. She then thanked the crowd for demonstrating ahavat yisroel (love of your fellow Jew) by being willing to attend the event and engage in a dialogue about these issues.
The shabbaton concluded with a screening of the film V’ahavta (And thou shalt love), an award-winning short film about a gay yeshiva student in Israel, followed by a discussion on how to create a more inclusive Orthodox Community. This discussion, moderated by Matthew Feczko and Isaac Alkolomber, two members of the OCP and JQY, generated a number of different suggestions by the audience, who seemed generally in favor of working towards creating a more welcoming environment for gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews at Penn. Suggestions ranged from reaching out to those who seem isolated, to speaking publicly against homophobic statements and creating joint events with J-Bagel, the gay Jewish group at Penn. A distinction was made during the discussion between implicit and explicit methods of inclusion, and the importance of understanding that for an Orthodox gay person, the implicit message is often one of exclusion, and that explicit messages are often necessary to make someone feel fully included. Some of the speakers expressed the hope that this weekend becomes a template for future programs at other campuses, schools, and synagogues. Isaac then closed the discussion by posing a question to the crowd, asking them how each of them plan on conveying this message of inclusiveness once the shabbaton is over.
The events of the weekend were widely considered a success drawing many people from diverse communities on campus. The event, according to one of the organizers, Isaac Setton, was a kiddush hashem as many people from many different backgrounds saw the Orthodox community coming together in support of the LGBT community. The Orthodox Community at Penn was able to organize and facilitate many discussions about the future of Orthodoxy and Orthodox education. One participant remarked, “One day, the people being educated at this event will sit on the board of shuls and schools and it will be up to them to make sure that when this issue comes up it is not a shock and is dealt with properly.” The people who attended the event were all glad they were provided with the opportunity to engage with this issue.
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.
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.
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.
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