Posts filed under ‘Ritual’

Creating a Queer Frum Jewish Home

My partner and I are moving in together in less than a week. I am very excited, a little nervous, and very hopeful. I have lived with partners before but this is different. This is my first time creating an observant, frum Jewish home with someone. How do two lesbian, bisexual and/or queer women create an observant Jewish household together? I don’t know the answer to that yet. But I have some thoughts on my mind about this topic.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tables, and what takes place around them. When we can afford it, we want to buy a big table. As my partner said, a table big enough to have a bunch of people sitting around it and room for food in the middle. Why a big table? Because having people over to our home for Shabbos and yuntif meals will be a big way for us to feel like we are a family (yes, two people can be a family!) and to be able to have our community of friends and family be part of our lives in a different way. Right now we go over to other peoples’ houses for most Shabbos meals. Now we will be able to have people come to us. We will be able to have a bunch of people sitting around our table eating my our home-cooked food and singing Shabbos zmiros with us. A table is more than just furniture! In a Jewish home, it is a symbol of family and community and joyful celebrations.

We have fallen into certain roles in our relationship when it comes to Jewish ritual. I’m sure not all “orthodykes” and other Jewish same-sex couples do this – Some couples are more egalitarian than others and switch off more than we do. But I’ve just naturally fallen into doing kiddush and the brachos for havdalah every week. It just feels right. She davens more regularly than I do, and her doing so wordlessly reminds me to pick up my siddur. I wonder how this will unfold as we live together and (G-d willing) have children. There are no written rules for how to divide Jewish ritual (or household labor, or parenting) when you are a same-sex couple.

Another issue that comes up when a queer frum couple move in together is how to fuse two peoples’ personal hashkafas (outlooks on Judaism). Disagreements about kashrus can be fraught with tension. My love tells me I’m too machmir sometimes, which makes me laugh. I didn’t grow up kosher so I’m still learning the ropes. We have had some back and forth about whether to have a dairy kitchen or both meat an dairy. We are two different people, and compromise is the name of the game. Of course there is also always the question of which of our friends will eat at our home and who won’t. Yes, ultimately we are dealing with the same issues as most frum couples… except there is no rule about whose minhagim (customs) we will defer to. What it comes down to is that most of the eternal Jewish questions and issues faced by newly married and/or newly cohabitating couples don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation!

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

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June 17, 2008 at 8:50 pm 4 comments

Eshes Chayil (Woman of Valor)

Grace is elusive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears G-d — she shall be praised.
Give her credit for the fruit of her labors, and let her achievements praise her at the gates.
-Eshes Chayil

I. AUTUMN

She girds her loins in strength, and makes her arms strong.

The Rebbetzin of my local small-town Chabad House holds a Women’s Shabbos on a weekend when the Rabbi is away. As the only traditional Jewish community in my area, Chabad House has become a slightly uncomfortable yet welcoming place for me to spend Shabbos. Just as men sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no women around, women sing Eshes Chayil even when there are no men around. So tonight around the table 15 women sing the ancient words. I wonder if I am the only one who feels the power of a group of women singing this song together with no men around, singing this song to ourselves and to one another. I am sure I must be the only one who replaces the word “husband” with a gender-neutral concept in my mind while we sing. If I am lucky enough to share a home and a life one day with the woman I have been dating, I wonder if we will sing this song together on Shabbos. Will we replace a few of the words to better reflect our own realities? Or will we scrap this part of the Shabbos meal (it is only a custom rather than halacha, after all) because of its focus on the heterosexual marriage neither of us will ever be part of?

II. SPRING

Many women have done worthily, but you surpass them all.

My partner and I are standing around the Shabbos table with the ultra-Orthodox family who is hosting us, and their other guests. My relationship with her has grown ever more serious as we begin to plan for our future together. Everyone has just finished singing an especially spirited Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the angels of the sabbath. As usual, we begin singing Eshes Chayil, a section of Proverbs that is one of our tradition’s most beautiful odes to women. “Eshes chayil mi yimtza ve-rachok mi-peninim michrah…” (A woman of valor, who can find? She is more precious than pearls…) This is a tradition that was not part of the Shabbos rituals of my childhood, and I love watching the men in the families I spend Shabbos with singing this song of admiration to their wives.

Tonight I want so badly to turn towards my own partner and look her straight in the eye as I sing this song directly to her. I hope she knows that as I sing, struggling with the words as our host sings faster than I can possibly read the Hebrew, I am thinking of her alone. We are in a warm Hasidic household where my partner is a beloved member of the extended mishpacha and where we are accepted as a couple, but where also make sure to keep physical space between us. We do this not just because we don’t want to make our hosts uncomfortable with our queerness, but because in this home couples of any orientation just don’t touch. This is a space where even holding this beautiful woman’s gaze for too long in front of everyone else would feel like too much intimacy to be appropriate. So I keep my eyes to myself, but I imagine that we are standing alone together in our own kitchen, where I could hold her hands in mine and look at her while I sing, and where I could tell her that this song is for her, that she is my Woman of Valor.

Her valor is the bravery to be who she is and her refusal to compromise her yiddishkeit or her ability to love and be loved. Her valor is her hard-won sense of self-worth and self-respect. Her valor is her refusal to internalize shame, and her outspoken defense of those who are vulnerable. Her valor is her love for children and her sense of ethics. In the coming years, G-d willing, her valor as an amazing wife and mother will have the opportunity to shine. Unlike in the words of the song, no husband is required for this particular Eshes Chayil’s strength, beauty and faith to illuminate the world.

Posted by queerbasyisroel.

May 29, 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

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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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