20 years of inspiring and provoking
Welcome to our third installment of “Queer Clergy in Action,” spotlighting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rabbis and cantors. This behind-the-scenes look at queer clergy covers both those who have paved the way and up-and-coming trailblazers.
Coming out can be really difficult and it can be especially risky for those who are, or aspire to be, clergy. Nonetheless, this vanguard has helped open up the Jewish world, and we’re very proud to shine an extra light on their work, their ideas, and their stories. You can also read the first two posts in this series, about Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Rabbi Reuben Zellman.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum is no stranger to accolades – but this year, she’s being fêted not only for her accomplishments, but for reaching an important anniversary. Rabbi Kleinbaum was installed as the first rabbi of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue, in September of 1992. She arrived at the height of the AIDS crisis, and quickly made a name for herself by addressing the community’s tremendous loss with compassion, leadership, and spiritual guidance. In the years since, Rabbi Kleinbaum has made civil rights for LGBT Jews – and the inclusion of their voices as part of the religious conversation – a major part of her rabbinate. This year marks her 20th anniversary at CBST, and the filmmaker David Sigal has put together a video in honor of the occasion, including interviews with politicians, famous rabbis, and of course, her mother, who immediately offers some sweet baby pictures of this indefatigable leader:
This video pretty much says it all, but we had a few more question for Rabbi Kleinbaum, so we quickly caught up with her, amidst all the celebration of her work. Continue reading
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Jill Hammer takes comfort in the promise of eventual redemption in Joseph’s bones.
Joseph is a popular biblical character to “queer” — because rabbinic midrash claims he curls his hair, paints his eyes, and is as beautiful as his mother, Rachel (Genesis Rabbah 24), and also because he is one of the rare biblical men known for not sleeping with a woman (the lovely wife of Potiphar, who attempts to seduce him). But it’s not the living Joseph I want to queer — it’s the dead Joseph. Joseph’s bones, to be exact.
At the end of Parashat Vayechi, the very end of Genesis, Joseph lies dying. He has moved his entire family to Egypt to save them from famine, and he has rescued the whole land from hunger. Though his father, Jacob, was buried in Canaan, Joseph will be buried in Egypt. He is, after all, an Egyptian vizier. However, Joseph commands his family to take his bones with them when they eventually leave Egypt and return to the land of Israel: “When God has remembered you, you shall raise up my bones from this place.” (Gen. 50:25) Continue reading
The Internet has proven to be a powerful resource for the LGBTQ community, and especially so for those members who are more isolated by their communal affiliation or religious practices. Blogs, websites, and listservs help connect LGBTQ Jews, especially Orthodox and other traditional Jews, who struggle deeply to reconcile belief, community, and identity. Here, we give you a brief roundup of blogs by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Orthodox Jews. These voices remind us that queer Jews come in every stripe of practice, affiliation, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and these blogs reminds queer Jews everywhere that no one is alone.
A Gay Orthodox Jew
Ely Winkler’s thoughtful chronicle of reconciling his Jewish and gay identities.
It’s Like Disapproving of Rain
A gay woman writes about encountering — and countering — homophobia at the Shabbos table, along with her journey to embrace herself, and her desire to have a nice, traditional Jewish family…with another nice Jewish girl by her side.
Gotta Give ‘Em Hope
Chaim Levin grew up Lubavitch Hasidic Orthodox in Crown Heights, Brooklyn New York and was often bullied as a kid. After being thrown out of yeshiva after admitting his attraction to men, undergoing “reparative therapy,” and attempting suicide, he finally emerged a proud gay Jewish man. These are his musings. Continue reading
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Mijael Vera considers what the Torah’s careful documentation of Joseph’s unusual wardrobe might reveal.
In this week’s portion, we return once again to the story of Joseph – a story in which the connecting thread shows that whatever is normally deemed absurd comes to happen and in which literal and symbolic boundaries are repeatedly crossed. The servant (Joseph) becomes master, and the master (Pharoah) bows down to the servant. But it is in the psychological realm that boundary-crossing is most significant, for it is through a deep psychological analysis of Joseph that we come to truly understand him. Continue reading
Judaism, a religion that focuses primarily on life, rather than the afterlife, provides a meticulous set of standards regarding the handling of corpses, which must be shown great respect. The body is washed, dressed in a simple gown, and never left alone before burial. All of these ministrations are carefully provided by a synagogue or community hevra kadisha, or holy committee.
Because the body is traditionally cared for by those of the same gender, making sure that a hevra kadisha is informed about and sensitive to the needs of transgender and genderqueer people is very important.
Here, Eliron Hamburger, a hevra kadisha member at Chochmat HaLev, in Berkeley, provides a checklist for all hevra kadisha members to consider. The answers may vary from community to community, but the questions themselves are thought-provoking, challenging us to look at this life-cycle event through the lens of transgender inclusion. Consider bringing it to the ritual committee at your synagogue or sharing with your family.
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Maggid Jhos Singer looks at Joseph’s reunification with his brothers as an example of the profound messiness of the Jewish concept of holiness.
While waiting on the schoolyard the other day for my kids to get out of their classrooms, I was chatting with a little clutch of fellow parents, none of them Jewish, when the issue of my working as a Jewish Spiritualist entered the conversation. One of the parents said something like, “It must be nice being so, well, you know, holy, you know, so spiritual and everything, you must feel really, uh, so peaceful.”
I could feel my face take on a look of confusion and was aware that my head had slowly tilted, dog-like, to one side. I wanted to say, “Are you on crack?!” But, being so spiritually evolved, I managed to just grunt a little and then, mercifully, the bell rang and all chaos erupted in the form of children streaming away from their day of state-imposed confinement, effectively ending the conversation. Continue reading
I’m skeptical of Hanukkah. Maybe it’s the rampant commercialism that defines the entire month of December. Maybe it’s the way mainstream Americans lazily slap a menorah symbol wherever convenient, patting itself on the back for being inclusive, unaware or more likely unconcerned that their elevation of Hanukkah to the level of Christmas violates the very spirit of this anti-assimilationist, minor holiday. Maybe it’s a Pavlovian response to the week of indigestion that follows the smorgasbord of fried starches. Maybe I’m a Grinch.
But I think more than that, it’s the whole Hanukkah story. Continue reading
Check out the brand new video Y-Love, the gay Orthodox hip-hop artist, recorded for us for Hanukkah.
Yes, that’s Yiddish you hear.
The rapper known off-stage as Yitz Jordan has been a major player on the Jewish music scene since the release of his first mixtape in 2005, followed by his first solo full length album in 2008. He made waves in a big way this spring when he officially came out. We’re proud to have Y-Love as our celebrity spokesperson and have teamed up to spread the message of LGBT inclusion.
If your Yiddish is iffy, be sure to turn on captions once the video is running (the red “cc button in lower right corner) for the translation. Better yet, call your bubbie and watch it together.
Y-Love’s statement about the video:
“So since coming out this May, one of the major things that I have felt is an overwhelming sense of wanting to give back to the LGBT community in general and the Jewish LGBT community in particular. Spending most of my career in the closet, I never used my platform to speak against heterosexism and homophobia — the same homophobia I was suffering from — and never gave my efforts to the struggle for equality. 2012 changes all that, and I’m trying to put as much of my effort and influence into the LGBT struggle for equality as I can.
To this end, Keshet has been there for LGBT inclusion nationwide for years. At the Keshet teen shabbaton, I was inspired by stories of overcoming far worse than I had even feared would happen in my own life. I realized that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines. By putting my name – as a premier Jewish urban artist – with Keshet’s, I think we can raise LGBT visibility and inclusion to even higher levels, and work towards one of my bigger goals for klal Yisra’el and humanity — that we should be the last generation to know of the closet.”
You can catch Y-Love on December 8 at Keshet’s Hanukkah party at Tracks in Denver! Limited tickets are still available.
Learn all about Y-Love here.
Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Karen Erlichman connects Joseph’s prophetic dreams with his inner moral compass, and urges queer Jews to remain similarly true to their inner selves.
They saw him from afar, and before he came close to them they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer [ba’al ha’chalomot]! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘a savage beast [chaya ra’ah] devoured him.’ We shall see what comes of his dreams!” —Genesis 37:18-20
This week’s parasha, Vayeshev, focuses on the story of Joseph, a dreamer and a visionary who was reviled and exiled by his own siblings. He shared his spiritual gifts with those around him, risking his own life to speak Divine Truth. Guided by an inner spiritual compass, Joseph’s clarity of vision and purpose guided him in every moment, even when faced with an unrequited offer of seduction from a woman, or a near-death experience at the hands of his own brothers. Continue reading