Monthly Archives: April 2013

Granting Peace in our Land: Observing our Greater Shabbatot

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, Marisa James considers what the sabbatical laws can teach us about the necessity of advocating for the powerless.

Creative Commons/Mike LaPlante

Creative Commons/Mike LaPlante

The teachings in this week’s paired parshiyot, Behar and Behukotai, are meant to prevent us from becoming greedy. At the beginning of Behar, literally “in the mountain” at Sinai, the first thing God tells Moses is “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:2-4)

Why do we give the earth a shabbat every seventh year? The lifespan of the earth is much longer than ours, so maybe every seven years is enough! But we must give the earth a rest, and acknowledge that it does not belong to us. We are meant to be equal partners with the earth, and treat it with the same kindness we hope it will show us. Continue reading

Posted on April 30, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Tachlis of Inclusion: Temple Beth Sholom in Miami

Creating inclusive Jewish spaces is a great goal — but how do you do it? While the answer is likely different for every synagogue, school, and youth group, it’s helpful and encouraging to hear about others’ successes, triumphs, and their lessons learned. So we’re running this regular column, called “The Tachlis of Inclusion,” to spotlight practices and policies that have worked for Jewish institutions all over the country. We hope they inspire you.

Rabbi Amy Morrison

Rabbi Amy Morrison

Rabbi Amy Morrison first caught our attention when we heard that when she was a rabbinical student, she refused to take on any internship where she could not address LGBT issues. When we learned that Morrison works at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami, a city famous for both LGBT and Jewish life in a state not known for inclusive laws, we were eager to catch up with her about how she, and Beth Sholom, create a welcoming environment.

To what extent has being openly out affected your rabbinate? Any memorable responses from congregants or colleagues?

For as long as I can remember I have been on a journey to be true to myself. As a nurturer, a listener, a healer, a connector, and a spiritual seeker, being a rabbi allows me a chance to do all the things I love to do and be the kind of person I want to be. And in order to that with integrity I needed to be clear about being gay. At Temple Beth Sholom I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people who support me; and I have found that being open and honest attract the same. Continue reading

Posted on April 24, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Parashat Emor: Every Body Worship

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 Joshua Lesser considers the discriminating qualifications for the priesthood, and what they mean for the LGBT and disabled communities.

Creative Common/lifeonthe inside

Creative Common/lifeonthe inside

An Israeli friend of mine had a provocative part-time job as a “selector” for TLV, a gay nightclub in Tel Aviv. He would point to people waiting behind the velvet rope and grant them access to the club. Friends were shown a certain favoritism; however, much like the selection of the Cohanim in Parashat Emor, those with “defects” were often prohibited from offering up their gifts to the dance floor gods. In Leviticus 21, the Torah specifies quite a long list of physical disabilities and ailments that would disqualify people from serving as priests. Long acknowledged as one of the more painful parts of the Torah, it elevates the perfect male body as one that is best to ritually serve God. Before the Hellenistic model of male beauty, there was Leviticus and the Temple cult. Continue reading

Posted on April 22, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Modeling Respect on Lag B’Omer

According to Jewish Law it is the practice to refrain from getting married between Passover and Shavuot – until Lag B’Omer (Shulchan Aruch 493:1). It is recorded that this practice serves as a memorial for the students of Rabbi Akiva who perished during this period of time. Their deaths came to an end (or at least a break) on Lag B’Omer. But, why did the students of Rabbi Akiva die? And why would we mourn their death by refraining from getting married?

Creative Commons/Goxxy

Creative Commons/Goxxy

We can start to answer these questions by looking at the Gemara (Oral Law) in Yevamot. There we learn:

Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbata to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: “All of them died between Passover and Shavuot.” (Yevamot 62b) Continue reading

Posted on April 19, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

A Jew. A Queer. But a Jewish Queer? Keshet Youth Shabbaton Reflection

I’ve never been one to have high expectations. I tend to take situations as they come and to be spontaneous in my decision making. That being said, I didn’t have any idea what I was in for as I stepped out of van and onto the cold snowy ground of the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut this January.

At the Keshet Shabbaton

Shelby, third from left, at the Keshet Shabbaton

Maybe I was subconsciously hoping the sky would be teeming with a myriad of rainbows, the clouds would part, and beautiful, teenage, gay women would fall from the sky, dancing to the hora and studying Torah.

Well, that didn’t happen. However, the weekend Keshet had in store for me and other LGBTQ Jewish youth at the second LGBTQ Jewish Teens and Allies Shabbaton was equally as magical.

 

Continue reading

Posted on April 17, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Parashat Aharei Mot and Parashat Kedoshim: You Shall Be Holy

 

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 Steve Greenberg deciphers deeper meaning in what appear to be the Levitical prohibitions of homosexuality.

Creative Common/GeminiSpaceshipPilot

Creative Common/GeminiSpaceshipPilot

The paired Torah portions of Aharei Mot and Kedoshim (Leviticus 16:1-20:27) are, in gay Jewish terms, the “scene of the crime.” In these two portions are the two verses that are traditionally understood to excoriate gay male sex. In 1969 they were, as well, my bar mitzvah portion. At the age of 13 I had no idea that this double parasha would come to mean so much to me. By the time Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 came to have their full caustic power on my life, I was a closeted Orthodox rabbi living in Riverdale, New York, and involved in my first gay relationship. The high wire anxiety of this time led me to a showdown of sorts. I needed to make some sense of my life in light of these verses in order to continue in good faith, not only as an Orthodox rabbi, but as a committed Jew. Continue reading

Posted on April 15, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Day of Silence: Resources for the Jewish Community

One day each year, students across the country pledge to take some form of silence.

In the hallways, in the cafeteria, they silence themselves in order to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Below are some resources to help your school, youth group, or Hebrew school class participate in this national Day of Silence.

Courtesy of GLSEN

Courtesy of GLSEN

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, has a series of good videos on what the Day of Silence means and why it’s so important to LGBTQ teens and their allies alike. You can also find an a great assortment of resources for bringing the Day of Silence to your community.

  • The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (the Federation for San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties) offers a variety of resources – including organizing tips, information on how to find or start a Gay-Straight Alliance, and suggestions for post-Day of Silence programming, that can work well in a Jewish setting.
  • In this essay, a Jewish teen details the homophobia he sees in Jewish youth culture. Share this essay and discuss with your youth group or day school classroom before or after the Day of Silence.

DOS_2012_poster_web

  • See how other Jewish teens have committed to ending homophobia and transphobia in their Jewish youth groups. Share the following with teens, and use them to prompt break-out discussions.
  1. Share this letter written about bullying by coalition of Jewish youth groups.
  2. Watch a BBYO president explain why creating safe space for Jewish teens is so important to him.
  3. Listen to a USY president talk about why personal difference is a strength and a virtue. (Be sure to watch the very end!)
  4. Hear from a group of BBYO teens about why their commitment to stand up for each other is such vital part of their youth group experience.
  • For more general information on how to create a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at your Jewish school, and other ways to make Jewish space for teens more inclusive, check out this post for resources and ideas. And if you think it can’t be done, or need a little inspiration to take the first step:
  1. Read this essay by Amram Altzman how he started a GSA-type club at his Orthodox high school.
  2. Watch Keshet’s documentary film, Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School, about the formation about the first Gay-Straight Alliance at a Jewish high school.
  3. Read this article that explores the growing popularity of Gay-Straight Alliances at Jewish schools.

Posted on April 12, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Fear, Perception, and Imagination: Grasshoppers in Whose Eyes?

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, Jay Stanton New considers how LGBTQ Jews, like the ancient Israelites, must overcome their fears of being few in number.

Grasshopper

Creative Commons/Ewok Jorduman

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lecha, God commands Moses to send twelve scouts to the land of Canaan on a reconnaissance mission. They are charged with the task of assessing the land and reporting back to Moses and the community about the resources of the land and the people who inhabit it. Giving their report after returning from their mission, they state that the land is filled with milk and honey, but the people who inhabit it are large and numerous. Caleb, one of the scouts, assures the people that, despite the difficulties, the Israelites will be able to conquer the land. Ten other scouts make a comment, which I will share below, about how small they are, while asserting the unwise nature of Caleb’s conclusion. Hearing fear in the voices of these eye-witnesses, the Israelite community exclaims the wish that they had died in Egypt. Upon hearing the Israelite’s comment, Caleb and Joshua (another of the scouts) rend their clothes in a passionate gesture of mourning, and implore the Israelites not to rebel against Moses and God. In response, God threatens to wipe out the Israelites. Moses pleads with God on behalf of the Israelite people, and G-d agrees to stay his hand. Instead of this immediate retribution, G-d decrees that all the adults of this faithless generation die out in the wilderness so that a new generation, one more like Joshua and Caleb (who were excepted from God’s decree), could advance to the Promised Land. Continue reading

Posted on April 10, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

It’s the Purity, Stupid: Reading Leviticus in Context

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, Jay Michaelson looks at the Levitical prohibitions around purity – including the ones related to homosexuality – and finds that ethics and morality have nothing to do with them.

Creative Common/sea turtle

Creative Common/sea turtle

For gay and lesbian Jews, parshat Acharei Mot contains some of the most infamous passages of the Torah, but the preceding two, Tazria and Metzora (usually read together as a “double portion”) contain some of the most obscure. In these portions, we learn about the laws of leprosy (actually tzaraat, a skin disease similar to it but different in various ways), seminal emissions, and menstruation; here we are told the detailed method of sin-offerings and wave-offerings, and the methods of purity and contamination. Few people spend much time poring over the vivid anatomical and biological details of Tazria-Metzora. And yet, how can we understand the meaning of the Levitical sexual prohibitions without a sense of their immediate context?

Continue reading

Posted on April 8, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Tachlis of Inclusion: Congregation Beth Shalom of Seattle

Creating inclusive Jewish spaces is a great goal — but how do you do it? While the answer is likely different for every synagogue, school, and youth group, it’s helpful and encouraging to hear about others’ successes, triumphs, and their lessons learned. So we’re running this regular column, called “The Tachlis of Inclusion,” to spotlight practices and policies that have worked for Jewish institutions all over the country.

Rabbi Jill Borodin

Rabbi Jill Borodin

We spoke with Rabbi Jill Borodin of Congregation Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Seattle, WA, to find out how this congregation has evolved on the issue of LGBT inclusion, to become a place where the rabbi performs same-sex marriages and speaks publicly in support of marriage equality. Learn more about Congregation Beth Shalom’s LGBT inclusive offerings here.

What does Congregation Beth Shalom do for same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings? I’ve read that in 2001 your predecessor took a year to deliberate whether or not to perform a commitment ceremony. I know you weren’t at Beth Shalom then, but can you speak to where you are as a community now? What did the process of that evolution look like? Was there community support?

You’re right – we do both commitment ceremonies and same-sex weddings. My predecessor did one, but I think that’s because he was only asked once. I’ve done three in the last eight years, and I’ve got another one on the calendar. Continue reading

Posted on April 5, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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