Tag Archives: text study

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?

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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

Transgendered Hearts: Abraham, Sarah and Isaac

The Torah is strewn with transgendered hearts.

Creative Common/Mike Goldberg

Verses from the Torah about the human heart. Creative Common/Mike Goldberg

How can that be true? The Torah, as we know, is not written for or about transgender people, and in any case, “transgender” is supposed to be a noun or adjective, not a verb, an umbrella term for the millions of people whose gender identity or expression is more complicated than “male” or “female.” “Transgender” gathers gender-complicated people into a broad, simple category – the equivalent of “African American” or “Latino” – and implies that our identities, like those of other minorities, are a matter of fact that is not up for discussion. But though “transgender” has real advantages for describing ourselves to others, for many of us who identify as transgender, identity is an often-messy, ongoing process, not a simple, settled fact. For me, “transgender” isn’t just something I am – it is an active, terrifying, exalting process of unmaking and remaking a self that will never quite fit established categories of gender or identity. Continue reading

Posted on March 21, 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 Tsav: “It Must Not Go Out”

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, Amy Soule explores the many meanings of the Biblical imperative to keep the altar light burning.

Creative Common/Nutmeg Designs

Creative Commons/Nutmeg Designs

“The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out…The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.” (Leviticus 6:12-13)

In ancient times, these verses referred to the sacrifices people were making as an act of worship. Having a perpetual flame on the altar symbolized that God was being continually worshipped by our ancestors. Today we worship very differently, without making any animal sacrifices. Why do these verses remain relevant to our modern lives at all, let alone as liberal GLBT Jews?

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Posted on March 18, 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 VaYikra: “And God Called”: The Process is the Message

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 Jane Litman sees in the blessing before studying Torah echoes of the portion itself: we have the human need, and the human means, to connect with God.

Creative Common/Alexander Smolianitski

Creative Commons/Alexander Smolianitski

The blessing that one recites before studying Torah is:

Baruch ata adonai, elohaynu melech ha-olam, asher kiddishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu la-asok b’divray torah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us the mitzvah of engaging in the words of Torah.

We don’t ask the Divine blessing for obeying Torah, or hearing Torah, or even reading Torah, but rather for engaging with Torah. It is the process of engagement – the passionate give and take – that is sacred, not the specific content. In a world in which biblical fundamentalism is on the rise, it’s important to note that the Jewish relationship with our sacred text is interpretive. Our task is to take Torah seriously, not necessarily to agree with its literal content. Sometimes when we study Torah, we are struck by the eternal quality of its message; at other times its words seem tightly bound to a particular cultural moment and place. Torah is both ancient and contemporary – that is its gift. Continue reading

Posted on March 11, 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

Parashiyot Vayakhel and Pekudei: The Power of Embodied Love

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 sees in the construction of the mishkan a model for a community where everyone, including and especially LGBT Jews, can contribute their own gifts.

Creative Common/David Burton

Creative Common/David Burton

In the traditional Jewish community, queer people are often asked “What is your justification for being a queer Jew?” as if queer Jews are a controversial idea rather than a life form. This question may in part stem from an internalization of the model of Sinai, in which ideas are set forth or decried based on covenantal aims. Yet in the parshiyot of Vayakhel-Pekudei, we find a different model for what it means to be a sacred community, one radically different than the model we see at Sinai, and one that tends toward acknowledging people as bodies as well as ideas.
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Posted on March 4, 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 Ki Tisa: Dancing at Sinai

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 Jacob Staub looks  at the narrative of the Golden Calf in search of a welcoming tradition.

Creative Common/ParaScubaSailor

Creative Common/ParaScubaSailor

I remember vividly the way, as a nine-year-old student at an Orthodox yeshiva in the Bronx, I was troubled when we first studied Parashat Ki Tisa. How could the Israelites have been so myopically impatient?! They had been witness to the plagues. They had been delivered out of Egyptian bondage. They had sung God’s praises on the shore of the Sea while watching their Egyptian pursuers drown. And now, asked to wait a mere forty days while Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, they couldn’t wait? And. . . they needed a golden calf to worship? Continue reading

Posted on February 25, 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 Terumah: The Gift of Safe Space

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, Y. Gavriel A. Levi Ansara finds deep spiritual meaning in the instructions given to Moses for building the Tabernacle.

Creative Commons/Nedral

Creative Commons/Nedral

Parashat Terumah opens with G-d speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai and commanding him in meticulous detail regarding the construction of the Mishkan, or “tabernacle,” the portable dwelling place of G-d’s presence that the Israelites could promptly assemble, dismantle, transport, and then reassemble during their sojourn in the desert.

G-d tells Moses: “Daber el Bnai Yisrael veyikchu li terumah me’et kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu et terumati./ Speak to the Children of Israel and have them bring Me an offering. Take My offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give.” (Exodus 25:2) Hashem continues by commanding Moses to acquire fifteen materials for the construction of the Mishkan — each item a gift or offering (terumah), and each to be brought by someone “whose heart impels him.” The offerings include gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, and animal skins; acacia wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. This lengthy description of the offerings necessary for the Mishkan emphasizes the multiplicity and diversity of color and material, a symbolic acknowledgment that sacred community cannot exist without embracing the unique experiences and identities of all Jews. Continue reading

Posted on February 11, 2013

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Bathroom Blessing Blues

Last Hanukkah my mother gave me a decorative wall hanging with the text of Asher Yatzar, also known as the bathroom blessing, the most hilarious benediction in the Jewish canon to any Hebrew school student. In a liturgical tradition with hundreds of formulas for giving gratitude to God at various special occasions, perhaps it should come as no surprise that traditional Judaism urges us to thank God each time we successfully emerge from the toilet. But tell that to a school age child. Or to my grown up self, trying not to giggle at my mother’s gift.

Sign for men's restroom

Photos: Bonnie Rosenbaum

My mother does not practice Judaism and does not read Hebrew. But every year for Hanukkah, in a heroic act of motherly love, she ships appropriately-themed gifts across the country for both myself and my Labrador. The dog got a stuffed dreidel. I got a ceramic placard with the words of Asher Yatzar. I’m not sure she knew what it was.

Like most Americans, I was raised with what I consider a completely normal level of neurotic shame surrounding bathroom functions. An integral part of my toilet training were the instructions to close the door behind me, pull up my pants when I’m done, and don’t talk about what I did afterwards, especially not at the dinner table.

And, like most gender-variant people, that primer of bathroom shame was coated with an extra layer of fear and confusion: Will I scare someone in the ladies’ room today? Will I be safe in the men’s room? Is sitting down to pee an affront to my already insecure masculinity? Continue reading

Posted on February 6, 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 Mishpatim: Revolution is the Easy Part

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, Kerrick Lucker discusses how LGBT Jews can examine their own behavior, and learn to treat one another more justly.

Creative Common/yanni

Creative Common/yanni

It’s one thing to break down barriers of oppression. It’s quite another to build up a community of shared liberation. This is what Moses and the People of Israel are learning in this week’s Torah portion, parashat Mishpatim.

A shared sense of community sometimes arises naturally out of shared oppression, but when liberation happens – and we start to experience the brisk wind of real freedom – that sense of community often quickly dissolves. Freedom is hard work. Self-governance is hardest of all. People under the yoke of oppression seldom think about this in the face of all of freedom’s obvious benefits, but oddly enough, once you’re out in the desert and having to find your own food and make your own laws and mediate your own conflicts, there can be a strange yearning for the old days in mitzrayim, the narrow place. Continue reading

Posted on February 4, 2013

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Parashat Yitro: The First Commandment Revisited

Torah Queery: A Queer Take on the Weekly Torah Portion

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 Seth Goren revisits the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, and what Judaism demonstrates about families of choice.

creative common - dMad photo

Creative Common/dMad

The giving of the Ten Commandments is a vividly spectacular event. The combination of lightening, thunder, smoke, and blaring horns at Mount Sinai echo and flash across time, setting the perfect backdrop for the divine enunciation of Aseret HaDibrot (as they are called in rabbinic texts).

But Jewish tradition teaches that the First Commandment given in the Bible appears not in this week’s Parshat Yitro, but all the way back in Genesis 1:28. After their creation, the first human beings are commanded to “be fruitful and multiply.” Continue reading

Posted on January 28, 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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