Tag Archives: Torah Queeries

Parashat Naso: Queer Nazir and the Twelve Identical Gifts

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, Darren Lippman considers the similarities between Nazirites and LGBT Jews – two populations who are “set aside” in important ways.

Creative Common/Alexander Smolianitski

Creative Common/Alexander Smolianitski

I first read Parashat Naso during my b’nei mitzvah class in early 2002, long before I discovered either my passion for Judaism or my love of writing. It’s no surprise, then, that after reading the extensive recounting of events in the Israelites’ camp surrounding the dedication of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), my first thought was that this parasha was long and tedious: it begins with a census, continues with purifying the camp, and ends with dedicating the Mishkan, an event featuring identical offerings from each tribe. Continue reading

Posted on May 14, 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 B’midbar: The Gift of the Wilderness

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, Alex Carter sees the beauty of the delicate ecosystem of the Biblical wilderness – and in the unique queer culture we’re in danger of losing.

Creative Common/Kwong Yee Cheng

Creative Common/Kwong Yee Cheng

This week’s parsha, B’midbar, begins, as many parshiyot begin, with the words, “G-d spoke to Moses…” But this week, it specifies that G-d spoke to Moses “in the wilderness of Sinai…” It continues with a census of the men of military age, and with a description of how the tribes were to be arranged in the camp and for marching through the wilderness. Each tribe was placed in relation to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which was at the center of the community at all times.

But I want to focus on the very first line – “G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai….” Continue reading

Posted on May 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

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

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

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

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

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

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