Tag Archives: Torah Queeries

Parashat Chukkat: Clean/Unclean

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 Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, Rabbi Jill Hammer considers the connections between impurities, power, and the roles of Moses’ sister Miriam.

Creative Common/REMY SAGLIER - DOUBLERAY

Creative Common/REMY SAGLIER – DOUBLERAY

The biblical categories tahor and tamei, usually translated “pure” and “impure,” mean something like insider/outsider. One who is tahor can enter the sanctuary, the dwelling-place of God’s presence and the heart of Israelite ritual. One who is tamei cannot. Tum’ah, impurity, can be contracted by a variety of circumstances including contact with dead bodies, menstruation, ejaculation, and childbirth. There are many theories about the nature of these categories — Mary Douglas, for example, who believes that things are impure or taboo because they cross boundaries in an uncanny way, or the ancient philosopher Philo who believed the system of tahor / tamei symbolically imparted ethical concepts. My own current sense, influenced by Avivah Zornberg’s book The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious, is that things or entities become tamei when biblical society wants to repress them. Continue reading

Posted on June 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 Korach: A Revolution with Boundaries

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 Torah Queeries online collection, which was inspired by the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. This week, Rebecca Weiner considers the need for order and boundaries, even in the midst of a revolution.

Creative Common/chris.corwin

Creative Common/chris.corwin

Looking back on my childhood, I often feel like I emerged out of two totally different worlds. I grew up in the “free to be you and me,” question-authority, communal-living, people’s republic of Berkeley in the late 1970s. At the same time, my sister had become ba’alat teshuvah (a non-Orthodox Jew who adopts Orthodox standards of observance) after a rather powerful trip to Israel at the age of eighteen. So while my nine-year-old cohorts spent their weekends running around Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue with their hippie parents, I spent every Shabbat at the local Chabad synagogue (an international Orthodox/Hasidic outreach organization), living a “normal” Berkeley liberal Jewish life during the week, but becoming an observant girl over Shabbat. Continue reading

Posted on June 3, 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 Be’Ha’alotecha: ‘Am’ (Yisrael) Comin’ 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, Rabbi Karen Perolman examines the Israelites’ struggles with their “coming out” experiences.

Creative Common/doyoubleedlikeme

Creative Common/doyoubleedlikeme

Coming-out (of the closet): To be “in the closet” means to hide one’s sexual and or gender identity. Many GBLT people are “out” in some situations and “closeted” in others.
– from Kulanu: All of Us, URJ Press 2007

As first among our days of sacred days, it recalls the coming-out (Exodus) from Egypt.
– from Erev Shabbat Kiddush.

Although the entire story of the Exodus from Egypt can be read as the Israelites’ coming-out story, the exact moment of coming-out occurs when the Israelites finally open the door to the closet and step out into what is literally new land, land that was newly exposed, and formerly under cover of water. In Exodus 14:21, God splits the Red Sea through the hand of Moses and the people walk on dry land toward redemption. Continue reading

Posted on May 20, 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 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