Parashat Emor: Every Body Worship

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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.

As a regular attendee of the temple we call “the gym,” it is abundantly clear to me that the idealization of the aesthetic male form as godly is something that restricts us all, particularly gay men, even though gay men — to their own personal detriment — are often the most avid supporters of this kind of body worship.

Clearly, as human beings who age and whose bodies change over time, such an emphasis on embodied perfection inspires dread in all of us and has the potential to make us fear or ignore people who remind us of the truth of our imperfect bodies. In leading diversity workshops, people tend to point out similarities between the oppression of GLBT and disabled folks. For instance, they notice that in both communities there is a preponderance of people who are different from their families of origin, leaving both GLBT and disabled people at risk of having family members reject them or discriminate against them. Nor are their families able to equip them to engage in the so called “normative” world. There are many other similarities between the forces of heterosexism and ableism that create barriers for societal participation. Despite these issues and other legitimate comparisons, I have found that both GLBT and disabled people often shun the similarities.