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.

What stood out for me at the time about the people I met through Chabad was their dedication to the rules and regulations of living an observant Jewish life, and the love they had for
halacha
, or Jewish law. I had not yet developed a questioning mind and as I studied and mimicked all the
mitzvot
, I was struck by the practice of the rituals and the devotion these people had to Hashem.

Later on in my life, as I developed into the lesbian feminist that I am, I struggled as I questioned my relationship to halacha. The rules surrounding who could and could not be included in certain Jewish rites and practices saddened me. I questioned a God that would allow a man to throw a chair at my girlfriend as she attempted to pray with the Torah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. What God would allow such punitive action? What God doesn’t want all the people Israel to participate in everything that makes Jewish life vibrant and meaningful?

Posted on June 3, 2013

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