Elena Kagan, Esther, and Being Outed as Jewish or Gay

So Elena Kagan is Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court Jusice, and I, for one, am elated. I love that there will be two Jewish ladies on the Supreme Court, and I love that Kagan is whip smart and driven and does well for herself. She seems, to me, like a great candidate and I hope her nomination sails through Congress.

But there is, as you may have heard, a lot of talk about whether or not she’s gay. Let’s just skip right past whether it’s appropriate to wildly speculate about someone’s sexuality, since clearly it’s being done regardless, and go for the hypothetical situation in which she is a closeted lesbian. Does it matter? Should she come out?

Andrew Sullivan has some thoughts regarding whether or not she’s gay:

It is no more of an empirical question than whether she is Jewish. We know she is Jewish, and it is a fact simply and rightly put in the public square. If she were to hide her Jewishness, it would seem rightly odd, bizarre, anachronistic, even arguably self-critical or self-loathing. And yet we have been told by many that she is gay … and no one will ask directly if this is true and no one in the administration will tell us definitively.

This seems spot on to me. If she’s gay she should come out because it probably actually can’t hurt her much at this point–the speculation probably did as much of the work as could be done–and it can help her. Being honest is a good thing, especially in a Supreme Court Justice. She’ll no doubt be called upon to make rulings about the gay community, and it behooves everyone to know that she may have a vested interest in certain issues.

Thinking about this, I couldn’t help but think about the megillah, and Queen Esther. One of the major points of the story in the Book of Esther is that no one knows that Esther is a Jew. And that always struck me as odd. Why doesn’t Esther come out as Jewish as soon as the King picks her? Wouldn’t that have made the whole issue with Haman a moot point? Would the king really have agreed to kill off the entire family of his wife? Doubtful. If Esther had just come out and told everyone who she was from the beginning, the whole story would have to focus on other, perhaps more important issues.

I think the ties to the megillah are pretty clear, but I’ve been thinking about them even more because I just finished reading a great book called Good for the Jews by Debra Spark. In short, the novel takes the story of the megillah and moves it Madison Wisconsin in 2005-2006. It’s an incredibly interesting take on the Biblical story, and one of the things that I think makes it so interesting is that Spark doesn’t have the character based on Esther (Ellen) keep her religion a secret. Instead, Ellen has to deal with thinly veiled anti-Semitism, and has to convince those around her that it’s really a threat. This is something that a member of almost any minority can relate to. We all deal with discrimination all the time, but it’s usually more subtle than someone saying, “All Jews should be hanged.” When we face discrimination that’s veiled, it’s still important and even obligatory to make a stink about it. But we can’t do that as effectively if no one understands why we care.

I hope that if Kagan is gay she comes out, and I hope that she makes it to the bench. And I hope you’ll all read Good for the Jews because it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while, and I want to talk about it with someone already!

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