So a small group of Palestinians, Israelis, and Germans –all in their 30s–are having drinks in Malmö, Sweden with a bunch of Jews, Muslims, Christians and other people of all ages who don’t identify with any religion.
That is not a joke. It happened a few days ago. I was there.
The group was the ensemble cast of Third Generation: “work in progress,” a brilliant performance piece conceived by Israeli playwright and director Yael Ronen (who was also there) and developed as a joint project of Berlin’s Schaubuhne and the Habimah National Theatre of Israel.
At the start of the show, Niels Bormann appears alone in front of the curtain; dressed in grey sweatpants, a red t-shirt emblazoned with 3G in large black letters, and a kefiya. He introduces the play with one apology after another: He is sorry that the costumes are not more sophisticated, but the show was developed in the Middle East, not Europe. He is sorry for making that politically incorrect statement. He is especially sorry for the role that Germany played in the murder of so many diverse groups of people. He polls the audience;
“Are there any Jews here?” Many hands go up. He apologizes. More »
Hey, Jewschoolers. Check out my piece in Heeb about Lou Reed, z”l. I’ll tease it here, and you can click on the link to read the rest on Heeb.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know that Lou Reed died. So, I’m not going to write a newspaper obituary. This is the internet; you can find better ones on your own, and learn all about why The Velvet Underground was such an important band and all that. I’m also not going to write one of those “Hey, Lou Reed kicked ass and Lou Reed was Jewish, so see? Judaism can kick ass too” kinds of pieces, nahmean? Let’s not stretch the Jewish thing, but take him at his word: “My God is rock’n’roll. It’s an obscure power that can change your life. The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”
But I’m Jewish and Jewy and I do want to reflect about why I think Lou Reed’s artistry is so vital, how it reaches me, through my prisms, or as the case may be, mirrors.
“I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset
The light on your door to show that you’re home” (“I’ll Be Your Mirror”)
More than anything else, Lou Reed was our mirror, reflecting what we are, in case we didn’t know.
We are terrified of freedom, but deny it. Shaking off the effects of sterile Long Island and forced, adolescent, electro-convulsive “therapy” to “cure” him of his bisexuality (it didn’t work), Lou Reed grabbed a rock and roll public by the collar, spit in its face, made it stop averting its eye from anyone fearful, and look hard at what liberation really looks like.
To read the rest of this article, follow this link.
“Chain gleaming, switching lanes, two-seater.
Hate him or love him for the same reason.
Can’t leave it; the game needs him.
Plus, the people need someone to believe in.”
–Nas, “Hero” (2008)
In the past couple of days, since Rav Ovadia Yosef died at 93, the Jewish media, both published and social, have been abuzz with tributes about his towering scholarship, bold rabbinic leadership, controversial political and cultural impact, and his frequent episodes of vituperative and hostile verbal violence, especially late in his life. I have also seen comments by progressive Jews expressing surprise that so many progressive friends of theirs were showing the love to Rav Ovadia. As one friend put it: “My FB page is full of love for Ovadia Yosef-from lefty people? I thought he was kind of terrible?”
Introduction: Halakhic Insights from Outsiders
I’m always intrigued when individuals or groups of people who are meticulously observant of some law system – particularly Halakhah – perceive themselves as not observing something even though they understand it to be the law. They are quite observant in general and they acknowledge that the particular practice is the law, but just don’t do that practice. Often, I find that if these people are really listened to and empowered with legal language, they turn out to possess some insight into that law. It’s not that they randomly disregard it; it’s that they intuit that the law is being misinterpreted or misapplied, that it shouldn’t actually be understood as the law, and that if the halls of interpretational power had better-constructed avenues of access, such that more diverse vantage points and experiences were represented, communal perception of Halakhah would be much different.
I suspect that one fascinating example of this is the laws of yichud, the restrictions on men and women from being physically alone together, in private. My anecdotal perception is that in much of the modern, observant world – let’s say, people who pursue higher, liberal arts education and work in the general workforce while maintaining life practices of mitzvot – yichud is not at the top of the halakhah heap. Even people who do observe sexual prohibitions that are counter-cultural in their integrated world still often disregard yichud. More striking, they’ll sometimes make fun of it, telling dinner party stories about that baal teshuvah friend who was staying with a family for Shabbat and kept clandestinely going down to open the front door whenever the dad went out, and then the mom would close it and wonder how it got open, hahahaha, isn’t that ridiculous how frummies can get out of hand (say the people who send someone down every 10 minutes to look for the late guest, because of course they – we – won’t press the buzzer on Shabbat).
That’s interesting to me. People of this sort will generally construct their lifestyles around a deep commitment to halakhah, sometimes at great sacrifice; they would find it small-minded, offensive, and perhaps anti-Semitic for someone to mock their practices; they don’t dispute this particular practice’s identity as a halakhah, yet they consciously do not observe it and sometimes mock those who do. What’s going on there? More »
You can’t really see it, but from left to right it’s:
All Americans, Jewish, Unaffiliated, Non-Christian, White Catholic, Hispanic Catholic, White Mainline, Black Protestant, Mormon, White Evangelical (interesting choice of groups that is)…
I mean, even accounting for the fact that most Jews are, well, liberal and/or Liberal, that’s still 4% more in favor than “Unaffiliated.”
And, in the spirit of things, here is a quote:
“You’re saying, no, the state said two kinds of marriage. The full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.” -Ruth Ginsburg
Basically, there’s one thing that really annoys me…the fact that everyone knows about LGBT discrimination in the religious community but no one really seems to acknowledge religious discrimination in the LGBT community. When I came out during Orthogeddon 2012, I got two reactions. My straight friends thought I should still stay connected to the Jewish community. I mean heck, I even had a couple of Orthodox friends who didn’t want me to give up. But the reaction was pretty unanimous among my gay* friends: “I’m so glad you’re over that stupid phase! Never go back!” They often then continue with a whole rant about how Judaism has “so many stupid rules” etc.
That’s cool. I know that these people have totally been bullied by religion, especially if they’ve grown up in religious families. But it still frustrates me how hard it is to explain to people that you can’t just throw things away like that. And it’s kind of disappointing to hear that my friends are practically embarrassed for me by my “stupid phase.” Explaining to people that 1.) Although I can’t be Orthodox anymore, 2.) Judaism is still a part of my life, 3.) Which I don’t really feel comfortable with, since its entire structure is based on married, straight life.** Add all that to having to be the spokesperson for Judaism to friends who say things like “And you can’t even use the lights on your Sabbath? I mean, come on! So you’re definitely over that, right?” and it become a pretty…complex experience. What do I say to that? “Oh yeah, it’s totally stupid”?
I am still a Jewish Studies major. I still hang out with my rabbi. I still have a gemara checked out from the school library. How do I explain this to the non-Jewish girl I am talking to without sounding like a fundamentalist? How long do I spend telling her the obligatory “I don’t really care that much about my Jewish Studies major, don’t worry”?
And so with this I direct you toward this article [PDF] in the Shma from November 2012, which says it better than I did:
There seems to be a threshold of how “Jewey” a prospective companion can be. In fact, asking, “What do you do?” is almost always a problematic question, because the revelation that one is a Jewish professional conjures up a set of assumptions that are rarely complimentary: He must be some sort of religious fundamentalist; no one would “willingly” work in that field. These perceptions present an even more difficult challenge when it comes to observant LGBTQ Jews who feel rejected by their communities and Judaism. Finding little room for reconciliation between the Judaism they identify with and their sexual identity, many choose a more accepting secular lifestyle that is, at most, only culturally Jewish. It can be difficult to understand why someone who is LGBTQ would choose to be so deeply involved in Jewish life, both professionally and personally. It appears counterintuitive and could be mistaken for self-loathing. And it is most definitely not sexy.
*I secretly dislike the term LGBT, because although “gay” or “queer” might exclude people too, everyone knows that LGBT usually means “gay men,” and unlike the other terms it’s just rubbing salt in everyone’s wounds with the so-called inclusion of LBT. I don’t use “queer” very often myself, just for the aesthetic reason that it seems to have weird political/radical connotations which I don’t necessarily always want to be there, you know?
**You know it’s true. Everything from niddah to yichus to tznius to shomer negiah to mechitza and the importance of marriage and family is based on the structure of straight married people. Sure, you can fit yourself in there as a gay person, but you try listening to “we have sinned, we have sinned” on Yom Kippur and not feeling totally fringe.
In case you didn’t know, there is a new Jewish children’s book out about a boy with two dads. As you might imagine, it has received both positive and negative reviews.
“Our kids have regular kid problems. Just as there are Purim stories other than the Book of Esther, there are kid-in-a-gay-family stories that aren’t about a classmate or teacher’s homophobia.” (Jewish Week)
The negative is basically for the reasons you might imagine:
“Our culture is being systematically deluged with visions for ‘alternative families’ and there are dozens of foreign funds that encourage every form of sexuality other than the conventional one. Parents need to be on the lookout for this type of content which can spring up in the most unexpected places.” (Jewish Press)
Then my eyes glazed over.
In the world of Israel advocacy, there’s a popular campaign aimed at halting people’s criticism of Israel’s policies by listing all the excellent and innovative technologies Israel has invented (and/or talking about it’s worse to be a woman/queer person in a place that’s not Israel and usually rhymes with Schmalestine).
To add to the list of things Israel has invented (in addition to cell phones, instant messenger, radiation free breast cancer diagnostics) is the Anti Date Rape straw. The straw can detect two most widely-used date rape drugs: ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) in a drink and the change of color alerts the person drinking of the presence of those drugs.
Let’s hope that distributing this straw doesn’t become a substitute for not having conversations about consent, power, rape and communication. And if it’s going to become a staple of the kind of Israel advocacy that I mentioned above, let’s also take the opportunity to talk about the current position of women in Israeli society (shitty), and MAYBE EVEN that rape and sexual assault happen in the Jewish community. It would be a great opportunity to elevate the sad state of Israel advocacy (on campus and otherwise) and talk about something hard that we don’t like to talk about, as a community or otherwise.
Of course, the existence of said straw is good regardless of whether or not nuanced conversations about it happen. But you know, not better than just not raping people.
Introducing: The first-ever Orthodox LGBT Vacation Retreat in the Midwest
July 5th through 8th, 2012 at Ronora Lodge and Retreat Center, Watervliet, Michigan
Whether you are Orthodox, Traditional or just want to spend a relaxing Shabbat with others, this retreat is for you.
Retreat will include inspiring learning, spirited davening (prayer), delicious locally grown kosher food, and an Eshel Speaker and Leadership training. Retreat will take place in a beautiful, natural setting with lots of time in between for relaxation, beauty and summer fun, including trip to Warren Dunes. Stay tuned for more details! Have questions about the summer retreat? Email email@example.com
*Eshel builds understanding and support for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in traditional Jewish communities. www.eshelonline.org
The NY Times recently published an article about an unusual public apology by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a prominent psychiatrist. In the early 1970’s, Dr. Spitzer was instrumental in the American Psychological Association’s decision to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. Much later in his career, he interviewed individuals who were undergoing reparative therapy intended to change their sexual orientation, and published a 2003 article concluding that reparative therapy could change sexual attraction in individuals who were highly motivated to change. Although this article was published in a peer reviewed journal, due to his prestige, instead of actually undergoing peer review, the article was published without review alongside commentaries critical of his methodology and his interpretation of the evidence presented. Spitzer has come to agree with the critics of this work, publicly declared that his conclusions were wrong–giving detailed explanations of why these conclusions were wrong, and apologized to those who underwent reparative therapy based on the prestige and credibility he lent to such treatments. You can read more about this in The NY Times article.
So what does this have to do with Judaism? In 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Conservative Movement voted on several respona regarding homosexuality and Judaism. Much was written at the time about the fact that conflicting respona each received sufficient votes to be considered acceptable interpretations of halacha. The Dorff, Nevins, and Reisner Responum narrowed prohibited behaviors sufficiently to open a path to homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination. Two others, the Roth Responsum, and the Levy Responsum, concluded instead that homosexual Jewish marriage and ordination were not compatible with halacha. The Levy Responsum uniquely claimed that reparative therapy to change sexual orientation could be effective, explicitly suggested such therapy as an option for adults unable to have opposite-sex relationships, and also implied that such therapy should be suggested to teenagers.
By now I’m sure many of you have heard about today’s monthly Women of the Wall gathering. The short version is that the police, allegedly present to protect the women from those who do not believe they have a right to daven at the Kotel, approached many of the women, said they weren’t permitted to wear talleisim, and took the names and id of three women who’ll be “further investigated.” You can read more about it in the JTA and Jerusalem Post, or check out a blog post by one of the three women (who happen to all be rabbinical students). You can also watch their reaction in this interview on YouTube.
|Police, defying the mechitzah, to teach Deb how a woman ought to wear her tallis.
It wasn’t long before I spotted the photos on Facebook, counting several friends among them. Based on the two photos included in this post, I decided to talk to Deb (pictured) about her experience today and each month she joins Women of the Wall for their Rosh Chodesh davening.
Right off the bat, Deb made clear that she hasn’t historically connected to the kotel as a place where she’s wanted to daven. However, she finds that the more she goes with Women of the Wall, the more she wants to go. It’s the community Women of the Wall is fighting to create that speaks to her more than the wall itself.
She told me, the group is “called ‘women’ but it’s actually creating a space for all who want to daven there, who have the right to access this public, Jewish space.” The group’s mission states they “seek the right for Jewish women from Israel and around the world to conduct prayer services, read from a Torah scroll while wearing prayer shawls, and sing out loud at the Western Wall – Judaism’s most sacred holy site and the principal symbol of Jewish people hood and sovereignty.” Deb appreciates that they’ve also created a “queer-friendly space,” and that they “call attention to the need for spaces that are friendly and welcoming to all. There are folks who identify as genderqueer and trans who are invited to lead services, read from the Torah, and take on other roles. Likewise, Women of the Wall creates a welcome space for all genders, including male-identifed folks, to participate in the Torah services” that they hold at Robinson’s Arch after they move from the Western Wall.
|Wearing a tallis in a hijab-like manner is apparently permitted.
When I showed Deb the two photos from Facebook, she said that she feels like she’s being “singled out each month” by the police, because she wears a tallis that is more traditionally considered a man’s, and not a colourful tallis that might be more “feminine.” Today, a policeman asked permission of Anat (co-founder of Women of the Wall) to demonstrate, using Deb and her tallis, how women should properly wear a tallis like a shawl. The idea being that this would avoid the 2001 law that makes it illegal for women to perform those religious practices “traditionally done by men” at holy sites, like reading from the Torah, wearing tefillin or a tallis, or blowing the shofar.
“He folded it up, and put it around me like a fake scarf… Of course I unfolded it and ended up wearing almost like a hijab instead!”
Her other response to the police? She davens extra loud when she’s with Women of the Wall. I asked if that was a way of protesting the police interference, but she corrected me. “The truth is that I’m extra loud so that the women feel a presence. And it’s for the policemen, so they hear the truth of the davening, rather than the protest of the women. Because that’s really why I am there: so that I can pray and sing and so can any other person. I guess I like to think I bring some davening confidence…”
Her confidence, and the monthly return of so many woman (and folks of all genders) reminds us that they’re fighting over a public space. A Jewish space. And women (and those who identify outside the gender binary) have just as much right to pray in public as men.
I’m a secret fan of Food Network’s Chopped, and recently between episodes discovered a weird sister show focused on dessert called Sweet Genius. Its eponymous, singular judge and host is a weird and kooky cross between Willy Wonka and Dr. Evil. Get it- Evil Genius, Sweet Genius? Yeah well the show is filled with the same odd humor… Its pretty ridiculous, but I admit its better than watching Cupcake Boss, whose name doesn’t even have a pun… The show has its fans and deriders, but mostly I think it has addicts to its quirkiness.
There was always something odd about the Sweet Genius himself. His flamboyant style hinted at his being gay, but unless you knew his name is Ron Ben Israel, his Austrian accent never would have outed him as a Tel Aviv born-Jew. Of course, his Viennese mother might have something to do with that, as well as giving him knowledge of delicate European style confections, which appeared in Martha Stewart, Vogue and many food pron books before the New York Times named him “the Manolo Blahnik of cakes.”
New Yorkers and foodies may be more familiar with Ron Ben Israel, but for those less in the know, JTA profiles the Sweet Genius star:
In 1999 he opened Ron Ben-Israel Cakes in New York’s SoHo neighborhood with one oven and one mixer. As people fled downtown New York after the 9/11 tragedy, he was able to capitalize on lower rents and expand his operation.
Coming from a secular Israeli upbringing, Ben-Israel wasn’t ideologically interested in making his shop kosher, but for a caterer for some of New York City’s biggest hotels, it was a prudent business decision.
He chose OK Laboratories, the Chabad-affiliated kashrut organization headquartered in Brooklyn, which now certifies his shop’s pareve cakes.
After serving in the IDF in the 70′s , he studied dance and pursued a Ballet career that eventually brought him to NYC, where while working odd jobs to make rent he discovered baking.
Sounds like a sweet story. Only a sweet genius could have cooked it up. Check out the full profile here.
This is a guest post by The Neo Nazir, a nomadic Jew who spends zes time worrying that the US might actually elect Santorum and that ze and everyone reading this post will be hurled into a den of wild, indigenous mountain lions, only to be devoured limb by limb.
Newsflash! Orthodox Judaism is not the bellwether of queerness. Given Orthodox Judaism’s official position on non-heterosexuality, one hardly expects Orthodox communities to offer a fully understanding dialogue on homosexual identity. But today, even the orthodox are realizing that they can no longer simply sweep LGBTQ issues under the rug.
Tonight in the Chicago area, a controversial event originally scheduled for early January, will be held at Congregation Or Torah, a large modern-Orthodox community in Skokie, IL. This event, sponsored by a number of major Chicago-area Orthodox synagogues and a local Chabad community, will attempt to broach the subject of homosexuality in the Orthodox community, featuring two out-of-town speakers, described by the event’s promotional blurb as “two of the world’s leading authorities on the Torah’s perspective on homosexuality,” Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel and Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. More »
A little tempest in a teapot has apparently hit the ranks of the Conservative movement about the cover of the latest issue of Kolot (The Conservative Movement’s now-integrated magazine, including more or less all the different arms of the movement that used to have separate magazines).
The Jewish week showcased an internal spat between Kolot and some selected women rabbis who objected to the most recent cover which features a picture of two female arms holding hands whilst wearing tefillin.
The Forward just published Conservatives Grapple With Gay Wedding Rite. In an effort to create a typical news article conflict, it misses the bigger picture. Three Conservative rabbis were tasked to create a standard ritual for gay weddings. They tried to hew as closely as possible to the typical non-egalitarian ceremony with the goal of minimizing the differences between homo and heterosexual marriage rituals. While a valiant goal, many of the top decision makers in the Conservative movement (the other members of the Committee on Jewish Laws & Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly), thought the text didn’t work and asked the drafting group to make more radical changes to the text with the goal of a more egalitarian ritual. The only critique in the article that wasn’t from a Conservative rabbi is a quote from Jay Michaelson. I read a comment of Michaelson on Facebook where he said he was more supportive of this effort than his quote that ended up in the Forward article portrayed.
The draft text and suggested revisions are not publicly available so I can’t directly critique them. Still, we can discuss why this effort matters.
There are some great examples of couples doing intense study to create their own ceremonies. BZ has a great series on this. More and more resources are out there. For example, there is Danya’s Alternatives to Kiddusin.
There are still unnecessary barriers for people who want to use these rituals. Here’s the example from my heterosexual wedding (predating both BZ’s and Danya’s writings). We used a non-standard & more egalitarian Ketubah text. While the text was available, we couldn’t walk into most Judaica stores & buy an beautiful ketubah with this text pre-printed. We wouldn’t have even known this text existed if we didn’t have friends who adapted it for their own wedding. To use the text, we needed to contact the author, a total stranger named Aryeh Cohen, to get an electronic version of the text that the ketubah scribe could lay out and then hand inscribe. Even this modest change to a more egalitarian ketubah text required added effort and additional costs. Our discussions regarding variations on the ceremony didn’t go much beyond rings, who walks around who, and whether the object of value should be a ring or a banana.
While finding a wider range of rituals is slightly easier now, egalitarian hetero or homosexual wedding rituals that are rooted in Jewish history and tradition are still an elite decision for those who decide the extra work is worth it.
Conservative Rabbis and other Conservative leaders have long officiated at weddings using a variety of rituals. Some were performing gay commitment ceremonies or weddings before the Committee on Jewish Law & Standards (CJLS) said it was ok and more have done so afterwards. Still, officiants are all piecing together new ritual based on the work of others and their own research and innovations.
Perhaps someone else will correct me, but I think this is the first attempt by a major Jewish organization to create a single, standardized ritual for homosexual weddings. Standardized ritual can remove barriers. A CJLS approved ketubah text for gay weddings will be pre-printed in beautiful ketobot by more suppliers with non-fancy verisions sitting in more synagogue rabbis’ cabinets. New wedding rituals will be in Rabbis’ manuals next to guidance for other lifecycle events. If the new rituals end up being firmly anchored in Jewish texts and traditions, egalitarian, and flexibly gendered, they will see usage in heterosexual weddings whether or not that was the CJLS intention.
While standardization can sometimes decrease innovation, I think it is the opposite in this case. People who want to innovate wedding rituals will still do that. A new standard text just shifts the starting point, with an easily found and hopefully well documented and researched text.
This is a guest post from Staci Akselrod, a student at Hampshire College:
Join us for the Queer Jews and Allies Conference at Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA, on Sunday December 4th! This free, day-long conference will offer workshops, panels, plays, and more, addressing the unique experiences of queer Jewish identities as they weave among spirituality, sexuality, secular culture, gender identity and expression, political perspectives and movements, and religious traditions. This event welcomes all queer, gay, trans*, lesbian, and bisexual Jews and allies to learn, network, and create community in a safe, respectful, and accountable space. Kosher lunch and dinner will be provided for registered participants.
To see a workshops, our keynote, sponsors, and a schedule please go to our website here:
Register for the conference:
The conference will be primarily located within a wheelchair-accessible building. The food served at the conference will be kosher dairy and kosher vegan, and the conference schedule has been timed to best utilize the PVTA bus system.
Just thought I’d bring to your attention an amazing conference that’s happening in NYC in a couple of weeks (April 10th, to be precise). It’s called Transforming Beitech/a, and it’s for clergy, Jewish professionals, and folks studying to be one of those things, run by, and happening at, CBST. It’ll cover everything from lifecycle and ritual stuff to pastoral care issues, working with elders and youth, institutional audits, and a whole bunch of other things. It’s going to be fabulous, (and I’m not just saying that because I’m on the advisory board, either.)
Go here to learn more and to register.
I know everyone wishes that we’d just stop talking about this already and technically, what I’m about to mention isn’t strictly a Jewish matter, but there was an interesting link on BoingBoing this morning regarding reporting on the sexuality of, let us say, well-known figures (since the person mentioned there isn’t precisely what one might think of as a celebrity).
The point being made is that it’s not quite as simple as whether or not one’s sexuality is a private matter – rather that by agreeing to not discuss it, “the press” is actually enforcing the idea that gay sexuality is bad, that the very hint of a partner of the same sex is akin to pornography and is a discussion of sex, rather than simply talking about normal and natural parts of an individual’s life – and in fact, in my opinion, that’s exactly how the conversation about Debbie Friedman shook out: dlevy expressed sadness that she hadn’t been able to live her life in a way that everyone else (straight) does, where she talked about her family (partner) held hands in public, etc, and everyone else started screaming about how she has the right to keep her sex life private and who cares as long as she doesn’t scare the horses in the street,which was precisely missing the point. The original post is here, but IMO BoingBoing sums it up clearly and nicely.
Food for thought.