Culture, Identity, Mishegas, Religion, Sex & Gender

So Much LGBTQ Jew News!

In many cities and towns across North America (and the world), June is Pride month, honouring and commemorating the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969 and the start of the gay rights movement. Keeping with the Pride/LGBTQ theme, I have five things of interest to queer and transgender Jews (and their allies). In this post you will find: 1 – Trembling online; 2 – resources for transgender Jews; 3 – dlevy; 4 – ridiculous anti-Jew and anti-gay protesters; 5 – a review of the new CBST siddur.
1 – For those who haven’t yet seen it, Trembling Before G-d, a documentary about the lives of Orthodox and Hasidic gay or lesbian Jews is now online, streaming at Hulu.
2 – Jewish Mosaic let us know about Kol Tzedek, “an alliance of Jewish organizations working together in unprecedented ways to include transgender people in all aspects of Bay Area Jewish life.” (Additionally, they have a second focus: marriage equality and fighting prop 8.)

Over the past year, we met with a plethora of community members and rabbinic leaders to informally explore how transgender and gender variant people currently interact, or not interact, with the organized Jewish community. We compiled a report based on our anecdotal evidence and shared experiences of the perceived organizational, social and ritual needs of transgender and gender variant persons, and our wish to understand and serve this community’s needs better.
Our objective was to collect enough initial information to compile a brief report to present to the new CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (SFJCF), Daniel Sokatch. We had a very successful meeting in which we presented the report and had an enthusiastic and receptive conversation.

The report is available in PDF here. I share it with you guys in light of their hopes for the report: “Finally, with both confidence and humility, we offer this report to inspire similar initiatives elsewhere in the United States, within and outside the Jewish community.”
3 – dlevy says “Hi.” He’s too busy to post right now, so asked me to mention him in this post about the gays. (Seriously.)
4 – Mostly for some laughs, because does anyone actually take the Westboro Baptist Church seriously?!, check out this Slog video. At a protest outside the Stroum Jewish Community Center in North Seattle this weekend, they held signs including “Bitch Burger” (watch the video for an explanation on that one; it had me and my friends scratching our heads), “God Hates Israel,” “God is Your Enemy,” and “Antichrist Obama” – in addition to their boringly trite “God Hates Fags.” The Slog reports:

I know a lot of people may still be wondering, what exactly *is* a bitch burger? And/or is a CRAPuccino a drink that was invented in Seattle? Well, I tried to get some answers for you. Also stay tuned for Part II, where I try to find out why God suddenly hates President Obama… and, in Part III, a real live Israeli Jew asks “The Hot One” what he really thinks of anal sex.

5 – Last week CBST (Congregation Beth Simchat Torah: “New York City’s synagogue for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, our families, and our friends”) finally released their new siddur, B’chol L’vav’cha / With All Your Heart. The siddur is for Shabbos evening services only.

We try to create the most meaningful experience of prayer we can. Jewish prayer is not a spectator sport. Each week will be different from the week before. Not every week’s service will “work” for every person. Not every service will give you what you came searching to find. But if you hang in there, if you come back regularly, the fixed portions of our liturgy and the weekly variations will most likely begin to speak to you and address those needs you felt keenly and those you didn’t even know you had. [p.14]

I use this excerpt by way of showing what CBST is trying to do with this siddur.
The siddur is English-heavy, the translations of the Hebrew are more often poetic than literal, and are sometimes all together missing. And if the goal is to make their siddur, and services, “meaningful [not only] to the learned,” translations and transliteration should be consistent, and the layout should be easy to follow. The Hebrew layout is at times confusing. Parts of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, for example, have the Hebrew laid out in two columns. My instinct was to read down the right-side column, then the left-side column; in fact we’re to read across both columns, row by row. Transliteration is also provided for the Hebrew, though not fully. I haven’t been to enough services at CBST to be certain, but it looks like transliteration is only provided in full for the Hebrew when the congregation might sing that specific section together in full. Otherwise only the chasima (conclusion to the prayer) is transliterated, and at times no transliteration is provided at all. But I suppose that’s all the technical stuff. Let’s look at what else is in there.
Just as they explain in their service style above, the new CBST siddur is full of extras which may be used during weekly Shabbos evening services, but also extras specific to holidays (Jewish and secular). Leading up to the ma’ariv Sh’ma, we find poems by Walt Whitman, Jane Kenyon, and Rami M. Shapiro. There are meditations or explanations throughout the siddur, and occasional suggestions on how a prayer may be difficult, but still relevant, to an LGBT Jew. On the same page as the Ma’ariv Amidah:

As a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and straight Jews, we have experienced the ways in which LGBT families are excluded and erased from Jewish community and family life. Because of the way we love, some of us have lost our children or have been excised from their lives; many of us will never be legally recognized as the parents of the children we have raised. Likewise, many of os us are the children of parents who are not legally recognized. Yet despite this, we know that our relationships are holy and our families are real. Therefore, we acknowledge all of our ancestors, Avraham, Yitschak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, her handmaiden Bilhah, Leah, and her handmaiden Zilpah. Our ancestors descended from all of them, whether their relationships were celebrated or not, whether they were regarded as equal or not.

Were I writing this, I might have tied ancestors, families, and children, into the story of Chana, from whom we learned to pray quietly and with intention (Amidah is not, as this siddur explains, “silent prayer”), but that’s just me. If someone read the above paragraph and finds it helpful in focusing their prayers, that’s great. (It’s also possibly a sign of the demographics of the siddur committee that they focus on not having their adoption/children recognised, but fail to also note that many LGBT people are cut off from their parents and families for being queer/trans.)
Prayers are sometimes offered with two “gender” options – for G!d. (I’ll write in transliteration as the current version of wordpress still doesn’t seem Hebrew-enabled.) Side-by-side we see: Barchu es Shechina* ham’voresches and Barchu es Adonai ham’vorach. Both names of G!d are yud-hay-vav-hay in the Hebrew, but an asterix tells us that the first one is to be pronounced “Shechina.”
But let’s look at the bonus section. Laid out chronologically, following the calendar year, there are additional prayers, reflections, poems, and songs starting with Hallel, then going through:

Elul/Days of Awe, Sukkot/Simchat Torah, Shabbat Noach, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving, AIDS and World AIDS Day, Chanukah, Martin Luther King Day, Tu Bish’vat, Shabbat Shirah, Purim, Pesach, Counting of the Omer, Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha’atsmaut, Shavuot, Pride Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon/Tish’ah B’av

Transgender Day of Remembrance includes one thing: “A Memorial Prayer,” in English, by Reuben Zellman. By contrast, the AIDS and World AIDS Day section is 6 pages long and includes prayers (excerpt from Psalm 6 Hebrew and English), poetry, and prose. For a siddur that makes an effort to have fair gender and transgender representation, I was surprised at how male-dominant the AIDS section was. For Jewish holidays, there are songs in Yiddish and Ladino, poems, prose, teachings from our sages, and more.
As a resource, I think this siddur is an interesting collection of sources for a Friday night. As a resource for my davvening, however, I don’t think it’s one I’ll use. If you’re in the NYC area, stop by CBST and let me know what you think of the siddur, and how they’re using the “extras” in their services. If you’re in another community that has decided to make use of this siddur, I’m curious to hear how it’s being received. Let me know!
… Happy Pride month, all!

28 thoughts on “So Much LGBTQ Jew News!

  1. I’m going to expose my pet peeve and complain about prayers to “Shechinah”. Shechinah is not a goddess, Shechinah is not a feminine god form. Shechinah is not even a name.
    Shechinah is a noun, gramatically feminine (much as the word for table in hebrew is gramatically masculine), which means “Presence” & “Closeness”.
    It describes a specific condition that our relationship with God can have, the condition where God is “nearer” to us, where Divinity is more readily apparent in the world. According to the Torah, the Mishkan was build to enable that type of connection. “Make me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell among you.”
    Calling God “Shechinah”/”Nearness” as if that is God’s name is like referring to the NYC Subway as “D-Trains-Run-Local”. #1, it’s not always the case. And #2, that’s not a name, that’s a *function*.
    Okay I’m done.

  2. desh, i was going to say, they stole our name!!
    i like that the little male/female/trans/whatever gender symbol looks like it has horns. explode one stereotype, resurrect another! reclaim that shit.

  3. chillul Who?, I completely agree. That’s why two “gender” options is in quotations. This siddur is not the first (nor, the last) to use Shechina as the female name for G1d.

  4. B”H
    I want to ask all the Gay people out there a question, what does it mean to be Gay to you? secondly, can you only love someone you are sexually attracted to? If being gay means you want or like to have sex with men, what is there to be proud of in that? am I proud I want to be with women? no. Are there straight pride parades? no.or Foot Fetish pride Parades? or bestiality pride parades?… You’re proud you are sexually attracted to a certain species and gender? Big (sarcastic) Yasher Koach(good job(have strength)). It’s kind of a joke to the thinking world who aren’t swept up in liberal slogans i.e, “equality for all” and “Civil Rights”, that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. First of all a homosexual has the same protection under the law as a heterosexual. When someone goes to get married in a court of law the judge doesn’t ask them if they like sex with men or women better and depending on their answer they get a marriage license. In fact a Gay man can get married exactly like anyone else, no different. The complaint then is that you want to be treated differently, you want to be able to have a special marriage not allowed for a normal(I’m defining normal as the 90%+ of the population) person. For while I am straight I still cannot marry a man. So if anything your slogan should be inequality. If you retort, it is impossible to marry someone you don’t love, look at the answer to your questions at the beginning of this. If it is impossible to marry someone you are not sexually attracted to then you open another can of worms. Firstly if you believe that it is a right that you should be married to whatever your sexual fetish is. What about Beastiality activists and members of NAMBLA(National Asscociation for man boy love)? They too are a minority of the population. So you might say, obviously there are some restrictions on who they can marry, like “someone over the legal age and a human being” -which is not absurd. But aren’t you just making distinctions that limit peoples rights? well if not, or if so, I’m doing the same thing by saying only human beings, over legal age who are of the opposite sex should be recognized as a Marriage under the law. If you want a civil union with ALL benefits that’s fine with me, but if you want to call it marriage it’s like a 41 year old asian who decides he wants a quincenera(15th birthday for girl in latin culture), he can have the party, the dancing, the music and the food…But at the end of the day it isn’t a quincenera because he is a 41 year old asian man and not a 15 year old latina girl. Marriage is also a cultural institution in the human race. It is a man and a woman. You can have the ceremony the cake, the “rabbi” or “priest” or whatever, it won’t be a marriage though, not even if the state appoint a judge so stupid as to believe catch phrases rather than logic and it becomes, Chos v’sholom, legal.

  5. The context of CBST services is what will make this Siddur work. It’s a great community even if the style of davening might have a more Reconstructist feel than those who dig a more traditional rhthym might want/need.

  6. Great blog – lots of good info. 🙂 Torah Yid – shame on you for hiding in the closet, and making some poor woman’s life miserable because you will never find her to be the sexually desirable creature she is. If you are actually straight and sexually attracted to women then, mazel tov (note sarcasm, and, roughly translated, congratulations). Hashem did not create all of us to be sexually attracted to those of the opposite sex, though Hashem did create all of us in His/Her/Zi’s/Zer’s image. I love a lot of people, though I am not remotely sexually attracted to them – male or female, etc. Marriage is not just about love, but about choosing a partner in life with whom you wish to build a home. Personally, I would prefer to be sexually attracted to my partner, and I know marriages that did not last because the sexual union did not feel sacred. In this country, at this time, “marriage” also provides civil protections (off the top of my head, taxes) that should be available to any two committed adults who wish to join in this contract. I know in my current state, religious marriages are not recognized for federal protections; you have to go down to the courthouse, pay $10, and in 23 minutes (according to my religious friends), you are “married.” Those federally protected, civil rights ABSOLUTELY should be afforded to any two consenting adults who wish to enter that legally binding contract. I’d even go so far as to say that a “civil union” should be allowed between ANY two consenting adults – siblings, etc. I know a woman who does not have a life partner; she never married. However, when she passes, her sister will have to pay an enormous inheritance tax. Hardly fair that because my friend did not find a suitable partner, her surviving sister will be penalized. In this country, there is in writing, a separation of “church” and “state.” If you wish to categorize “marriage” as religious, that is fine; a religious “marriage” should not be federally protected (nor is it). I think that each cleric may decide whether or not to perform same-sex marriages. At the federal level, for those living in the U.S., everyone should be afforded the same protective rights (green cards just came to mind) that heterosexual couples are currently afforded. I would rather that my LGBT friends be able to come together in marriage, than that people, such as Brittany Spears, can run off to Vegas and “get hitched” in the span of 5 drunken minutes – it happens all the time! Why aren’t the fundamentalists crying out about the lack of sanctity there? Come down off of your high horse, and start feeling the compassion for the divine spark in those around you. Go back and review the Talmud and learn a little Kabbalah. Feygele, thank you for taking the time to pull together these resources! Enjoy Pride Month, and I hope that you are or were able to march with fellow LGBT Jews and allies in your community. 🙂 I know that this isn’t Jewish, but I love this word, “Namaste” – “The divine within me honors the divine in you.”

  7. torah yid,
    it’s very simple, really. don’t think about it in halakhic terms (although this hardly seems to be the case); think about it in secular terms.
    by banning gay marriage, the government is making an unjustified intrusion into the lives of private citizens. when there is a social ill or cost to private action, the government has a reason to intervene with that private action (i.e. murder). but when the government intervenes where there is no social ill, such intrusion is morally unjustified…and the last time i checked, there was no social ill to same-sex marriage (or other relations).
    for example, governments throughout history have forbidden/compelled jews from/to certain behaviour. what was the oft-quoted justification? basically, that somehow by being jews, we were hell-bent on destroying society, consciously or otherwise. of course, this is rubbish: the real reason is that – simply put – we were different…and misunderstood.
    same-sex marriage has become unbearably politicised. my preference is for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether – basically, have the government give everybody civil unions for legal purposes and leave the term “marriage” to houses of religion to deal with – but that won’t ever happen until the fox news-fuelled culture war is dead.
    you say that queers already have equal protection under the law. i don’t normally use all caps, but i will use it this time in order to say THAT YOUR STATEMENT IS PATENTLY INCORRECT. there are so many legal rights that same-sex couples lack over their heterosexual counterparts (including adoption, next-of-kin and pension benefits to name a few). furthermore, as recently as 2003, male same-sex relations were explicitly banned under texas law. and we haven’t even gotten into the issue of queers being treated differently than straights by law enforcement officials. and issues like that are just as important as same-sex marriage. so how’s that for unequal protection?
    when it comes to pride, think of it this way: if you decide to go out in public wearing peyyot or a yarmulke, you are being proud. pride – in this context – is simply being comfortable in your own skin. why no “straight pride” public events? easy: straights have never been ridiculed, treated with contempt, barred from justice, beaten, raped or murdered just for being straight.
    but we jews have…for generations! and THAT is why same-sex marriage should matter to us: because in doing so we recognize that equality cannot be cherry-picked.

  8. Torah Yid writes:
    The complaint then is that you want to be treated differently, you want to be able to have a special marriage not allowed for a normal(I’m defining normal as the 90%+ of the population) person. For while I am straight I still cannot marry a man. So if anything your slogan should be inequality.
    Actually, in states that have marriage equality, straight people are just as free as gay people to legally marry a person of the same sex (just as, as you note, gay people can legally marry a person of the opposite sex). Generally they don’t want to, but that’s their choice.
    What about Beastiality activists
    Is there such a thing?
    it’s like a 41 year old asian who decides he wants a quincenera(15th birthday for girl in latin culture), he can have the party, the dancing, the music and the food…But at the end of the day it isn’t a quincenera because he is a 41 year old asian man and not a 15 year old latina girl.
    And yet there’s no law preventing him from calling it that, nor should there be.

  9. B”H
    Though your response does little more then ignore everything I wrote, claim I am a homosexual and totally misrepresent Judaism, I will none the less, respond. Thank G-d I don’t have the challenge of having the inclination to have sex with men, that I would have to overcome and rise above to be in accordance with Jewish law. “Hashem did not create all of us to be sexually attracted to those of the opposite sex”. You then go on to say we are created in Hashem’s image, a dangerous understanding of the verse. If one is inclined or enjoys doing an aveyra(transgression), as in stealing, murder, eating lobster, having sexual relations before marriage or having homosexual relations, the weak individual will cite that we are created in G-d’s image…How am I to blame? This is ridiculous logic. The truth of being made in G-d’s image is that in reality, we all desire to do mitzvas and keep the commandments. Our Neshama, which is this divine piece of G-d within us, the reality of our beings and our image, only desires to be one with it’s creator and it’s will. If there is anything that is not one with that will, in any human being, it is not the divine image of G-d. It is a coarseness that has arrived from the animal soul, the nefesh and the yetzer hara, or evil inclination. things formed in the exile and materialistic non-spiritual world that convinces itself that it is moral or without blame, when this cannot be true. As for the sad story you told me, I feel for your friend. This means nothing to the issue though. Your argument uses no logic only blind emotion and statements like, “Those federally protected, civil rights ABSOLUTELY should be afforded to any two consenting adults who wish to enter that legally binding contract.”
    Why? what about polygamy? “everyone should be afforded the same protective rights (green cards just came to mind) that heterosexual couples are currently afforded. I would rather that my LGBT friends be able to come together in marriage, than that people, such as Brittany Spears, can run off to Vegas and “get hitched” in the span of 5 drunken minutes – it happens all the time! Why aren’t the fundamentalists crying out about the lack of sanctity there?” Firstly who is everyone? again pedophiles, polygamists? Pointing out bad examples of heterosexual marriage is not a good argument to expand the restrictions of marriage. Also, if only fundamentalists appose marriage then a large majority of the people in the country are fundamentalists. Also I’m positive Britney spears was married in vegas by a fundamentalist, right? Of course they complain about that. check out this article by Jewish “fundamentalist” and orthodox rabbi shmuley boteach. . It should be known he is obviously against gay marriage though as I know him.

  10. I don’t think anyone who mentions NAMBLA Y”Sh in the same sentence as normal LGBTQ people deserves a serious response.

  11. Torah Yid, you need to get back to studying. You’re invoking a polygamy argument? Really? Rabbenu Gershom prohibited polygamy (followed by Ashkenazi, not Sephardi or Mizrahi) – for 1000 years. There are still (a few, minority) communities that allow polygamy today.
    Further you said: “Firstly who is everyone? again pedophiles, polygamists?” Previous comments clearly stated everyone to be consenting adults, which excludes pedophiles.
    Being created in G!d’s image means different things to different people. It is certainly a valid, and often cited, interpretation that this is why each of us in made in the image, yet no two people are the same.
    @Mike, your comparison to discrimination to the LGBTQ communities and those that Jews have faced for centuries was bang on. Thanks.

  12. I’m going to ignore the debate on the subject of gays in halakha and just note this is the first time I’ve seen “Trembling Before G-d”. Still reflecting on it. Somehow it was able to get me having a different feeling every 45-60 seconds. I don’t know if that makes it a quality film (would a straight goy or secular Jew feel the way I do, as a generally-viewed-as-religious lesbian?) but I will have to think a lot about it.

  13. Anyone have thoughts on how this compares to Shaar Zahav’s siddur, the other new siddur to come from an LGBT synagogue this year?

  14. Kari, Trembling has played for different demographics, to great acclaim. I think one of its strengths is that people relate to it, or at least recognise the central themes of internal and external struggles. If you can rent or borrow the DVD, you might find the additional material on the second disk interesting, including follow up interviews with the cast, and a look at how different communities received the documentary.

  15. chillulwho, the fact remains that while sometimes Shekhinah is a function, “Shekhinah’ is used as a personal noun by the sages and later the kabbalists with great frequency, as when in Eichah Rabbah the Shechinah says “I will mourn My house and My husband” or when the Talmud says that “the Shekhinah dwells in the west.” In these cases Shekhinah is a name for God as God manifests in a particular way. It’s not merely a function, or the phrases would not use Shekhinah as a proper noun (and often a pretty clearly feminine character).
    Furthermore, most names for God describe functions (Adonai tzevaot, av harachaman) but that doesn’t prevent us from using them.
    If you don’t care for feminine liturgy, by all means say so, but your grammar thoughts are inaccurate in the context of Jewish literature.

  16. Torah Yid,
    Could you explain to me why polygamy is an argument against gay marriage? In fact, polygamy proves that Judaism has already modified the meaning of marriage–even in the face of tradition and Torah law and example.

  17. feygele,
    I might just do that. I’m curious as to what happened to some of these people. The film both hits close to home and doesn’t at the same time. It’s weird like that… at least to me.

  18. Torah Yid,
    Please go back and read Reb Yudel’s comment about polygamy and what it proves or doesn’t prove. In the secular sphere, talking about multiple partners in marriage could possibly make a point about sliding scale. In halachah, it is completely different, and your confusion only indicates a contamination in your thinking from galut. I suspect overanxiety about homosexuality may also be a Christian influence.
    You started off by asking these fantastic questions, and then went on to indicate that you hadn’t the slightest interest in the answer – you were softening up your audience before going on to bludgeon them with your horrifyingly long screed. That is ????? ??? and you should feel sorry about it. Re-asking those questions, without comment, and genuinely listening would make great teshuva, it seems to me; try hearing what people have to say about themselves before passing judgement.

  19. Yeilah, please! I *love* feminine liturgy. In fact, I sometimes pray with a minyan that uses “Lashon Shivyoni”, in which half of all the words that refer to God or human beings in tefila are rendered grammatically female.
    What I don’t love is faux-feminine liturgy without depth. Just because the word “shechinah” is gramatically feminine, and it talks in a midrash (as do God’s other attributes) doesn’t make it the feminine godhead.
    I would even go as far as to say that turning the word “Shechinah” into God’s girl-name implies that all of God’s other names are male! Which most of them never were, except purely grammatical way in which walls and pencils are masculine in Hebrew. So what do you get, one token “Goddess” name out of a whole field of men?
    It seems more feminist to me, and more authentic to me, to speak about God in the feminine using actual names for God, whether old or newly coined, instead of grabbing the first divinity-related noun that ends in “-ah” and using it out of place.

  20. Yeilah, responding to a different point of yours, the difference between calling God “av harachaman” (merciful father, for anyone reading) or “adonai tsevaot” (YHVH of the legions) and calling God “shechinah” (nearness) is identical to the difference between calling my old Kia “the car with airbags” or “the car which takes me on roadtrips” and calling it “left blinker on”.

  21. Chillul Who?, I’m not sure what we’re arguing about here. Most folks, if they are not polytheists, would agree that the Shekhinah is not separate from the rest of the Godhead (though the literature often speaks as if She is, presumably for the sake of dramatic mythic action metaphors). That the Shekhinah is the “same” as other God-names is not a reason to avoid praying to Shekhinah. If we can pray to Adonai and Elohim and Ribono shel Olam, there’s no reason why we can’t use the name Shekhinah… and some of us want to, because Her stories appeal to us. (And in mystical literature, Shekhinah is a name of God, not just a “divinity-related noun,” as I explained before.)
    As for all the names of God being masculine and feminine etc., that’s a great thing in principle, but Adonai has a significant history with male language and metaphor (Adonai ish milchama, for example), and so do most of the other God-names, though there’s some gender flexibility. Other names like Ribono shel Olam have their own history and feel. Only Shekhinah (and certain related names like Immah Ilaah) have a history of being used with feminine images, metaphors, and narratives.
    But I’m not advocating for only that name for God-She; I use lots of others…!
    One last thing: my experience and that of many others is that using feminine God-names does change how God _feels_ to us, which is part of the point of using them. How you refer to your old Kia is a function of what you’re thinking about; it’s not random. So I will stick with Shekhinah some of the time, though El Shaddai works for me too.

  22. Yeilah:
    Also, I find it weird that people fairly frequently jump on usage of the aspect Shekhinah, despite the fact that it has a long history of being used… but I have never once seen a parallel annoyance over any other name of G-d, which is never dismissed as “trendy” no matter how popular it may be (I didn’t see that happening hear but it is a criticism I’ve heard).
    The Shekhinah in Rabbinic stories is often a little sad, in mourning and exile. This in conjunction with the usage of, say, Ribono shel Olam (a title I like very much), creates a dissonance which is kind of beautiful, and a “not this, not that” effect which helps us to remind ourselves of our own lack of knowledge.

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