Three pictures and one commitment
First picture: A boy surrounded by loving men
Friday night, about a decade ago. As part of my attempts to understand how to celebrate Shabbat on weekends that earned the title "his weekend with the kids," I sat with a friend at a restaurant in Jerusalem. We ordered, we chatted, we ate.
Suddenly, our gaze was captured by a group of men who sat at a table on the far side of the room. Four young men were taking care of a small boy. They were very focused on the young child, but did not make a big deal out of this.
"Look," I said to my friend, "they are all taking care of him with such joy and dedication that even if we watched them all evening, it would be impossible to discern who is the 'real father' of the little guy."
We did end up watching them the whole evening, and we really could not determine who was "the real father."
Time passed and my daughter grew and eventually began attending a rehabilitative kindergarten in Jerusalem. One evening I received a telephone call: "Hello! My name is Robbie. My son attends kindergarten with your daughter, and he wants to visit her."
When I saw the wise and beautiful eyes of my young guest, and his glasses with their colorful and hypnotic frame, I identified the well-dressed and cared for boy from the restaurant and immediately said: "So you are the father."
This is how I was fortunate enough to get to know an intelligent and good-hearted kid who has two fathers who are in an inspiring, long-term, committed relationship, as well as a brother, sister and mother. And anyone interested in defaming same-sex couples as parents is more than invited to meet with Robbie's family.
Second picture: Rabbi Ron and the men of HOD
This scene occurred many years ago too, even before the Orthodox Rabbi Ron Yosef came out of the closet. As a response to a piece I wrote on homosexuality, Rabbi Ron invited me to lead a learning session for the HOD organization which serves homosexual men in the Orthodox community.
We traveled from Jerusalem in a car that passed through old and well-established yeshivot and confidentially picked up the group's members. Over the course of this car ride, I tried to understand their choice to voluntarily belong to a world that would expel them like vomit, and their modes of coping with the Orthodox Jewish ban on homosexual sex.
The meeting place was kept a secret and there were dozens of men in attendance (as well as myself). I was excited at the opportunity to observe from the side the moments of freedom which they managed to organize for themselves, with hugs, with kisses, and with the joy of meeting with other observant Orthodox men.
At the beginning of our learning session, I had a sudden realization that I shared with them: "If you weren't homosexuals, I wouldn't be able study Torah with you as your rabbis are not willing to let me in to your houses of study. The reason that you are not excluding me is that you are being excluded. We are bound by a covenant of exclusion."
Third picture: A marriage ceremony
Approximately six years ago. A telephone conversation:
- "Hello. My name is Zeharit. I read some of your writings and I would be honored if you would conduct our wedding ceremony."
- "Thank you for the compliment. But I don't conduct wedding ceremonies. And I am so off-key that it wouldn't be worth it for you."
- "Limor, my partner, and I thought... And because I am Orthodox... And the articles you write on Jewish Law..."
- "Ah, this is would be a ceremony of two women. Then definitely. That is to say, if you both still want me. It's a mitzvah and I am coming."
This is how I was fortunate enough to get to know a female couple that chose to establish a committed family in Israel.
Of all these experiences, the final picture was especially etched into my heart. At the moment the ceremony was concluded, everyone present burst into song: "So that we will never be embarrassed or ashamed" (from the 'Ahavah Rabbah' blessing prior to the Shma). This was the most real and heartfelt singing I had ever heard. It was an answered prayer.
These are three pictures from my internal album, which treasures moments of family and love. These are three pictures that express the ethical obligation to the LGBTQ community, to personal obligation.
'Why do you hold yourself above the Assembly?'
Gay Pride Month is being celebrated worldwide and this past Shabbat the weekly Torah portion "Korach" was read. Korach is the "villain' of the Torah. He arrogantly challenges Moses and Aaron and causes 250 community leaders to revolt against them.
Korach is without a doubt the "bad boy" of the establishment. However, the power of this fact is unable to cancel the correctness of Korach's claim (Numbers 16:3): "And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, 'You take too much upon yourselves, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'"
Leadership is never a minority ruling over majority
This naked truth stood present in the center of the room where I taught Torah at a meeting with members of HOD. Women and members of the LGBTQ community, as well as many others who are oppressed by the Orthodox religious establishment are certainly the majority in society.
The groups of male rabbis attempting to "put us in our place" are a minority which "holds itself above the Assembly of the Lord." However, they are successful at persuading enough people that they alone possess God's word, and that their choice to oppress us is God's will (this consent is in partnership with the silent secular majority in Israel who grant them authority and pay their salaries).
Korach is the leader who dares to mark the moral danger crouching at the doorstep of every government. Korach wasn't wrong, Korach just failed.
When marginalized groups unite
A surprising midrash states that Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel, raised Korach and his sect in her prayer from the depths of the netherworld (Genesis Rabbah, VaYechei 99): "Korach's Assembly was swallowed into the earth and descending... Until Hannah stood and prayed for them: 'The Lord kills, and resurrects; he brings down to the grave, and rises up'" (1 Samuel 2:6).
There are moments of grace and compassion in which oppressed groups succeed at not being bound by their suffering and see the suffering of others. In these moments, they can unite and reinvigorate the established social order.
The feminist struggle and the LGBTQ struggle (hand-in-hand together with all the other groups suffering from oppression by the establishment) must march together.
Orthodox rabbis and Pride Parade
Last week, the website "Kamoha - Homosexual Orthodox Jews" presented five halachic opinions of religious Zionist rabbis on the question whether it is permitted, according to Jewish Law, to attend the Gay Pride Parade.
The bottom line to all of the opinions was the same: No. The legal justifications varied between the claim that "it is an assembly for the common sake of a forbidden (sexual) orientation' (Rabbi Baruch Efrati) to play-on-words wisecracks mocking the term "pride": "Indeed, whoever's sexual orientation is to his or her own gender, he or she does not need to brazenly declare that publicly... There are things for which modesty is becoming... I call for the establishment of a 'Humility Parade'" (Rabbi Aaron 'Araleh' Harel).
Particularly angering were the rabbis that claimed they were not familiar with the parade and therefore could not rule on the issue: "The goal and accomplishments of the 'parade' are not a burning issue for me. Therefore, I find it hard to address it halachically" (Rabbi Yechiel Faust).
"It is difficult to answer this question without agreement on how to analyze the Gay Pride Parade: What is the nature of this parade? What does it express? What does it convey? I do not know the exact answer to this question, therefore I am not appropriate to be an adjudicator" (Rabbi Yuval Cherlow).
What?!? Is it really hard for them to clarify what the purpose of the parade is? One simple "google" and you find all the answers. However, they are choosing not to know and not to supply straightforward, full support for their community members suffering from many years of difficult, communal halachic oppression.
The example of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
In 1965, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched hand-in-hand with Martin Luther King at the famous protest for African-American Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama. After the march, Heschel said: "When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying."
Heschel did not have to participate in the protest. He could have claimed that the troubles of African Americans were not his troubles. He could have worried that the protest would not be "modest," and that perhaps things would be stated there that were not in line with his opinions. He could have played dumb and say that he could not provide a halachic decision for this issue because he "does not know the purpose and nature of this march."
But he didn't. He chose to take responsibility. He chose to stand united for the oppressed of the establishment.
There are many good reasons to shirk responsibility, and only one good one to take it – the fear of God. Orthodox rabbis should have marched at the head of the LGBTQ Pride Parade and they still can. The Jerusalem LGBTQ Pride Parade is modest and subdued, and there is no doubt that if they would choose to march at its head, its organizers would accommodate them in regards to the nature of the event.
I am still waiting for the Orthodox rabbi that will say, "At the Pride Parade I felt my legs were praying."
And in the beit midrash of talkbacks
1. I am happy to bring to your attention a prayer collection assembled in honor of Gay Pride Month by Congregation Kol Haneshama – click here.
2. Last week, Moshe wrote me (Talkback #20): "Dear Ruchama, indeed the Orthodox do distinguish between Israel and the nations, and at every Havdalah service say so explicitly. I am not very learned in Reform secrets, however after studying the book "Sane Halacha" written by a Reform rabbi (Rabbi Moshe Zemer), I learned one thing for sure: Reform Jews do not observe the Commandments. They observe whatever lifestyle they see fit. This has no religious meaning at all. Rather it has cultural meaning..."
Dear Moshe, you placed questions with very serious assumptions, and I will only be able to answer them briefly. Indeed, Reform Judaism is not halachic Judaism, even though some within the movement do observe traditional Jewish Law. However, there is a huge par from this to your two conclusions (1) that "they observe whatever lifestyle they see fit" and (2) that it "has no religious meaning at all."
I don't know what you mean by "whatever they see fit," but I try to live a moral life. Reform Judaism is a movement carved onto its banner ethical concerns. I am a religious woman as my fellow Reform peers. The Reform Movement is a non-halachic religious movement. That's it in brief.
Translated by Uzi Bar-Pinchas.
Click here to read this article in English.