Sunday, September 15, 2019

Links to two important posts on Halachah and the LGBTQI community

For lighter reading, see my Friday, September 13, 2019 post (complete with photos), Last hurrah of summer 2019.

Note:  I first saw the links below on Facebook.

On Halakha and LGBT (By: Aaron J Koller, YU Professor of Near Eastern Studies),  | September 10, 2019

 "This is the most disturbing part of the “akedah theology” (as Ronit Irshai calls it): it invariably is framed as self-sacrifice, but actually involves the sacrifice of another. I may be called upon to put aside my liberal values, but the person who actually pays the price is the LGBT friend who is not allowed to get married, not wished a mazel tov in the weekly community announcements, not welcomed with their partner into myriad communal frameworks.

. . . 

So, in short: In a clash between humanity and halakha, opt for humanity, and have enough faith in halakha that the problem will be solved. And if somehow the conflict remains intractable, I would rather suffer for being a good person than sacrifice someone else’s life on the altar of my religiosity."

Sep 12 · 9 min read
"While I don’t read many self-help books, there is one that I swear by, “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. Long story short, the book is a fable about four mice and how they are able or unable to adapt to new circumstances of the cheese in their maze being moved. The lesson — when circumstances in life change the best way forward is to move with the change (the cheese) instead of pretending that nothing has changed.

. . .

Orthodox Shuls, still stuck in 2009, have now fallen behind general society in the United States. Feeling ever more empowered, queer Orthodox Jews now expect to live full lives — coming out young, even in high school (something unimaginable a decade ago), getting married, having children, and living religious lives. And we have done so without the Chesed of Orthodox rabbis. We have been able to find our own spaces, albeit not always Orthodox.

Consequently, an Orthodox rabbi no longer holds the same power when meeting with a queer congregant. The queer millennial/gen-z’er knows that they will not be stuck in this community their whole life. They’re not asking for the rabbi’s approval for their coming out or their wedding, they’re asking for his/her blessing. If they don’t get it they can [happily] go elsewhere. There is already a list of Orthodox rabbis performing gay weddings, and an Orthodox-ordained rabbi (yours truly), and many halakhically conversant queer people. The power dynamic has dramatically shifted.

So now Orthodox rabbis are stuck in their behavioral inhibition as the power slips away. Sympathizing with the gay person no longer cuts it. People want action that speaks to where they are in life now — marriage, recognition, opportunities for leadership as rabbis and community leaders. So rabbis avoid the situation altogether and put the blame on queer people for being too pushy, shocked that we are not happy with the fact we are able to just be gay. i.e., shocked that we are not satisfied with 2009. It was amazing for me to see the contortions some rabbis made in order to blame me for my being denied ordination last Spring, with made up stories about contracts that I had signed and absurd, unconfirmed and frankly inappropriate speculation about my intimate life and living situations. Why couldn’t people just say we don’t believe in an openly gay rabbis? Why couldn't they debate that question? Because they are still in 2009, a different stage of the cheese. And in 2009, that was not a question up for debate.

. . .

So how can we adjust as a community? I would like to offer some suggestions as to how we can move with the cheese.
  1. I do not think rabbis have reckoned with the fact that the cheese has moved and that they no longer hold that power. Rabbis — and rabbinical schools in particular — need to realize that it is 2019, not 2009. Which means not just that the conversation needs to change, but the dynamics need to change. Rabbis need to realize (and I’m saying this as a rabbi as much as a member of gay community) that a conversation with a gay congregant is now a conversation of equals (in some sense). The rabbis do not hold all of the cards anymore. As rabbis have rested on their laurels over the past decade, queer people have been learning and gearing up for battle. Rabbis cannot get insulted or offended that queer people are not satisfied with sympathy alone. If there is something a rabbi cannot do either for Halakhic or political reasons they need to be upfront and realize that they may not be able to have their cake and eat it too. The decision to keep your membership in a rabbinical organization may come at the cost of some queer members of your Shul. But that is a decision you are making.
  2. For a while rabbis were able to sidestep any Halakhic conversation; that is no longer the case. Rabbis can no longer get away with statements that hold no water in Halakhic discourse, such as saying that the Torah prohibits same-sex marriage based on an Aggadic passage that is not codified in the Shulchan Aruch. Many rabbis may not feel trained for this conversation, as rabbinical schools have not prepared them for this. They still do not — when I was in YCT just last year “LGBT issues” were relegated to pastoral counseling class, with no discussion during morning seder, the portion of the day in which we learn Halakha (despite my requests to do so). Rabbis need to study up. If they have not spent time learning Halakhot related to queer people (and for the most part, they haven’t), this is a great time to start. I am happy to connect rabbis with resources in doing this learning.
  3. Conversely, queer people need to use our newfound power to educate our rabbis. Ask rabbis the halakhic questions. When a Halakhic answer is given, ask for sources. When a political answer is given (“this will set back the cause”), ask what the specific political strategy is being employed to accomplish these goals. Ask for a specific date when this issue will be discussed at the next rabbinic convention.
  4. Queer people need to stand up for ourselves, but also be generous. No we do not need to accept discrimination. We do not need to accept marginalization or second-class status — I certainly do not. But the cheese has moved for us too, and we need to recognize the power that we do hold. Because there are a lot of good rabbis out there who have a lot to offer but they are going to need our help.
  5. And most critically, we need to establish healthier power dynamics. No one man or woman should hold the keys to who can come to shul, who can get married, or who can become a rabbi. If we as rabbis find ourselves dictating the terms of the conversation (i.e. find ourselves being behaviorally activated) that is a sign that we are holding too much power and we are begging for another crisis. If we are taking no risks as rabbis, we are just holding on to power that is slipping away.
Because the cheese will move again at some point. And the next time it moves I hope we can all move with it in a way that avoids the hurt and pain that has come with the current change in circumstances."


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