Feminists and Homosexuals

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I had an amazing time today at my first ever JOFA Conference. For those of you who don’t know, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance has been working to “expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha” since 1997. I had the honor to run a program for 27 middle school students encouraging them to listen to their inner voice to help find the right answer for how they should live and act.

The best part of the day, however, was a lunchtime discussion on the inclusion of gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews in the Orthodox community. It was such a great idea to link these connected causes aimed at bringing marginalized Orthodox Jews closer to the center of the Jewish communal structure.

While it was clear that a lot of education and work needs to be done (both to support women like Rabba Sara Hurwitz and to help gays and lesbians to become openly accepted in our synagogues and communities), it was such a good feeling to have a room of over 100 people discussing the joint future of these two groups.

I’m proud to be a heterosexual male who considers himself to be a feminist and a gay activist. JOFA is a great forum for Orthodox men and women to join together under the common cause of Feminism.

What our community needs is a similar forum for straights and gay to come together under a common cause of inclusion and equality in the Orthodox community. It happened today (sort of) for about an hour, but we need something that can be year-round and include thousands of people.

We need a Gay-Straight Alliance for the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole. There’s probably a better name for something like this, but we need a way to spread the message that many people in the Orthodox community want their synagogues to be safe, warm and welcoming places to same-sex families, and homosexual singles. This is the next step towards many more advances down the road.

I’d love to hear in the comments section ideas for how something like this could come to fruition.

(*Note: The comments section is meant for discussion, not hateful speech. I will gladly approve comments of people who disagree with me, but I will delete comments that express hatred towards any group of people. Thank you.)

8 thoughts on “Feminists and Homosexuals

  1. Hi Aaron,

    I don’t think I know you but I am one of the out frum lesbians who spoke (not in any official capacity, but as a member of the audience) today. It was very powerful for me to be in a room of so many straight Orthodox allies… Really quite moving. I came home and told my partner about it and I almost got choked up a little because it can be so isolating sometimes and today was the opposite of that. I felt like we needed more time and a real structured program and I will suggest that to the organizers for next year.

    Follow the Tirtzah blog if you like.. That’s the group I am part of and if you go through old entries there are some interesting essays by people talking about what it’s like being gay in an Ortho community

    http://tirtzah.wordpress.com

  2. BTW, that need for an Orthodox GSA is a very real one and something one person brought up with me directly. I am interested in starting an e-mail list for allies, actually. E-mail me if you’d like to be involved in some way!

  3. Sorry To Hear

    It’s very unfortunate that your community – whatever you define that to be – marginalizes female members of Orthodox Judaism.

    I have observed many Jewish women in in the middle and to the right that feel very happy in their roles. They are professionals. They host shiurim. They attend womens megilah reading.

    It’s very unfortunate that the left wing parts of Judaism don’t feel the same.

    I’m not sure when women needed the title of “Rabbi” in order to help other woman and be a source to turn to when they didn’t feel comfortable turning to a male. In fact, I know plenty of of Rabbis who view their title as simply that – a title and make little deal of it.

    My only suggestion is to teach today’s women to find meaning in their role within Judaism – otherwise they’ll never be happy. It’ll be only a matter of time before people of Shavet Yisroel decide they deserve to be a Kohain. Maybe a man should have to go to the Mikvah once a month as well? Maybe a man should take more initiative and light shabbos candles?

    These gender roles are not meant as a hierarchy – they are simple the truth in torah. Would you say number 2 is better than number 1 bc its bigger? No, its just bigger and that’s that.

    Let’s all try to find meaning within our roles as Jews before we think of trying to annex the roles of others.

  4. Unclear

    Hi Aaron,

    While I admire your call for more dialogue and acceptance, I think there are some issues which should not be overlooked. You talk about how

    “many people in the Orthodox community want their synagogues to be safe, warm and welcoming places to same-sex families, and homosexual singles.”

    I think you intentionally wrote homosexual singles, but is it fair to assume that the homosexuals expressing interest in being accepted by the orthodox community will all be single? JOFA works to “expand the spiritual, ritual, intellectual and political opportunities for women within the framework of halakha”.

    Would it be within the framework of halakha for a gay couple to be actively involved in an orthodox synagogue?

  5. Hi Unclear,

    I think you may have missed the “same-sex families” line, but that’s ok – it’s a good question you’re raising:

    Would it be within the framework of halakha for a gay couple to be actively involved in an orthodox synagogue?

    I think this is the answer our community is going to have to find a creative solution for. There are same-sex couples living in Orthodox communities, and doing their best to participate in Synagogue life. There were two people at the JOFA conference who shared their experiences in struggling to be a part of the Orthodox community – a specific physical community – while living with a same-sex life partner.

    One creative solution that is controversial on both sides, but was suggested to me by a friend, is a unique form of DADT. Not in the negative way I wrote about in a previous post, but in a way that would allow same-sex couples to live together with the collective communal assumption that none of the explicit issurim are being violated. This is a far cry from the ideal situation (no matter what your perspective is) and at best could be considered a band-aid solution to be built upon in future generations.

    This would allow for homosexual families and individuals to become integrated into the Jewish community, and to be less prone to ostracism and exclusion.

    Do you think that might work?

  6. I wonder if it is even possible to make these changes within the OJ community. I grew up in the MO world. I had one foot out the door by the time I was a senior in college. I am now an atheist but affiliated with the CJ movement because of decisions my husband and I made in terms of how we wanted to raise our children. My first turns offs to the OJ community were as a young child, watching the boys say “she lo asani isha” and going to shul every shabbos, sitting in a balcony as though I were a second class citizen.

    The most profound difference in my current community is not just that it is egalitarian, but that gay couples are welcomed at my children’s CJ dayschool as are the adopted children of other races, or mixed race children of a couple who are of different races. My children don’t find anything odd about having friends with same sex parents. It just is.

    The focus is on tikunolam rather that the minutia of the law. My children would never imagine such as thing as women can’t be rabbis or shul presidents or read torah or keep their own last name. I asked my 8 yr old why his last name is his father’s last name and not mine, just to see what he would say. He said, “because you CHOSE to use daddy’s name.” That is the world my children have always known. And I am so pleased.

  7. chaim

    im sorry to say and i know this is obv a huge issue for those jews who strive to maintain both their gay and frum identities, but i can not imagine an orthodox community that follows halacha devolving into something along those lines. perhaps in the future their will be a blurring of the lines between liberal orthodoxy and conservative Conservative Judaism, and in that gray area such a community can exist, but by then i feel it will have moved beyond the boundaries of what can be considered orthodoxy.

  8. Chaim,

    I think there is room within the Orthodox community for gay Jews to live their lives without the scrutiny of their neighbors and fellow shul-goers.

    There are certain communities that require their members to sign contracts that dictate their behavior, but most orthodox communities I know are not like that. We do not base shul membership on some religious standards exam, and we need to similarly accept same-sex couples in a way that is warm and welcoming.

    Those couples are not seeking your approval, no should you think that allowing them to pray with you is a such of approval. Individuals in the shul can choose to befriend these families or not (the same way any other new people in a shul are socially adopted by only a fraction of a shul’s members).

    Let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater by excluding Jewish families who want to be part of a Torah community. Let’s keep people in the fold, advocate for an open and welcoming orthodox community, and not scrutinize peoples personal lives to make sure they meet our standards.

    Aaron

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