Category Archives: LGBTQ Issues

Next They’ll Be Blamed for Global Warming…

250benizri_ta_baobao1.jpgIn what can only be described as homophobia of seismic proportions, Knesset Member Shlomo Benizri of the Shas Party (at right) has blamed gays for the recent series of earthquakes in Israel.

Whaaaa?

Explaining his position, Benizri actually offered this earthshaking whopper:

A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes.

Ha’aretz has the story here. Read if you dare…

Pushing the Button

The world press is abuzz about the Israeli entry in this year’s Eurovision song contest: “Push the Button” by the Israeli rap group Teapacks. Contest organizers say they may ban the song because of its “inappropriate message.” Seems “Push the Button” is a semi-satirical song that expresses fear about nuclear war and crazy world rulers. (Guess who they might be referring too?)

If you’d like to read more, here’s an article about the controversy from JTA. Apparently the Eurovision folks are going to convene a meeting in Helsinki to figure out how to handle this. (Good lord!!)

Those of you who follow such things will note the irony in all of this: Israel WON the Eurovision contest back in 1998 with “Diva,” a song sung by Israeli transsexual Dana International. Apparently Eurovision’s tolerance extends to LGBT acceptance but not as far as concern over nuclear proliferation…

You can see a performance of “Push the Button” by clicking above. Politics notwithstanding, I personally think it’s a pretty lame song (though I do appreciate Teapacks’ attempt to deal with such a terrifying issue through humor).

For video of Dana International in her moment of victory, click below. (Viva la diva!)

Gays, Lesbians, and Conservative Judaism

glbt-magen.jpgThere’s been a great deal of discussion in the mainstream and Jewish press about the recent rulings by Conservative Judaism’s Committee of Law and Standards on the status of gay and lesbian Jews. (You can click here for a complete news report on the decision. If you’d like to wade through the various Rabbinical rulings in question, they are available on the Rabbinical Assembly’s website.)

The truly historic aspect of these rulings are represented by the following words, which come from the decision by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reiser:

This ruling effectively normalizes the status of gay and lesbian Jews in the Jewish community. Extending the 1992 CJLS consensus statement, gay and lesbian Jews are to be welcomed into our synagogues and other institutions as full members with no restrictions. Furthermore, gay or lesbian Jews who demonstrate the depth of Jewish commitment, knowledge, faith and desire to serve as rabbis, cantors and educators shall be welcomed to apply to our professional schools and associations.

In short, this means that three out of the four American Jewish denominations (Reform, Reconstructionist and now Conservative) now sanction the ordination of gay or lesbian rabbis as well as commitment cememonies between gay/lesbian partners. Those of us who have worked for GLBT inclusion and affirmation in Jewish life are profoundly gratified by this important new step. My own denomination, the Reconstructionist movement, has long led the charge in this regard (read here) and it is gratifying to see other movements now following suit. We can only hope these breakthroughs will have an impact upon American religious life beyond the Jewish community.

However, there is one other aspect of the Dorff/Nevins/Reiser opinion that has attracted some attention (or possibly caused some jaws to drop onto the floor):

The explicit Biblical ban on anal sex between men remains in effect. Gay men are instructed to refrain from anal sex.

In other words, the Conservative movement has voted to ordain gay rabbis and sanction gay commitment ceremonies, as long as gays (or at least gay men) refrain from having gay sex. (I know, I know, it must have been as strange for you to read these words as it felt for me to write them…)

Without going too far into the legal complexities of this issue, this prohibition comes from the verse in Leviticus 18:22: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman: it is an abhorrence.” For a movement that views itself bound by halacha, or Jewish law, this particular Biblical prohibition presents a formidable challenge. The Dorff/Nevins/Reiser ruling thus represents a kind of legal middle ground. While the logic of this ruling might seem mystifying or even hypocritical to some, it is nevertheless an important step forward for a movement that views itself as bound by Jewish law and yet desires to be responsive to 21st century American life.

My Reconstructionist colleague Rabbi Amy Small (who serves Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Chatham, NJ) put it well recently on our Recon rabbinical listserve:

The decision is not what we’d want, but it is also not what many in the Conservative movement want. Given their internal struggles to both hold the movement together in a time of much internal division and their hope of remaining engaged in a halachic process, they may have moved as far as they could for the moment. That movement on this issue, however, is a significant directional shift. I applaud them for that and lend my support to those who will continue to work for change.

Another Recon colleague, Rabbi Mychal Copeland (who serves Stanford Hillel and belongs to a Conservative congregation) described the ruling as part of “the growing pains all denominations deal with at different moments in their evolution.” Mychal shared that she used to serve a congregation that struggled with her being a lesbian rabbi. She added, however:

The relationship progressed so well that when they decided to affiliate with the Conservative moment years later after I’d moved on, it was only under the condition that they could hire a GLBT rabbi if they so desired. That kind of change is how I see the recent ruling working on the ground. Gay rabbis have to be visible in order to change minds.

And at the end of the day, this is what the Conservative movement ruling will help to accomplish: the increasing visibility of gay rabbis and the increasing affirmation of gay Jews. Yes, perhaps it is only one small step. But for all the GLBT Jews who are currently wondering if there could ever be a place for them in the Jewish community, this small step might well make a world of difference.

Where do we go from here? Let’s dream a little. I’ll give the final word to my Recon colleague Rabbi Toba Spitzer (Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Newton, MA):

I personally am looking forward to the time when all of this bizarre negative obsession with homosexuality by the hetero mainstream will be behind us and we can move on to solving problems like world hunger and war, instead of having to defend our basic humanity…

Parashat Vayera 5767

ab-angels.jpg“As soon as (Abraham) saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, ‘My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree.'” (Genesis 18:2-4)

According to commentators, Abraham’s and Sarah’s eagerness to receive the three strangers demonstrates the sacred value of hospitality (in Hebrew: “hachnasat orchim” – literally, “receiving of guests.”) Since we are told from the outset that this visit represents a divine revelation (18:1), the implication could not be clearer: receiving guests in our home is tantamount to bringing God’s presence into our midst.

Even more powerfully, this story suggests we must, like Abraham and Sarah, be particularly open and welcoming to the stranger. (According to the Midrash, Sarah’s tent was open on all four sides for precisely this reason: all were welcome.) In Jewish tradition, hospitality represents much more than mere etiquette: it is a profound moral challenge. This is all the more critical in our day – in the age of security fences, border guards and gated communities, true hachnasat orchim is fast becoming difficult, if not impossible to contemplate.

To drive this point home, Vayera contrasts the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah with the inhospitality of the citizens of Sodom. The Midrash, in fact, is replete with references to their brutal and inhumane treatment of the strangers in their midst. Indeed, this “radical inhospitality” is the true sin of Sodom. Though the Sodomites are more popularly associated with homosexuality, it is their attempt to rape and brutalize Lot’s guests – not their sexuality – that defines their crime.

Recent events in Jerusalem give our Torah portion a sadly ironic relevance. A Gay Pride march in Jerusalem, planned for today, was cancelled due to widespread threats of violence by ultra-orthodox demonstrators. (At last year’s parade, three parade participants were stabbed by an individual who was later arrested). Jerusalem police were preparing to mobilize 12,000 officers, which would have made it the most heavily secured event in the history of the State of Israel. Yesterday, it was announced that the organizers of the parade, Jerusalem Open House, had decided to hold the event in a stadium, rather than risk the possibility of more violence.

In the end, this radical inhospitality to a peaceful display of pride and tolerance in Jerusalem begs the question: who are the real Sodomites?