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Cafeteria Judaism and feminine queer identity

Author:
jewish queer

By Kara Sherman

“Man shall not lie with man as man does with a woman. For it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)

Religion isn’t always easy. I often like to pretend it is — buzzwords like “interfaith” and “pluralism” pervade my discussions about faith. But every now and again, I’m reminded that the history of my faith is not so easy. Judaism was, in fact, built on questions. How do I find support as a woman from a faith founded on patriarchal texts? How do I reconcile ancient laws with a modern identity of queerness?

When I think about the concept of pluralism, the center of focus is usually external — I’m trying to be welcoming to a new community member, school of thought, or way of practice. But pluralism, the acceptance of multiple truths, gets a little trickier when it becomes an internal struggle.

There are plenty of arcane biblical laws that many people don’t practice anymore. It’s no longer commonplace for fathers to sell their daughters into slavery, and many Jews around the world don’t worry about the potential of G-d’s wrath when they turn on their stoves to make breakfast on Saturdays. How people go about ranking the importance of the many laws in our ancient texts largely remains a mystery to me, but it’s apparent that the act of picking and choosing — “Cafeteria Judaism,” if you will — is common practice.

When discussing obviously outdated parts of the Torah, like Leviticus 18:22, my head and my heart suffer a kind of cognitive dissonance. My Judaism is the most important part of who I am, but I have a difficult time reconciling the history of my faith with my identity as a bisexual woman. How do I practice my religion while remaining accepting and proud of my sexuality? How can I identify with a history and a text that directly contradict my values?

In these instances of reflection, I remind myself why laws like these were instilled in the first place. I believe that many traditional religious texts, whether it be the Torah, the Talmud, or the New Testament, were written for the purpose of procreation. These texts are ancient guides to prolonging human societies and bloodlines. If abortion was banned (except in cases when the mother’s life was in danger), the next generation would be born and its mothers no longer deemed important. If homosexuality was considered an abomination, populations would, in theory, continue to grow, instead of being stinted by relationships that couldn’t produce children.

G-d does not hate me. I have to keep in mind that these texts were written by men; men who just wanted their tribe to keep on trekking. No higher power came down from the sky and declared that me, and people like me, have no right to live and love like others. To believe this is to misunderstand the origins and intentions of religious texts — and to overlook their deeply loving central themes.

Leviticus has taught me that while Jews will never be entirely free of the oppressive aspects of our history and texts, we are free and encouraged to question, and to reinterpret our religion through a lens of contemporary values. I’m proud to be part of a progressive community of spiritual people that allows me to celebrate both my Jewish and queer identities, and that doesn’t see them as mutually exclusive. I’m proud to be Jewish because of the struggles and the questions that come along with the identity. It is inherently Jewish to disagree, but some things are just better together.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

“On Anxiety” anthology – a review

Author:
on anxiety

By Pip Williams

Content note: Discussion of anxiety

On Anxiety is the first anthology from British micropublisher 3 of Cups. The press was set up by founder Clare Bogen, with the admirable goal of “providing a platform for voices otherwise unheard in the mainstream.” This means that On Anxiety is a diverse project, full of wide-ranging voice and experiences across its central theme.

On Anxiety was crowdfunded in 2017, in order to ensure all contributors could be paid fairly for their work. This merits a mention, as all too often marginalised creators can be exploited in pursuit of the goals of “awareness”, “visibility”, or “exposure.” Not only were 3 of Cups’ original goals met, they were far exceeded, allowing a stretch goal of additional contributors to be realised. Now, the book is available in eBook form, with physical copies to come later this month.

The anthology comprises 24 works from creators both well-established and new to the scene. There’s something for everyone; fiction, poetry, prose, comics, art. Dr. Rachel Kowert’s informative factual essay sits alongside Nicolo Froio’s heartfelt, painful words on the anxieties she experiences travelling as a woman from the global south. There are essays on horoscopes, jewellery-making, bird-keeping; all metaphors for anxiety, in one of many shapes and forms.

On Anxiety serves to provide comfort and companionship to fellow sufferers, whilst acting as an illuminating introduction for those less familiar. Whilst anxiety is perceived as a more palatable and easy to discuss mental illness than many, it’s still fundamentally misunderstood by many who have not experienced it. By including such a variety of works, the picture On Anxiety paints is diverse, inclusive, and easily accessible to those who may not have a thorough understanding of the illness.

As someone who suffers from anxiety, I saw myself reflected in many of the works in the anthology. I also came to understand how my various privileges – whiteness, Britishness, middle class-ness ­– cushion me from certain aspects of the anxious experience. On Anxiety introduced me to these concepts gently and without judgement, opening my mind to the breadth I had perhaps not yet considered.

My favourite contribution to On Anxiety is Sophie Mackintosh’s gorgeous personal essay “Alignment”. Sophie – like me, a Scorpio with an Aries moon – finds comfort from her own anxieties through astrology and horoscopes. The familiarity of her thought processes, couched in beautiful, meandering prose, was like a hand on my shoulder as I read. Anxiety can be a horrendously limiting illness, and the people it preys on come from all walks of life, but we never truly suffer alone. There’s always someone whose story reads similarly to our own, and I suspect many people will find them in On Anxiety.

You can purchase On Anxiety here.

What the Torah says about sexual assault

Author:
weinstein

By Sofia Heller

Content Note: Sexual assault, sexual violence, rape

“Dustin Hoffman accused of sexual assault.” “Mario Batali Tells Fans: Sorry for the Sexual Assault, Here’s a Cinnamon Roll Recipe.” “More Women Accuse Russell Simmons Of Rape, Sexual Assault.” “California Democratic Party official resigns after rape, misconduct allegations.” “Former Intern Accuses Wyoming’s Secretary of State of Sexual Assault.” “Houston firefighter arrested for sexual assault of teen.” “No charges for alleged sexual assault at Kansas basketball dorm.”

These headlines are only a few in the recent surge of coverage about sexual violence. The avalanche of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape allegations over the past few months – catalysed by the sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein – make it clear that sexual violence is a problem deeply embedded in our society; it even finds credence in Judaism’s foundational text, the Torah.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 says, “If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekels of] silver, and she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.”

In other words, the Torah determines that a rapist must marry his victim, thus framing it as punishment for the rapist. The wording in the last sentence – “he can never have the right to divorce her” – makes it seem like we’re supposed to feel bad that the rapist is trapped in this marriage. No part of this passage recognises that the person truly being punished in this type of arrangement is the victim – a disturbing example of the Torah’s patriarchal views and authorship.

If the Torah had been written by women, I’m pretty certain that marriage between a rapist and victim wouldn’t be conveyed as punishment for the rapist, and this type of “punishment” probably wouldn’t have appeared at all. The text, as it is written, completely erases the woman’s victimhood and trauma, and, while framing it as a punishment, actually gives all of the power and privilege to the rapist. To add insult to injury, the text makes it seem like the woman benefits from this type of arrangement, when in reality, we know that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This text illustrates the great importance of being aware of who has a voice and who doesn’t; who gets to tell stories, and who isn’t given a voice. The recent flood of sexual violence allegations as well as the #MeToo movement represent women seizing control of the narrative, and that’s extremely significant. However, there remain those voices that sympathise with the predators because of how they’re being punished, just as the Torah does, when it’s the survivors who should finally be receiving the sympathy and support they deserve.

In the aforementioned headlines, there’s an emphasis on men in positions of power who have taken advantage of women beneath them in rank. These men seem to feel that they are invincible, and they have a basis for feeling so entitled. Companies and even whole industries often work to protect men who have been accused of sexual violence. Women are intimidated or threatened into staying quiet. We see this in the Torah as well. After all, since women are forced to marry their rapists, staying silent is theoretically a way to avoid that fate.

While these past few months are not, by any means, the first time women have come forward to speak out against their attackers, hopefully the mass media attention and the actual punishments we’re starting to see represent a positive shift in our society – a shift away from the type of male privilege we see in the Torah, privilege born of a patriarchal system that’s intentionally designed to benefit men and oppress women. These allegations, and subsequent repercussions, serve as a new message that sexual violence will no longer be tolerated and that sexual predators will no longer be protected.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

The allegory behind Black Mirror’s “USS Callister”

Author:
black_mirror_uss

By Stephanie Wang

WARNING: the below includes major plot spoilers for season 4 episode 1 of Black Mirror, “USS Callister”

Content note: Sexual violence, control

At first glance, “USS Callister” seemingly features some odd Star Trek-adjacent fantasy of a genius programmer, Robert Daly. And at first, viewers tend to sympathise with him – he’s clearly shy and used to being manipulated and walked all over by his co-workers at the company he co-founded. Despite coming up with the idea and code for the popular virtual reality game, Infinity, he receives little of the credit as the spotlight falls to James Walton, a man much more charismatic and likeable, but with no real knowledge of the technical side of the company.

While all the other workers treat Daly with as little respect as possible, the new hire Nanette treats him with the utmost respect, idolising his code and recognising him as the one who actually coded for Infinity. After being given even the slightest attention, Daly begins to stare at Nanette constantly during work, even eavesdropping on her conversations with other workers – basically, he’s giving off major stalker vibes.

And then, he digs through her trash and obtains a coffee cup and it’s revealed that with this DNA, he’s able to essentially create a digital clone of her. It turns out that this Star Trek-adjacent fantasy is not so fantastical – instead it features cloned copies of co-workers. These individuals still have the same personality and memories of their lives in the real world but are stuck on this ship, USS Callister, for Daly to control in the form of a modded Infinity game that looks like Daly’s favourite TV show.

In this game, he’s the one in charge and the one responsible for keeping peace in the galaxy, tracking down villains. On this ship, Daly can do whatever he’s too scared and timid to do in real life – whether that’s kissing the female members on his ship, choking or otherwise abusing everyone, or turning anyone on the ship who even slightly questions his leadership into a monster.

And it turns out, the smallest thing done in the office could land a worker into his controlling playground – whether it’s “insufficient smiling,” calling him out for “staring” at employees, or bringing him the wrong sandwich.

In these ways, “USS Callister” can be seen as a type of allegory for the abuses of power taken by the men in leadership roles in big tech companies. It’s no secret that in many of the big Silicon Valley companies, there’s a culture of harassment and sexual misconduct that’s often just pushed under the rug by the companies. In many cases, these perpetrators are never brought to justice as there’s either not a human resources department or if there is one, victims are simply told by HR that nothing can be done. And then there’s the threat of unemployment or for their career to be defined as a whistleblower, giving those higher-up the ability to do anything they want without fearing any sort of backlash.

In 2017, several women in tech came forward with their stories about sexual misconduct of those in Silicon Valley, and while companies promised investigations women say that there have been few tangible changes made by those in power. And still, the simple fact remains that the tech industry on the aggregate has done little to none that would systematically support women in an industry dominated by men because there’s “too much power, too much money, and too few reasons to change.”

Robert Daly is the classic “misunderstood, bullied coder” who uses that to justify the actions he takes. This draws similarities to the way Silicon Valley’s big players wouldn’t try harassing women in the “real world,” but feel free to do so in the workplace where they reign as king, unchecked and knowing that there, their actions have no consequences. And of course, this problem isn’t just limited to the tech world – it’s also seen with the dozens of women who’ve stepped out to reveal the awful abuses of power taken by directors in Hollywood as well as the other silence breakers of varying races, income classes, and occupations. It’s a problem that’s unfortunately prevalent in all aspects of society.

While Black Mirror is infamous for sad endings, “USS Callister” ends on a bright, light-hearted note. The happy ending of the episode – namely the prevailing of the digital clones in escaping to a space universe without Daly and his abusive control – is brought by a woman (Nanette) who comes up with the ingenious plan despite being initially underestimated both by the other clones and Daly. And while this episode, like other Black Mirror episodes, does warn watchers of the dangers of technology (it is technology, after all, that allows Daly to create the digital clones and create this warped world), perhaps the even bigger point is to be even more wary of the human players behind the technology – to keep those with access to technology and power in check.

Whether this same happy ending – the ending of a culture of harassment in both Silicon Valley and on the aggregate level – will occur in the modern world remains to be seen. And it seems like a good step is being taken with this anti-harassment action plan signed by 300 prominent women in Hollywood.

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