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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When discussing obviously outdated parts of the Torah, like Leviticus 18:22, my head and my heart suffer a kind of cognitive dissonance.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

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

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