February 23, 2024 -

Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

June is Pride Month (Naso 06/03/23)

June is Pride Month

In my youth, I was not an ally. Liberace, Elton John, and Freddie Mercury were ok as long as they were on TV or the radio. But, in person, I didn’t feel so comfortable around gay people. The fear and stigma of HIV only heightened my discomfort around them.

In 2001, my wife befriended a gay trainer at the Y. She invited him over for Shabbat meals, and, soon enough, we became good friends. Talking with him made it clear that he wasn’t choosing this lifestyle; rather, he was born this way. At the same time, scientific research was pointing to the fact that homosexuality is regularly found in nature.[1] While the Torah forbids homosexual relations, I decided not to judge. I could not understand why God would create people a certain way yet prohibit them from forming the essential bond of love that all people need.

One of the things I respect the most about Conservative Judaism is its willingness to view things through a societal and historical lens. For example, the Rabbinical Assembly is willing to say that the Torah’s ban on homosexuality was an expression of its time. Since today we view such behavior as normative and acceptable, we believe that the Torah’s position would be one of approval.

The Rabbinic Assembly is also accepting of alternative forms of gender identity. In a responsa written for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD (2017) writes, “The thesis of this teshuvah (responsa) is that gender identity is an intrinsic part of a person’s being, no less than that person’s genetic makeup or anatomy. As I stated in the introduction, hormonal treatment does not change that identity, psychotherapy does not change that identity, surgery does not change that identity; and that identity should be determinative for interpersonal relationships as well as matters of halakha.”

Nowadays, when 7.1% of Americans (and nearly 1 out of 6 from Gen Z) identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than heterosexual[2], we certainly need to accept and embrace these souls.

Some years ago, Rabbi David Lazar vocalized a deep-seated wish based on the Priestly blessings in our Torah reading, Parshat Naso[3]:

May the Lord bless you and guard you.

May the Lord look kindly upon you and deal graciously with you.

May the Lord look with favor upon you and grant peace.

Rabbi Lazar notes that the blessing increases as it unfolds.  A true blessing is not just to be guarded and protected but to be entirely accepted.

“While enormous gains have been made in the last few years regarding rights—both civil and religious—on behalf of the LGBTQ community, it seems that too often these gains are based upon a notion of protection alone. There is a desire to watch over and protect these members of society from intolerance so that they neither find themselves in physical danger nor suffer discrimination.”

While protection is essential, Lazar states that true blessing for the LGBTQ+ community will happen when: “Peace—in Hebrew, shalom, meaning wholeness, comes. When we realize that as different parts of humanity, we not only complement but complete each other and create that wholeness.”

Poet Alden Solovy said it this way in “Love Wins: A Pride Prayer, Jewish”:

One day, the words ‘coming out’ will sound strange,

Oppression based on gender or orientation will be a memory,

History to honor and remember,

The pain of hiding, repressing, denying,

Honoring the triumphs of those who fought to be free,

Remembering the violence and vitriol that cost lives.

When love wins,

When love wins at long last,

ואהבת לרעך כמוך,

‘Love your neighbor as yourself’

Will be as natural as breathing.

ואהבת לרעך כמוך!

I guess that’s what Pride month is about, not just accepting the LGBTQ+ community but being proud of their diversity and courage. We should additionally be proud that our form of progressive Judaism is so open-minded and welcoming.

Have a wonderful week,

R’ Neil

[1] Bagemihl, Bruce. Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martins Press, 2000.

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/389792/lgbt-identification-ticks-up.aspx?utm_source=twitterbutton&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=sharing

[3] https://www.keshetonline.org/resources/embracing-the-lgbtq-community-parashat-nasoneeds-langage-disclaimer-embracing-the-lgbtq-community-parashat-naso/

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