The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage


Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue.  For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition.  Nevertheless,  I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.”  Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition.  I didn’t make this decision lightly.  Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.”  I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage.  In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.

The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’  A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love.  All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea:  when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly:   a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy.   It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God.  If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies. 

We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do.  We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality.  We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being.  Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people.  In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people .  And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately.  To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.

It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity.  As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe.  God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories.  Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded–it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship.  Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.

It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.”  When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts.  When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love.  Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition. 

I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman.  Love is queer — it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender.  Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.  We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world.  For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism,  in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of  love.


Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.

He’s my …


 

The term “boyfriend” is like the knee joint on someone who is morbidly obese. It is being asked to do way more than it was designed

to do. It is buckling under the pressure. Where it once could do the job, it is now carrying too much weight.

Example: My grandma had a companion with whom she would converse and play bridge after my grandpa died. They had long phone conversations, saw movies together. He accompanied grandma to certain family events. He was over 90, he used a walker, but, technically, Roy was grandma’s boyfriend.

Something about the word is just so precious. And misleading. Unless you’re safely within the confines of a sorority house or discussing someone you met in a chat room last week, that word just doesn’t work. No matter how serious or long-standing the relationship is, once you refer to him as your boyfriend, it sounds all fluffy and insignificant — and gives me the distinct sense a pillow fight is going to break out any second.

So what should you call him if “boyfriend” doesn’t seem right to you, as it never has to me?

Let me help you avoid a mistake I recently made: do not say “my friend” when referring to your romantic partner. If you refer him simply as a friend, you might as well take him for a salt scrub followed by a matinee of “Miss Congeniality 2”; that’s how emasculated he will feel. This is because, sadly, “friend” is also the word used to describe male friends with whom you have no intention of having sex, so you see the problem here. It may be satisfyingly vague and pretty much accurate, but it’s also eunuch-izing.

Moving on. Let’s get into the novelty options: there’s “my old man” and “the old ball and chain.”

I like the former, as it seems to conjure a Hell’s Angels clubhouse and leather pants. Although it’s nice to use the argot of an extra in the movie “Mask,” it can seem somewhat out of place if your “old man” drives a Camry and invests regularly in his 401(k).

“The old ball and chain” has some camp value. But like “my old man” it can be tricky using a term to refer to your partner that contains the word “old.” If he actually is old, that’s uncomfortable. If he’s much younger, in the Demi/Ashton sense, no need to bring that into relief. I’ll throw in “my main squeeze” here as another troubling novelty term. The modifier “main” suggests you have numerous other “squeezes.” Is it just me, or does that sound like “Meet Joe, he’s my main squeeze. I have so many ‘squeezes’ I have to break them down into main, secondary and auxiliary”?

Above, I used the word “partner,” which I will lump in with “companion” as totally useless if you happen to be straight, because everyone associates these expressions with same-sex couples.

Here we head into the category of sugary terms: my sweetie, my honey, my cutie pie. These make me long for the relative class of “my baby daddy.”

A nickname that is used privately is one thing, but I’m talking about the need for a public term. He can be monkey, puppy, bobo or baby in private, but when it’s time to introduce him at a party, you will need a descriptor.

“This is my little puppy pants” is just not going to do when introducing him to your boss. Here is where “my honey” nauseates anyone within earshot, “my friend” pisses him off, “my old man” is trying too hard and “my baby daddy” only works if you have kids. You are stuck with boyfriend, which will make you feel like you’re in the 1950s. Or you’re 15. Or you just wrote his name on your sweatshirt in puffy paint.

If there’s one good reason to get married, it is simply to be able to use the dignified moniker “my husband.” Even “my fiancé” has limited appeal, but husband is solid, works for all ages (except maybe under 15, like in Appalachia, when it’s creepy).

This brings me to “my man,” which has a certain twangy charm. If you can pull it off, good for you and Tammy Wynette, but it’s a bit country for most of us. There’s always “beau,” which is old-fashioned and sweet, but also cloyingly French. “Lover” barely rates a mention, because even in the 1970s it was way too ’70s.

This is where I’m left. Lucky to have the guy, but wishing I had something better to call him.

Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?”

But I notice he didn’t call his play “Ralph and Bertha.”

Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.

 

Hair Club for Jews


Hi. My name is Carin and I have a Jewfro.

Heeb hair. A Moses mop. A latke lid. I’m down with my fun
girl curls, but I can’t say the same for the men I meet. My big hair is the Mason-Dixon
Line of my L.A. dating life. Some men love the untamed, wild, bed-head look of
my natural waves. But many men prefer I play it straight.

Take lawyer dude Rich, who I picked up at The Arsenal on Pico
Boulevard on a Saturday night. I was wearing my jeans low, my heels high and
my hair straight. Rich grabbed my digits and we went out on two successful
straight-haired sit-down dinner dates. For our third date, he suggested Cabo
Cantina, margaritas with salt and the Sunday night football game. Since we
decided to skip formalities, I decided to skip the blow dry. Poor play call on
my part. I threw open my door and surprised Rich with my long, flowing,
sandy-blond curls. He gasped, grimaced, then covered his eyes.

“What happened to your hair?”

Apparently Jewish men like blow dries. And not just Rich.

One date asked me, “What’s with the curls?”

Another asked if I wanted to finish getting ready.

A third offered me the scrunchie some JDate left on his
stick shift. Great, I have bad hair and you’re seeing other women. I’d cry but
the moisture might make my hair frizz up.

I’m not alone in this hair crisis. Thousands of Jewish women
just like me face similarly challenging locks. I’m talking big, puffy,
out-of-control, coiled bird’s nest curls. We’re asked to sit behind the
mechitzah because our big hair blocks the men’s view of the bimah. Coveting J.
Crew catalog-straight hair, we brush and comb and mousse and spray. We steam
and set and wrap and treat. But we still show up to parties looking like the
Bride of “Welcome Back, Kotter.” That’s why I started the Hair Club for Jews.
Where I’m not just the hair club president, I’m also a member.

My teenage years were a blur of bad hair. I spent high
school as a frizzy triangle head with flip-up/flip-down bangs. Moviegoers
behind me switched seats and the yearbook photog took my pic with a panoramic
lens. When I hit college, I straightened my mane with a smokin’ hot flattening
iron. I blew my book money on hair spray and scorched my forehead twice, but
hey, I love the smell of burnt hair in the morning. Now, with heightened
self-confidence and a bathroom overstuffed with hair products, this Jewish babe
swings both ways.

But which do I do on a first date? One wrong tress can send
a fine man running. Do I rip off the Band-Aid and open with big curls? Should I
ease my man into the fro? Is straight sexier? Do curls have more fun? And
what’s the deal with the babushka? Curly. Straight. Curly. Straight. No wonder
Jewish women give up and wear a sheitel.

Perhaps this hair dilemma has deeper roots. Talmudic
scholars might argue that by wearing my hair curly, I am broadcasting my Jewish
pride to the single men of the 310. The great Rabbi Abraham Paul Mitchell might
argue that by straightening my hair, I am denying my Jewish heritage. I am
turning my back on a hairstyle passed down by The Matriarchs. I say anyone who
spends 10 minutes with me knows I’m a Member of the Tribe — no matter how I
wear my hair. I also say men tend to spend more than 10 minutes with me when I
wear my hair in pigtails.

Speaking of men, Rich apologized as we waited for our table.

“The curls aren’t that bad, C, I guess I could get used to
them. I just like your hair better straight ’cause I can run my fingers through
it.”

Then he gently brushed the hair out of my face, kissed my
forehead and all was forgiven — until he broke down and offered me the Yankees
hat off his head halfway through our date. But who could fit his tiny
peanut-head cap over my gargantuan hair? Things didn’t really work out between
Rich and me. And not just because he’s a Yankees fan.

When it comes to my guy, I need a man who’s in it for the
long haul, who’s up for any hair catastrophe. If a guy’s not there for me on a
bad hair day, he won’t be there for me on a bad work day. He won’t be there for
me when I spill red wine on my wedding dress, when I lose my keys, when I burn
dinner, when the kids get the flu, when I’m 75, less flexible and my hearing
aid whistles. I need a man who’s in it for richer or poorer, for curly or for
straight, who can laugh with me through a hair disaster and any disaster.

As president of the Hair Club for Jews, I urge other Jewish
women to stand up for their locks. If you embrace your big hair, you can get
ready for a date in five minutes, you can get your hair wet at the beach, you
can live in a humid climate. And, as far my dates go, I’m taking a “love me —
love my hair” attitude. Single Jewish men shouldn’t be so quick to judge my
Jewfro, ’cause I know they carefully position their kippot to hide their bald
spots. Â


Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

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