Not everyone, not yet

Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27)
April 23, 2014

“Times have certainly changed,” someone said to me the other day. “We have a new generation of children growing up just with marriage — not gay marriage and straight marriage, but ‘just marriage.’ ”

Nice pun, I thought, “just marriage.” The oft-quoted Torah verse, “justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20) came to mind.

And of course, times have indeed changed; I need only look at the number of weddings on my calendar since last summer (or at the number of new babies in our congregation!) to see how the United States Supreme Court’s toppling of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) has affected life in the LGBTQ community.

On the other hand, it’s a rare week when I don’t get a “hit” of the homophobia or naiveté (sometimes willful) that remains. How quickly people think legalized marriage in some places solves all problems in all places. A quick scan of Web sites such as the Williams Institute (williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research), Keshet (keshetonline.org) or Lambda Legal (lambdalegal.org) tells a different tale. There, statistics and anecdotes still report sad stories of bullying, rejection, suicide and hate crimes. 

The source of much of this ongoing pain remains one Torah verse from this week’s portion, Kedoshim: “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; mot yu-ma-tu, they will surely die, d’mei-hem bam, their blood upon them” (Leviticus 20:13).

We shall indeed die, blood upon us, if that verse remains an invitation to reject or kill us. 

How sad that this one verse still causes such pain, though it comes in the midst of a long list of other prohibitions, few of which are given much attention today. How sad that this verse gets singled out, even though it immediately follows one of the most revered passages of Torah, the Holiness Code (Leviticus 19) with its litany of Judaism’s core values, all of which heighten the understanding of one central verse: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). 

Twenty-one years ago, I wrote a commentary on these verses. Perhaps the juxtaposition of the Holiness Code with Leviticus 20:13, and, for that matter, all of chapter 20’s sexual behavior codes, really was intentional, meant to remind us that we are all created in the image of God and remind us how to fulfill God’s image of us: “You must be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). 

A “Commentary” on Leviticus 19, “The Holiness Code”:

We are your gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered children:

“You must not seek vengeance, nor bear a grudge against the children of your people” (Leviticus 19:18).

We are your bi, trans, lesbian and gay parents:

“Revere your mother and your father, each one of you” (Leviticus 19:3).

We are elderly lesbians, bisexuals, gay men and transgendered people:

“You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old” (Leviticus 19:32).

We are the stranger:

“You must not oppress the stranger” (Leviticus 19:33).

“You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).

We are lesbian, gay, trans and bi Jews:

“You must not go about slandering your kin” (Leviticus 19:16).

We are your trans, gay, bi and lesbian siblings:

“You shall not hate your brother or sister in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17).

We are lesbian, gay, trans and bi victims of gay-bashing and murder:

“You may not stand by idly when your neighbor’s blood is being shed” (Leviticus 19:16).

We are your bi, gay, trans and lesbian neighbors:

“You must not oppress your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:13).

“You must judge your neighbor justly” (Leviticus 19:15).

“You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

So many seders last week looked different from the ones 21 years ago. So many more family members welcomed home for an old-fashioned holiday meal, and more than a few newly fashioned families sitting down to seders as well. Times have changed, attitudes have changed, and understanding has deepened, thank God — but not everywhere, not everyone, not yet. 

Perhaps the conversations around this year’s seder tables, the resolutions to accept the invitations from Elijah and Miriam to walk through the open doors with them to help change the world, will bring yet more progress. As we count the Omer and the days with eager anticipation, may the Torah we receive and study anew this year at Shavuot continue to open hearts as well as doors. 

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