“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Orthodox Judaism has never been accepting of non-normative sexuality and gender identities. In the majority of the orthodox world, the expectation is for cisgender* men to marry cisgender women, preferably at a young age, for them to have babies together, and for the cisgender-heterosexual familial norm to be perpetuated forever.
But it’s 2016. More and more people (Jews and non-Jews alike) are living outside “the closet” and members of the Orthodox Jewish community, specifically those in urban parts of America, are forced to confront their worst nightmare: the increased normalization of LGBTQ+ lives.
With this increase in exposure, Jewish-on-LGBT violence is becoming more of a public issue. Just to name a few of the recent incidents of Jewish-on-LGBT violence there has been the fatal stabbing at Jerusalem Pride last year, the horrific beating of Taj Patterson by a group of Hassidish men, and the (suspected) murder of transman Jonah Berele.
But where does that put queer Jews? In many cases, we’re caught straddling the fence between the two worlds.
I talked with Abe*, a QC student and gay Jew living in New York, to discuss the fears and conflicts that queer Jews face in these times of increased hate crimes conducted by Jews.
Abe described the tactics of the Rabbis (priests) in these types of communities: “The leaders of the religious community use religious traditions and supposed laws to maintain control over their community. Those who don’t conform to these traditional ideas of sexuality and gender threaten this control over the people, as they challenge the necessity for [all] these traditions, and thus the necessity of the leaders.”
What Abe described is a characteristic of most Orthodox Jewish communities, although the tactics employed vary in severity.
I asked Abe if he believes that progress can be made to bring the two communities together and he told me, “I believe that progress is certainly being made in the modern Orthodox community…I am a bit more skeptical of the futures of the middle-ground Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities concerning the treatment of queer people, but I have faith that the former will come around eventually.”
For many Jewish communities, the unfortunate truth remains. Bigotry is a factor in the unification and preservation of the ultra-Orthodox tradition and community. Which is ironic considering that American Jews and the LGBTQ+ community share a history of having been victims of discrimination in the early stages of this country.
To Be Continued Next Post…
*The word queer is used colloquially in this post as an umbrella label for people with non-normative sexuality and gender identities.
*Cisgender: a person whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth.
*Name has been changed.