Last week, I wrote a post on bigotry and violence in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish world directed towards the LGBTQ+ community. It was pretty a dismal post, which you can check out here. This week, I want to shed some optimism on the subject as well.
Like I wrote last week, the fact is that Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, like many fundamentalist religions, is heavily gendered and requires normative sexuality and gender identities to “work.” For generations and generations, in many communities, there were the Jewish men who prayed, worked, and provided for the family, and there were the Jewish women, who gave birth to and raised the children.
But now Orthodox Jewish communities are finding themselves in a different world. As I said last week, queer* people are gaining visibility and acceptance in our ever-changing society. But these queer identities still don’t and can’t align with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition, a tradition that has been vital in upholding the Jewish presence for so many decades of history. Some Orthodox Jewish leaders are scared of queer people gaining visibility and normality, leading to increased bigotry, discrimination, and violence.
But hey, it’s not all bad!
There is hope for the future of the Jewish and queer communities. I believe that improvement on this front is going to come from the current college-aged generation. Yep, that’s right, millennials…I’m talking about us.
Although our generation still holds onto many problematic ideals and systems, we’re 10 steps ahead of our predecessors, Gen X. Even amongst Orthodox Jewish youth, people are becoming more accepting of various sexuality and gender identities.
Recently at Queens College, there was a mixer held between the LGBTQ+ group on campus, Prism, and the Jewish group on campus, Hillel. Events like these, although seemingly unimportant, are huge steps forward in the forging of a universal acceptance between these two groups.
One of the planners of the mixer told me after the event, “I believe these events are effective in bridging the gap between Jewish and Queer [students]. [Events like these] open dialogue between them, which leads to the breakdown of misconceptions about queer people.”
There are also larger movements at work which are attempting to create understanding and cohesion between the two communities.
Organizations like JQY (Jewish Queer Youth), Keshet, and Eshel are all inclusivity movements that advocate for Jewish Orthodox LGBTQ+ rights. There are also now temples, such as CBST, that aim to provide places for openly queer Jews to practice Judaism in a bigotry-free environment. Although these organizations are specifically targeting Queer Jews, their work promotes tolerance and understanding between religious Jews and queer people in general.
Like I said last week, I don’t believe progress can be made in all Orthodox communities. The ultra-Orthodox leaders still rely heavily on “tradition” to preserve their communities. I doubt there will ever be a time when an ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader openly condones LBGTQ+ identities. The best I can picture moving forward is that such communities can keep their bigotry quieter…and less violent.
But maybe…just maybe…our younger, more integrated Orthodox Jewish* communities can begin to create an open environment of tolerance and acceptance of queer people. But it’s up to our generation to make that happen.
*Queer is used in this post as a colloquial umbrella term to describe non-normative sexuality and gender identities.
*There are several “levels” of observance within Orthodox Judaism. Some Orthodox Jewish communities and people are more integrated into modern society, while some ultra-Orthodox communities still remain more segregated. This passage talks about the former.
Some Resources For Queer (Orthodox or Orthodox-backgrounded) Jews: