They’re Here, They’re Queer….We’re still getting used to it.

By Niv Elis

Dismayed.  Disappointed.  Disgusted.

These are the adjectives commenters posted in response to a statement by The Jewish Standard, a New Jersey weekly, declaring that it will no longer publish marriage announcements for gay couples.  The decision came in the wake of the first gay engagement to grace the paper’s lifestyle pages, honoring Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen.

Following its publication, reports the Standard:

A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.

The accompanying decision to stop running gay wedding announcements aroused a massive influx of criticism, pressuring the editorial board to reverse its decision.  One writer suggested that the paper change its name to “The Jewish Double Standard.”

The incident demonstrates the contentiousness of a debate over gay rights that has been going on for years, but has only recently started to make headway in the Orthodox community.  Informed by the 2001 documentary Trembling Before God, the focus of the discussion has moved from simply questioning the religious legality of homosexuality to examining the ethical implications of ostracizing gay Jews.  Last week’s shocking suicide by an outed gay freshman at Rutgers university accentuates the humanitarian dimension now central to the conversation.

“There are plenty—and probably a very strong majority—in the Orthodox world who think even acknowledging publicly the suffering of gay Orthodox Jews is out-of-bounds,” points out Steven I. Weiss in his excellent Slate article on the topic.  Loosening rules on homosexuality by definition strains the adherent philosophy to which the Orthodox subscribe.  But there are indications that “a critical mass of Orthodox aren’t going to ignore the problem completely.”

Support groups such as Jewish Queer Youth and the cleverly named OrthoDykes have popped up to offer guidance for distressed, religious  Jews questioning their sexuality and gender identity.  This past July, a group of Orthodox Rabbis cobbled together and signed a statement on homosexuality, grappling with the human implications of the Jewish law in a very serious way.  It opens with the declaration that “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot).”

Given the strong feelings, religious convictions, and high stakes on both sides of the discussion, it seems unlikely that it will be resolved at any time soon.  In the meantime, all eyes will be on New Jersey’s Jewish Standard, eagerly anticipating on which side of the gay Jewish debate it will ultimately fall.

49 responses to “They’re Here, They’re Queer….We’re still getting used to it.

  1. We at the Big Tent Judaism Coalition hope they fall on the side of inclusion: http://conta.cc/cQZQpm

  2. This is a very timely issue, I think, especially given the several LGBT teen suicides that have been in the news over the past few weeks. There is a real need to grapple with this issue and to realize how much harm is done through a lack of compassion.

    Jay Michaelson, Executive Director of the Jewish organization Nehirim, said of Jewish leaders that: “Those who continue to delegitimize and stigmatize us have blood on their hands.”

    These are perhaps strong words, but they point to the need of leaders to wrestle with the issue and not ignore it or brush it off as out-of-bounds.

  3. Thank you for writing this blog post. Avi and Justin are dear friends of mine. I remember joyfully seeing the link to their wedding announcement that Avi happily shared with friends a few weeks ago. The Jewish Standard’s response is a shande (shame) and embarrassment.
    Another great Jewish GLBTQ advocacy and education organization that is at the forefront of the Jewish GLBTQ movement is Keshet – http://www.keshetonline.org/.

  4. I really appreciate you posting this Niv. All too much we find people afraid to talk about or confront the issue of homosexuality and the paradox people face with it. Awareness is the first step to solving many problems (most of the time at least). As a gay man, this topic resonates deeply with me.

  5. I found this article rather confusing, and mostly (I think) because of the title: “They’re here, they’re queer….we’re still getting used to it.” This seems to suggest that diverse sexualities are a recent phenomenon – that before “now” no men slept with men, no women slept with women etc. – and that it is something to be dealt with. I find it so bizarre that we have these attitudes in our society, particularly as these attitudes seem to only have emerged in force over the last couple of hundred years, when the idea of “sexuality” in terms of homo-, hetero-, or bi-sexual emerged. Prior to that people talked about relationships – between a husband and a wife, between lovers (same-sex or other) – and it seemed to be widely accepted that there were different modes of sexual behaviour. In Ancient Greece, it was par for the course for older men to sleep with teenage boys (we must remember also that the ideas of childhood or teenagehood in terms of years of innocence or diminished capacity for reason are also relatively recent) – in fact, these relationships were an integral part of their society. Likewise, throughout the middle ages it is not uncommon to read of sexual relationships between people of the same sex. We need to start thinking not in terms of sexuality, but in terms of love…it seems to me our constant need to label people, to pigeonhole them, leads to the majority of prejudices and mistreatment of people in our society…

  6. No apologies for the pain and consternation they’ll be causing gay readers by refusing to print their engagement announcements, I notice.

  7. Brenda Milouchev

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. As an Episcoplian who attended seminary and plans to be ordained, I have found that in any religion, there is a balancing act between the law (written thousands of years ago) and the actual lives of the people sitting in the congregation, present day.

    Yesterday, for http://www.JerseyMomsBlog.com, I wrote a post about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student. Although the heirarchy of the church wants me to believe that being gay is a sin and one not to be acted upon, the mother in me knows that God created all in this world, including gay males, lesbians, transgender peoples and bisexuals. They are to be loved and should be free to love as well.

    So, I wish the Jewish Orthodox world, both prayers and guidance as they navigate this issue.

    The other comment I have is that your site is Freshly Pressed today and you only have 7 comments besides mine. It goes to show you that this is a topic no one feels comfortable commenting on. Good job for bring up controversial subjects.

    • Hi Brenda,

      I also noticed the lack of comments, but I have a feeling it has more to do with who’s approving posts than with a lack of interest – I’ve seen other “freshly pressed” posts regarding gay rights generate hundreds of comments!

      C.

  8. I realize that Orthodox communities live a very different lifestyle than Conservative, Reform, or cultural Jews. However, you’d think that a history of persecution would incline the Orthodox toward inclusion rather than exclusion. That may be a simplistic conclusion on my part. Nonetheless, isn’t Judaism about questioning, interpretation, learning, and our humanity in this time and place?

  9. as gay jew who’s proud of my identity on all fronts, i’m deeply saddened and disappointed to hear about this (doubly so, as i’m originally from new jersey).

    since when is G-d a hater?? to live in the image of G-d is to be all-loving and all-accepting. those that claim to be “religious” but shun and ostrasize aren’t religious at all. i wish we could all open our eyes and see that.

    great post. thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  10. I applaud the newspaper. So few groups of people are willing to take a stand on religious belief anymore, in favor of political correctness. But when they’re code of ethics says blatantly, “If a man sleeps with a man… they shall be put to death.” (Lev 20:13), then they should stand by it. If the Gay Jews want to be Gay, they let them read a secular paper where this is condoned.

    • I’m sorry, but the Bible also says it’s OK to sell one’s daughter into slavery, to stone an adulterer, and to cut off a wife’s hand if they interfere in a fight, amongst myriad other things which are deemed absurd by most and analagous, rather than literal, by the majority of others. If you believe that the Bible represents the Word of God, that’s fine, but you need also to think about it, not just follow it blindly… And why does “sleeps with” have to mean to have sex? It was common practice only a few hundred years ago to share a bed when you visited a friend, yet books of advice on manners such as that written by Erasmus, there was no mention of killing someone that tried such an action…

      • It’s true. If we lived exactly like the bible says we should…well…we’d be living in biblical times…and that’s no good, right? No one wants to go back to that. If you say you do, you are a liar.

      • IF you actually looked at the reference, it is sleep with as one sleeps with a woman. That is sex. And it was meant as literal, since it says later on that it is to cut off the evil from the land. The whole concept is that the land needs to be kept pure and this, along with adultery, murder, insolent children, among other things. No, I don’t think I will convince you, but I do think that something should be mentioned that what the Orthodox rabbis would follow and use as life’s guidelines is blatantly against it .

    • I’m sorry but so far I have never met a single being who lives there lives according to the rules of Leviticus. Indeed the only time Leviticus is mentioned is by folk needing to justify their homophobia.

      • I wish I could say that I lived by the laws of Leviticus, as best as I can in this society. However, as I mentioned to Christian, my point is that so far as I understand it, Orthodox Jews try to live by the rules of Leviticus, and indeed, all of Torah. Based on that, they shouldn’t accept gays, just like if your religion said that those who dye their hair are morally corrupt, you would not accept anyone who does nor accept hair dye advertisements in your religious paper. (Yes, I know, saying hair dye is immoral is extreme, but it’s to give an illustration.)

        This is all I have to say on the subject.

  11. Gay Sabbath guest brought up similar topic at our table recently and asked my husband what his “Rabbinic” thoughts were on the subject. He responded,”Don’t judge Judaism by the Jews.” and that was all. The guest persisted but my husband is a private man and we don’t talk sexuality at the table (anyone’s) so he just smiled at me as I passed him my magic 8 ball.

  12. As a nice Jewish Girl put it:

  13. No apologies for the pain and consternation they’ll be causing gay readers by refusing to print their engagement announcements, I notice.

  14. Tis a sad time for our generation, when such issues are merely swept under the rug of “things not to do”, I am in no way or form siding with the right to a homosexual union in a religion that specifically, repeatedly and passionatley denounces its practice, but what is sad is that such issues whether good ro bad are bound to occur in us given the fallen nature of our bodies minds and spirits just as hetrosexual love in its ill form rather than in sacred matrimony. What is sad is the lack of help, counselling and proper options for those suffering with sexual choices. Anyone agree with me?

    • Please see my comments above, and perhaps this post: Fun and Gaymes @ ovenkitty. You might also like to consider the history of the institute of marriage itself. It is hardly founded in a sacred bond somehow endorsed by God, rather similar ceremonies were practiced in myriad societies long before Christianity or Judaism, and even throughout the middle ages difference forms of marriage existed, even for priests who were supposedly chaste.

    • people dont suffer from sexual choices they suffer from HUMAN CRUELTY

  15. I think that if the Jewish Standard respects the liberal Jewish community, it must stop printing wedding announcements that give non-Orthodox Jews pain and consternation.

    In particular:

    * Weddings where women are acquired like chattel
    * Weddings where women are not allowed to speak
    * Weddings where husbands and wives are separated
    * Weddings that create marriages that can only be ended by the husband
    * Weddings where the woman will end up a unmarriagable because she doesn’t want to live with her abusive husband and the abusive husband doesn’t want to give her a divorce
    * Weddings where divorce matters will be decided by corrupt, misogynist rabbinic courts
    * Weddings where the marriages will end because one of the partners belatedly discovers their gay identity that had been buried under years of yeshiva repression.

    Certainly, not all Orthodox Jewish weddings fall into these categories. But far too many do.

    I understand that some non-Orthodox practices may be deeply offensive to Orthodox Jews. But let’s be clear: The reverse is true too. These aspects of many Orthodox weddings offend us, and we hope we won’t have to read about them in the Jewish Standard any more.

  16. Homosexuality is against the law of the Bible. Make a choice. If you don’t like the results of being gay then don’t practice it. Bible believers are not responsable for anyone’s decision to practice homosexuality, and have the right to their beliefs as much as any one else. Start a new church or temple where you can be amung compassionate supporters, if that is what you crave, but don’t insist that people who don’t want that in their church or temple accept it. The person responable for a suicide is the person who committed it, not someone else.

  17. OMG! Don’t ask , dont’ tell.

  18. Gays are people too. They have the same rights as straight people do. Let them print what they want, they will burn for it in the end.

  19. What confuses me is that there is only one reference to homosexuality in the Old Testament and none of the other surrounding scriptures are practiced why then this one?

    Further more…”The incident demonstrates the contentiousness of a debate over gay rights that has been going on for years”
    The fact that it is even a debate is an indictment of just how far we humans have to grow. It is 2010. We have massive poverty, climate disasters, disease etc etc to deal with yet we are still focused on who sleeps with who. Crikey!

  20. Pingback: They’re Here, They’re Queer….We’re still getting used to it. (via IntheMoment) « Philip Rappaport

  21. As a gay man I don’t really understand the offense caused. It’s a wedding announcement. The thing that bothers me is that people act like gayness is this terrible, shameful thing when, I’m sorry but, who I love, have sex with or anything of the like is my business. People complain that its being thrust in their faces but the truth is that people tend to take offense when they see two gay people holding hands in the street. My question is, why? If we are doomed to hell and all that then let god sort us out when we die and reserve your judgement because it’s not your place or business to ‘save’ us or anything.
    Let them refuse to print gay weddings, it won’t lessen the love between the two people getting married, and I wouldn’t want my wedding announcement printed in a paper that acts like I’m doing anything less than taking the natural next step in my life.

  22. This is great post. thanks

  23. I’m tired from this arrogant people who think god made mistakes creating us

  24. As a Christian who believes God exists and that His procreative laws for replenishing man on the earth …within the context of father, mother, and children….are a natural/physical revelation of perpetual life in God. Too, as a Christian who believes God…I believe there is a Satan whose heart of destruction and death is equal to God’s heart of reproduction and Life. Within that context, I affirm the instruction in the Bible which conclude that homosexuality is Satan’s destructive and deadly replica of God’s ‘productive’ plan for a man and a woman. Within the homosexual union…natural desire between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation…has been made into an unnatural lust which performs things which are ‘unseemly’ and destructive to the life force of those involved. It kills with HIV. It steals the opportunity of persons to experience their own offspring. It drives one to take his or her own life. Bible history records the homosexuals of Sodom and Gamorrah were destroyed by the wrath of God (Genesis Chapter 19). The Bible also indicts homosexuality as a carnal and unnatural practice driven by lust…’reprobate.’ Romans 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    It has been present in the world from the beginning. In Genesis, the two angels sent from God to destroy Sodom and Gamorrah literally smote the band of homosexual men with blindness to protect themselves from rape. Neither Lot nor the angels ranted or railed accusation against them since all judgement belongs to God. Lot even offered his virgin daughters if they would not do ‘this wicked.’ But the band of homosexual men were determined to ‘know’ the two men sent from God. As a Christian who completely believes the Bible is sent from God, I totally accept its instruction which shows homosexuality to be Satan’s tool against the plan of God for man. Christians and Jews who accept the authority of God and recorded Bible history…must accept the clear indictment against homosexuality. But like Lot, we do not rant and rail against it. We leave all judgement to God.

    Carolyn

    • Then as a lesbian I rejoice in being the chosen being the most unlikely to get HIV.

      Your theology is completely innacurate and holds aspects that simply do not exist in the work you refer to but rather to the fears in your heart. But I do get that you won’t be able to comprehend this.

      Ive heard this hate speak for thirty years and all I can say is i hope you enjoy your heaven as I certainly would not and happily conceed my place to you

    • Except angels are neither male nor female, so it wouldn’t just be homosexuals who would lust after them, correct? Also, notice that the mob chasing after the angels included men AND women.

      Besides that, there are many infertile heterosexual people in the world, and many heterosexual couples that choose not to have children. Are they part of Satan’s “destructive plan” to prevent procreation? Add to that the fact that the world is rapidly becoming over-populated in many areas, and it seems that “go forth and multiply” isn’t necessarily a good idea anyway.

      As an ending note, the largest group of people infected with HIV? Heterosexual women. I guess HIV wasn’t sent to kill the gays, after all …

  25. No apologies for the pain and consternation they’ll be causing gay readers by refusing to print their engagement announcements, I notice.

  26. I understand that some non-Orthodox practices may be deeply offensive to Orthodox Jews. But let’s be clear: The reverse is true too. These aspects of many Orthodox weddings offend us, and we hope we won’t have to read about them in the Jewish Standard any more.

  27. Ya know, I think the whole “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. It is an abomination.” thing means “Don’t put try to put your penis in another mans penis. It doesn’t work that way.” :3

    Also – I read that they were underpopulated, so they might’ve just been trying to secure male-female relationships to make more people.
    That is probably also the reason for the verse against masturbation, and because they thought the semen held the eggs, so it was murder of unborn babies.

  28. I feel for people who are gay and still want to hold on to their religion. I had a similar problem when I came out as gay but had spent 22 years in the Christian church. Unfortunately, being gay isn’t a decision. Being a Christian is. Since I couldn’t take the religion wholesale, I left the church.

    I do believe you have a right to hold whatever view you like. Heterosexism isn’t the only part of Christianity (which would extend to Judaism, too) that I disagree with: the roles of women and attitudes towards sex are problems for me too.

    None of this would matter if the churches (Jewish, Christian, whatever) didn’t define public policy. The real pain of the double standard isn’t in marriage announcements, it’s in real, deny ed property rights, parenting rights, tax rights, and all of the other legal recognition that comes to a heterosexual married couple that is not possible for gays in an equally committed relationship. As long as we continue to allow religion to define marriage, there will never be marriage equality.

  29. “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot).”
    This says it all, doesn’t it? Any form of prejudice is an abomination in the eyes of God. I find it truly sad that rather than being able to focus on the joy of two people finding love and comfort, so many see only “sin” and express only hatred and repulsion.

  30. I don’t understand why the gay community is put down so much. I understand the fact that if in a religion they don’t have to accept gay marriage, but it would be nice if there were sects of major religions that did. I guess that wouldn’t work either though. We can’t force religions to accept gays because that will ruin freedom of religion and then we’re just as intolerant as the religious bigots.

    The only way it can work is if families accept their gay children and accept the fact that it is not a choice, plain and simple. Religions don’t have to completely accept gays, but they can definitely have groups for gays and their parents to help them through the acceptance process. Not try and change the child back, but support them and offer help where needed. Promote understanding and love instead of bigotry and hate.

    “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot).”

    Treat everyone with dignity and respect, even if you don’t agree.

    This issue is a tightrope, because when do we cross the line of religious freedom and civil rights? The right wing has always used the argument, “If you legalize gay marriage, then your church will be forced to perform gay marriages.” To which always replied, no there is freedom of religion. I was a catholic, and doubt there will be any gay marriages in the catholic church any time soon.

    I guess my point is, yay for gay marriage and understanding, boo for taking religious freedom away from the conservatives.

    I hope I don’t sound like a religious zealot…because I’m not. I just believe in everyone’s own freedoms and we shouldn’t make anyone feel committing suicide over their sexual orientation, but I believe those feelings come from your family more than anything else. If someone is driven to suicide they have to have been raised that they are evil and unclean, and that’s just wrong. Listen to your children! Understand what they need!

  31. Thanks for showing both sides of the issue in an unbiased way. I’m a Christian, and while I believe Jesus teaches not to ostracize or criticize under any circumstances, homosexuality isn’t something I could practice in my own life.

    I respect The Jewish Standard’s right to publish only what they feel is correct, and I’m glad they’re making a stand without being disrespectful. Many church communities could certainly learn from them.

  32. Enough with the heated cries against this newspaper. They posted a same-sex marriage announcement without a second thought because they were trying not to take a side on the issues and just report. Then they got a stream of heated responses and freaked, because if large portions of your reader-base abandons you, you’re screwed as a newspaper. So they issued their response, which was met with more heated retribution. So now they’re trying to backpedal and take it all back. This isn’t about discrimination from a disingenuous news source, it’s about a small paper trying to navigate tricky waters without going under.

  33. I’ll never understand why it is anyone else’s business. I think we need a movement against “bad marriage.” Newspapers should refuse to print the wedding announcements of couples that everybody knows will never work out.

  34. The Bible, the Qur’an, the Torah, all of the religious books you are quoting all have multiple passages that would regulate females as nothing more than possessions. If you want to talk about “taking the Bible as the word of God” and want to be serious about taking everything these religious books say as literal and still relevant in this age then you have to take their beliefs and rules about woman as fact and law as well. I think you know what this means. The fact that a female would dare post an opinion on a forum is outrageous. Yeah, have fun with that.

    As for the story of Sodom and Gamorrah and Lot…angels are neither male nor female and both men and women were in that crowd wanted to “know” the two angels. Then Lot offers his virgin daughters to take the place of the two angels to be raped. Really? Do you listen to yourself when you talk or do you just ignore the parts you don’t want to deal with?

    The fact is, religious books are no longer applicable in our society. We should be intelligent enough to understand that something written over a thousand years ago is going to have some stuff that no longer makes sense (or never made sense), is no longer possible to do or follow, and really shouldn’t be dragged out as a reason for your bigotry.

    As for The Jewish Standard, they do have the right to print or not print whatever they want. It’s their newspaper. I do, however, think it sad that they would print one gay marriage announcement and then cave to pressure. Someone at that paper was obviously forward thinking enough to print the announcement in the first place and now that they’ve folded back on themselves they have to own up to the prejudice label.

  35. Great shots. I’m in love with the B&W Skull Rock one. You can see so many things in it.

    Thanks for sharing.

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