Dear TEE community,
Last week the Supreme Court acknowledged what Jewish tradition has known for millennia — human expressions of sex and gender go beyond the normative binary of female, male, feminine, and masculine. Rabbinic literature discusses six types of gender expression although until only recently those texts were hidden in plain sight, unknown to the vast majority of Jews.*
We are an infinitely varied species in so many ways, yet only recently has our culture begun to discuss and affirm that diversity when it comes to sexual identities and preferences.
In 1978, when I began my rabbinical school studies, I gave myself a year to choose between being a rabbi and being a lesbian. Forty-two years later it seems inconceivable that anyone felt compelled to make that choice, although it was another decade before Hebrew Union College, the American Reform seminary, admitted openly lesbian and gay students. The first openly trans rabbi, Elliot Kukla, wasn’t ordained until fifteen years later, in 2003.
In this time, American Jews have made significant changes to include LGBTQI Jews. As well as rabbinic ordination, there have been additions to ritual and liturgy, and support for marriage equality. At the same time, we still have much work to do to create a truly inclusive culture. Imagine attending a synagogue where once or twice a year there was mention of Jews who shared your identity but none of the prayers, pictures, classes, or books in the library reflected that reality. And, if you are a trans person, there was not even a place for you to go to the bathroom. That is still the case for the vast majority of Jewish institutions, including, in part, our own.
One of the most important and positive changes in American life since Stonewall is the increased visibility of LGBTQI people and the growing body of literature, film, drama, and visual art that reflect our experience. Jewish perspectives have been well represented in all these fields and this week our Pride Shabbat Service will incorporate some of these voices and images to give us a deeper insight into LGBTQI Jewish perspectives and history. This is an opportunity to celebrate the wonderful diversity that informs our shared Jewish experience. I hope you will join us.
Be well / Zei Gesunt / Sano,
Rabbi Drorah Setel
*For more detailed information about sexual preference and orientation in Judaism, the term LGBTQI, the significance of pronouns, why bathrooms are important, and other related topics, see the Temple website’s LGBTQI Jewish Resource Page.