By Rivka Inger, Senior Features Editor
The first time that anybody spoke to me about how Orthodox Judaism views homosexuality was in my eighth grade Chumash class. We were learning Vayikra that year, and inevitably came to 18:22, the noteworthy verse which is translated as a restriction on two men from engaging in intimacy. At this point, our ultra-Israeli teacher sat down and began to speak with us about what we had just learned, in what appeared to be an attempt to take the verse outside of the classroom and into the modern world. However, she instead berated homosexuals, both men and women, calling them disgusting and lecturing us on how they were rebelling against God and the way the world was supposed to work. I even remember how she enunciated the word: Dis-gusting, as if to imply purely heinous. In other words, completely black and white.
As an English Literature major, I’ve come to appreciate nuance; the gray area beyond the black and white. Never in literature do we describe a character as “bad;” perhaps they’re inconsiderate, immoral, selfish, or misguided, but never simply bad. In a novel, one must approach every issue this way, considering how most of the time, we don’t know a character’s innermost thoughts and motivations. Naturally, since literature reflects our experience as human beings, this mirrors how we view one another. As Jews, except for a few issues in particular, we take this stance in regards to people who struggle with certain commandments.
Why then, when somebody merely mentions that they’re queer, is the Orthodox community up in arms? By stating an irrefutable fact which isn’t even in itself antithetical to halacha, a Jewish soul is locked out and left behind; amputated from the community. The questions begin to arise: may we have this person at our Shabbos table? May we call them up for an aliyah? What about leading the services?
These questions are not only hypocritical in nature, but ultimately dehumanizing. By asking a rabbi if a queer person is allowed to partake in their own religion, it completely reduces them, once again boiling down to viewing the law in black and white. In modern halacha, the only people who we generally restrict from serving G-d publicly are gett refusers. In other words, real abusers.
For the sake of my humility, I’m not going to introduce a catch-all solution to the pendulum of quote unquote “justified” discrimination which queer people face in the Jewish community, and especially at YU. Rather, a simple suggestion: As the title of my article states, I believe that the problem is that we lack empathy. We lack the ability to feel for the experiences of those around us, and thus don’t pay mind to when those in our immediate vicinity are being hurt, and even targeted. Additionally, it isn’t a secret that the YU Pride Alliance (YUPA) is a divisive, often politicized topic. Taking one side or another can be scary to some, so many remain in silence, thereby unintentionally perpetuating the cycle of “otherness” which queer Jews often feel within YU’s walls.
So, what about the second portion of the title? Why do we need the Pride Alliance? Well, the Pride Alliance serves many purposes here, and it isn’t just for queer Jews. The most important reason that the organization must exist is to establish what I mentioned before: empathy. By supporting the Pride Alliance, you don’t need to be endorsing anything which you don’t believe in. Rather, you’re sending a very simple message to queer people and the underrepresented everywhere, a message which we all must believe in no matter what: simply, “I care about you.” I care about your wellbeing, your success, and I believe in your importance.
Thus, you are also stating that you empathize with this person’s hardships and what they face as a minority in their community. And when empathy begins, it doesn’t only extend to a specific group of people. Rather, it becomes far reaching, making us empathetic people. This is cited as one of the reasons why we must perform the deed of charity, because it not only makes us empathize with the poor person whose day we’ve just brightened, but also makes us into people who know how to feel for the struggles of others and help them in whatever way we can.
Even if queer rights isn’t your “cup of tea,” or you feel that its mission is hypocritical to your own values, a statement which has been debunked, the presence of the Pride Alliance on campus is something that we need right now. We need the ability to see the good, to empathize with others, and to whittle through the unknown in order to see the light in those hard to reach gray areas. Only then will there be peace.
Revision: The phrase “18:22, the noteworthy verse which is often translated…” has been changed to no longer include the word “often.”