Religion & Beliefs

LGBT Pesach

For some Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Jews, not much searching is needed to experience the feeling of slavery during Passover. Read More

By / April 14, 2011

In a time where many of us cannot directly relate to physical slavery, Pesach is a holiday where us Jews are encouraged to dig to the depths of our souls and find what is enslaving us. For some Orthodox gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Jews, not much searching is needed to experience the feeling of slavery.

“Being in the closet is one of the worst possible things we experience,” said Talya Lev, a member of Bat Kol, an organization for Orthodox Lesbian women based in Israel. “The hiding, the fear, the paranoia… obsessing over how people will react if they found out.” The word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, literally translates to “narrow” or “constricted”. Being in the closet is most definitely a tangible form of Mitzrayim.

What does freedom mean? And what does it mean to LGBT Jews?

It’s more than just coming out of the closet, “Coming out was freeing in many ways but being a LGBT person in the orthodox community, I feel like I’m still living in a narrow place,” Said Rivka, a member of Tirtzah, an online-based resource for lesbian Orthodox Jews. “Many gay and lesbian Jews in general are still imprisoned by their shame. I am lucky that I have a partner and children and we live openly in our Modern Orthodox community. We do not hate ourselves for being who we are,” she explained.

The main force in the enslavement of LGBT Jews, it seems, is shame. Shame about who one is, loves, and the communal expectations they are unable to meet. “So many of us go through this phase, and so many of us are still in it, in the darkness,” said Talya.

But, LGBT Jews have a lot to be thankful for this Pesach, too.

The founding of Eshel, an organization hosting retreats for LGBT Orthodox Jews, the Statement of Principles, put together by Orthodox rabbis stating the legitimacy of LGBT Jews in Orthodoxy, and many more. “The fact that there are organizations like Bat Kol and Havruta, and religious women living in their religious communities, however few, that are married to each other and have children without being ostracized is nothing short of a miracle,” said Talya.

But, as with the splitting of the Red Sea, these big miracles only occur with equally big leaps of faith. “The men, women and transgenders who have taken those first steps, through fear of the unknown, have begun to pave the way for the rest of us to full freedom,” explained Talya.

The struggle for freedom is only beginning, and there are still many who are suffering. “In our seder we always talk about remembering those who are not yet free,” said Rivka, “The continued oppression of gay people in the Orthodox community who are shunned, humiliated, shamed and often end up either going off the path or committing suicide (G-d forbid) or, on the other hand, staying closeted and marrying someone of the opposite sex, whose lives they destroy along with their own and those of their children.”

The path to freedom for us LGBT Orthodox Jews is a winding, complicated one. Full of both great darkness and light, it takes true faith to walk into the sea of the unknown. But, when we do, not only are we more true to ourselves, we are paving the way for generations to come.

As a queer Jew, I am grateful to be apart of this miraculous time.

*Image via Moment Magazine