By Kara Sherman
Religion isn’t always easy. I often like to pretend it is — buzzwords like “interfaith” and “pluralism” pervade my discussions about faith. But every now and again, I’m reminded that the history of my faith is not so easy. Judaism was, in fact, built on questions. How do I find support as a woman from a faith founded on patriarchal texts? How do I reconcile ancient laws with a modern identity of queerness?
When I think about the concept of pluralism, the center of focus is usually external — I’m trying to be welcoming to a new community member, school of thought, or way of practice. But pluralism, the acceptance of multiple truths, gets a little trickier when it becomes an internal struggle.
There are plenty of arcane biblical laws that many people don’t practice anymore. It’s no longer commonplace for fathers to sell their daughters into slavery, and many Jews around the world don’t worry about the potential of G-d’s wrath when they turn on their stoves to make breakfast on Saturdays. How people go about ranking the importance of the many laws in our ancient texts largely remains a mystery to me, but it’s apparent that the act of picking and choosing — “Cafeteria Judaism,” if you will — is common practice.
When discussing obviously outdated parts of the Torah, like Leviticus 18:22, my head and my heart suffer a kind of cognitive dissonance. My Judaism is the most important part of who I am, but I have a difficult time reconciling the history of my faith with my identity as a bisexual woman. How do I practice my religion while remaining accepting and proud of my sexuality? How can I identify with a history and a text that directly contradict my values?
In these instances of reflection, I remind myself why laws like these were instilled in the first place. I believe that many traditional religious texts, whether it be the Torah, the Talmud, or the New Testament, were written for the purpose of procreation. These texts are ancient guides to prolonging human societies and bloodlines. If abortion was banned (except in cases when the mother’s life was in danger), the next generation would be born and its mothers no longer deemed important. If homosexuality was considered an abomination, populations would, in theory, continue to grow, instead of being stinted by relationships that couldn’t produce children.
G-d does not hate me. I have to keep in mind that these texts were written by men; men who just wanted their tribe to keep on trekking. No higher power came down from the sky and declared that me, and people like me, have no right to live and love like others. To believe this is to misunderstand the origins and intentions of religious texts — and to overlook their deeply loving central themes.
Leviticus has taught me that while Jews will never be entirely free of the oppressive aspects of our history and texts, we are free and encouraged to question, and to reinterpret our religion through a lens of contemporary values. I’m proud to be part of a progressive community of spiritual people that allows me to celebrate both my Jewish and queer identities, and that doesn’t see them as mutually exclusive. I’m proud to be Jewish because of the struggles and the questions that come along with the identity. It is inherently Jewish to disagree, but some things are just better together.