January 24, 2013
The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage
Last year, I officiated at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of my synagogue. For a Conservative congregation, this was quite a break with tradition. Nevertheless, I was proud to stand beneath the wedding canopy with this couple, who affirmed the sacredness of their union “in accordance with the laws of Moses and the people of Israel.” Before I chose to officiate, I studied the texts, teachings, and arguments in my tradition. I didn’t make this decision lightly. Today, I am unfazed by the apparent biblical injunction against homosexuality as an “abomination.” I am confident in my stand, despite a 3,000-year-old tradition that has no precedent for such a marriage. In fact, it is from a place of humility and awe before my tradition and God that I have chosen take this stand.
The Hebrew word for wedding is “Kiddushin,” which means ‘Sanctification,’ or ‘Holiness.’ A wedding is the formal declaration of the holiness of love. All the blessings and rituals and formulae under the wedding canopy affirm one idea: when two human beings find each other and love each other, it is Godly: a taste of the World to Come, a world of perfected justice and joy. It is in our capacity to love that we are holy, and most fully in the image of God. If there’s anything that 3,000 years of Jewish history has shown us—3,000 years of so much exile and persecution—it’s that the only hope for humankind is to strive toward ever-more loving and just societies.
We Jews are a people who have never quite fit into the same categories of peoplehood or religion that other nations do. We are a distinct people, even as we bear a message of God’s universality. We affirm that we are different from other peoples, even as we know that we are no different than any other human being. Our presence in the world has often been a source of anxiety for other nations, religions, and people. In this way, we Jews have always been a queer people . And yes, I use the term ‘queer’ deliberately. To be queer is to be troubling, unsettling, not meeting expectations of the way others might want things to be.
It is, in fact, the Jews’ queerness in the world that captures our particular Divine message to all humanity. As Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, creator of Queer Spiritual Counseling teaches, the existence of God is the queerest thing about the universe. God, too, cannot be categorized or boxed in. The inexplicable mystery of God is a source of unspeakable anxiety to so many of us who long to reduce God to our simplistic categories. Finally, we declare the love of a wedded couple to be holy because love, too, defies all classifications and can never be bounded--it’s a feeling, but not just a feeling; it’s a state of being that “have,” that we “are,” but it is larger than any one individual or relationship. Love is queer, and in recognizing this, we find its holiness, its Godliness.
It is no accident that the famous Levitical injunction concerning homosexuality appears in a section of the Torah called “Kedoshim,” meaning “Holy.” When seen in context, the homosexual act described comes amidst a series of many kinds of human couplings—all of which are abusive because they are not loving acts. When one man rapes another man simply because he does not have access to a woman, such an act is indeed an abomination, a desecration of God’s holiness, a desecration of love. Such an act is the farthest thing from the love of two human beings—of whatever gender—that we can and must sanctify whenever it arises in our human condition.
I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman. Love is queer -- it can never be limited to our categorizations of roles and gender. Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it. We must, in our very imperfect world, celebrate, sanctify, and lift up love wherever we find it; because our loving relationships are the only way that we will bring Godliness to this world. For these reasons, I proudly stand for the evolution of Judaism, in awe of the wisdom of my Jewish people and tradition, the of holiness God and the queerness of love.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C.