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Nov 16, 2011


I was rifling through the news online, opening new tabs for anything I'd though might be interesting to skim, when I came across this article. It was interesting, and I took a moment to ponder the terminology of homecoming King/Queen and whether the young women crowned "king" would be offended with the masculine title. Then I saw her comment:
 "For all the girls who think tradition should be continued, go back to the kitchen, stop having sex before you're married, get out of school and job system, don't have an opinion, don't own any property, give up the right to marry who you love, don't vote, and allow your husband to do whatever he pleases to you. Think about the meaning of tradition when you use it in your argument against us."
Some of this was a deeply shocking to me, particularly since my experience of the word and concept of "traditional" fits in with mutual respect and valuing individuals for who they are and what they bring to the mix rather than trying to cram them into (or out of) roles and expectations. I'm sure more than a few people will disagree with me here, but the idea that a woman who focuses on being a wife and mother has no value in the modern world is just backwards and ridiculous in my experience. Ditto for a woman who works full time. Or one who does part-time. Or whatever. Who says a person cannot or should not be valued for exactly who they are and what they choose to bring into a relationship/family? (And then determining whether that is for me; not based on value but based on what I need, my goals/values and how I see the world.) But I digress.

Ultimately this article put me down a different path, one that brought me to this anonymous blog and these three articles (co)written by the adorably pseudonymed author of the blog, Elle G. Biti.
As I devoured the writings and felt perhaps a shadow of the experience and struggle that some Orthodox Jewish men/women face (the writer in particular) -what I can describe as being twisted in the wind and tortured from within and without before finding personal acceptance... and then having to face the world armed with a recognized self that seems so at odds with the external world around them -a thought bolted into my mind, and it's been working itself through since I was first struck by it's electric shock.

One of my favorite quotes from the Rambam roughly says this -that each person should strive to do every single commandment with the recognition that they will fail in the vast majority of them, but that maybe once they could perhaps do a single mitzvah with the right intent and all the correct thoughts and beliefs and mindfulness (and that the lone experience is worth a lifetime of devotion). But that it is the concept of "Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh La'Zeh" (which the author describes in one of her articles in a different context) that binds us together, allowing the Jewish nation as a whole to keep the Torah. Clearly any Yisrael can't do the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash. Does that make him less desired in the eyes of God? Does that mean his deeds and the commandments he fulfills, the life he leads, is diminished or worth less? Not in our nation. The man who works in the field according to Jewish law and takes all the Trumot and Ma'asrot (tithes) performs as vital a role in upholding the Torah as the priest who lit the Menorah's lamps.

And then the kicker booted me in the behind. Commandments do not tell us to do what we are built to do. If it were, keeping the Torah would be easy, and we'd all be Angels (possibly in the literal sense). We are not commanded to use the restroom, to drink and eat each and every day, to breathe. There is no negative commandment that abolishes things that absolutely nobody would ever actually do. Each commandment applies -to different people, in different ways, at different times. The Rambam understood that point, and stressed that there is a set of circumstances, thoughts, beliefs and experiences to maintain each and every Halachah in its purest form. Perhaps through great pain and self-sacrifice. Certainly there exist those commandments that demand the sacrifice.

Maybe without the struggle, upholding the commandment does not fulfill it as the Rambam describes. The implications here are clear, and presented a very tough pill to swallow when I'd thought it through.

The idea that those who -by nature -don't have impulses to have illicit relations (of any kind listed) will not break those laws, but have they fulfilled them? Maybe only for a person who has those desires that the Torah explicitly prohibits, who cannot live in the way many of us do, that they are part of our nation and essential to our keeping of the Torah is a beautiful thought to me, one that had meseeing holiness and Godliness, in their struggles and in their choices to remain observant. For a moment, my mind flashed with the thought of the Ten Great Tzaddikim who died being tortured by the Greeks in an ultimate act of Kiddush Hashem.

But the hard part to swallow -and the struggle I have read and heard over and over again -is the question of how a life can be given with so much stuggle and pain, even for a purpose. It is the question of "why?!" that hammers out, resonating the sounds of frustration, confusion, pain and anger.

Even more in the case of gay women, for whom the words "but none of it is Biblically prohibited!" are so often quoted, what is that struggle for? Is it, as Chazal say, like the poor whose existance teaches usto recognize and engage in "Tzeddek" -justice -as the act of giving to those in need? To build the idea that those whose lives are not complete the way mine seemingly is demand a recognition that my own life is incomplete and to therefore extend my hand in loving care and embrace them as part of my family? Dare I compare, to say one wretched (perhaps fixable) state of being is comparable to another here (which is so very likely not)?

The thought is still working itself through in my mind. Perhaps it is a feeble attempt for me to see purpose in another's pain, a desire in my little brain to make sense of something that just doesn't. I certainly have no right to judge, to push away or declare the purpose of another person's experience. Honestly, I even tread lightly when doing so in my own life and how much more so I must be sensitive and careful when observing and commenting on another's life experience.

So I acknowledge that I can't know or understand or feel. I have fewer answers -as in, none -than those brave gay Orthodox Jews who live with an experience I can only know secondhand. But I try. I'm still trying. I will continue to work on that. And I don't want to push others away because of my own small, ego-centric perspective or fear. The world does not merely revolve around my life experience and expectations for how others should be. That would be like disapproving of rain, then expecting and determining that all rain should go away, or be clouds instead to provide shade on a hot summer's day.

I'd rather value each person for exactly who they are and what they bring to the table, so to speak. Of course, for me, that is what tradition means, what tradition demands (even as the word and concept of tradition can mean oppression to so many others). It's also why I disapprove of comments and words that push away, deprecate or devalue an individual for who they are or how they feel. Those things are -in so many ways -immutable. They simply are. 

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