Within the span of one year, I had one friend tell me about her divorce and subsequent remarriage to a woman, one friend tell me that she was in the process of undergoing a dmale to female sex change, and a third friend tell me that he was attracted to men, but that he wanted to pursue emotional relationships with women. And so, at a certain point I decided that it would be a good time to explore my feelings about homosexuality and transgender issues.
I had already evolved significantly from the stance that I had taken in highschool, where I had gotten into an argument with someone regarding whether being gay was a sin. I am ashamed to admit that I was on the wrong side of that argument. And every time that someone tries to “save” me due to my conversion to Judaism I feel that I am reaping the just desserts of my actions. In my defense, and believe me I know that it is a weak one, I was only repeating what I had been taught, and I didn’t have the skills to think my actions through critically.
The beginning of the change in my ideology was the day that I watched Trembling Before G-d, a documentary which explored the impact of homosexuality not only on Ultra-Orthodox communities, but also on the Ultra-Orthodox individual. I could see the sincerity of the struggle, and the depths of the pathos involved in having an attachment to a person that was deemed to be socially unacceptable. This was when I first began to separate my feelings about a person’s actions from that person’s identity. And I began to ask myself why someone else’s lifestyle choices would be so important to me.
One of the main problems that I have with the Israeli Rabbinate is the use of the bully pulpit, in which choices made by adults are negated due to opposition of a religious nature. There is no room in a democracy to use a government office to push an agenda in a part of our lives which should remain private. In America, there are now options for civil marriage. The bill proposed by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party which would introduce the concept of civil marriage into the Israeli system is a good start, and my only issue is that it may not go far enough.
The bill as presently drafted will only affect options for couples who do not fit into Israel’s religious marriage framework, thus opening up opportunities for interfaith and same sex weddings. However, a man and a woman involved in a relationship where both parties are of the same religion will still need the approval of a local Rabbinate. While the Tzohar bill that was just passed allows couples who must be married under religious auspices the ability to do some Rabbi shopping, it still leaves too many applicants with a bad taste in their mouths, and ends up putting too much money into the coffers of Cyprian marriage officiants.
Of course I am personally conflicted between what I see as the dictates of my religion and my desire to be compassionate. But the person to bear the burden of that struggle should be me. It is not fair to deny someone the right to marry whomever they wish because it makes me uncomfortable. I am still friends with all of the people who allowed me to share their hopes, dreams, and pain. I try to be as supportive as possible without compromising on my beliefs, and this has proven to be easier than I ever expected. Ultimately, my job is to model my version of Judaism through my actions. It is G-d’s job to judge, and I gladly leave that to him.