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Kedoshim And Disobedience

10 May 2024 8:30 PM | Solomon Moon (Administrator)

Parsha Kedoshim denotes several prohibitions, but male homosexuality is one that is antiquated and historically extrapolated. Although some rabbis contend that Kedoshim was only to be applied to male homosexuality rather than general homosexuality, the parsha still implies that at least some form of homosexuality was prohibited in Judaism. The interpretation of this verse can influence how queer Jews are perceived and accepted in communities. The movie Disobedience offers a compassionate response to homosexuality from a Jewish lens.

Disobedience opens with an Orthodox rabbi teaching about the first humans. Before he abruptly dies during his speech, he tells the congregants that people are "free to choose." The film goes on to follow Ronit, the rabbi's estranged daughter. She returns home to pay her respect, only to realize that her childhood friend, Esti, has married her father's rabbinic student. It's not long before it's revealed that the relationship between Esti and Ronit is more than platonic.

Some Torah scholars have debated over the status of King David and Jonathan's relationship, or the gender and sexual identity of Joseph. These conversations are welcomed opportunities, however, to do more than debate the moral validity of queer Jewishness. It's a chance to honor the gender and sexual diversity of our ancestors. Esti and Ronit's affair leads Esti to muster the courage to demand her freedom from her husband by asking for a divorce from Dovid. Before Dovid gives Esti an answer, he must give his teacher's eulogy. 

I was reminded of this rabbinic story as I watched Disobedience. There was a Jew praying in an untraditional manner. Another Jew scolds him and tells him to pray the traditional way. Later, the disciplining Jew hears G-d in a dream telling him that he robbed the Divine of a blessing when he scolded that Jew, because now he no longer prays. So he goes back to ask the Jew why did he stop praying. The untraditional Jew replied, “because I couldn’t be myself with the Divine. I couldn’t pray from my heart.” So, the other Jew told him to pray as he desires because it pleases Adonai. This was a story about keva and kavanah praying originally. But its implications about intentionality and G-d’s desire for a relationship with Jews regardless of how that takes shape, as long as it’s done with love, are paramount.

Made to feel bad for who she chooses to love, Ronit left her stifling Orthodox community to live her cigarette smoke-filled life in New York as a photographer, a disagreeable lifestyle to her father. The disapproval and unacceptance of Ronit’s sexual identity and lifestyle pushed her away from her community. It is not uncommon for queer Jews with similar invalidating experiences to diminish their relationship with Adonai and Judaism as well. Regardless of the interpretation or application of the homosexual prohibition, the positive and negative commandments were given to the Israelites to bring them closer together to each other and to the Divine through love. The moment when Jewish law does not give effect to this purpose may be the time to reevaluate ourselves and our understanding to refine ourselves to be more compassionate. Allowing our tradition to evolve to be more inclusive, despite Jewish law, is when disobedience becomes an act of chesed.

Dovid’s choice is not a matter of law but a matter of lovingkindness. He must decide what’s most important: respecting the divinity of Esti’s identity and her choices, or potentially endanger the relationship between Esti and the community the same way his teacher’s condemnation caused Ronit’s withdrawal. In the end, Dovid echoes his teacher’s words with a broader understanding and much more compassion. We are “free to choose,” free to choose how we express our gender identity, free to live how we want, free to love who we want to love and still be all the more Jewish. 

This the the tiferet and gevurah of chesed, the discipline and beauty of unbounded compassion. When we can see the other, the queer Jew, and not only welcome them but also include them in our lives and communities with as much love, respect, and acceptance for who they are as we do with heterosexual Jews, then we embody Rabbi Zalman’s teaching on the greatest law. After being asked which commandment was greater, to love the Divine or your neighbor, he stated, to love your neighbor, because then you love what Adonai loves.

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