Friday, May 13, 2016

Answers to Some Questions by Felice Stevens

My latest book, Learning to Love has, as one of its main characters, a rabbi who is gay. His sexuality was never intended to be the focus of the story. However, many readers were curious about my portrayal of Jonah Fine and his father Ari, also a rabbi. Ari easily accepted Jonah's sexuality and he was able to lead his congregation with people fully aware of his sexuality. Numerous readers have asked me if this is truly the way the Jewish religion accepts homosexuality.

The answer is yes and no.

There is no one answer, of course. People are people; they can be loving and accepting or mean and cruel and turn their backs. There is no one, cookie cutter way to portray any religion. Everyone's experience is different.

But what is the law, I've been asked? Here is where you sometimes need to be a lawyer to figure it out. Because instead of the gray area being explained and the fog lifted, it may require the wisdom of Solomon (no pun intended) to figure it all out. (There is a reason for the old joke if you have two Jews in a room you'll get three opinions.)

The Torah, which is the foundation of Jewish law, prohibits homosexuality. HOWEVER, the Torah also forbids bigotry, including homophobia. And above all, Judaism believes that a Jewish person belongs in a Jewish environment and when you judge someone or treat them cruelly, you are defaming and sullying Jewish law.

Confusing, no?

In clearer (I hope) terms, what it means in plain language, is that one cannot reject a person for who they are, as it is against Jewish law to do so. A parent may not want to accept their son as gay, according to Jewish law but they are forbidden to turn him out, declare him not a Jew anymore, or any such thing. Family comes before anything. 

Is there prejudice and fear in the Jewish community toward homosexuality? Yes. Do families break apart because of it, despite what Jewish law says? Unfortunately yes. Are there religious leaders who treat everyone equally? Absolutely yes. People are people. There is no one size fits all religion and there is no one way to portray religion. 

There are many synagogues headed by gay rabbis, both male and female, with gay congregants. There are LGBTQ synagogues set up specifically to help with issues geared to the gay community.

When I wrote Learning to Love, I made the specific decision not to write Jonah's sexuality as being the focus of the story. Of course it could have gone the other way and his father could not have been as accepting as he was. But that wasn't the way I'd been taught. I chose to write it from a positive viewpoint. I'm lucky enough to belong to a synagogue with gay couples and gay families and I wrote with love, hope and acceptance in mind.

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