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The Month of Av: Mourning, Pride, Love

av celebration

This Thursday I will be marching in the gay pride parade in Jerusalem, after marking Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) earlier in the week, with the reading of Lamentations and other customs associated with mourning.

I am an observant Jew who celebrates Jewish holidays and is committed to Halakha (Jewish Law). I mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and of the two Temples, I try to learn Halakha daily and to observe it. Still—and perhaps because of this— I will be marching in the parade on Thursday.

The parade is a celebration of visibility, an opportunity to say, yes, there are transgender, bi-sexual, queer, asexual, homosexual and lesbian members of Israeli society, and they should not be ashamed. On the contrary, they should be satisfied with their lot, and we should all give thanks to the Creator who made people different from one another.

For in fulfilling the mourning customs of Tisha B’av, I recalled the conflicted society in Israel that cannot seem to find a way towards mutual respect: Neither the students of Rabbi Akiva who were killed at Betar, nor the factions in the siege on Jerusalem. I also remembered the rabbis who remained silent at the humiliation of Bar Kamtza, who came uninvited to a feast and was driven away in disgrace—an act cited by the Sages as sufficient cause of the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. These events remind us of the results of a society oblivious to the suffering and distress of those who are not part of the trivial story, those branded by society as different, other, abnormal and even immoral.

Thus it is a mitzva to march in the parade, and all the more so for rabbis, whose duty it is to be concerned with those whom society has pushed to the fringe— the alien resident, the orphan and the widow. Only last Shabbat we read the words of Isaiah, “Your princes… judge not the fatherless, neither does the cause of the widow come unto them.” These words are intended to awaken the people to repentance before the destruction, and to remind us of our responsibility towards the widow and orphan, whom we neglect to include in our daily agenda. Unfortunately, when someone is marginalized, he is exposed to hurtful words and acts, just as Bar Kamtza was hurt, first by his host and then by the rabbis who remained silent.

The rejection of LGBTQ individuals, particularly by the religious community, poses a grave danger. It places these individuals in a state of distress, possibly causing them to do themselves harm. The suicide rate in the homosexual and lesbian community is significantly higher than in the general population, and even higher among transgender individuals.

To do God’s will means doing good and being honest. There is nothing immoral about being LGBTQ, or being in an LGBTQ relationship, or being an LGBTQ parent. It is the duty of every rabbi to be attentive in particular to the religious gay community, and to conduct an in-depth discourse that allows each member to make his or her religious choices in light of a full understanding of the Halakhic dilemmas faced by the LGBTQ community. The presence of rabbis at the gay parade demonstrates our readiness to listen, to talk, to learn and, for those who seek it, to provide advice or instruction on what Jewish law says.

Years of study— and I am still studying— have left me unsure of the correct answer to many Halakhic questions, especially those that continue to be raised close to home. I do know that along with prohibitions regarding sexual relations, and many other prohibitions and positive commandments, the Torah and Halakha command us to do what is good and right and to “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”

I do not expect the State of Israel to govern according to the Law of Torah; I do expect her to legislate for equal treatment of members of the LGBTQ community and to prevent discrimination against them.

I wrote extensively last year about filling the day of Tisha B’av with content and our emphasis on baseless hatred as the cause of the Destruction. It behooves us to recall, on Tisha B’av and on Tu B’av (the festival of love marked on the fifteenth of Av), and at the parade, our duty to love, care for and show compassion, to those near and far from us. Tu B’av became a festival because it provided a way to include the tribe of Benjamin.* Tisha B’av commemorates conflict and rejection. The rectification lies in showing sensitivity to the other, and the parade provides us with an opportunity for doing just that.

*This alludes to a story in Judges 21, in which after a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and other Israelite tribes, the tribes vowed not to intermarry with men of the tribe of Benjamin.


Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.

This article also appeared in Haaretz Online on August 3, 2017 [1].