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Shavuot and LGBTQ Rights

At the moment where all the Israelites are gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai:    

        All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking. (Exodus 20:15)

“All the people” were there. The entire community. This is also interpreted in the Rabbinic tradition to mean that all people from generations past, present, and future were present. People of all ages and societal status. People of all genders and gender identities and sexual orientations. Therefore, all those who shared in this sacred covenant between God and the Jewish people also have a place in the Jewish community of today.                    

Reform Jewish communities have made and are continuing to make progress towards the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews. Full inclusion means that we treat LGBTQ Jews with the same rights, responsibilities and consideration that we would grant to anyone. Moreover, full inclusion does not stop at our synagogue walls; as Reform Jews we work towards full inclusion and rights for LGBTQ individuals in our larger communities, states or provinces and country.                   

Rabbi Yohanan said: [God’s] voice split into seventy different voices, one for each of the seventy languages, so that all the nations could hear [God’s voice] in their own languages.... Observe how the voice issued forth. It came to each person according to his or her capacity [to hear]: the elderly, the young men, the children, the infants, the women – each according to his or her capacity... everyone [heard] according to his or her ability.

Each person – regardless of language, stage or station in life – could directly experience and understand revelation. This midrashic tradition prompted Eliyahu Kitov to write,“There were as many ‘words’ as there were individuals, for the understanding of one was unlike that of the other.”

As it celebrates the myriad of ways in which God’s voice was experienced at Sinai, the midrashic tradition acknowledges diversity, both within the Jewish community and in how we interpret the Torah. In the first chapter of Genesis we learn that each person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. “B’tzelem Elohim underscores the inherent dignity of every person... with the equal honor and respect due to each individual’s integrity and sexual identity.” As the Divine voice honored each person’s unique creation by speaking directly to each individual, so too should our congregations create a community that honors, celebrates and respects us all.

Moreover, we each hear the Divine word anew in each generation; hence, our Torah interpretation has always been dynamic. On Shavuot, we continue this dynamic tradition as we embrace LGBTQ Jews and advocate for their rights in the larger community.

But Ruth replied, “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the Eternal do to me if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

The Book of Ruth tells a story of inclusion. In her declaration to Naomi, the Moabite Ruth states that she desires to be part of the Israelite community. Ruth journeys with Naomi back to Bethlehem, performs acts of loving-kindness for her mother-in-law and marries the Israelite Boaz.

Ruth finds a home in the Israelite community despite the law in Deuteronomy 23:4 that prohibits admitting an Ammonite or a Moabite or their descendants into the Israelite community. In fact, Ruth becomes such an integral part of the Israelite narrative that she becomes an ancestor of King David and the messianic lineage.

The Prophet Micah envisions an inclusive messianic age.

“In that day, declares the Eternal... I will gather the outcast and those I have treated harshly... The Eternal will reign over them on Mount Zion, now and for evermore.” (Micah 4:6-7)

Micah teaches that we are to gather the outcast and those who have been treated harshly into our hearts and our homes. Micah urges us to work for a world in which all are treated fairly. When we strive towards a community and a society that fully recognizes the divinity in all of us, we work towards this messianic era.                    

Even when a literal reading of Torah would suggest exclusion, the Book of Ruth and our prophetic heritage welcome the outsider into our community. Similarly, our text study and action surrounding Shavuot can highlight our vision of an inclusive community for everyone.                    

The themes of Shavuot and the Omer lend themselves to education and advocacy about LGBTQ issues. Additionally, Shavuot and the Omer occur in the late spring, when many communities are preparing for LGBTQ Pride Month in June. If you live in a community with a Pride celebration, Shavuot and the Omer can be a time to learn about LGBTQ issues and plan how you and your congregation can become involved in these celebrations. Even in communities without large scale Pride events, congregations can observe Pride Month, perhaps through a Pride Shabbat or other event.

The Reform Jewish Movement has a long history of advocating for LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality and securing full civil rights for LGBTQ individuals in all of society.