Author’s Note: I am writing this inspired by a friend’s process of coming out, while living and learning in a centrist Modern Orthodox yeshiva environment. I am putting his experiences in my own words, and most likely embellishing, with the hopes that maybe we can each be more mindful of one another’s presences, instead of making assumptions and speaking in the theoretical.
I am not an abstract concept with which you can “respectfully” agree or disagree. This is my existence here, and not some Hillel versus Shammai versus Moses Mendelsohn versus King-David-and-Jonathan-in-love argument in which you take a stance. This is
about Actual Respect. That means
it doesn’t count if your response has a “but” in it.
Your insistence that you don’t hate me is quite unconvincing. Say it again, this time with feeling.
That means you gotta throw away those cheeseburger analogies, you know the ones-
the ones that try to reduce my identity to a singular prohibition, and make it seem like my only sacrifice is avoiding a sandwich from the Dollar Menu.
Easy for you to say, when you don’t recognize that
“nobody jumps off a bridge, or takes Prozac or gets electric-shock therapy on account of a cheeseburger. To deprive a human being of love and companionship is not to deprive [him] of a cheeseburger.” -Rabbi Steve Greenberg
Look me in the face before you make assumptions about my morality, my commitments, my fetishes. Use your heart and your mind and hear me out. I’m tired of trying to convince you I deserve to be here as much as you, of defending my “stance” on a matter that’s not my choice, but that I do not see as an illness, though that’s the most sympathetic way you’re willing to frame it. Let me frame it in my own terms. Hi, my name is _____.
There’s an old joke about chasidim and litvaks: chasidim wear gartels (belt worn around the waist customarily in prayer) as a barrier to keep the brain and heart unpolluted by the “lower” instincts, while Litvaks wear neckties, setting the barrier higher, lest one’s learning affect his heart.
But seriously- I wish you would take off your necktie.
If your Torah learning is making you more callous, rather than more porous, softer, I worry.
Not just for me, but for all of us.
Is your hate righteous, or just self-righteous?
Do I make you uncomfortable?
As uncomfortable as reading vitriol in your yeshiva’s messaging group? You don’t see me. You don’t look me in the face.
If you were to defend me with the same zealotry you reserve for rabbis who name-call, perhaps things would be different. You jump to the defense of some, and ridicule others relentlessly. I am “other”. You don’t even know.
Since when did we become robots? I’ve read the same psukim as you, heard the same lectures and speeches about mussar. But you read one verse and selectively construct a soapbox. Where is your fiery stance when it comes to chesed (compassion)? The scary part is that your voices are only getting louder as mine fades offstage. Look me in the face. I dare you.
I’m done with cerebral Halakhic statements masking what’s really just שנאת חינם (baseless hate). Understand that hate is not limited to stabbings or explicit exhortations saying “I hate _____,” but takes the subtle form of “pious” reasoning. Please stop giving lip service to the tzedek u’mishpat (charity and justice), and the Torat Chaim v’ Ahavat Chesed (Torah of Life and love of kindness) G-d demands of us in action.
You call those types of citations Reform-as though insulting another denomination can shut down this conversation. I’m still here. And in that case,
call the Torah Reform, but at least consider
re-forming your approach to your brother.
Love isn’t theoretical, enacted from the confines of the beit midrash (study hall), buried in a page of Talmud, without looking people in the face. It’s not enough to say you’re not a hater. Love is presence.
My love extends to all those who have experienced far too little of it from our own people.
My arms reach beyond the bounds of my four amot.
My heart is too expansive to stay in the corner to which you try to relegate it.
I’ll be right here if you need me.