Writing Skills Analysis and Reflection

My junior year of high school, I took AP Language with the best teacher I have ever had. Ms. Hicks introduced me to a wide variety of writing techniques and styles. but the most important skill I developed in that class was thesis-writing and analyzation.

These two skills are what I carried with me when I dual-enrolled my senior year and what I have used in my first semester at Georgia State. I think that English 1103 has only built upon that foundation and given me even more knowledge and practice with these skills. I love the setup of the projects, where each one builds upon the last, building to a true academic research project. The steps that we used to ramp up to our Primary Source Analysis, the Reading Responses and the Annotated Bibliographies are extremely practical ways to go about writing seriously about a topic.

Judaism and Homosexuality: A Thoughtful and Nuanced Discussion

Introduction

Before I began doing research on the issue of Judaism and Homosexuality, I knew very little about the Jewish faith. I knew there were three main denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. I knew they they studied the Torah and each denomination followed its laws to different degrees. But the complexity and the nuance of the faith escaped me. I think one of the greatest things to come out of this research is just that I gained a greater understanding of a religious and cultural group that I didn’t know a lot about before.

This journey into the intersection of Judaism and homosexuality began the first time we visited the AIDS Quilt gallery. I was immediately drawn to a brand new panel, rather than any the curators showed us. This panel was created by members of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, a community with a rich history of activism and social justice and the panel they created to honor the memory of Alan Landis also functioned as a touchstone for all of the progressive Jewish values this Conservative community holds.

These values that the quilt panel extolled led to the central question of my research: how do the three main Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed view non-heteronormative orientations, in particular homosexuality?

From this question, comes a morass of spiritual, ethical, Biblical, and philosophical questions, questions that strike at the complexity of this intersection and at the heart of our shared humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. I delved deep into a wide swath of Jewish scholars and spiritual leaders writing about sexuality from a Jewish context to attempt to answer some of these questions. The thing that led me to explore this intersection of homosexuality and Judaism was the first AIDS Quilt panel I encountered. The panel featured a grid-like design with eighteen distinct, smaller squares, each made by a different member of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, a Conservative Jewish community memorializing Alan Landis.
Alan Landis was a committed member of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue and was a frequent guest speaker at the AIDS Quilt gallery.

Each individual square on the panel honoring his life features each member’s perspective of the AIDS crisis, their memory of Alan, their Jewish faith, and the expression of important moral values such as inclusivity, justice, and love. It was this last feature of the panel, these progressive moral values, that hooked me. Several of the squares express the importance of religious equality, tolerance, inclusivity, diversity, and love of one’s neighbor.

I found it fascinating that ancient Jewish traditions could be used in such a modern progressive way, especially when dealing with issues of sexuality. For example, one of the squares conveys the value of diversity in community, using the Jewish phrase “B’tzelem Elohim”: in God’s image. Another square presents the ‘Seven Jewish Values’, which are ‘Respect’, ‘Peace in the Home’, ‘In God’s Image’, ‘Communal Responsibility’, ‘Guarding One’s Use of Language’, ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself’, and ‘Solidarity’.

These values are all tied to the promotion of human flourishing and are dedicated to the elevation of our shared humanity. Rather than being mired in petty religious squabbles, or focusing on what divides us, the Ahavath Achim Synagogue created a work of art that is both steeped in rich Jewish tradition, but also affirms and accepts progressive modern change. It uses religious language and connection with God to advance what the Synagogue sees as in line with God’s natural progression of humankind. This natural progression includes issues of homosexuality. The Ahavath Achim quilt panel makes it clear that being gay or leading what some other Jewish communities may consider a sinful lifestyle, is not a barrier to a relationship with God. This led me to consider what other Jewish communities believe about the issue of homosexuality.

There are three different denominations of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. These three main denominations operate on a spectrum, with Reformed Jews being the most progressive, Orthodox Jews being the most traditional, and Conservative Jews falling somewhere in the middle between the other two. All three have varying views of homosexuality, not just between these three denominations, but inside them as well. That is one of the central themes of this research, that homosexuality is not a black and white issue for many religious communities. Hopefully, as a result of this research, we can begin to get a sense of the perspectives and views surrounding these three Jewish denominations that show the central tensions that the issue of homosexuality brings out; tensions between compassion and law, love and communal expectations, and grace and tradition.

i. Orthodox

In Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport presents the most conservative position towards homosexuality in any of the denominations of Judaism. In his chapter on ‘The Nature of Homosexuality’, Rapoport writes, “the Torah has forbidden all plausible sexual activity…’, and, “…the purport of the commandments of the Torah is: God has created us with sexual desires; these must be completely suppressed and never expressed…” (Rapoport, 21). Rapoport believes in controversial gay conversion therapy and that if a Jew identifies as homosexual, then he or she should still attempt to pursue a heterosexual marriage relationship. If this is too much for them, then Rapoport agrees with the total suppression of all human sexuality. (Rapoport, 27)

Rapoport’s rhetoric exudes a growing sense of disease, even disgust, towards homosexuals and groups that support the acceptance of homosexuality, whether they are Jewish or not. This seems to be consistent throughout the entire work and his own view of homosexuality and secular life, which is useful when considering some other more progressive Jewish attitudes. Rabbi Rapoport’s interpretation of Jewish law and homosexuality is upheld by the majority of Orthodox Jews, but most Jews are not Orthodox. As a caveat, this book was written in 2004 and these views, while still relevant to the Orthodox community, may have changed slightly with the changing perceptions of homosexuality.

A different Orthodox view comes from Steven Greenberg, who is both an active Orthodox Rabbi and gay. He wrote Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition about his personal journey grappling with both his sexuality and his faith, and how the people in his life influenced this spiritual journey and self-discovery. His ultimate conclusions lead him to believe that homosexuality is not merely just ‘okay’ within the Jewish tradition, but homosexual relationships are just as capable of producing holy, God-glorifying relationships as hetero-normative relationships. He uses persuasive examples from the Bible and the Talmud that argues for an affirming stance towards homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism, like the relationship between Daniel and Jonathan, a long-suspected homosexual relationship in 1 Samuel.

An artistic depiction of David and Jonathan, one of the examples Stephen Greenberg uses to push for full acceptance of homosexual relationships in Orthodox communities.

Interestingly enough, Greenberg and Rapoport both wrote their works in the same year, demonstrating the extreme difference of opinion surrounding this issue, even within one of the three central denominations of Judaism.

One final Orthodox source comes from Eyes Wide Open, a small indie film that released at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. It follows Aaron, an Orthodox father of four who inherits his family’s butcher shop in one of the most Orthodox communities in Israel. Aaron is, “…a kind, responsible and somewhat melancholy man, who makes his way each day, without complaint, from his shop to the synagogue to the apartment he shares with his wife, Rivka, and their four children.” (Scott). The life he leads is deemed respectable by the Temble Rabbis, until he takes on a 22-year old apprentice, Ezri, who complicates things.

Aaron begins to develop intimate feelings for his apprentice, and the movie revolves around the internal struggle between Aaron and his faith, the external struggle of Aaron and his religious community, and Aaron’s relationships with his family and with Ezri.  As Aaron and Ezri fall deeper and deeper into love and subsequently face the public outrage of their relationship, Eyes Wide Open is careful not to portray this Orthodox community as ignorant or malicious, but, “[Eyes Wide Open] does represent an honest attempt, by and for outsiders, to understand the logic of a worldview defined by absolute obedience to God’s law.” (Scott).

I thought that this film was a wonderful example of someone, like Greenberg, grappling with these issues of homosexuality and Judaism, portraying the Reformed idea of holy non-heterosexual relationships within an Orthodox community. It truly encapsulates all of the central questions that Jews of all traditions are having to wrestle with and ask themselves.

ii. Conservative

Conservative Judaism is perhaps the denomination of Judaism that is most muddled on acceptance of non-heteronormative relationships. In 2006, the Rabbinical Assembly, which is the international governing body of Conservative Judaism, passed a measure, which was then published in HOMOSEXUALITY, HUMAN DIGNITY & HALAKHAH, and asserts that, “Human beings cannot choose their sexual orientation.”, and “The experience of sexual attraction and falling in love is one that individuals experience as outside their conscious control.” (Rabbinical Assembly, 3). This measure, passed on a 13-12 margin, shows the tension between tradition and the plight of homosexual Jews. Conservative Judaism is directly in the center between the other two Jewish denominations and it shows in this document. There are 36 pages of summaries of arguments and painstaking adherence to every potential translation of Torah law. Ultimately, the Rabbinic Assembly makes a difficult decision to place the human dignity of homosexual Jews over, what the Assembly considers, clear-cut laws forbidding homosexual activity.

The result of this somewhat confused treatise on homosexuality continues to breed disorientation within the Conservative denomination. In 2007, Jack Wertheimer writes in COMMENTARY Magazine about the reactions in the Conservative Jewish community to the treatise on homosexuality put forth by the Rabbinical Assembly in 2006, describing the implications of the ruling, the confusion felt by Conservative Jews, and the overall lack of clarity to the Conservative denomination’s diagnosis of the issue of homosexuality. His research states, “Far from welcoming the exercise as a success, two-thirds of the clergy claimed to have been ‘somewhat embarrassed’ by the contradictory rulings and over half of the lay leaders pronounced themselves ‘confused.’” (Wertheimer, 38)

Wertheimer moves on to present two dueling views of the origin of the Conservative movement in the late 18th Century, one that reflected poorly on the Orthodox tradition and one that reflected poorly on the Reformed tradition. He argues that whichever origin story you agree with, indicates where on the Conservative spectrum you land.

Conservative Jews strike a delicate balance between the other two denominations of Judaism and, on the issue of homosexuality, are divided. It is the smallest denomination of Judaism, but it is also the denomination that has the widest breadth of opinion on social issues. Much like the vote on the Rabbinic Assembly treatise showed, Conservative Jews enter into an arena of debate and contradiction much more often than Reformed and Orthodox circles do. Because of this, Conservative Jews are simultaneously more open-minded than the other two denominations and more divided than the other two denominations. Thus, Conservative stances on homosexuality, at least from 10 years ago, appear a bit convoluted because of this fact.

iii. Reformed

The perspectives of Reformed Judaism tend to be wholly accepting of all manner of gender and sexuality issues. Shirly Bahar’s work, Coming Out As Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther, uses queer theory pioneer Eve Sedgewick’s seminal work, Epistemology of the Closet. Her book deals with the evolution of homosexuality, its role in societal identity, and the evolution of queerness through historical and literary contexts.

Bahar takes this and builds upon it by connecting Jewish identity and queer identity. The vehicle for this direct comparison is the Book of Esther, found in the Old Testament. Esther is a Jew who becomes Queen through a long and sexist ancient beauty contest thrown by King Xerxes. Esther is encouraged by her Jewish uncle to hide her Jewish identity. After becoming Queen, one of the King’s advisors threatens to wage genocide against all the Jews in the country. Esther revealed her true identity to the King in a successful effort to prevent the elimination of her people for, to quote Esther, “such a time as this.”.

Xerxes and Esther

Melanie Wright, a professor at Westminster College and a Jewish scholar, surmises ten main points, beliefs, and debates in her book Studying Judaism: The Critical Issues. The issues she assesses are deep, varied, and fundamental, and include issues like gender, culture, politics, and central beliefs. She discusses the Reformed perspective on homosexuality, saying,  “…heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderedness are identities that deserve to be treated with respect, since all humans are made b’tzelem elohim, in the divine image.” (Wright, 169). In Wright’s analysis, homosexuality is just another facet of one’s personality and God-created character. Reformed circles view homosexuality and other alternatives to heterosexuality as having no difference. In a way, because Reformed Judaism has moved so far beyond the mere acceptance of homosexuality and alternate sexualities, they have deemphasized any difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. This deemphasis normalizes homosexuality in a way that the other two denominations don’t. Even affirming Orthodox and Conservative circles still tend to stigmatize homosexuality, regardless if they believe alternate sexualities are created by God.

Additionally, Wright cites Steven Greenberg, the Rabbi who wrote Wrestling with God and Men, who “…links the quest for homosexual rights to the feminist debate, arguing that the Levitical codes regard same-sex relations between men as abhorrent because such acts are seen as feminizing the male…” (Wright, 174) The idea is that if you take away the sexist hierarchy of ancient Jewish culture, you also rid yourself of the stigma of homosexuality. Greenberg, and Wright by extension, argue that adherence to traditional gender roles created the laws in Leviticus that outlaw homosexual behavior, rather than homosexuality being anathema to God itself.

Already many Conservative circles and almost all Reformed communities of Judaism have embraced non-traditional gender roles. In fact, Wright points out in her chapter on gender that many Conservative congregations now are beginning to be open to female Rabbis, and Reformed communities have coined the term ‘Rabba’ to describe a female Rabbi. This argument that prohibitions against homosexual behavior centers around male hierarchy and traditional gender roles is one of the clearest explanations and refutations of Torah law I’ve come across.

This is Alona Lisitsa, who made history by being the first female Rabbi to join the religious council. She was an Orthodox Jew, but later converted to the Reformed denomination.

Reformed denominations don’t share the same literal interpretations of the law books in the Torah that many Conservative and Orthodox Jews have, but rather incorporate historical context and evolving modern perspectives in study of the Torah. This often leads to more tolerant and progressive interpretations and discards some of the more anachronistic and archaic Jewish laws.

Conclusion

In this research, I wanted to present all sides of this debate within the Jewish tradition without value judgments or bias. Even though some of my personal views don’t match up with some of the writers, I wanted to understand how a faith which draws from one central text can end up with such differing views on homosexuality. The conclusion that my research makes apparent is that Jewish views on a wide variety of issues, not just limited to sexuality, are complex, nuanced, and definitely not black and white. Each of these three different denominations seeks to promote the lifestyle that most honors God and promotes human flourishing. Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed circles all handle this differently, but the motive remains the same.

Works Cited

Orthodox:

Greenberg, Steven. Wrestling with God and Men : Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. Madison, Wisc. : University of Wisconsin Press, ©2004., 2004. EBSCOhost,

ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05756a&AN=gsu.9913383513402952&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Rapoport, Chaim. Judaism and Homosexuality : An Authentic Orthodox View. London ; Portland, OR : Vallentine Mitchell, 2004., 2004. EBSCOhost,

ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05756a&AN=gsu.9913471843402952&site=eds-live&scope=site

 

Scott, A. O. “A Love Story That Tests an Ultra-Orthodox Jew.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Feb. 2010,

www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/movies/05eyes.html

COnservative

Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N., et al. “HOMOSEXUALITY, HUMAN DIGNITY & HALAKHAH: A COMBINED RESPONSUM FOR THE COMMITTEE ON JEWISH LAW AND STANDARDS.” Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Assembly, 6 Dec. 2006,

www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20052010/dorff_nevins_reisner_dignity.pdf

Wertheimer, Jack. “The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism.” Commentary, vol. 124, no. 2, Sept. 2007, pp. 38-44. EBSCOhost,

ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=26396118&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Reformed

Bahar, Shirly. “Coming out as Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality, vol. 13, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 167-178. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15240657.2012.709134.

http://www-tandfonlinecom.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/15240657.2012.709134?needAccess=true

Wright, Melanie Jane. Studying Judaism : The Critical Issues. Continuum, 2012. Studying World Religions. EBSCOhost,

ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=633578&site=eds-live&scope=site.

 

Response to James Bridle’s ‘Something is Wrong On the Internet’

In James Bridle’s essay, he exposes some of the dark corners of the content on the Internet, that is created not entirely by humans. Bots and algorithms are shown to dominate YouTube through channels and videos aimed at children. Merchandise created through algorithmic searching produce often disturbing results like the ‘Keep Calm and Rape a Lot’ shirt.

All of this brings up an important question: what responsibility do web creators have to present appropriate content, and to what extent do these often disturbing finished products cross invisible boundaries?

Judaism and Homosexuality: Introduction

Alexander McIntosh

6 November 2017

Dr. Robin Wharton

Honors English 1103

Judaism and Homosexuality:
A Thoughtful and Nuanced Discussion


Before I began doing research on the issue of Judaism and Homosexuality, I knew very little about the Jewish faith. I knew there were three main denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. I knew they they studied the Torah and each denomination followed its laws to different degrees. But the complexity and the nuance of the faith escaped me. I think one of the greatest things to come out of this research is just that I gained a greater understanding of a religious and cultural group that I didn’t know a lot about before.

This journey into the intersection of Judaism and homosexuality began the first time we visited the AIDS Quilt gallery. I was immediately drawn to a brand new panel, rather than any the curators showed us. This panel was created by members of the Ahavath Achim synagogue, a community with a rich history of activism and social justice and the panel they created to honor the memory of Alan Landis also functioned as a touchstone for all of the progressive Jewish values this Conservative community holds.
These values that the quilt panel extolled led to the central question of my research: how do the three main Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed view non-heteronormative orientations, in particular homosexuality?

From this question, comes a morass of spiritual, ethical, Biblical, and philosophical questions, questions that strike at the complexity of this intersection and at the heart of our shared humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. I delved deep into a wide swath of Jewish scholars and spiritual leaders writing about sexuality in a Jewish context to attempt to answer some of these questions. Hopefully, as a result of this research, we can begin to get a sense of the perspectives and views surrounding these three Jewish denominations that show the central tensions that the issue of homosexuality brings out; tensions between compassion and law, love and communal expectations, and grace and tradition.

Annotated Bibliography #1

Judaism and Homosexuality: An Annotated Bibliography

My research centers around the desire to explore the intersection of religion, specifically Judaism, and sexuality. This intersection can be surmised by the following question: how do the three main Jewish denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed view the issue of homosexuality?

From this question, comes a morass of spiritual, ethical, Biblical, and philosophical questions, questions that strike at the complexity of this intersection and at the heart of our shared humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. These ten sources are just the tip of the iceberg of scholars and spiritual leaders that continue to wrestle with this issue. Even with a small sample, I have gathered perspectives from these three Jewish denominations that show the central tensions between compassion and law, love and communal expectation, and grace and tradition.

Orthodox

Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition

Greenberg, Steven. Wrestling with God and Men : Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. Madison, Wisc. : University of Wisconsin Press, ©2004., 2004. EBSCOhost,

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Rabbi Steven Greenberg writes about his experience being an openly gay Orthodox rabbi in a community that was and is firmly against homosexuality and gay behavior. Growing up, Greenberg was not raised in any religious context, and was taught that the purpose of science was, “to sift through religion to clean out its primitive notions and superstitions…”. (4). Greenberg also recounts that he didn’t know anyone who was attracted to the same sex, and that “…the very possibility of sexual desire or sexual activity between men or between women was inconceivable.” (4).

However, somehow Steven Greenberg became a gay Orthodox Rabbi. This book is a very personal look into a person wrestling with both his sexuality and his faith, and how the people in his life influenced this spiritual journey and self-discovery. His ultimate conclusions lead him to believe that homosexuality is not merely just ‘okay’ within the Jewish tradition, but homosexual relationships are just as capable of producing holy, God-glorifying relationships as hetero-normative relationships.

An artistic depiction of David and Jonathan

Greenberg then spends the next hundred pages introducing persuasive evidence from the Bible and the Talmud that argues for an affirming stance towards homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism. Consider this particular example, from 1 Samuel 18:1-4. The writer of 1 Samuel seems to insinuate that the biblical hero David has an intimate relationship with Jonathan, a son of King Saul. Saul eventually becomes jealous of David’s military prowess and popularity, so he attempts to kill David numerous times. Jonathan defends David against his own father and in so doing, gives up all claim on the royal position that Jonathan is supposed to receive, which fills Saul with disgust. Greenberg makes the case that this disgust from Saul could not be from merely a platonic relationship that Jonathan has with David, but this anger and contempt brews from Saul’s shame that Jonathan has entered into a romantic relationship with David.

This story becomes incredibly relevant to modern day when one applies this scenario to modern day coming out stories and generational differences. Saul is portrayed by the writer of 1 Samuel as a close-minded, jealous, murderous, insecure King, who can’t comprehend his son’s love for David. Saul is the antagonist, and the reader is made to empathize the two protagonists David and Jonathan’s relationship.

The one potential problem with this source is that, while I find myself agreeing with much of Greenberg’s evidence, his views on homosexuality within the Orthodox tradition are not commonly shared with other Orthodox Jews, both at the time of writing in 2004 and in modern day. The other source from Orthodox Rabbi Michael J. Broyde presents the much more prevalent view that homosexuality is not a proper, holy, sacred lifestyle that should be affirmed by the Jewish community.


Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View.

Rapoport, Chaim. Judaism and Homosexuality : An Authentic Orthodox View. London ; Portland, OR : Vallentine Mitchell, 2004., 2004. EBSCOhost,

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With regards to Rabbi Greenberg’s more open-minded interpretation of Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport in Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View presents the far more conservative consensus. In fact, Rabbi Rapoport says in the question and answer section of his book, “‘Gay Synagogues’ are anathema to the religiously sensitive because their aim is not only to condone behaviour that the Torah proscribes, but moreover to sanctify such practices.”. Rapoport is firmly against all homosexual behavior, even if that behavior is between two Orthodox Jews who follow all of the rules and traditions of the Jewish faith.

In his chapter on ‘The Nature of Homosexuality’, Rapoport writes, “the Torah has forbidden all plausible sexual activity…’, and, “…the purport of the commandments of the Torah is: God has created us with sexual desires; these must be completely suppressed and never expressed…” (21). Though this book was written in 2004, these views still hold as the Orthodox view from Jews on homosexuality.

Rapoport’s rhetoric exudes a growing sense of disease, even disgust, towards homosexuals and groups, whether they are religious or not. This seems to be consistent throughout the entire work and his own view of homosexuality and secular life, which is useful when considering some other more progressive Jewish attitudes. Rabbi Rapoport’s interpretation of Jewish law and homosexuality is upheld by the majority of Orthodox Jews, but most Jews are not Orthodox.


Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism

Ausubel, Michael and Michael J. Broyde. Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism. Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, c2005., 2005. EBSCOhost,

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This is a book of essays largely about heteronormative relationships and Judaism, but there is one chapter towards the end of the book called Lesbian Relationships and Jewish Law, which I thought was interesting because it was specifically lesbian. Many of the sources I came across either dealt with gay male relationships or just homosexual relationships in relation to Judaism.

This chapter is written by Angela J. Riccetti, who takes a strong legal bent to the issue of lesbian relationships and lesbian activity in Jewish life. Her writing is quite dense and full of Hebraic language and terms, clearly demonstrating that her work is not meant for the general public.  Because the laws in the Torah only mention strictly male-to-male relationships, historically the issue of lesbian relationships has been a bit of a gray area for some strict literalist Rabbis.

Ultimately, the line that Riccetti arrives at is being out publically as a lesbian woman versus privately participating in lesbian activity and relationships while still being closeted. This falls in line with Moon’s third view, ‘We Don’t Talk About That’. As long as its not out in the open, the Riccetti’s reading of Jewish law says it’s largely permissible.


Eyes Wide Open: A Love Story between two ultra-orthodox jewish men

Scott, A. O. “A Love Story That Tests an Ultra-Orthodox Jew.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Feb. 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/movies/05eyes.html

Eyes Wide Open is a small indie film that released at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. It follows Aaron, an Orthodox father of four who inherits his family’s butcher shop in one of the most Orthodox communities in Israel. Aaron is, “…a kind, responsible and somewhat melancholy man, who makes his way each day, without complaint, from his shop to the synagogue to the apartment he shares with his wife, Rivka, and their four children.” (Scott). The life he leads is deemed respectable by the Temble Rabbis, until he takes on a 22-year old apprentice, Ezri, who complicates things.

Aaron begins to develop intimate feelings for his apprentice, and the movie revolves around the internal struggle between Aaron and his faith, the external struggle of Aaron and his religious community, and Aaron’s relationships with his family and with Ezri.  As Aaron and Ezri fall deeper and deeper into love and subsequently face the public outrage of their relationship, Eyes Wide Open is careful not to portray this Orthodox community as ignorant or malicious, but, “[Eyes Wide Open] does represent an honest attempt, by and for outsiders, to understand the logic of a worldview defined by absolute obedience to God’s law.” (Scott).

I thought that this film was a wonderful example of someone grappling with these issues of homosexuality and Judaism, portraying the Reformed idea of holy non-heterosexual relationships within an Orthodox community. It truly encapsulates all of the central questions that Jews of all traditions are having to wrestle with and ask themselves.

Conservative

Homosexuality, human dignity & halakah: A combined responsum for the committee on jewish law and standards

Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N., et al. “HOMOSEXUALITY, HUMAN DIGNITY & HALAKHAH: A COMBINED RESPONSUM FOR THE COMMITTEE ON JEWISH LAW AND STANDARDS.” Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Assembly, 6 Dec. 2006,

www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20052010/dorff_nevins_reisner_dignity.pdf.

This is a document articulating the Conservative position on homosexuality from the Rabbinical Assembly. The Assembly is the international association of Conservative Rabbis that have shaped the ideology, traditions, and practices of the Conservative denomination since its founding in 1901. There are 25 Rabbis who sit on the Assembly and vote on the measures that will then be reflected in Conservative Jewish life.

This measure was narrowly approved with a 13-12 vote, showing the controversial nature of homosexuality even within just one of the three Jewish denominations. The introductory paragraph lays the groundwork for their position:

“Contemporary Jewish law is based upon the legal and moral texts found in the Written and Oral Torah. The Written Torah famously pronounces that “God created humanity in His image” (Genesis 1:27; 9:6), that “It is not good for man to live alone” (Genesis 2:18), that you must “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and that “God is good to all; His mercies apply to all creatures” (Psalms 145:9).”

With that said, the members state, “Human beings cannot choose their sexual orientation.”, and “The experience of sexual attraction and falling in love is one that individuals experience as outside their conscious control.” (3). The Assembly denounces gay conversion therapy, but also lays out a spectrum of arguments against intimate homosexual relations, some that only forbid anal sex, and some that prohibit acts that may lead to sexual relations, such as kissing and skin-to-skin contact. The purpose of listing these arguments against gay sex acts is to establish that celibacy is preferable for homosexual Jews, but the Assembly concludes, “…the celebration of such a [homosexual] union is appropriate with blessings over wine and sheheheyanu, with psalms and other readings to be developed by local authorities.” (17).

The tension between tradition and the plight of homosexual Jews is palpable in this text. Conservative Judaism is directly in the center between the other two Jewish denominations and it shows in this document. There are 36 pages of summaries of arguments and painstaking adherence to every potential translation of Torah law. Ultimately, the Rabbinic Assembly makes a difficult decision to place the human dignity of homosexual Jews over, what the Assembly considers, clear-cut laws forbidding homosexual activity.

The biggest development of this document was the sanctioning of gay and lesbian Rabbis, by ruling that openly homosexual students would be accepted to Conservative Jewish seminaries. Since 2006, anyone who is interested in going to Conservative Jewish seminary is welcome to attend, regardless of sexual orientation. As a result, in the eleven years since the publication of this document, Conservative Jews have moved unequivocally to the left on homosexuality, despite the somewhat convoluted and contradictory message of the Assembly.


The perplexities of Conservative judaism

Wertheimer, Jack. “The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism.” Commentary, vol. 124, no. 2, Sept. 2007, pp. 38-44. EBSCOhost,

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Jack Wertheimer writes in COMMENTARY Magazine about the reactions in the Conservative Jewish community to the treatise on homosexuality put forth by the Rabbinic Assembly in 2006, describing the implications of the ruling, the confusion felt by Conservative Jews, and the overall lack of clarity to the Conservative denomination’s diagnosis of the issue of homosexuality. He writes, “Far from welcoming the exercise as a success, two-thirds of the clergy claimed to have been ‘somewhat embarrassed’ by the contradictory rulings and over half of the lay leaders pronounced themselves ‘confused.’” (38)

The crux of his argument seems to be that, while the Rabbinic Assembly may be able to hold two seemingly contradictory positions on homosexuality together, Conservative Jewish congregations “…have not had the luxury of embracing both positions simultaneously but have been forced to choose between them.” (38).

Wertheimer goes on to present the two dueling narratives surrounding the inception of  Conservative Judaism in the late 18th Century. The first origin story describes Jews who felt that Reformed Judaism abandoned God when it abandoned strict adherence to Torah law. They sought to restore tradition and customs to its high proper place in Jewish life. The other tale involves Jewish immigrants to America becoming disillusioned with the, “… East European-style Orthodoxy and its Yiddish-speaking rabbis.” (39). These new immigrants wanted a relaxed alternative to Orthodoxy and, “…sought a refined synagogue service, sermons in the vernacular, mixed seating of men and women, and a shift from an adult-centered religion to a child-centered one.” (39). These two different origin stories show the tension that Conservative Jews find themselves caught in, and whichever origin story you believe to be true probably influences how progressive or Orthodox you are on Jewish issues.

Conservative Jews strike a delicate balance between the other two denominations of Judaism and, on the issue of homosexuality, are divided. Much like the vote on the Rabbinic Assembly treatise showed, Conservative Jews enter into an arena of debate and contradiction much more often than Reformed and Orthodox circles do. Because of this, Conservative Jews are simultaneously more open-minded than the other two denominations and more divided than the other two denominations. Thus, Conservative stances on homosexuality, at least from 10 years ago, appear a bit convoluted.


Reformed

Coming out as Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther

Bahar, Shirly. “Coming out as Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality, vol. 13, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 167-178. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15240657.2012.709134.

http://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/15240657.2012.709134?needAccess=true

Shirly Bahar bases this work off of queer theory pioneer Eve Sedgewick’s seminal work, Epistemology of the Closet. This book deals with the evolution of homosexuality, its role in societal identity, and the evolution of queerness through historical and literary contexts. Sedgwick uses the the themes of works by Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, Michael Proust, and others to illustrate the philosophical and psychological ramifications of closeted sexuality.

Bahar takes her work and builds upon it by connecting Jewish identity and queer identity. The vehicle for this direct comparison is the Book of Esther, found in the Old Testament. Esther is a Jew who becomes Queen through a long and sexist ancient beauty contest thrown by King Xerxes. Esther is encouraged by her Jewish uncle to hide her Jewish identity. After becoming Queen, one of the King’s advisors threatens to wage genocide against all the Jews in the country. Esther revealed her true identity to the King in a successful effort to prevent the elimination of her people for, to quote Esther, “such a time as this.”

Esther and King Xerxes

Bahar, while admitting that this direct comparison of Jewish identity and queer identity is overly simplistic, makes the case that Esther being forced to conceal her Jewish identity and then later revealing it, is analogous to a coming-out experience for LGBTQ people. In equating these two things, Bahar advocates that sexual identity is just as complex, intrinsic, and essential as Jewish identity, or any other core part of one’s personhood.

To see the full PDF of Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet, click here


Studying Judaism : The Critical Issues

Wright, Melanie Jane. Studying Judaism : The Critical Issues. Continuum, 2012. Studying World Religions. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=633578&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Melanie Wright surmises ten main points, beliefs, and debates in her book Studying Judaism: The Critical Issues. These include issues like gender, culture, politics, and central beliefs. Her last chapter focuses on issues that Jews will need to address or are in the early stages of addressing, like the issue of homosexuality. Her writing on this issue gives the Reformed perspective, saying that Reformed views, “… of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderedness are identities that deserve to be treated with respect, since all humans are made b’tzelem elohim, in the divine image.” (169). In Wright’s analysis, homosexuality is just another facet of one’s personality and God-created character. Reformed circles view homosexuality and other alternatives to heterosexuality as having the capability to be just as holy,

Additionally, Wright cites Steven Greenberg, the author of Wrestling with God and Men : Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition, who “…links the quest for homosexual rights to the feminist debate, arguing that the Levitical codes regard same-sex relations between men as abhorrent because such acts are seen as feminizing the male…”. The idea is that if you take away the sexist hierarchy of ancient Jewish culture, you also rid yourself of the stigma of homosexuality. Greenberg, and Wright by extension, argue that adherence to traditional gender roles created the laws in Leviticus that outlaw homosexual behavior, rather than homosexuality being anathema to God itself.

Already many Conservative circles and almost all Reformed communities of Judaism have embraced non-traditional gender roles. In fact, Wright points out in her chapter on gender that many Conservative congregations now are beginning to be open to female Rabbis, and Reformed communities have coined the term ‘Rabba’ to describe a female Rabbi. This argument that prohibitions against homosexual behavior centers around male hierarchy and traditional gender roles is one of the clearest explanations and refutations of Torah law I’ve come across.

Reformed denominations don’t share the same literal interpretations of the law books in the Torah that many Conservative and Orthodox Jews have, but rather incorporate historical context and evolving modern perspectives in study of the Torah. This often leads to more tolerant and progressive interpretations and discards some of the more anachronistic and archaic Jewish laws.


Additional Sources

Beyond the Dichotomy: Six Religious Views of Homosexuality

Moon, Dawne. “Beyond the Dichotomy: Six Religious Views of Homosexuality” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 61, no. 9, Sept. 2014, pp. 1215-1241. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00918369.2014.926762

http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=30e3aa8c-c8c0-41d6-85dc-9493f10c2c56%40sessionmgr101

Dwayne Moon offers six different views of the way homosexuality is seen by American Christianity and Judaism. His mission is to break the dichotomy of ‘born gay, sinful choice’ and explore six distinct views of Religious communities on human sexuality. These six views are ‘God Hates Fags’, Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’, ‘We Don’t Talk About That’, ‘They Can’t Help It’, ‘God’s Good Gift’, and ‘Godly Calling’. The article moves through these six views, from ‘Homonegative’ to Moderate to ‘Homopositive’.

In the ‘Homonegative’ section, Moon cites an example of a person petitioning an Orthodox Jewish organization, asking them what their stance on homosexuality was. Their response was decidedly negative, saying, ““I don’t want to waste a minute on that. There is a passuk [verse] in the Torah: it is an abomination!” (page 5). The ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ ideology is the most widespread of any of these six views, particularly among American Protestantism. Moon writes that, “…some Orthodox Jews view homosexuality as caused by an illness rather than a willful rejection of God’s laws.”, insinuating that while homosexuality isn’t an ideal, it also is not a disqualification for being Jewish. In moderate examples, gay members are encouraged to just be celibate or are forced compartmentalize their religion and their sexuality separately. ‘Homopositive’ views sometimes include the ‘born gay’ assumptions of some moderate views, but rather than this being stigmatized, it is seen in a different gay-affirming light.

One potential issue with this source is that is focused more on Christian communities rather then Jewish ones, and the evidence that is provided is skewed more towards homosexuality and Christianity. With that said, the examples that are given from Jewish communities are still strong and echo other sources that I’ve compiled.


 

 

 

 

Jewish Responses to AIDS

Schlesinger, Yaffa and Victor Appell. “Jewish Responses to AIDS.” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 33, no. 1, 1997, pp. 17-34. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1300/J082v33n01_02.

http://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1300/J082v33n01_02?needAccess=true

Schlesinger and Appell discussion the intersection of Judaism, sexuality, and gender through the lens of Jewish responses to the AIDS crisis. They focus on perceptions of people with AIDS (PWAs) in Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed sects of Judaism. This research was conducted in the mid-1990’s, so opinions have obviously evolved around the issue of sexuality, but the Orthodox view of homosexuality is what one might expect. Rabbi Rotenberg of the Orthodox sect said that, “People are afraid to call homosexuality an abomination for fear of being labeled fundamentalists…and close-minded.” Orthodox Rabbi Freundel believes that sexuality shouldn’t be talked about in the open, whether that’s heterosexuality or homosexuality. At Freundel’s synagogue, a ‘correct’ sexuality is not a prerequisite for membership, but an openly gay person or family would not be granted Aliya (invitation to the pulpit). Aliya is a tradition that every member of a Jewish community participates in and Schlesinger and Appell write, “losing Aliya means losing rights, losing honor to which every Jew is entitled.” While some Orthodox synagogues might accept people who are privately gay, homosexuality in the open would not be tolerated.

The Conservative view that the writers highlight separates homosexuality and AIDS. At a conference in 1994 centered around ‘Religious Responses to HIV/AIDS’, Rabbi Lebeau focused on Jewish responsibilities towards people with illness, referencing the Jewish tradition that when one visits the sick, they take a portion of the sickness away from the ill. HIV/AIDS is no different. During all of the sessions at this conference, not one time was the word gay mentioned or referred to. This separation of homosexuality and AIDS is a way of compartmentalizing, of helping those who need help without directly affirming or condemning their sexaulity.

The example that the writers give for the Reformed view centers around Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST), or the ‘Gay Synagogue’. CBST is located in New York City and founded in 1973, before the AIDS crisis. In the early 1980’s, when cases of AIDS first began breaking out, CBST began organizing visitations for people with AIDS. They organize memorial services for people who have died, and constructed plaques to the more than 70 people who died in their congregation of AIDS. These Reformed Jews are fully accepting and open to all sexualities, and care for people with AIDS regardless of identity. The writers mention the pushback that CBST received from ex-Jews who they visited in the hospital because mainstream Judaism rejected them before they were living. The mission of CBST is to break down these stereotypes and to provide a place for all Jews and all people to be cared for and accepted into a traditional Jewish community.

Annotated Bibliography #1 Draft

Sexuality in Advanced Age in Jewish Thought and Law
David, Benjamin E. and Gideon A. Weitzman. “Sexuality in Advanced Age in Jewish Thought and Law.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, vol. 41, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 39-48. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/0092623X.2013.811451.
http://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/0092623X.2013.811451?needAccess=true

 

Jewish Responses to AIDS
Schlesinger, Yaffa and Victor Appell. “Jewish Responses to AIDS.” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 33, no. 1, 1997, pp. 17-34. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1300/J082v33n01_02.
http://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1300/J082v33n01_02?needAccess=true

 

Coming out as Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther
Bahar, Shirly. “Coming out as Queen: Jewish Identity, Queer Theory, and the Book of Esther.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality, vol. 13, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 167-178. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/15240657.2012.709134.
http://www-tandfonline-com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1080/15240657.2012.709134?needAccess=true

 

Wrestling with God and Men : Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition
Greenberg, Steven. Wrestling with God and Men : Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. Madison, Wisc. : University of Wisconsin Press, ©2004., 2004. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05756a&AN=gsu.9913383513402952&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Beyond the Dichotomy: Six Religious Views of Homosexuality
Moon, Dawne. “Beyond the Dichotomy: Six Religious Views of Homosexuality” Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 61, no. 9, Sept. 2014, pp. 1215-1241. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00918369.2014.926762
http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.gsu.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=30e3aa8c-c8c0-41d6-85dc-9493f10c2c56%40sessionmgr101

 

Ahavath Achim Quilt Panel Primary Source Description Continued

Equality & Inclusion — central themes of this quilt panel, the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, and the life of Alan Landis

The quilt panel memorializing Alan Landis was created by the historic Ahavath Achim synagogue of Atlanta (colloquially known as AA). In order to understand the full meaning of the square, you need to delve into the history of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

The way in which the AA community chooses to commemorate Alan Landis as a member of their community speaks volumes about Alan’s faith and the particular branch of Judaism that the AA synagogue subscribes to. In addition to the personal memorial of Alan on the panel, the AA community also honors Alan by expressing the values that are reflective of the faith that they shared with him.

“Every ritual, action or teaching is supposed to have many layers of meaning, significance and emanations of the divine. The AIDS Quilt is a similar endeavor.”

Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim was quoted in an article in the Atlanta Jewish Times as saying that the Aids Quilt is a multilayered, multimodal living document, that even in its secularism, invokes the divine. I think this is why the synagogue decided to make the panel a reflection on Judaism as a whole, rather than just about Alan Landis’ life. The Jewish values represented on this quilt panel are part of an ancient Jewish idea, one that is actually featured on one of the panel: L’dor V’dor. From generation to generation.

Rabbi Rosenthal eulogized Alan Landis with the ‘Seven Jewish Values’ found on the panel. These values are comprehensive of Alan’s legacy and the quilt panel ensures that his memory will continue through the progressive, inclusive, loving values of the AA community, more than any personal achievement. The goal of this quilt panel, as with everything that the Ahavath Achim synagogue does, is to promote these religious values and remember that they are in an ancient cycle of generations.

 

AIDS has no boundaries

On the actual panel, there are eighteen squares in rows of six. Moving from right to left, as you would read Hebrew, the very first square on the panel addresses the AIDS crisis directly. It features an outline of a heart in one thin blood-red thick string with the words ‘AIDS has no boundaries’ stitched in thin black font inside the heart composing the foreground. Positioned behind the heart is background of a variety of children’s hand prints done in green, yellow, red, orange, and blue. The AA synagogue has a variety of advocacy programs for youth, and these handprints are the youngest members of the Ahavath Achim synagogue’s storied history of social activism. The synagogue has a wide swath of ways for members of the AA community to get involved in activism and advocacy work. There are programs that help end human trafficking, reduce gun violence, protect the earth against climate change, feed the homeless, and, of course, fund research and raise awareness of the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis, as well as fight for LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish circles.

Research Life

Another square that was eye catching was the seventeenth square (row three, five squares over). On the left and right sides of the square are the words ‘Research Life’ in all capitalized, shiny teal and silver stitch. In the middle of the square is the outline of a microscope, done in dark black stitch and an arrow pointing diagonally from the bottom left to the top right stitched in bright red thread. The prominence of science in the religious life of the Ahavath Achim synagogue is striking. Unlike some strains of conservative Judaism, Rabbi Rosenthal and the AA community embrace scientific discovery and promote its importance. The synagogue collects money every year on International AIDS Day, December 11th, to fund ongoing research in HIV/AIDS science. This square lies at the intersection of faith, science, social justice, and public health.

The spatial layout of the quilt panel is another way that the AA synagogue expresses these Jewish values. At the top of the panel are the words ‘Equality and Inclusion’, and each of the eighteen squares relate to these two themes in some way. As a multimodal document, the panel acts as a reflection on the kind of progressive Judaism that Rabbi Rosenthal and the AA family espouse. Each square offers a glimpse into the life that Jewish members are trying to create through the memorialization of Alan Landis, eighteen distinct touchstones into the creation of human flourishing AA is working towards. The spatial layout of these squares invites the viewer to dive completely into each specific square and learn about Jewish perspectives of inclusivity and equality through the celebration of Alan Landis’ life and the mourning of his death.

Reading Response 2 Question

In the first half of Rheingold’s ‘Net Smart’, he addresses an issue paramount to our generation: how to deal with the constant temptation and distraction of social media? So I’m just curious, have you noticed any behavior when it comes to your usage of social media that is overly distracting or prevents you from focusing on certain tasks?

Ahavath Achim Quilt Panel Primary Source Description

The Quilt:


The quilt panel created to memorialize Alan Landis by the Ahavath Achim Synagogue


This particular panel of the AIDS Quilt was created by the Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Atlanta, in order to memorialize Alan Landis, who passed away in January of 2016. The panel features eighteen distinct squares in columns of three, with the words ‘Equality & Inclusion’ stitched in a shiny silver thread above the squares and Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 5776/2016 below in the same thread

The quilt panel is three feet wide by six feet long, which is the standard size of a grave, and the background is black covered in thousands of faint white pinpricks and golden dots, potentially mimicking the night sky. The text at the top and bottom of the panel, as well as each of the squares is embroidered on.  Because of this embroidery, if you were to run your hand across the quilt it would feel like a series of small mountains with shallow valleys in between. The raised nature of each square heightens the sense of uniqueness and underlines the fact that this is not just one person’s memorial of Alan Landis, but eighteen distinct interpretations and comprehensions of the AIDS crisis itself and a statement of a robust Jewish faith. These eighteen squares all share a common creamy white background with very faint spirals forming the canvas upon which each mourner creates their memorial.

These squares were all created by a different member of the Synagogue and feature each individual member’s perspective of the AIDS crisis, their memory of Alan, their Jewish faith, and, in a more broad sense, the expression of important moral values such as inclusivity, justice, and love.

Because of the extremely high level of detail, I won’t go into depth on every single one of these squares. Instead I’ll focus on the squares that reveal an aspect of the Jewish faith that the makers of this quilt thought was relevant to the HIV/AIDS discussion.

These eighteen squares are arrayed in three rows of six, matching the specifications of the quilt panel itself. Because Hebrew is read right to left, then square one is the far right square on the first row, square six is the far left square on the first row square eight is the third square from the right on the second row, and so on.

Row One:


Square two: a portrayal of the beauty of humanity’s diversity


Starting with square two, you see a black and white stitched drawing of four faces of different races, one older Asian male, a black male, a white female, and a white male. The stitching of these figures is quite complex; every single detail, from the faces to the writing on this square is done entirely in the same monochrome black thread. Due to the raised nature of this material, its texture is rather rough if you ran your hand over it. Written at the top of the square is ‘B’tzelem Elohim’ and at the bottom is the translation of this phrase, ‘In God’s Image’. There is a small figure at the bottom right of the square whose back is facing the viewer looking at the faces.


Squares four and eleven: seven values central to progressive Judaism. ‘Respect’, ‘Peace in the Home’, In God’s Image’, ‘Communal Responsibility’, ‘Guarding One’s Use of Language’, ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself’, and ‘Solidarity


Moving to the right, squares four and eleven are meant to be examined together. These squares’ composition exhibits Jewish values. The words ‘Seven Jewish’ are at the top of square four, and ‘Values’ are at the bottom of square eleven, written in the same simple font that appears in the other squares, and pressed onto royal blue fabric to create contrast. All the fabric on these squares are scraps of material that have been stitched on to the panel. In between these words are seven strands of multicolored beads that hang off of the quilt with one letter on each bead, similar to how a child might have made a bracelet with a spelled out word. These bead strands are connected with a piece of twine and the two ends of the strands are stapled to the quilt itself. When you move the entire panel, the beads click together as they hit each other. The font of the beads is a chunky all-caps style and mostly black, but a few of the beads have lighter colored fonts like pale yellow and green for some of the darker bead backgrounds. For the strands that have multiple words, a shiny bright piece of metal separates the beads to make it easier to discern the actual words.

In succession, the bead strands spell out ‘Respect’, ‘Peace in the Home’, In God’s Image’, ‘Communal Responsibility’, ‘Guarding One’s Use of Language’, ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself’, and ‘Solidarity’. Next to each bead strand is the translation of the value in Hebrew, printed onto a cream colored rectangle to contrast with the dark spindly Hebrew characters. These seven values are pulled directly from an organization called Keshet. According to their About page, “Keshet is a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. Led and supported by LGBTQ Jews and straight allies, Keshet cultivates the spirit and practice of inclusion in all parts of the Jewish community.” (Keshet Website). The inclusion of these values from Keshet are a reflection of the Ahavath Achim Synagogue’s views on the often polarizing issue of LGBTQ inclusion in religious circles, and offer a glimpse as to why they might be more sympathetic than some conservative religious groups.


Square six: A touching tribute to Alan Landis


The far left square in the first row is a more personal memorial of Alan Landis. It has a thick white border and a simple dark black background. There are several words written in different shades of light blue, ranging from a robin shell blue to a more sea-foam greenish-blue to a teal. The colors on this square are important because the color blue in all of its many shades are important to Judaism. My Jewish Learning, an informational website for Jews and those curious about Jewish heritage explains the significance of the color blue this way:

“Tractate Menahot of the Babylonian Talmud reports Rabbi Meir asking “Why is blue different from all other colors?” and then answering, “Because blue resembles the sea, and the sea resembles sky, and the sky resembles God’s Throne of Glory…as it is written: ‘Above the sky over their heads was the semblance of a throne, like sapphire in appearance…’”

Blue is supposed to represent not only divinity, but also equilibrium. These blue words are overlaid over each other, creating a 3D effect. The words in the background are ‘Family Man’, Gay Man’, ‘Accountant’, ‘Social Activist’, and ‘Inspiration’, with ‘Jew’, and ‘Friend’ written overtop. In small thin white cursive handwriting, inbetween ‘Family Man’ and ‘Gay Man’ is Alan Landis’ name, followed by ‘May 9, 1951-January. 24, 2016’. The writing speaks volumes through its subtlety and its simplicity about who Alan Landis was and what impact he had on the creator of this specific square.

Row Two:


Square eight: L’Chaim’, or ‘To Life!’


Moving to the next row, the second square from the right features a gilded necklace with three charms hanging off it, all of them Stars of David. The necklace is made out a shimmering golden stitch and the middle Star is made of the same material. The texture of this thread is rather scratchy and rough, whereas the material of the two Stars on the right and left is a darker golden color and is a smooth silky  the Hebrew spelling of ‘L’chaim’ and are In a cursive font, the words ‘L’Chiam’ are written above the necklace, with the translation ‘To Life!’ written below. This is a traditional Jewish toast used to celebrate the beauty of the gift of life, which is a sharp contrast to the inherent somberness of the AIDS quilt.


Square nine: L’dor V’dor’, or ‘from generation to generation’


The next square to the right expresses a similar sentiment. There are four stained glass windows with various Jewish symbology painted on, a menorah, a dreidel, a Star of David, and a Hebrew letter. These windows are created using multicolored patches of fabric all interweaving over each other in different patterns and material, and separated by thick black thread creating a collage effect. In between the second and third windows is a spindly olive tree that vaguely resembles a menorah with a long thin trunk made out of the same golden thread as the necklace from the square before and a horizontal spread of glimmering lime-green leaves that lay gently atop the stained glass windows. In Hebrew the words ‘L’dor V’dor’ are written at the top, with its translation, ‘from generation to generation’ written below. This is similar to the previous square in that they both express Jewish sayings and the familiar cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Row Three:


Square fifteen: love your neighbor as yourself


This last square, square fifteen, is rather simplistic in terms of visual and textual effect, but speaks oceans of volumes. It depicts a two-dimensional colorful scene with a church on the left, a synagogue in the middle, and a mosque on the right. Each of these buildings is done in a mixture of fabric crayon and colorful stitched thread details on the buildings. Because of the mixed nature of this square, it has a very unique texture; the parts of the quilt that are stitched are raised from the quilt and are soft, but the areas done in fabric crayon are rough to the touch. Above the buildings it says ‘LOVE YOUR’ in red fabric crayon and “NEIGHBOR’ in green and black fabric crayon. Below the buildings are flat two-dimensional shapes in the form of humans done in bright orange, light blue, red, and light purple fabric crayon, with ‘AS YOURSELF’ written in navy and black crayon.

The walls of the church are a dark shade of forest green with the frame of the church done in brown fabric crayon. The stitched lining of the roof of the church is a slightly different shade of green than the background of the church and at the top is a brown cross created entirely out of thread. There are three windows and an awning above a brown door made out of lumps of bright red, navy blue, and green thread with a golden thread cutting through it to give the impression of stained glass windows. The synagogue in the middle has a similar design philosophy, with a two dimensional black outline of the general shape of the structure, two navy pillars on either side, and the bright Carolina blue wall of the synagogue all done in fabric crayon. Just like the church, the details are all done in thread. There is an archway done in Carolina blue thread, and the dome caps of the twin pillars done in the same color, as well as a star surrounded by a circle. This emblem is created with a mixture of gold, Carolina blue, and black thread. The mosque is done in much the same way as the other two places of worship. A green rectangle forms the base with a ring of green thread outlining it, a border with beige and purple threaded triangles like a shark’s mouth in the middle, a bright yellow dome with half circle design accents in golden thread, and a half moon and star done in orange-yellow fabric marker on top. To the right of the central mosque structure is a red pillar with a threaded royal purple cap.

With all three of these buildings sharing similar design, albeit with different colors and shapes, as well as the tagline of this square being ‘Love Your Neighbor As Yourself’, it could be interpreted that the creator of this square, and more broadly the all of the collective creators of this panel wanted to draw parallels between the three Abrahamic religions in pursuit of greater spiritual harmony and less religious division for followers of these religions.

In their memorial of Alan Landis, the Ahavath Achim Synagogue presented a call to action for all religious people, regardless of creed to refocus the efforts of religious people on issues that actually matter, such as the AIDS crises and not petty religious squabbles.