“Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism” edited by Alan Slomovitz and Alison Feit— Jewish Orthodoxy and the LGBTQ Community

Slomowitz, Alan and Alison Feit (editors). “Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism”, (Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series), Routledge, 2019.

Jewish Orthodoxy and the LGBTQ Community

Amos Lassen

I did not think that I ever would see a book like “Homosexuality, Transsexuality, Psychoanalysis and Traditional Judaism” that so  explores “the often incommensurable and irreconcilable beliefs and understandings of sexuality and gender in the Orthodox Jewish community from psychoanalytic, rabbinic, feminist, and queer perspectives.” But more than that, this book explores how seemingly irreconcilable differences might be resolved. 

The book is divided into two separate but related sections. The first section examines the divide between the psychoanalytic, academic, and traditional Orthodox Jewish perspectives on sexual identity and orientation, as well as the acute psychic and social challenges faced by Orthodox Jewish gay and lesbian members of the Orthodox world. We are asked to engage with them in a dialogue that allows for authentic conversation.

The second section looks at gender identity, especially as experienced by the Orthodox transgender members of the community as well as highlighting the divide between theories that see gender as fluid and traditional Judaism that sees gender as binary only. The contributors share their views and experiences from both sides. They also ask us to engage in true authentic dialogue about these complex and crucial emotional and religious challenges. 

I understand that this book is meant to be of great interest to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists. As an active member of the Reform Jewish community and a gay male, I found it to be fascinating. I worked to make our religion more welcoming to LGBTQ people so while I did not really read anything new, I am so glad to have all if this information in one place and as a way to opening the conversation.

We have articles from psychoanalysts, feminists, rabbis, and a writers on queer life and theory. They have come together to provide  a crucial conversation with one another. The editors have brought together a group of writers who share their clinical, theoretical, and spiritual resources to bear on questions that have never before been seriously and simultaneously considered.

Here we have an ancient religious and hermeneutical tradition engaging with a very current situation that is changing traditional assumptions about identity.

 “Trying to pretend to be something I am not in front of you all is becoming more trying by the day as I’m not the heterosexual being I portray for you. I wish I could have told you guys everything and I know you would have understood, but deep down, I know our relationship would have changed.” These are the words of a South African teenager who committed suicide while on a trip to Israel with his friends. It is heartbreaking but it is also very real and frightening. It’s crucial that Jewish institutions and leaders give visibility to the conversation on LGBT identities in Judaism, rather than avoiding them. Only through open discussions on the matter will we be able to try to live in an environment in which no teenager will ever be so afraid to reveal their sexual identity that they prefer to death.

Some modern Orthodox communities are slowly starting conversations about “inclusiveness, plain ignorance about the way LGBTQ Jews are harassed or dismissed in communities seems to be one of the main obstacles that queer Orthodox Jews face. But as long as Orthodox leaders frame sexual orientation and gender identity as choices, it can be difficult to advance a discussion on the matter.”

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