Gay, Orthodox, and in Love: Chaim Elbaum’s “And Thou Shalt Love”

Haim Watzman

When Chaim Elbaum stood up to field questions last night, he said that Kehilat Yedidya, is the first Israeli Orthodox community to ask him to come to screen and speak about his short film And Thou Shalt Love , and about his personal decision to accept his homosexuality while insisting on remaining an observant and believing Jew.

It would be all too easy to dismiss all the synagogues that have not invited him as benighted and homophobic-and those would certainly be correct adjectives to apply in many cases. But Orthodox Judaism’s legal structure requires that changes in attitudes and behavior be grounded in the halachic discourse. In the case of homosexuality, the prohibition in the Torah and in rabbinic writings is so severe that the halachic resolution is likely to require decades of discussion and argumentation. Even Elbaum acknowledged last night that he doesn’t yet know what the ultimate halachic resolution of the issue could or should be. Will the proscriptions against homosexuality eventually be completely overturned, placing same-sex relationships on a par with opposite-sex ones, like those sometimes seen on Babestation and other channels? Or will the solution involve a recognition that the heterosexual family is still an ideal to be aspired to-but that homosexuals who are unable to achieve that ideal may legitimately and openly have families of their own type? Or is some other, as yet unimaginable resolution in the offing?

Read moreGay, Orthodox, and in Love: Chaim Elbaum’s “And Thou Shalt Love”

Licht Observed: Evan Fallenberg’s “Light Fell”

Haim Watzman

Joseph Licht, a religious Israeli with a devoted wife, five young sons, and a budding academic career attends a Torah class in Jerusalem given by a young rabbinic prodigy. The two men fall in love and conduct a passionate affair, leading Joseph to abandon his family and his religion—on the same day that his lover commits suicide. Two decades later, on his fiftieth birthday, Joseph invites his five grown sons to spend with him a Shabbat of celebration and reconciliation.

In Light Fell, Evan Fallenberg fluently takes on a tough subject—not just father-son relationships to the fifth power, not just father-son estrangement over many long years, but also father-son relationships sacrificed to love, and love of kind that breaks the most fundamental of his family’s implicit covenants and explicit taboos.

Joseph seeks to reconnect with his sons both to explain to them why he left them and to urge them to learn the lesson he learned. He had been living a lie, he tells them, and had no choice but to be true to himself. He sees that his sons, too, are avoiding, each in his own way, important decisions about who they are and what they must do with their lives, and he wants them, too, to know and follow the truth about themselves.

Read moreLicht Observed: Evan Fallenberg’s “Light Fell”

Jewish Literature As It Ought To Be: Naomi Alderman’s “Disobedience”

Haim Watzman

Last month I published an essay in the Jewish Chronicle of London in which I asserted that something is missing from most of the literature being produced by and about Jews today: “What I seek are books that, without being bound by conventions of religion and history, nevertheless use familiarity with and respect for the past as an instrument for thinking about the future of the Jewish people and what it means to be part of that collective.”

Had I read Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience before I wrote that, I would have written: I’ve found it. This is exactly what I mean.

Disobedience presents us with the most intriguing, unusual, and complex love triangle I’ve seen in contemporary fiction for quite some time. Rabbi Krushka, the spiritual leader of a small, straight-laced, insular, and conventional Orthodox community in London’s Hendon neighborhood, has passed on. He groomed as his successor his nephew, Dovid, but Dovid lacks his uncle’s charisma and native wisdom. Even worse, Dovid is married to Esti, a woman known for her long silences. She doesn’t mix much with the community’s women, she’s born no children, and everyone thinks that she’s more than a tad weird.

Read moreJewish Literature As It Ought To Be: Naomi Alderman’s “Disobedience”

More on Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Thanks to Jeff Greer for responding to my post Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge and mentioning an important book for those interested in the subject, Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s “Wrestling with God and Man”. Greenberg is a gay Orthodox Jew who is doing important work to find a place for gay men and women in traditional … Read more More on Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Gay Families: The Halachic Challenge

Sick of hearing about settlements, human rights violations, and Jeremiah Wright? Want to read something happy for a change? Take a look at Caryn Aviv’s story about “My Big Fat Gay Jewish Family in yesterday’s Ha’aretz-English edition.

Loving, happy families with gay parents present a challenge—but a potentially productive one—for Orthodox Jewish halacha. As long as homosexuality was practiced in hiding, it could be dismissed as deviant, unhealthy, and incompatible with society’s vested interest in promoting strong families as the best environment for raising and educating children. Looking at families like Aviv’s, it’s hard to raise any rational objection to such non-traditional family structures. Objectively, many traditional, nuclear families fail to provide children with the emotional security they need; how can we condemn a non-traditional structure that does so provide?

Read moreGay Families: The Halachic Challenge