metatronics | spirit | ahavat olam | toward a queer jewish theology

Toward a Queer Jewish Theology:
Thirteen Principles
Jay Michaelson
July, 2005


Does sexuality matter to religion? That is, does being gay or trans or lesbian or queer or straight, or any of the other labels we attach to sexual identity, have any consequences for how one views religion, theology, and God?

It is hard to answer in the negative. Surely how we experience love of other humans affects how we experience the love of God. How we practice sexuality affects how we regard religious edicts regarding it. Our doubts, concerns, and behaviors are the very stuff of religion itself. So, certainly it matters.

If sexuality matters, if gender matters -- then the next question is how they matter. Yet most queer theory acts like theology doesn’t exist. And most theological writing about gays and lesbians acts like queer theory doesn’t exist.

This essay is an attempt to articulate some of the consequences of queerness for Jewish theology. It is structured on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith, which has become a semi-canonical iteration of Jewish theology. First, just a few short words about 'queer,' 'theology,' and this project.

The dominant understanding of human sexual identity is a pie chart: homosexuals on one side, heterosexuals on the other. Men are men, and ladies are ladies. Gays and lesbians confound these expectations, and thirty years of queer theory have shown that they aren't true of "straight" people either. To be queer is to reject the notion that gender and sexuality can be reduced to simple check-boxes. Note that the opposite of queer is not straight; the opposite of queer is normal. In this sense, of course, many, many people are queer, which is precisely the point; queer sexuality is everyone’s sexuality. To take an example from the Jewish tradition, when a heterosexual man imagines his soul as female, and uniting with the male Godhead, I think that’s very, very queer. Or to take another example, when Kabbalists see God in Godself as containing both male and female, as constantly shifting gender roles and attitudes, that’s queer too. These things are queer even though the Kabbalists, presumably, made love with their wives and not with each other, and even if they maintained highly negative attitudes towards homosexuality. The claim of queer theory is not that straight men are all secretly homosexual; it is that men, women, and everyone else do not fit neatly into categories such as gay and straight, or, to the extent they do, they do so as a matter of anxious choice. Queerness is connected to soul, not genitals.

The project of theology is to think as rigorously as possible about God. The field originated not in the Jewish world but in the Christian one, largely in response to debates regarding the nature of Divinity, which were themselves in large part debates about the meaning of the New Testament. However, there has been Jewish theology since Biblical times, and systematic Jewish theology since the Medieval period. Today, one might hazard a guess that, for many people, theology is expected of Western religion. This was not always the case, and is not the case in other cultures. Yet in our own time and place, there is a view that religion is supposed to tell you things about God, God's relationship to us, and so on -- and have more or less worked-out answers to these questions. Postmodernism and queer theory often deny the possibility of "worked-out answers" of any kind, and postmodern theology has long accepted that a theology is generally more a matter of asking certain questions; the answers will depend largely on our perspectives. Hence, queer theology.

Having said these things about "queer" and "theology," it is clear that no article can really create a queer theology. The limitations in this work are manifold. First, it is written from a mostly-gay male perspective, and reflects that stance. Second, I have chosen to focus on sexuality rather than gender, even though queerness is as much about questioning gender as destabilizing norms of sexuality. Third, I acknowledge that my own Jewish theology is idiosyncratic: it is panentheistic, mystically-oriented, and nondualistic, and is itself a product of multiple sources, Jewish and otherwise. Thus, this is a queer Jewish theology. I do not believe that the queer Jewish theology even makes sense as a concept -- but even if it does, this is not it.

With these provisos in mind, I will now proceed with thirteen principles of a queer Jewish theology.

1. Negative Theology and Queerness
God is Infinite

All theology is like looking into the Infinite, and seeing a mirror. To speak truly of God-in-godself is to invite contradiction -- not because of pious dogma, but because the Infinite transcends the ability of logic to divide, discern, and understand. Familiar theological concepts like omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence all collapse under scrutiny. How can language, which is a set of tools for working with finitude, express that which is infinite? Every label is a form of limitation. That which is blue is not red; that which is perfect cannot change. Hence generations of "negative theologians" have sought to approach the One not by projection of qualities of Being (yesh) but of negation of those qualities to better approach the transcendent, which, from our perspective, must of necessity be Nothing (ayin).

The opposite of queer is normal. Thus difference - as contrasted with normativity - is the hallmark of queerness. The task of queering Jewish theology can never totally succeed, to the extent that a theology is meant to be normative and totalizing. The first principle of a queer Jewish theology, or a queered Jewish theology, is that there is no one (queer) Jewish theology. To queer Jewish theology means to erase its aspirations of being total.

Thus, to queer Jewish theology is consonant with -- perhaps even conducive to -- the negative theological path. The more we upset familiar categories and ways about thinking about God, the closer we are to God. Labels that come from our own experience -- God is male, God is just, God is the source of wonder -- are projections. They can reduce the ineffability of the transcendent, and flatten our experience of the immanent into categories shaped by desire and aversion. In this light, queer experience helps undermine the normative tendency in theological thinking. Removing assumptions of Divine gender, reading Kabbalah as positing a Divine hermaphrodite hiding in the closet of the world, denying that categories of gender even exist ultimately at all -- all of these are moves closer to the Infinity and Oneness of the Divine. The farther we get from our preconceived notions of what ‘identity’ is supposed to be, the closer we are to realization.

At the same time, there is the desire to approach God and relate to the Infinite, as impossible as philosophers insist that it is. The mind may know one (or zero), but the heart knows two -- and yearns. Thus theology does not end with negative theology; it begins there. From God’s point of view, there is no difference whether you are gay, straight, male, female, Jewish, not Jewish, alive, or dead. But we approach God from our own point of view; “In my flesh, I see God.” As we do so, acknowledging radical difference both takes us away from the trap of simple knowing, and allows us to relate to the Beloved from our bodies, hearts, and souls.

2. The Reality and Primacy of Love
God is One

As we proceed from the unknowability of the Infinite to the God which relates to the world, love is the first primary word. All Western mystics express their relationship to God in erotic terms, and it is no mere metaphor. In the Oneness of the One, a great Knowing Love naturally flows. As mystics and contemplatives know from their experience, compassion and love arise spontaneously from a place of enlightened wisdom. Love flows from our experience of the Divine, and God is more readily Knowable – in the rich multiple meanings that term has in Hebrew – in Love. Along the path, we can experience intense love of God, and cultivate an intense erotic fire for Divine and an awareness of God present in our love. To be holy is to be on fire with love for God. Love is the essence of contemplative life.

If love is the essence of our relationship to the One, then how we experience love affects how we know the One. God as experienced by a gay man is different from God as experienced by a heterosexual woman. And so on through all the permutations.

Secondly, to be a self-accepting gay or lesbian person, one generally must go through a certain process of negation and affirmation. In homophobic societies, one is told that how one loves is wrong; that it is an incorrect choice; that it is not in accord with a life well lived. At some point, one must see these statements as false; that how one loves is right; that it is not an incorrect choice; that it is in accord with life well lived. This inversion teaches, in an experiential way, the primacy of love. Even for those of us who were never denied, we must still return, again and again, to the source of our knowing – our love – when jabbed at by the fingers of bigots. Our love is not taken for granted. It is not celebrated in most of our culture. It is something we come to know. Might we say, without in any way denigrating heterosexual love or privileging other kinds, this: that the queer man or woman, who has come to know the holiness of his own love – who has been required to come to this knowledge for the sake of his sanity – has a deeper and richer understanding of what it is to love, than someone for whom love has always been sanctified?

There are those whose fundamental modality remains fear: fear of difference, fear of their own unexplored territory, fear of losing that which they care for by accepting that which seems threatening. But to be accepting of one’s queerness means that one has moved from a place of fear to a place of love. The luxury of ignorance is not afforded to the self-accepting queer. Nor is the luxury o f acceptance. Because queer love must reassert itself, re-understand itself, revalidate itself on an almost continual basis, it represents a distinctive opening to the Love of the One.

The centrality of love in the Jewish tradition is unmistakable. It must be reclaimed in our conceptions of how law develops, how people develop, and, in the broadest possible sense, "What God wants." Yet introspection will be required. For instance, while the Jewish patriarchy conceives a God in its own image - God the father - the same patriarchy commands us to love God with all our heart, soul, and might. How does a man love God the father spiritually, erotically, with the whole body, mind, heart, and spirit? How does a man love God with all our heart, soul, and might, yet also cleave to his wife, and, one hopes, love her? So, to state the obvious, love is complicated to articulate, even within the normative constructs of Jewish life.

3. Godtalk
God has no body and cannot be described

God is a queer hermaphrodite hiding in the closet of the world.

For God to “come out,” God must be awakened by us and within us, since it is through mind that God comes to know Godself, which in the Hebrew is to make love to oneself, replicating the auto-erotic delight of pre-creation. According to the Zohar, prior to the world’s coming into being, God existed-not-existed in a state of delighting in Godself, in the undifferentiated unity. The word for “delight” is sha’ashua, which has a sexual connotation. Like the primordial masturbation of the Greek Oranos, which spills seed into Ocean and creates the world, the pre-differentiated state of the ein sof is not what we would suppose to be a neutral one. It is one of pre-heterogenous arousal.

The foundational love of the universe, then, is homoerotic, because at that moment there was no Other to love. And since the foundational moment of the universe exists outside of time, it exists through all time: it exists Now, and only Now. At this moment, God is separating and reunifying, differentiating into male and female, and reuniting both opposite principles and same principles into a unity which encompasses all and loves itself.

How does God come out of the closet? To answer this question, we need to identify what the ‘closet’ is in this context. For queers who lived for some period of time “in the closet,” the metaphor refers to the veil of lies that alienate one from oneself and others. Although the closet may manifest in action as well as words, its essence is the lie, and lies are empty of reality.

God’s closet is the illusion of separation and distinction. What seems to be Other-than-us is not Other-than-us, because ‘it’ is God and ‘we’ are God. What appears to be the uniting of opposites is, in truth, a uniting of sames. We unmask Being for what it is: a hermaphrodite in manifestation (to use anthropomorphic language, but only barely), seeking to unite with itself; ontologically prior to manifestation, only the One. Six thousand aeons of evolution have engendered higher and higher forms of complexity, each transcending and including those below. Everything manifests the One, but as complexity evolves consciousness, Being begins to have the power to know (yada) that it is the One, to bring about the knowledge that transcends and includes ‘carnal knowledge,’ transcends and includes mystical knowledge; is, fundamentally, the Knower and the Knowing and the Known.

This is what it means to be created in the Divine image: to know that one’s image is Divine, that no opposites exist, and that there is no other.

4. Integrating body, mind, heart, and spirit
God is the creator of the universe

Ignoring the body leads to denigration of the body. Denying the heart leads to ignorance of God. Forgetting the mind leads to ignorance, error, and violence. Omitting the spirit leads to despair. Equipped with the Jewish map of the four worlds, we are invited to integrate them.

Many queers know what it is to hate the body and have had consciously to embrace it. Many queers know how the mind totalizes and rationalizes, and resist and disrupt such procedures. Conversely, a queer theology is premised on a re-embrace of the mind and spirit, a refusal to cede the ground of intellection to others.

Questioning the dominant assumptions about our bodies, we come to know our bodies more. We are invited to explore the parameters of pleasure. We do not rest within assumptions, and transmute the Jewish exhortations to conjugal fulfillment into an embodied, eroticized monotheism that unites the earthly and the heavenly. Outside even mysticism’s heteronormative soteriology, we come to know our souls more. A spectrum of permutations replace the binary uniting of “opposites.” We embody and en-soul both male and female aspects of the Divine, and do not fear to take on the roles of each, like the patriarch Isaac, who the Kabbalists identify with the female sefirah of gevurah, or King David, who represents the feminine Presence of the Divine. We search our soul-root-brothers and sisters beyond the one bashert of the Baal Shem Tov, in the wider possibilities of the Ari and Chaim Vital, who teaches that we share soul-roots with many people, men and women alike.

This is so even when our bodily experience is pain rather than pleasure. No queer theory of theology should posit a norm of queer experience; to do so would contradict its central purpose. There is no pleasure which queers are supposed to feel. There is no normative queer experience of the body, mind, heart, or spirit. On the contrary, it is the deviation rather than the essence which is the fundamental aspect. We are forced to search beyond norms, texts, and fixed notions if we wish to know the questions that, for others, might be answered in words. That search is the contemplative path itself.

5. Why are there gay people in the world?
God formed all creation as an expression of God’s “kingship”

Few straight people ever ask, “Why did God make me straight?” Those queers who are moved to ask “Why did God make me gay?” thus have greater occasion to ponder whether there is any purpose to our lives and our natures, Divine or otherwise. Some have done a commendable job at articulating the distinctive talents of GLBT people (see, for example, the work of Toby Johnson, Christian de la Huerta, and the many figures interviewed in the classic Gay Soul). However, to say that there is a purpose to being created queer is to say that there has to be one. The reason no one asks why God made them straight is that no one presumes a need for an explanation. In promoting our special gifts, or our unique mission, queers should be wary both of essentialism and of believing that our existence needs to be explained if it is not to be regarded as an aberration.

“I’ve fought all my life for the right to be boring,” U.S. Representative Barney Frank said.

As individuals, we have no ‘queer purpose.’ We have only the purposes of our individual devising. Some of these may be related to our sexuality, and some will not. Perhaps none will. When we speak of ‘purpose’ we are, at most, speaking in the aggregate. Perhaps, instead of purposes, we should ask how queerness has influenced our individual participation in universal aspects of the human experience. How do I conceive sexual violence, marginalization, joy, friendship, music, design, irony, morality, theology, love – and in what informative ways might these be related to my sexuality? At times there may be no difference. But at other times I find a relationship that may be useful. Queer voices have been relatively silent in the mainstreams of Western religion, even as they have been (in concealment) prominent in mysticism. Now that those voices are beginning to be heard, do they have anything distinctive to say?

Then the door is open, to Blossom of Bone and the two-spirit people. To the berdache and the path of the walks-between. To those who have defied gender roles, stood outside ordinary society, and become priests, poets, and healers. We have been the dwellers in liminal spaces, the boundary-crossers, the holy fools. Although we have been shut off from our own history, scholars are now discovering how rich that history is, and how queers are shamans in cultures around the world.

6. The Necessity of Experience
God’s prophecy is given to people

Most queers are not mystics. But a disproportionate number of mystics are queer. Why?

Queer theology privileges experience because, as discussed earlier, queers must experience the truth of their sexual identities -- they cannot trust in mediated authority. If we do not accept experience as primary, then it is possible to live an entire, sad life in denial of one’s own potential for self-actualization. After all, the Torah says so. Thus a queer Jewish theology must be based in an experience of self and of ultimate value, not a mere reportage or rational elaboration of Divinity. How else do we know that God does not hate me for being queer?

Yet if we do accept experience as primary, we are required to adopt a theology that is experiential in nature. Whether it calls itself mystical or not, it must be grounded in an ontology which validates the individual experience. Only when we experience the Numinous do we know our truth, because God mediated has historically been God mistranslated by those who do not understand us.

There are other possibilities, of course.

Some would ascribe this phenomenon to sublimation. Outsiders, we search for the only love-object that is available to us. The intensity of a Whitman or Wilde, then, is about repression. It is a transmutation of the impossibility of the immanent, the physical – into the reality of the transcendent. As Langston Hughes wrote, "To some people love is given/To others, only heaven."

There is truth the consequences of repression, but only a partial truth. Would I have turned to meditation if I had felt no pain of exclusion? Would I walk alone in the woods, seeking God, if I had been fully satisfied with my intimate life? We can view spirituality as a collection of half-truths we use to balm our wounds. We can cynically wink at the coincidence of the unloved soul feeling Universal Love emanating from every paper clip. But if we do that, we must also flatten every work of art into sensory titillation, and reduce our joy at childbirth to gametes.

Moreover, not all queer mystics were repressed in the ways we imagine. Consider the counter-examples: the rapturous, homoerotic religious poetry of Sufi, Greek, and Japanese cultures. In these very different religious contexts, God was imagined as a beautiful boy by men, and as a maiden by women. This was not seen as transgressive. It was not a gender-neutral love – when queer expression was not repressed, it flowered in religious contexts as well. And in those parts of the Jewish world influenced by their Muslim surroundings, homoerotic love poetry for the Divine flourished. So queer religiosity does not require repression, and is not reducible to a neurotic response to it.

Another possibility is that the Native Americans are right, that queer people by the features of their personality are drawn to be mystics. In some Native American traditions, when boys appear not to be taking an interest in girls, and appear to be taking on feminine traits, their inter-genderedness is acknowledge and sanctified by the community. Perhaps queers, like Jews, are a nation of priests. There are some who say: we are designed by evolution to exist apart from the neat and orderly. We are genetically programmed to be, in this way, outsiders. Conceived in terms of evolution or ensoulment, the third gender is intrinsically holy-souled. Hence the artists, mystics, shamans; hence the preservation of ecstatic ritual in dance clubs, albeit without the spiritual meaning. But is such essentialism at odds with the idea of queerness itself?

Or: like all outsiders, historically-alienated queers have a perspective on society which insiders lack. They see that we live in boxes of our mental construction. And so they are more apt to transcend them. Our relationships with God are of necessity more self-aware than those who do not encounter a disjuncture between the tradition and their own truths.

Another possibility: thus some of us have come to know love keenly because it has long been denied us. If she does not hate God, the queer finds it easy to love Her. Perhaps the hate itself is part of the process of love. Recall Bruno Bettelheim’s gloss on the frog- and- prince fairy tale. In many of the tellings of that tale, the frog does not turn into a prince when he is kissed. Rather, the lady who has found him ends up throwing him (in frog form) against the wall, in anger and frustration. Only then does he turn into a prince. Likewise for many of us, our anger at God is a step along the path to loving Her all the more intensely.

There is truth to all of these causes. The consequences are more clear: those who stay, or return, know deeply the inadequacy of the fixed text. Like an Moses de Leon or an Abulafia, who pummels the text into its individual letters, and then alchemically alters the letters through numerical equivalents into new concepts, the queer mystic knows that texts reveal and conceal, that even the most elaborate of legal interpretations is but the choreography of a moondance, while the hidden text gestures at the moon itself.

7. New heroes
There is none like Moses

Moses remains the archetypal Jewish hero. However, for those who look beyond the dominant heroes, queers find models in the effeminized Isaac, the twink Jacob/Israel, the aesthete-mystic Bezalel, Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan. Marginalized figures with multiple meanings, names, and identities – from the dismembered concubine in Kings to the night angels who accost Moses and his uncircumcised son – become foregrounded as the central narratives are decentered by queer Biblical hermeneutics. Without reductive ‘gay hunting,’ we find within our tradition countless examples of silenced, closeted, multiply-named, erotically transgressive heroes. If Jews are the queers of the religious world, our existing Bible is ready for new eyes.

8. Law
The Torah is true

A queer Jewish theology must encounter halacha. But there is a fundamental question as to whether it is even possible to have queer halacha, if queer is about undermining stable categories and halacha is about creating them.

As to specific halachot, there are numerous halachic interpretive strategies with respect to leviticus 18. But first one must have a rich understanding, intrinsic to the halachic process, of how lived experience impacts interpretation. That the dominant reading of leviticus 18 causes pain and suffering and death matters halachically. These are more theologically relevant than the particular hermeneutic strategies we deploy to humanize the halacha.

Note, though, that halachic reasoning is reasoning. It feels like almost a betrayal of queerness to write a tshuvah. An analogy here might be to queer theory, which wants to disrupt academic discourse. Standard academic discourse marginalizes certain kinds of thinking, particularly those which are emotional, body-centered, holistic, non-rational, and so many queer theorists don’t want to participate in that discourse. This is why so many of their work products are opaque or non-traditional in form. The halacha’s form and reasoning seems to offer similar obstacles to strategies of resistance.

A third problem of the project of queer halacha is that, at the present time, there clearly is a disconnect between halacha as understood in all halachic movements and queer self-acceptance. Is the only valid answer to be a reform or other non-halachic jew? If halacha as a system is to be maintained, we have to acknowledge that there is a mode of halachic exceptionalism or difference that queer jews practice. To wait for rabbinic authorities to see the truth of the matter - the same truth of the matter that is clear upon direct experience of the divine and upon confrontation with the evil of the closet - is psychologically untenable. It is not a lifestyle but a death-style. Thus the halachic system must be interrupted by the known reality of the self-accepting queer Jew, regardless of how halachic she is.

Yet if the Torah is true, and we are not made queer by caprice, then generations of commentators are wrong because of their ignorance of the Reality of the One.

9. Tshuvah
God does not change

God may be omnipresent, but we are sometimes not present. God may not change, but we do. We run and return, run and return.

Queer tshuvah is of necessity more complex than straight tshuvah. We must interpose our consciences between our actions and the text. Are queers uniquely called upon to be arrogant? To refuse to say “we have our interpretation, and they have theirs”? Even the conscience may not be reliable, formed in the crucible of our childhoods.

The process of gay self-acceptance is one of building self-confidence. The process of tshuvah is one of self-questioning. The desire to change, fundamental to tshuvah, is, applied to sexuality, unhealthy. The essence of Yom Kippur is: it is possible to change. The miracle of tshuvah is: it is possible to change. If she is listening, the queer Jew hears a thousand times, over and over, on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and every day in between: it is possible to change.

We must say: even though some may believe that sexuality may be changed, it is neither possible nor desirable to do so. Must queer tshuvah remain partial, ambivalent?

A proposal: The cathartic, intense process of kapparah is meant to lower our boundaries, plunge us into self-examination, return us to our deepest, core selves. We see our wrong acts for what they are, and, from the perspective of the One, see the possibility of mending them. And what do we find there? Love. Ironically, what is scrubbed away is the doubt caused by the tradition itself. Kapparah requires an uncovering. When something is covered over, it is invisible. When we clear the covering away, we reveal it.

Queer tshuvah demands the return to the One in order to quiet potentially endless circuits of doubt. And that process of return is necessarily cathartic, with the ironic difference that the remnants of resistence to God are colored precisely by the Godtalk of others. If the deepest heart and the deepest Torah do not agree, go deeper. Which yields first will depend on how deep you go.

10. Queer Identity and Theory
God knows our innermost thoughts (and is the knower and the known of them)

Gender is a social construction; the alterity of queers and Jews; the cultural construction of each group by the dominant ones; the ways in which structures of normalcy oppress the differences of each; the strategies of queering, questioning, and resistance; the play of signifiers within Jewish, queer, and Jewish/queer cultural production; the subversion of hierarchy. Have we begun to conceive these questions in terms of Torah, service of God, and the performance of righteous deeds?

11. Eroticism
Lovingkingness and selfishness are repaid in kind

Sex with another is sex with God. The Kabbalists speak of this, that a man should make love to his wife thinking of the Shechinah. In a dualist universe, this is an awful, selfish act -- to think of God instead of the wife or lover. But in a nondualist consciousness, sex with another is sex with God, with no separation or denial of the Other’s uniqueness. It is union with a manifestation of the One, in the unique form of the Other. As I have written elsewhere, “I look into his eyes, and I see Yours.”

Lovingkindness is the aspect of hesed, expansion, yang, giving energy. Holy selfishness is the aspect of gevurah, contraction, yin, receiving energy. As gay men who can embody the top and the bottom, we can unite within our mirrors in tiferet, harmony. As lesbians who distinguish pleasure from penetration, and who assume an infinity of roles in sexuality, we can embody a spectrum of Divine energies.

Surrender to this moment of God in holy eroticism. Embody the active manifestation of this moment in holy eroticism. Join together the sky and the earth, unite the immanent and transcendent, respond to and run to the One.

God is both yesh and ayin, revealed and concealed. Intimacy with the ayin involves a penetration to the deep core of the Other, to that which is the Ground of the Other, and of You: the reality of the One, an Awareness far deeper than thought. This is “intense” enough, and for those who seek only intensity, it is “spirituality.”

But God is in the yesh too, in the irreducible Otherness of the Other, as manifesting now, in his or her uniqueness. Rav Kook writes that every blade of grass sings a song to God – not all the same song. How much more so is the chorus varied, complicated, beautiful when it is not blades of grass singing but the sad, lovely music of humanity.

When we know and are known by God in the body of a lover – not even, necessarily, a beloved – we know a rapturous union that denies nothing of the lover’s self. I look into his eyes not only aware of the One coming to recognize Itself but also of the different way in which the One is present, here, in he who is inside me, or who I am inside. The experience is different depending on the role each of us is playing – another unique spiritual practice available to gay men but not to most exclusively heterosexual ones. Sometimes I am allowing, experiencing new pains and pleasures, and above all: surrendering, surrendering, surrendering. Other times I am embodying energy, allowing it to flow and animate me, assertive, active, powerful. It is so easy to see the error of polytheism. I think most of us still fall prey to it at times.

All that is asked of us, if we wish to know God, is to surrender fully into whatever the present moment is manifesting, and release the desire that it be other than what it is. When we are being penetrated by our lovers, we enact this surrender on a bodily level so intense that it rips our attention away from thought, and pushes us into a trans- and pre- rational state. The power of a good lover, who makes love strong and tough and tender and wild, not only invites but demands our surrender. Even if our minds wanted to distract us from the now, He grabs us back and forces us to submit to it. My lover pierces me with darts of love, and I surrender to Him.

And there are other times when we are agents of energy. Can we retain our no-selves even at these times? Once more the treasure of intense sexuality is a teacher. Obviously, it is possible in any sexual role to fantasize and be removed from the moment. But if we allow those fantasies to drop, we must drop all other thoughts as well. Sex enacts embodied theology and becomes a contemplative discipline.

12. Radical Difference
God will send a redeemer

Even in the messianic age, difference will remain. Difference is not an interruption of the Divine order; it is the Divine order. Triumphalism, ethnocentrism, imperialism – these are incompatible with a love of difference.

As we proceed on the path to redemption, we need more knowledge of difference, not less. Just as queering marriage – by, e.g., removing traditional gender roles of man and woman – influences all married people, not just those who defy previously traditional roles, so too does queering Jewish theology change theology for all Jews. We are not founding a new religion but pursuing the eschatological aspirations of Jewishness itself. At such time as all is difference, and no norms fix an image of the Divine, history will have its endpoint in messianism.

13. New questions
God will resurrect the dead

There are new questions a queer theology must ask, which do not fit within the parameters of traditional creeds. Queerness undermines assumptions and, in its ontological, psychological, sociological, and soteriological iconoclasm, it draws us closer to God. What old/new idols will we shatter tomorrow?



related pages:

Ahavat olam: Speech given at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America on Conservative Judaism and sexual orientation.  The speech focuses on my own suffering in the closet, and argues that the Jewish God could not possibly create gay people only to subject them to the repression of the closet.

Nehirim: A Spiritual Initiative for GLBT Jews:  Organization I direct which is dedicated to creating an authentically Jewish, authentically queer spirituality.

A response to the Roth tshuvah: Long, legal response to the leading opinion in the conservative movement that forbids homosexual activity.

Da'at: Essay on the erotics of learning, teaching, and knowledge.  To be published in August, 2004, in Metsch: On Being Queer and Jewish.

about jay michaelson

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