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Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on finding a spiritual community even you feel like they’re not your people

First, a reminder that even if the rabbi of a synagogue is preaching stuff that does not align with your political beliefs–that does not necessarily mean that every single person in that community is similarly aligned. There may be other folks who are much more kindred spirits than you might think at first blush — and it might take a second or two to find them, but that does not mean that they are not there or impossible to find. Synagogues are often comprised of communities within communities, and it may be possible for you to find yours. How? Well, first you have to start showing up to things where you might be able to meet people. Is there a social justice or social action committee doing stuff? Are there other subgroups within the synagogue that feel like they might be more likely to have folks on your wavelength? Is there a younger folks group — even if they call it “Young Professionals“ or some such thing, you may find some true kindred spirits there — you never know. I say this from experience, as someone who showed up to a Conservative synagogue in my early 20s, as the youngest (by about 15 years) and queerest (by far) person I could see for miles. With some patience and digging, eventually I connected with an amazing intergenerational group of people (some of whom knew each other before, some not), some of whom I am still in touch with today, many many many years later. 

Second of all, even though it is lovely and comfortable to go to community that has been built, don’t discount your own power to build community. You can (eg) host Shabbat dinner for a motley group of people–some of whom may be Jews, some of whom may not be, some of whom may be familiar with Jewish practice, some of whom may not at all. ‏ Make it potluck, or do a simple pot of soup and salad and frittata. Or make a vat of chili get some chips and guac you’ve got dinner. Get some wine or juice and challah– bam! Get this going as a monthly thing and see if you can get enough of a community together to get some text study or prayer action before or after dinner (davening first, study after). Etc. Do a lunch! Make it a picnic when the weather improves! Host holiday things! Get creative! Start slow, build.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg – You asked I answered

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Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on the scriptures in Leviticus used to justify homophobia

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has been one of my favourite religious teachers for a few years now. Recently she’s written up two posts exploring what she calls “clobber” texts: verses in the Bible (Hebrew Bible in this case) that are used to clobber the LGBTQ community and justify homophobia / transphobia.

Links to the two articles:

Her analysis is useful (and entertaining) and I imagine I’ll be coming back to these if I ever find myself in a discussion with someone trying to justify homophobia based on the Bible.

Beyond her unpacking of these verses and ways to interpret them, two things stood out to me. First: the role of scripture teachers in a world where religious fundamentalism is taking hold again. She lives in the USA where fundamentalist Christians are gaining significant political power and shaping laws to force their worldview onto others. The reality in Australia’s politics is different, but you see the same religious fundamentalism play out in power structures at the level of families and schools and communities.

Because in the days when drag bans are getting passed and gun bans aren’t, knowing your text inside and out matters.

We have to fight against the encroaching theocracy in many ways at once. One of those ways includes disemboweling bad readings of sacred texts—especially the bad readings that are used to harm people—at every available opportunity.

The other thing that stood out was her willingness to criticise the patriarchal and homophobic ideology when that’s what is in the text. Growing up evangelical, I had been taught “all scripture is God breathed”, and when something in there was completely out of step with our contemporary values, we either tried to change our values to match, or tried to reinterpret the text in some way that downplayed the parts we disagreed with. The Rabbi on the other hand isn’t afraid to question and criticise the scripture itself and the major rabbinic commentary through history – acknowledging it as tainted by human prejudices – even while somehow approaching it with care, treating it as sacred, and allowing it to speak.

As much as I love to hold up the more optimistic texts in my corpus, it’s still a very patriarchal tradition and we have plenty with which to reckon.