Surrounded by strangers, I felt completely alone this past Rosh Hashana. And, yes, G-d was there, but things were different. His role was different. Instead of just being my judge and my king, He was also my adversary. And to think that, as an Orthodox Jew, seems entirely… insane. Heretical even. But it felt true. Even with the recognition that my existence is entirely inconsequential when compared to G-d, I felt that, for the first time, I could argue with Him. I could beg. Because it was not just for me. It was for every Jew in the LGBTQ community.
It happened by ונתנה תוקף, a timing that could be expected, if one were to expect an emotional breakdown on Rosh Hashana. But it was not just the general recognition of human mortality or the realization of my own lack of agency that so strongly affected my emotional state. It was one simple word, one that most people have the privilege of being able to overlook. סקילה.
For most people, סקילה is simply one of many outdated forms of capital punishment. It does not feel like a specific condemnation or an attack on someone’s personhood. And that is because, for most people, when they act in ways that are not in accordance with the Halacha – as we all do – they are not worried about death. The only “common” prohibitions frequently tied back to the death penalty are acts of homosexuality.
It is a privilege to not be overly concerned with Judaism’s death penalty. I did not recognize this privilege until I met other people who were like me, at which point, without even doing so knowingly, I forfeited that privilege. Because I can hate myself and blame myself and feel like I deserve punishment, but when it comes to my friends? Not a chance.
Paradoxically, it was only once I realized the law would not affect just me, that it became personal.
So, on Rosh Hashana, I begged and I pleaded. I prayed that the death penalty never be reinstated and that there be no comparable retribution after death for anyone who acts on their sexuality. Because my friends, scared and alone and just as anxious as I, are some of the most wonderful people I have ever known. And while I cannot, in any literal sense, follow through on my threat to G-d – if You want to harm them, You have got to go through me first – the threat comes from a place of sincerity.
As someone deeply Jewish – if I can even so identify, after such a brazen declaration of opposition – I was left in kind of a tricky situation. Especially since, just a few short days later, Mincha on Yom Kippur was there to remind me just how much emphasis is placed within Judaism on this one area of Halacha.
Why speak about something that is only impactful for the few, and not even impactful in a positive way, but in a manner that feels entirely demoralizing and trivializes the full lives members of the LGBTQ community hope to lead as Jews?
But then comes Yonah. Out of all characters in Tanach, he is who I identify with the most.
Perhaps this seems to be somewhat of an odd choice. But as someone who struggles with the concept of teshuva and who is willing to square up to fight G-d for the people they care about, he is the perfect character, from my perspective, with which to end Yom Kippur. Because he was wrong, so completely wrong, but he already knew that from the beginning. And yet, he still acted as he did.
Perhaps now I am just doing the same.
There is nothing that can stop me from loving, caring, and hoping. If that means fighting G-d, even though I would lose before getting in a single swing, I’d do it in a heartbeat. That may be wrong, and that is something with which I am still struggling, but at least I can be confident that my approach to this struggle, while perhaps unorthodox, is most certainly Jewish.