Shavuot is a time for us to remember the moment when we stood in front of G-d at the foot of Mount Sinai as we received the Torah. This pivotal spiritual event — the moment we became a people, bound together by a sacred covenant with G-d — touched the essence of the Jewish soul for eternity.
Yet, despite the progress being made in the past decade, many Jewish LGBT people feel excluded from this covenant because, sadly, the interpretation of religious texts is often still the driving force behind exclusion and inequality.
As a tradition that highlights the importance for the preservation of Jewish religious observance — one that remembers the connection between Judaism, agriculture, and healthy communities — Shavuot offers an opportunity for reconnection for everyone and in particular for the Jewish LGBT community. Here’s why:
At the moment of the revelation all of the Jewish people were present — every single one of us, including priests, commoners, elders, adults and children stood at the foot of Mount Sinai as equals, irrespective of our standing in life. We were all there. Therefore, each of us still shares equally in the covenant with G-d — regardless of our gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Tomorrow, when we study Megilat Rut as part of the celebrations, we’ll be reminded again how Ruth — the first convert to Judaism — declared to Naomi her desire to be part of the Israelite community when she says to Naomi: “Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d.”
Ruth then journeys back with Naomi to Bethlehem, where she performs acts of loving-kindness for her mother-in-law and marries the Israelite Boaz. She becomes a Jew, despite the law in Deuteronomy 23:4 that prohibit admitting an Ammonite or a Moabite or their descendants into the Israelite community. In fact, Ruth becomes such an integral part of the Israelite narrative that she becomes an ancestor of King David.
Celebrating Ruth being ‘different’, rather than her being reviled, beautifully illustrates how Shavuot is in fact also a modern celebration of inclusiveness.
Adding to that, Shavuot, or Hag HaKatzir (The Harvest Holiday), is also an agricultural celebration that marks the bringing of bikkurim, first fruits, to the Temple… offering the fruits of our labour.
There is a certain poetic synchronicity to Shavuot being celebrated in the midst of LGBT Pride festivities across the globe. Pride is a time when LGBT people embrace the fruits of our labour and acknowledge how far our community has come in the struggle for liberation and equality: we can look at our ‘harvest’ with pride, knowing that in many countries (sadly not all), LGBT people are enjoying more equality than ever.
The progress we’ve made is the result of our own bikkurim — those who came before us and offered sacrifices on our behalf to pave the way for our freedom.
When I visualise Shavuot, this is what I see at Sinai: I see millions of Jews standing together. I see cultural Jews standing next to Orthodox Jews standing next to our non-Jewish family members and friends. I see families, of all different configurations, huddled together under one tallit or around a picnic blanket. I see LGBT Jews and Jewish converts. I see millions of people staring at the heavens, watching the thunder and lightning… And then I see great joy. I hear songs erupting and the sunlight breaking through the dark clouds. I see households celebrating together and praying for a successful continuation of the harvest.
Want to add a healthy and tasty dish to your Shavuot Menu, click here:
** This article was written by Francois Lubbe and Allan Davis @HotSaltBeef **