Elevate Difference

Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible

Torah Queeries is a compilation of sixty drashot, short exegetical essays, each of which addresses one of the parshiyot, segments of the Torah that comprise the yearly cycle of the reading of the Five Books of Moses. The reason there are sixty drashot rather than the usual fifty-four is because six additional ones are included, each dealing with one of the major Jewish holidays. Each drash engages the pertinent sacred text from a particular queer perspective—whether by exploring passages traditionally assumed to prohibit homosexuality (such as Elliot Dorff’s “How Flexible Can Jewish Law Be?”), by “updating” the story so it speaks to some aspect of the modern-day quest for a more just community (such as Steve Gutow’s “Setting the Stage for Pluralistic Judaism“), or by uncovering the presence of queer gender or queer desire in the Torah itself (such as Sarra Lev‘s “Esau’s Gender Crossing”).

On one hand, the book is an attempt to queer the act of Torah interpretation itself in a variety of ways: reading against the grain, turning traditional interpretations on their heads, reading with an eye to the margins of the stories, and claiming the right (as queer people and other outcasts) to interpret Torah in the first place. On the other hand, as the editors are careful to point out, there is absolutely nothing new about approaching Torah interpretation in this way. Although this is sometimes forgotten, Torah interpretation has always been fundamentally creative, confrontational, and revolutionary.

One need only read a single page of Talmud to understand that contradiction, upheaval, and the search for a more just and inclusive Jewish society are at the sacred core of textual interpretation and generation in (at least rabbinic) Jewish tradition. Thus, Torah Queeries is both boundary-crossing and radical and squarely traditional. As its focus on, and profound respect for, the Torah suggests, the book seeks to root itself firmly in history while simultaneously contributing to the continued dynamism of a modern, evolving Judaism.

Torah Queeries is close to my heart, and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the project in its first incarnation as a weekly queer Torah commentary blog. I’m also fortunate to be able to say that many of the authors in the anthology are my colleagues and friends. I’ve experienced firsthand the amazing community that has accrued around a shared love of Torah, as well as a shared belief in the value and dignity of queer people in all our forms.

Torah Queeries and related queer Jewish projects are creating venues for queer Jewish scholarship, creativity, and community. This is precious, powerful work.

Written by: Ri J. Turner, April 8th 2010