Notes from Limmud Fest 2010
Six Queer Heroes and Scoundrels
Before we start...
Genesis 6:1–2 בראשית ו א–ד It came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. וַיְהִי כִּי־הֵחֵל הָאָדָם לָרֹב עַל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה וּבָנוֹת יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם׃ וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת־בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ׃
Rashi says these are the sons of nobles who can force any woman of low class in droit de seigneur, which leads to raping married women, which leads to raping men, which leads to raping animals
Noaḥ and Ḥam[no notes here]
Despite the prohibition on same sex relations they took place and are reported in the Bible. Lesbians don't appear in the תנ״ך. Because these stories were not erased, it allows people realising they are LGBT to connect with the tradition. (Similar to how women can connect with the tradition.)
David and JonathanThis takes place after the slaying of Goliath:
1 Samuel 18:1–4 שמואל א יח–ד When [David] had finished speaking with Saul, Jonathan's soul was bound up with the soul of David; Jonathan loved him as himself.1 Saul took him [into his service] that day, and would not let him return to his father's house.2 Then Jonathan and David made a pact, because [Jonathan] loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the cloak and tunic he was wearing and gave them to David, together with his sword, bow, and belt. וַיְהִי כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אֶל־שָׁאוּל וְנֶפֶשׁ יְהוֹנָתָן נִקְשְׁרָה בְּנֶפֶשׁ דָּוִד ויאהבו (וַיֶּאֱהָבֵהוּ) יְהוֹנָתָן כְּנַפְשׁוֹ׃ וַיִּקָּחֵהוּ שָׁאוּל בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וְלֹא נְתָנוֹ לָשׁוּב בֵּית אָבִיו׃ וַיִּכְרֹת יְהוֹנָתָן וְדָוִד בְּרִית בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ3 אֹתוֹ כְּנַפְשׁוֹ׃ וַיִּתְפַּשֵּׁט יְהוֹנָתָן אֶת־הַמְּעִיל אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו וַיִּתְּנֵהוּ לְדָוִד וּמַדָּיו וְעַד־חַרְבּוֹ וְעַד־קַשְׁתּוֹ וְעַד־חֲגֹרוֹ׃
1. It doesn't say anything about David here.
2. Is Saul smitten with David here? And notices Jonathan is too, because of what is reported in verse 4?
3. What is this בְּרִית אַהֲבָה?
Does Saul think it is good for Jonathan to have David around? Jonathan was brought up easily; he is soft. Saul hopes he will be influenced by the heroic David.
Once Saul sees David as a threat, not an opportunity:
1 Samuel 20:30 שמואל א כ ל Saul flew into a rage against Jonathan: "You perverse and rebellious son! I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame and the shame of your mother's nakedness!" וַיִּחַר־אַף שָׁאוּל בִּיהוֹנָתָן וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ בֶּן־נַעֲוַת הַמַּרְדּוּת הֲלוֹא יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־בֹחֵר אַתָּה לְבֶן־יִשַׁי לְבָשְׁתְּךָ וּלְבֹשֶׁת עֶרְוַת אִמֶּךָ׃
For the speaker, this seals it. Saul has known all along that Jonathan is bi; here he is trying to fix it.
What about David? David did not love Jonathan; David is one of those people whom everyone loves. We don't really see him loving anyone (apart from Absalom, which is different.) He is used to everyone loving him.
1 Samuel 20:38–20:42 שמואל א כ לח–מב So Jonathan's boy gathered up the arrows, and came back to his master. The boy suspected nothing: only Jonathan and David knew the arrangement. Jonathan handed the gear to his boy, and told him, "Take these back to the town." When the boy got there, David emerged from his concealment in the south. He flung himself face down on the ground, and bowed low three times. They kissed one another, and wept together; David wept the longer. Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace! For we two have sworn to each other in the name of the LORD: 'May the LORD be [witness] between you and me, and between your offspring and mine, forever!" וַיְלַקֵּט נַעַר יְהוֹנָתָן אֶת־הַחִצִּים וַיָּבֹא אֶל־אֲדֹנָיו׃ וְהַנַּעַר לֹא־יָדַע מְאוּמָה אַךְ יְהוֹנָתָן וְדָוִד יָדְעוּ אֶת־הַדָּבָר׃ וַיִּתֵּן יְהוֹנָתָן אֶת־כֵּלָיו אֶל־הַנַּעַר אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ לֵךְ הָבֵיא הָעִיר׃ הַנַּעַר בָּא וְדָוִד קָם מֵאֵצֶל הַנֶּגֶב וַיִּפֹּל לְאַפָּיו אַרְצָה וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים וַיִּשְּׁקוּ אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ אִישׁ אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ עַד־דָּוִד הִגְדִּיל׃ וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹנָתָן לְדָוִד לֵךְ לְשָׁלוֹם אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְנוּ שְׁנֵינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ בְּשֵׁם ה׳ לֵאמֹר ה׳ יִהְיֶה בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ וּבֵין זַרְעִי וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ עַד־עוֹלָם׃
You loved me [unconditionally]; women expect things back!
2 Samuel 1:25-1:26 שמואל ב א כה-א כו How the mighty have fallen in the thick of battle—
Jonathan, slain on your heights!
I grieve for your, my brother Jonathan; you were most dear to me.
Your love of me was more wonderful to me than the love of women.
אֵיךְ נָפְלוּ גִבֹּרִים בְּתוֹךְ הַמִּלְחָמָה יְהוֹנָתָן עַל־בָּמוֹתֶיךָ חָלָל׃ צַר־לִי עָלֶיךָ אָחִי יְהוֹנָתָן נָעַמְתָּ לִּי מְאֹד נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים׃
Mishna, Avos Ch. 5 Mishna 16 All love which is dependent on a thing, when the thing comes to an end, the love ends. But [love] not dependent on a thing never comes to an end. Which love is that which is dependent on a thing? That is the love of Amnon and Tamar. And [love] that is not dependent on a thing? That is the love of David and Jonathan. כל אהבה שהיא תלויה בדבר, בטל דבר, בטלה אהבה׃ ושאינה תלויה בדבר, אינה בטלה לעולם׃ איזו היא אהבה התלויה בדבר, זו אהבת אמנון ותמר׃ ושאינה תלויה בדבר, זו אהבת דויד ויהונתן׃
Rabbi Yoḥanan and Resh Lakish[I can't be bothered to type this up; I'm learned about it multiple times.]
The Adventures of Moshko
Responsa of Rashdam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Moshe de Medina] on Even HaEzer 50 (1561)
Yeshua, the son of the honoured R. Avraham, approached us and said, "Seven days ago, on a Thursday evening, I left my house, found these two bachelors, Yehuda ben Yitzchak Cohen and Moshko Cohen, and said to them, "Come with me!" We all left our house and entered the courtyard. I called for the young woman, Floris, the daughter of R. Yosef. She came down to us, and I pulled out one new Venetian Sicino and I said to her, "Take this as your marriage payment," and to them, "You will be my witnesses." She put our her hand and accepted it.
Afterwards, Moshko approached us and testified: "On that Thursday evening, seventeen days ago, I and Yehuda were walking hand in hand, and I found Yeshua at the entrance of Papoli's new house that he is currently building. He said to us, "Come with me and see something." We walked with him, and we left that house and were outside her courtyard. We saw the young woman standing in the entrance between Papoli's courtyard and her father, R. Yosef's house. Yeshua said to her, "Accept this Sicano as your wedding payment." The young woman put out her hand, accepted it and did not say a word." This is what they said in Greek: "Na Toto Ya Kiddushin." The young woman was dressed in red. He also told us that the three of them were alone..." This was on 28 Adar, 5321.
...At a following session, R. Yosef Marato approached us and said, "You should know, gentlemen, that I have witnesses that Moshko is not an eligible witness, because of transgressions he has committed. Call these witnesses and Moshko before the Beit Din, and they will testify against him." We called him a few times and he did not want to come. We then sent him an agent of the court, and he warned him, in front of witnesses, and he still did not want to come...
When we saw that he did not want to come, we then accepted the witnesses [against him]. First, R. Ḥaim Gabi testified that he saw Moshko masturbating on Yom Kippur. Then David ben Nissim testified that he was walking in a village along with a merchant and they cross an orchard fence in order to ask the orchard owner to sell them fruit. There they saw Moshko having sex with another/a non-Jewish bachelor. When they saw them, they separated and ran away with their trousers undone. Following this, Ḥaim ben Matatya testified that one time he was walking past the large, smooth stone, and he saw Moshko having consensual sex with the same merchant that was mentioned earlier. This was within two months of the earlier event. In addition, the bachelor Eliezer ben Avraham testified that when he was in Jalena it was so well known that Moshko was having sex with the merchant that they had a bad nickname for him. In another sessin, R. Yauda Tzuri testified, "Nearly two years ago I was with some other bachelors, and we were eating and drinking at Moshko's house. Afterward, everyone went home, and I saw Moshko having sex with Yaakov Mazal Tov." ... All of these testimionies were given under the threat of excommunication in order that they should tell the truth.
...At another session, the young man Yeshua ben Avraham approached us and confessed his sin; that his claim in the Beit Din that he had married the young woman Floris bat R. Yosef was a lie and a fabrication. He never married this woman, and he admitted that he had committed a severe sin to start this rumour, and explained all of the things that led him to do this. He begged forgiveness from R. Yosef, the young woman's father. He fell on his face, and kissed his feet, asking that he should forgive him, and that God should grant atonement for his sin. At that same session, the bachelors Moshko and Yehuda Cohen, the witnesses for this marriage, came and admitted their transgression; that their testimony regarding this marriage was a lie and a fabrication. They told us the circumstances that led them to do this, and they asked forgiveness from God that He should grant atonement for their sins.
The sins referred to at the end are the lying in front of the court. But there is no horror around a dangerous person—because Moshko is not a dangerous person but a scoundrel. Homosexuals were not so portrayed until the twentieth century, and in particular 1969 when R. Moshe Feinstein portrayed homosexuality as the ultimate sin, probably because of the rise of the gay rights movement.
The Passionate Poets
Moshe Ibn Ezra
My heart's desire, my eyes' delight:
the hart beside me and a cup in my right hand!
Many denounce me for loving, but I pay no heed.
Come to me fawn, and I will vanquish them.
Time will consume them and death will shepherd them away.
Oh, come to me, fawn, let me feast on the nectar of your lips until I am satisfied.
Why, why would they discourage me?
If it be because of sin or guilt,
I am ravished by your beauty—and God is there!
Let your heart not be swayed by the words of my tormentor,
that close-minded man,
Oh, come put me to the test!
He was enticed and we went to his mother's house.
There he bent his back to my heavy yoke.
Night and day I alone was with him.
I took off his clothes and he took off mine.
I sucked at his lips and he suckled me.
But once his eyes stole my heart,
his hand fastened the yoke of his sin,
and he looked for grievances.
He raged against me and shouted in fury,
"Enough! Leave me alone!
Do not drive me to crime, do not lead me astray!"
Oh, do not be unrelenting in your anger, fawn.
Show me the wonders of your pleasure, my love.
Kiss your friend and fulfill his desire.
If you wish to revive me, then give life;
but if you would instead kill me—then kill me.
Admits that this is not socially countenanced—but accepted by God [??—did I hear that right?]
Look at me my fawn, look!
Take full not of my misery
lest I fill with sorrow.
Drip, drip, drip goes my blood,
my life in your hands.
Let your heart be compassionate to the downcast,
who cannot eat and cries when you rage
and waits for your love to return...
Manna, manna, manna for my hunger,
give my daily wage.
If you rejoice in my love-sickness,
so here are my cheeks,
abuse me then, afflict my life...
No, no, no disgrace,
just the casualities of innocence.
I have fought this miser of the heart,
and were he just a bit afraid of me
then perhaps sleep might come and I would...
Fly, fly, fly in my slumber,
I would dream double.
I would ask for his honeycomb lips,
reddening like the setting sun
my eyes transfixed upon his form...
How, how, how does this man from Aram
colour his lips so ruddy?
He song ploughs my heavy heart,
he sings to awaken my fire.
Enough my love, drink from my mouth.
Bas, bas, bas befumi [Kiss, kiss, kiss my mouth]
[Put aside your black mood, my friend]
Excerpt from Even Boḥan, thirteenth century
What an awful fate for my mother
that she bore a son.
What a loss of all benefit!...
Cursed be the one who announced to my father
"It's a boy!"...
...Oh, but had the artisan who made me
created me instead—a fair woman.
Today I would be wise and insightful.
We would weave, my friends and I,
and in the moonlight spin our yarn,
and tell our stories to one another,
from dusk till midnight.
We'd tell of the events of our day, silly things,
matters of no consequence.
But also I would grow very wise from the spinning,
and I would say, "Happy is she who knows how to work with combed flax and weave it into fine white linen."
And at times, in the way of women,
I would lie down on the kitchen floor,
between the ovens, turn the coals, and taste the different dishes.
On holidays I would put on my best jewelry.
I would beat on the drum
and my clapping hands would ring.
And when I was ready and the time was right
an excellent youth would be my fortune.
He would love me, place me on a pedestal,
dress me in jewels of gold,
earrings, bracelets, necklaces.
And on the appointed day,
in the season of joy when brides are wed,
for seven days would the boy increase my delight and gladness.
Were I hungry, he would feed me well-kneaded bread.
Were I thirsty, he would quench me with light and dark wine.
He would not chastise nor harshly treat me,
and my [sexual] pleasure he would not diminish.
Every Sabbath, and each new moon
his head he would rest upon my breat.
The three husbandly duties he would fulfill,
rations, raiment, and regular intimacy.
And three wifely duties would I also fulfill,
[watching for menstrual] blood, [Sabbath candle] lights, and bread.
Father in heaven, who did miracles for our ancestors with fire and water,
You changed the fire of Chaldees so it would not burn hot,
You changed Dina in the womb of her mother to a girl,
You changed the staff to a snake before a million eyes,
You changed [Moses'] hand to [leprous] white
and the sea to dry land.
In the desert you turned rock to water
hard flint to a fountain.
Who would then turn me from a man to woman?
Were I only to have merited this, being so graced by your goodness...
What shall I say? Why cry or be bitter?
If my Father in heaven has decreed upon me
and has maimed me with an immutable deformity,
then I do not wish to remove it.
And the sorrow of the impossible
is a human pain that nothing will cure
and for which no comfort can be found
So, I will bear and suffer
until I die and wither in the ground.
And since I have learned from the tradition
that we bless both the good and the bitter,
I will bless in a voice, hushed and weak,
The ending turns this into—like . (A flipping around of being צִידוּק הַדִּין for women.)
[My reaction to this at Limmud Fest was: wow... but I'd love to have confirmation that this was really written in the thirteenth century. Well, some web surfing later, here's the answer: You can see the original Hebrew on pp.15–18 (internal page numbers; 25-28) of this scan of an 1865 printing of the אבן בחן. So, my revised reaction is now just: Wow!]