A Prophetic Chanukah

According to Jewish teaching, there is a place for all virtuous people in HaOlam HaBa (The World To Come) regardless of their national identity, but I knew that in HaOlam HaZeh (this world) what my neshama (soul) truly yearned for. For so long, my mind had fought with my neshama that Jewishness was not an option for me. I was born as a Gentile and I would die as one – what I did in between didn’t matter. It was like a dysphoria, and one that was inescapable.

Yet by the time of November 12th 2016, the title of that week’s Torah portion (parsha) “Lekh L’kha“, played like a broken record in my mind.

It was through my usual weekly study of the parsha that I learnt how the 19th Century Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain taught those words applied to all, and not just to Avram, to whom it was first spoken.
This was a message for me as well, and I knew exactly what it meant – go to yourselfGive in to the nagging of your neshama, who wants, needs and fundamentally is, Jewish.

Even at that realisation however, the magnitude of the sacrifices I would have to make terrified me. I was walking blindly into an abyss and felt it necessary to put the breaks on, at least for a while.

Only a couple weeks later I was dancing to Christmas carols whilst decorating the tree that stood proudly in our home. Yet still, it’s presence in the corner of our living room made me feel a sort of uncomfortableness that I had never experienced in any of the previous Christmases of my lifetime.

I relished in the irony of the tree staring down the branches of my new Chanukah menorah.

During previous holiday seasons, we spent the evening of the 24th of December at my Grandma’s local Catholic Church, where a fellow congregate would dress up in a creepy Prophet Elijah costume and walk up and down the aisles to symbolise how Christmas meant the fulfilment of the messianic prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6.
Yet after a lifetime in the Church, 3 years as an actual practitioner and countless hours of persistent study, I just couldn’t find where that was fulfilled. It bothered me to the point of tears, and it became so vexing that I even contacted Jews For Jesus about it (a plight I document here).

In a witless retaliation for their staff’s rudeness, I purchased their nemesis Penina Taylor’s (who formerly worked for Jews For Judaism) book Scripture Twisting: A Course in Jewish-Christian Polemics and began reading two days after Christmas on night 3 of Chanukah, when my Mum and I packed up and AirBnb’ed a converted-shed on a farm in the south of the state.

There was no WiFi and barely any radio reception, so I had plenty of time to wallow in my existential crisis and in a cliché last resort, I prayed for a sign that Judaism was in fact the correct path for me.

We continued driving and ended up in a small town with an approximate population of 339 people.

As a sucker for anything vintage, there was no chance that I wouldn’t explore the small second-hand shop that resided on the corner of the tiny main street. Browsing through their available books, I almost screamed when I saw Jonathan Fox’s rare and out-of-print Halacha Companion: Useful Notes in Practical Jewish Law haphazardly placed on the shelf.
Jews make up only 0.4% of Australia’s overall population and in a town so tiny, it felt like the book had been placed there, in a butterfly effect, especially for me to find.Though other scenarios seem mathematically improbable and I tend not to believe in coincidences, attempting to think logically, I tried to convince myself that this was simply one.

As we continued on our drive down the rich red dirt roads, the only radio station available was the static-y news station, with the same stories on repeat after every hour; With my two books in tow and beautiful Australian scenery to observe, I was barely tuned into the broadcast, when my ears suddenly perked up at the sound of an interviewer introducing Nissim Baruch Black to his show – “that sounds like a Jewish name?!”.

Formerly Damian Jamohl Black, Nissim was a rapper and convert to Orthodox Judaism from Christianity, and like me, had come to the faith through the work of Jews For Judaism. He discussed the sacrifices he had to make to pursue that path, including almost pushing his marriage to divorce;

Perhaps hearing that interview was nothing more than mere chance, but the subservience and total surrender to G_d that echoed through his voice reminded me of how my yearning for that same sense lead me to my current existential state.

That night I lit the Chanukah menorah in the shed window and in the eloquent phrasing of The Gerim Corner the moment I basked in it’s glow, I had “start(ed) to develop a Jewish sense of time and..(felt) thousands of years of history seeping into..(my) bones and settling somewhere deep in..(my) chest”. Suddenly I had a whole new family tree, and each Jew born into this world was my relative. I was bat Avraham, and I knew that I had pursue every possible avenue to make it official.

Marilyn Monroe’s Conversion | Making And Becoming Jewish History

Inspired by Tara Hanks’ article for Immortal Marilyn – Norma Jeane, Aunt Ana and Christian Science

In the wilting heat of New York State’s 1956 summer, a bride slipped on her figure hugging muslin gown and miniature  fly-away veil. At first glance, she appeared as the epitome of a late 1950s All-American bride, but she was anything but; This bride is none other than Golden Globe-winning actress Marilyn Monroe, and on this day she was to wed her third and final husband, playwright Arthur Miller, in a home Jewish ceremony.

It was Lee Strasberg (originally ‎Israel Strassberg), Marilyn’s beloved acting coach, who escorted the blushing bride down the aisle to a kippah-less Arthur.

Arthur was a secular Jew who didn’t care for the controversy surrounding intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles – his two other brides were both Catholics – and didn’t expect Marilyn, an agnostic once known as Norma Jeane, to convert; but she did, choosing to both join and make Jewish history.

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Norma Jeane & Della Monroe.

When she was only two weeks old, Norma Jeane’s journey to Judaism began.

A loyal follower of evangelical preacher Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, Norma Jeane’s grandmother Della successfully encouraged her daughter Gladys, a fragile woman and paranoid schizophrenic, to place the young child in the care of a devout then-United Pentecostal couple living in her neighbourhood – The Bolenders.

Less than 6 months later on the 6th of December, Norma Jeane was baptised into the Pentecostal church; A faith that she would later regard as a “cult”.

It was only when Norma Jeane came to be seven that her mother, now an “obsessed” Christian Science practitioner – a fixation caused by her disorder – reclaimed her; Sadly the reunion would be interrupted by a severe mental break down and the child soon became a ward of Grace McKee-Goddard – Gladys’ friend and party companion in their flapper days.

Though Grace tried her best looking after Norma Jeane proved too much of a burden in 1938 with the addition of caring for her step family, so she placed the then-12 year old with her 58-year-old Aunt Ana. This was to be one of the better periods in her childhood, and for the first time, she had a stable maternal figure.

Aunt Ana was also a pious Christian Scientist, described by her great-niece Eleanor as “very religious, but not a fanatic. In fact she was very sensible, compassionate and accepting of others. She looked severe and had an imposing carriage, but she was putty inside, not the domineering matron she was often made out to be.” Regarding the religion, biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles, stated Norma Jeane “responded to that creed’s ethic” and was passionate about the faith, but the Church’s strict hostility towards medicine caused the teenaged Norma Jean (who had now dropped the “e” in a tribute to Jean Harlow) to suffer unaided when she became stricken with the incurable ailment of endometriosis.

As it were, Norma Jean’s interest in the sect drastically subsided when Aunt Ana tragically died of heart failure in 1948, but with her natural intellect and eager curiosity it did not take long for an interest in psychoanalysis and philosophy to develop; An interest which would stay with her until her death. According to Lee Strasberg’s daughter Susan, Marilyn once said of her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes co-star Jane Russell, “Jane tried to convert me [to Christianity] and I tried to introduce her to Freud”.

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Some philosophy, psychoanalysis and spirituality themed books from Marilyn’s personal library.

Perhaps this is one thing that Marilyn found attractive in the Jews that she came to be surrounded by in the 1950s – the tradition’s affirmation of critical thinking, rationalism and natural embrace of philosophical ideals (see The Haskalah).

Already Marilyn’s closest associates were Jews  – including photographer Milton Greene, his wife Amy, poet Norman Rosten and her former acting coach Natasha Lytess – and she held a deep admiration for Jewish physicist Albert Einstein; But it was when she moved to New York to become a “serious actress” at The Actor’s Studio in 1955, that the Jewish home of Lee Strasberg and his wife Paula became her second dwelling. There, she became Paula’s third child and she took comfort in the strong family values instilled by the tradition, something she never had the pleasure of enjoying in her youth. Susan Strasberg once recounted how Marilyn had told her ‘I can identify with the Jews. Everybody’s always out to get them, no matter what they do, like me.’

So when Marilyn became engaged to Arthur Miller, whom she had known since 1951, it seemed natural for her to approach him and inquire about  joining the faith of his forefathers; Arthur found the entire thing wholly unnecessary, but supported his bride’s decision nonetheless. Accordingly, the couple contacted the Rabbi of Arthur’s cousin Morton, Rabbi Robert Goldberg of Congregation Mishkan Israel – a Reform synagogue in Connecticut.

20 days after Marilyn’s death, the Rabbi sent this letter to fellow scholar, Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus:

Arthur said that Marilyn was interested in becoming Jewish and that they would like me to perform their wedding ceremony…He made it clear to me that in no way did he make this demand on Marilyn…I met Marilyn with Arthur at her apartment in New York…I don’t remember what I expected but I was struck by her personal sweetness and charm. She seemed very shy. [She] said that she had no religious training other than some memories of a Fundamentalist Protestantism which she had long rejected. She indicated that she was attracted to Judaism by being impressed with Jewish people that she knew, especially Mr. Miller. She said that she was aware of the great characters that the Jewish people had produced and that she had read selections from Albert Einstein’s Out Of My Later Years….She indicated that she was impressed by the rationalism of Judaism—its ethical and prophetic ideals and its concept of close family life. After that meeting we met a number of times and she read a few books that I gave her. These included What Is A Jew? by Morris Kurtzer, [Abram Leon] Sacher’s History of the Jews, Milton Steinberg’s A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem, and the Conversion Manual of the CCAR [the Reform rabbinic organization Central Conference of American Rabbis]. We discussed the contents of these books…and I attempted to answer her questions. Marilyn was not an intellectual person but she was sincere in her desire to learn. It was also clear that her ability to concentrate over a long period of time was limited. However, I did feel that she understood and accepted the basic principles of Judaism…The place of the wedding was…the home of Arthur’s agent, Kay Brown, in Katonah…Before the wedding ceremony, I performed the Ceremony of Conversion which was witnessed by Arthur Miller, Kermit Miller (his brother), Morton Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Strassberg, and Mr. and Mrs. Norman Rosten.10500243_1

As the event transpired at the home of Kay Brown, there was no immersion in a mikvah – a most vital step in the conversion process – meaning, tragically, that Marilyn’s conversion would be considered invalid by almost all Halachic (Jewish law) authorities, including the Rabbinate Of Israel, had it been reviewed. Even though Rabbi Goldberg always maintained that he was not persuaded to convert the movie star based on her sensuality or fame, and almost all who spoke on the topic, mentioned the sincerity of Marilyn’s convictions – Morton categorised the conversion as “perfunctory”, Arthur wrote that “I don’t think you could say she became a Jewess” and biographer Jeffrey Meyers compared it to the superficial Catholic conversion of Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited (1945).

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The Wedding Kiddush Chalices.

Even after kiddush was recited and the beautifully illuminated Ketubah was signed, the couple indulged themselves and their guests in the strictly un-kosher meal of cold lobster. To many it would appear as though Marilyn really had no interest in embracing the mizvot (commandments) that Judaism required of her, but in actuality the Reform stream very much emphasises/d the evolving nature of faith rather than strict adherence to Halacha.

In spite of all these alleged discrepancies, when Marilyn repeated the words first uttered 3,000 years ago by the Biblical Ruth, she was embraced as a member of the tribe by the lay people of the American Ashkenazim.

The Jewish American Hall Of Fame recounted the events

“Is it of your own free will that you seek admittance into the Jewish fold?” the rabbi asked.
“Yes”, Marilyn said.
“Do you renounce your former faith?”
She had had none so she renounced her lack of faith. “Yes”.
“Do you pledge your loyalty to Judaism? Do you promise to cast in your lot with the people of Israel amid all circumstances?”
It is good, she remembered, to suffer — if you share with others … “Yes.”
“Do you promise to lead a Jewish life?”
She thought of her new family, holding each other close in a bond of love. “Yes.”
“Should you be blessed with children do you agree to rear your children according to the Jewish faith?”
Her children, who would forever know who they were, who would have an answer to their questions. “Oh, yes,” she said.
The Rabbi smiled at her. “Repeat after me,” he said, and together they spoke the ancient words of the convert.
“I do herewith declare in the presence of God and the witnesses here assembled that I … seek the fellowship of Israel.
“I believe that God is one Almighty, Allwise, Most Holy …
The Rabbi took her hand and gave her solemnly a name chosen from the Bible — a name which she keeps entirely to herself. “With this name as token you are now a member of the household of Israel and have assumed all its rights, privileges and responsibilities.” His hand was on her head.

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Marilyn’s certificate of conversion

Despite 1950s Hollywood being an industry dominated by Jews and anti-Semitic sentiment on the decline, Marilyn’s conversion made Judaism more “goyish” and relatable to Gentiles – before the game-changing Barbra Streisand even stepped onto Broadway. It wasn’t without controversy however;

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The world reacts: Modern Screen Magazine, November 1956.

These very facts sent Jewish sociologists into a frenzy.

According to historian Lila Corwin Berman, fearful intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s crafted “sociological Jewishness”, making Judaism an ethnic identity, to appeal to Jews off the derech as well those Gentiles who looked at them as an inferior “race”; This sentiment remains in part still today, as is illustrated by Marilyn’s continuing exclusion from the historical encyclopedia Jewish Women In America and those debating her status online. Yet still, she was able to drastically switch the narrative, and reiterate that one could in fact choose to be chosen.

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Marilyn at the UJA Fundraiser, 1955.

Even more contentious, the Jewish State of Israel had only been established 8 years prior and was enthralled in conflict with it’s Arab neighbours (The Suez Crisis would take place only 4 months after Marilyn’s conversion). Marilyn’s conversion with the openly-Zionist Reform movement was perceived as support of Israel and in retaliation, the films she had appeared in were blacklisted by the Central Boycott Office (CBO) of the Arab League in Egypt, for having “shown pronounced pro-Israeli sympathies and collected donations for Israel”.

Marilyn had in fact, a year earlier, attended a fundraiser for The United Jewish Appeal (UJA) – a philanthropic foundation providing funds for  human-service and community-building in Jewish factions; But it wasn’t until a letter from Rabbi Goldberg resurfaced in 2010, that it was confirmed she had agreed to give a pro-Israel speech at the 1957 Miami UJA Conference, confirming her Zionist alliance. She did later refuse to attend the event due to the de-invention of Arthur, who was undergoing intense public scrutiny for suspected Communist links at the time.

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Marilyn’s menorah, now belonging to Amir Ben-Zion.

Interestingly however, in April 1961 soon after the couple’s divorce, The United Arab Republic (of Egypt and Syria) sent an urgent telegram to 20th Century Fox President Spyros Skouras requesting Marilyn’s attendance “for inaugurational light and sound of pyramids and sphinx. All expenses to be borne by the government”. They had hoped to book the biggest act in Egypt since Aida showed in 1869, but they seemed to be blissfully unaware that despite her departure from a Jewish family, a 1950 brass-plated menorah that’s base sung Israel’s national anthem of “Hatikvah” still sat upon her mantle, a mezuzah still hung from her doorframe and that she was still, technically, Jewish.
Needless to say, their request was denied.

The official grounds for the couple’s said divorce was “incompatibility”- It wasn’t easy to be married to an intellectual, just as it wasn’t easy to be married to a bombshell. Most accounts mention Arthur’s patronising nature, and Marilyn’s crippling insecurity, yet in a lesser known narrative, Marilyn would slip Yiddish words like oy vey into her conversations with Arthur, in an attempt to gain a sense of belonging and to be validated by her husband.

Truth be told, Judaism played little role besides providing community in Marilyn’s life once her initial enthusiasm faded – she even later described herself as a “Jewish atheist”. Yet in the brief time of her observance, no matter how valid we consider her conversion to be, she provided a platform to other Jews-By-Choice and paved a path for many of her contemporaries to soon, perhaps more stringently, venture for themselves.

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Courtesy of The Milton H. Greene Archives


Sources:

Hanks, T. (2017). Norma Jeane, Aunt Ana And Christian Science. [Blog] Immortal Marilyn.

Berman, L. (2010). When Marilyn Monroe Became A Jew. Reform Judaism, (Vol 38, No. 3), pp.18-20.

Meyers, J. (2012). The Genius And The Goddess: Arthur Miller And Marilyn Monroe. Urbana: University Of Illinois Press, pp.155-157.

Feiler, G. (2013). From Boycott to Economic Cooperation: The Political Economy of the Arab Boycott of Israel. 3rd ed. Abingdon: Routledge, p.33.

Berman, L. (2009). Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.143-150.

Jewish-American Hall of Fame. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr. could all be in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame!. [online] Available at: http://www.amuseum.org/jahf/nomination/elvis_article.html

All images used belong to their respective copyright owners.

Many thanks to the members of Immortal Marilyn, Marilyn Remembered and Everlasting Star for their assistance.

 

A Gentile Walks Into An Orthodox Synagogue…For The First Time

After an apprehensive and distant drive, I arrived for my first service at the “Jewish Church”. I was both hoping to be impressed, whilst also hoping to impress. They need to understand that I am certain and sincere.

Jews pray three times a day, which they can do in private; However when the Torah scroll is read, and kaddish, kedushah and barchu is recited, or in fact when any type of formal sanctification is performed, a minyan (assembly) of 10 men over the age of 13 is required (Leviticus 22:32, Numbers 16:21). This means that on Shabbat, the main service when most gather to hear the parsha read (weekly Torah portion) occurs at the time of Shacharit (morning prayers), whilst Minchah (afternoon prayers), Maariv (evening prayers) and Havdalah (ceremonial ending of the Sabbath) is attended only by those who wish to do it at the synagogue instead of at their home.

In typical ‘me’ fashion, I was uninformed on this matter, and turned up to the Maariv service.

I arrived 30 minutes in advance, and spent them in the car chatting with my Nanna, who tagged along for the ride, and told stories about a Jewish friend she had in her youth (whilst occasionally asking odd questions about why I was going to a synagogue – bless her). The gates were closed, and I received no answer to my multiple buzzes of the intercom, quickly realising that because it was Shabbat, they weren’t going to answer and I was in fact violating the prohibitions myself by even pushing the intercom button…whoopsys.

Eventually, a fellow gentile and worker at the synagogue rescued me from the awkward curiosity and led me into a down stairs room where the Rabbi and 4 other men were struggling to form a minyan. I sat to the right of the Mechitzah and when 2 other women entered, they handed me an Ashkenaz siddur (pray book) and introduced themselves. One of them was also a Simone!

Unfortunately a minyan could not be formed because many of it’s usual participates were  away – this was slightly disappointing because I had so hoped to see the Torah scroll in all it’s glory.

Nonetheless, the atmosphere of the room recharged when everyone began reciting their blessings. Hearing and feeling the atmosphere at churches when Christian worship music was played, I can understand the power of music; but this was a whole other level. I have never heard such powerful, booming voices and even as a non-Hebrew speaker, my soul understood every word.

I can make as many guttural jokes as I please, but I can never deny the profound kabbalistic power of the Hebrew language.

Both women were gracious enough to interrupt their own blessings to guide me through the siddur and point to where we were on the English translations. Even when I made an error and asked one of the ladies if it was okay for me to participate in Netilat Yadayim (ritual washing of the hands) as a non-Jew (we were supposed to remain silent at this point), she responded and showed me how. She was prepared to violate a mitzvah in order to fulfil another (not publicly embarrassing others), and I admire her greatly for that.

We sat down at the table together, broke challah and indulged in various foods including beetroot hummus and kiwi fruit. After chatting back and forth, I briefly relayed the story of how I came to be in an Orthodox synagogue eating a meal with 7 Jewish strangers and how it really all started 5 years ago (I realise now that I left out some key parts which is very frustrating!). The possibility of my ancestor Marie being a member of the tribe was also discussed, and my butchering of the pronunciation of “Schulter” got a few giggles!

Supposedly, my Jewish education seemed extensive for someone who had never really met an “openly Jewish person”. The gentleman seated beside me joked that he’d soon be coming to ask me questions on Halacha, whilst the Rabbi laughed that “most Jews wouldn’t even know that!” when noting my failed communication attempts at the intercom.

*Somehow* I find these statements made in jest highly unlikely, but I continue to find it incredible that virtual strangers were able to crack jokes at the expense of my typically anxiety-filled-self, and still have me remain wholly at ease.

It truly felt as though the only way I could feel more “at home”, was if I was literally standing in the pulsating heart of Jerusalem.

Even looking around the room was special. Each wall, top to bottom, was filled with Jewish literature. The Rabbi pointed to the Talmud resting behind me (made up of about 20 volumes), and it was the most humbling experience to realise that the work of so many Chazal (Sages, of blessed memory) and their students, dating from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) up until the 500CE, sat in my presence.

The sea of Jewish knowledge is endless, but I would not mind if it swallowed me whole.

Even when I couldn’t understand the language, hadn’t read the books and couldn’t perform the rituals correctly, I felt like I knew all I needed to know; And perhaps it’s irresponsible to make such a bold statement, but the more I delve into observance, the more right it feels.

Taking The Next Steps | UPDATE

Shalom Alechiem! It’s been a while!

I had hoped that this post would be compromised of some deep thoughts for the celebration of Shavout (Feast Of Weeks) and Matan Torah (The Giving Of The Torah) that occurred a few days ago, – after all it is traditional to read the book of Ruth on this holiday, and the main protagonist in that narrative is regarded as the first ever convert to Judaism, you’d think I’d have a lot to say – but alas, G-d had other plans.

Whilst I did do a lot of learning and a few sparks were lit inside my soul, I felt that I had few words and little time to churn out a post worthy of your time, and most things that I had to say, have already been said by others (and usually in a more eloquent manner); If you did want to do some late Shavout/Matan Torah learning, I’d recommend this series by Aleph Beta, and these videos by Rivka Malka Perlman here (this one is specifically about converts!) and here.

G-d willing, there is next year for me to write a post! In the meantime I’d like to update you all on the past few weeks.

Possible Jewish Ancestry: Soon after publishing my previous entry, I was flooded with love and messages of support from so many people (thank you ever so!!). Notably, my cousin – who happens to also be the family genealogist – let me know that there was a chance a 6th generation ancestor named Marie on my mother’s side was Jewish, because of her surname’s etymology and her region of origin.

Unfortunately, we can only speculate her ethnicity and religion based on these things, as her birth certificate and other records are yet to be unearthed. Our family would also not be considered halachically Jewish (Jewish according to Jewish law), as Marie’s only child was a male and Jewishness is passed through the maternal line.

Nonetheless, it would still be incredible to find I had some Jewish ancestry, because it might further explain why I feel such a pull towards this nation and it’s faith; Someone once told me that there is a kabbalah surrounding converts and how they often have Jewish ancestors – something about a soul connection and wanting to ‘return home’. I love that.

• If you have any information regarding a Marie Schulter (possible name variations include Sluter / Slater / Schlüchter / Schluechter) from Holstein or Sarlhusen, who immigrated to Australia from Hamburg via Liverpool in the 1860s – please get in touch! 

Attending Shul: Most excitingly however, is that I’ve been in touch with a local Modern Orthodox Rabbi regarding attending synagogue. For those that don’t know, attending most synagogues is not like attending most churches. There is a more serious security protocol and it’s normal to let staff know that you will be attending in advance. Whilst we have had a few email exchanges, I’m still waiting for the final “yes”. He is aware of my desire to convert, but also knows that it’s unrealistic for me to begin that process until early next year (and as is typical, he of course discouraged me from converting, with a lovely email discussing how I can be a righteous person and have a share in Olam Ha-Ba without being Jewish – I’m stubborn so I’m currently undeterred).

Noachide Laws: As I have to wait until next year until I’m able to start the process towards formally converting, it’s recommended by most Rabbis that I observe the 7 Noachide laws in the mean time. In Jewish thought, the entire Torah as given to Moshe (Moses) is believed to be truth for all humanity, but as G-d made His covenant with the Jewish people, only they are obliged to follow all of it’s 613 mitzvot (commandments). As every human being is believed to be descended from Noach (Noah) and each of us is called to live righteously, the ancient Rabbis exegetically derived 7 laws (6 given to Adam & Chavah, and 1 given to Noach) for all of humanity to follow when G-d made his covenant with Noach and subsequently, his descendants – us (Genesis 9). Adding or taking commandments is prohibited, meaning it’s forbidden for a Noachide to practise  the 613 mitzvot as obligation.

Obviously I’m still learning how to study Torah, keep kosher, dress tznius and so forth, but my soul does sting when I remember that I can’t fully observe Shabbat or affix a muzuzah to my door just yet.

I suppose that’s G-d’s way of teaching me persistence, or maybe even that this is meant to be.

 

Baring My Soul: The Truth About My Absence & Why I Hope To Convert To Judaism

I’ve always loved history; It started as a brief interest when we studied the “olden days” at school in grade 3, and grew when my Dad took me to see Neil Taylor’s vintage (1959-1972) Barbie doll collection on show the following year. It was fascinating to see the trends of the era emulated on the tiny mannequin-like doll, and I immediately fell in love with the bold colours and patterns of the retro fashion; My love for history never branched out from 20th or 19th Century Western culture until I became a statistic of the worse possible kind in mid-2012.

It was that year that I became the 50% of children who’s parent’s marriage ends in separation,1 and then consequently the 35% of teenagers who would need psychological help within the first year of said separation.I struggled for the next few years with an anxiety disorder (and still do struggle) that  wouldn’t subside, so much so that I had to drop out of mainstream school, even with the help of weekly therapy sessions and medication.

So in 2014 I did something in desperation and without thought – I asked my friend if I could go to church with her family. I’m still not sure why, perhaps because I knew that I needed God, and the Christian concept of Him was the most familiar.

It was a happy-clappy evangelical-y megachurch, but to my surprise,  I met God there and for the first time in a long time, I felt genuine peace. There was no prophetic vision, no speaking in tongues, just the deepest form of meditation and peace one could possibly imagine.

I know, I know – I sound like I’m going to give one of those ‘inspirational’ testimonials you see on Hillsong TV at 6am when the rest of the world is sleeping, but hear me out.

Whilst the music was great, and I loved the sense of community, their sermons never stuck out to me as being particularly profound, or even original.

After my initial connection, I became bored and found that I didn’t need the pastor, who actually had very little training in Biblical thought, to intermediate my relationship with my Creator.

I left that church soon after, but continued studying the Bible and fell in love with every facet of religious history. To me, there was/is nothing better than combining my love of history with God’s love for ALL of us; I began blogging about religion and history, mostly Christian history and hermeneutics, at first anonymously, then publicly – but it wasn’t long before I ran into questions, issues and ultimately suffered a year long spiritual crisis.

It started with Islam. Why did Muslim women wear the hijab? Was it cultural or religious? And if it wasn’t cultural, why didn’t Christian women also continue to cover their heads, in accordance with St Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 11?

I looked online for answers to this single question, but instead found fallacious “complimentarianism” and soon after, answers to every yearning my soul had ever pondered.

I had stumbled across a tichel tying tutorial by an Orthodox Jewish woman named Andrea Grinberg, the director and founder of Wrapunzel.com – Up until then, I hadn’t even considered that Jews might also engage in this practise, they seemed like such a small and insignificant group compared to Christians and Muslims.

Andrea’s videos raised new questions for me: What in the world was a tichel, why was it significant to Judaism and how does Mrs Grinberg get her soul to radiate through my computer screen like that? I didn’t know what it was about her, but I felt like I needed that too and I began swallowing every one of her theology videos whole.

Unbeknownst to her, Andrea led me onto other Orthodox Jewish women with soul-elevating messages – Rivka Malka Perlman, Penina Taylor and Chaya Lester to name but a few.

It was around this time that I asked my mother a pointed, and quite honestly, an anti-semitic question: “How are Jews not a**holes?! Seriously, have you read the Old Testament?!” – I was genuinely shocked that these women could have such empowering messages whilst following a Book that I had previously believed to be outdated, cruel and had been consequently abolished.

[The depressing irony is that at this point in time, I had not even bothered to read the Tanakh (Old Testament) for myself.]

Penina’s videos had a particular impact on me, as she had reverted to Judaism after 17 years as a Christian/Messianic Jew. Her story intrigued me, and worried me, because she raised objections that I felt I couldn’t ignore.

Soon enough, my blog posts began containing Jewish undertones and after months of inner turmoil, I contacted the organisation Jews For Jesus for some resources to ease my concern; Instead I was met with hostility for having questions, and was subsequently hung up on.  In a stubborn response, I bought Penina’s book Scripture Twisting: A Course In Jewish-Christian Polemics and began watching videos by Jews For Judaism, a counter-Jews For Jesus organisation.

My love of history and accurate retellings had finally gotten the better of me – I could no longer accept Jesus as God or as the Jewish Messiah, and I knew immediately that I had to convert.

My love for Jesus as a human being remains strong – If even a quarter of the Christian account of his life is true,  he was a righteous and just man. I love my Christian friends and family and will always support the good works of Christians who live their life authentically and in the foot steps of Jesus. (The beautiful thing about Jewish mysticism is that reincarnation is real, meaning Jesus could be the Messiah, he just isn’t yet)

For me, I have to take on 613 Torah commandments as well as additional Talmudic commandments and I know how rigorous, difficult (in every sense of the word), long – taking on average 18 months to 3 years – but completely worth it the conversion process is.

My spiritual journey has not been linear, but I’m proud of where I am, the ancient Middle Eastern culture, history and religion that I am making my own, and for the first time in my life, I am certain of my meaning and purpose.


This decision has been extremely difficult for me, so please be kind. Rude comments will be deleted. I understand and accept that many of my readers will have to stop following this blog, and that they may be disappointed in my decision. My previous blog posts will remain live as a sign of my journey, and because they may continue to be helpful to others. Thank you all for your ongoing support.

I Haven’t Washed My Hair In 2 Months?! | Why I Went #NoPoo + 5 Tips For Your Own Journey

Why #NoPoo?

Just over 2 months ago, a video by Olivia Flocco somehow made it’s way into my Youtube ‘Recommended’s; The video was titled ‘No Poo Update | Two Years Laterand of course, I immediately jumped to the crude conclusion of “This girl hasn’t taken a dump in 2 years?!”. Being the obvious creep that I am, I had to know about this girl’s seemingly bizarre toilet habits, so naturally, I clicked on the video. Needless to say, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that she was actually referring to the fact that she hadn’t used shampoo in that time – but was comforted to know I wasn’t the only one who made the mistake (read the comments on that video. Seriously, it’s worth it.).

Despite my disappointment, I learned about an important hair care method that my locks are thanking Ms Flocco for -The No (Commercial) Shampoo Method, otherwise known as #NoPoo.

The word ‘shampoo’ is actually derived from the Hindi word “चाँपो” or ‘chāmpo’, meaning ‘hair massage’. Bengali entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, one of the most notable early non-Europeans immigrants to the West, brought the term to England in 1814 when he opened ‘Mahomed’s Indian Vapour Baths’ in Brighton. Mahomed’s baths resembled that of the Turks, but he performed therapeutic massages and ‘champi’ (shampooing) with hair oil. His services were so appreciated that he was appointed ‘shampooing surgeon’ to both King George IV and King William IV.

In the 1900s, ‘shampoo’ came to refer to a boiled concoction of watered-down shaving soap and herbs that English hair stylists, starting with Kasey Hebert, used to give the hair fragrance and shine. The first synthetic (non-soap) shampoo Drene, was only created in the mid-1930s by Procter & Gamble (Ohio, USA) and frequent washing only became the norm in the 1970s.

Whilst it’s known that people during medieval times weren’t renowned for their hygiene, it’s unlikely that people had disgusting, filthy hair right up until 40 years ago.

In fact, traditional champi is still common in India, where they use various combinations of neem tree, acacia concinna/soapberries, henna, bael, waterhyssop, fenugreek, buttermilk, gooseberry, aloe vera and almond.  It’s important to keep in mind that India is a place that produces arguably the most sort after human hair weaves and wigs – clearly they are doing something right in terms of haircare.

It’s likely that these natural hair remedies work better than commercial shampoo, because commercial shampoo cleanses the hair by stripping it of sebum, the natural oil that is produced by the hair follicles. Sebum is produced to form a protective layer over the protein structure of the hair (keratin) but unfortunately it tends to also aid in the collection of dirt, dandruff and hair styling products. When the hair is constantly being stripped of it’s protective layer, excessive sebum is produced and the hair becomes dirtier faster. The use of commercial shampoo creates a necessity for the use of commercial shampoo, which in turn, can cause damage to the hair.

Whilst commercial conditioner is supposed to serve the purpose or re-nourishing the hair after it’s been striped of it’s natural oil, it only acts as a mask to a more deep-rooted problem (pun intended).

Commercial conditioners, and many other styling products, contain silicon, which Celebrity Hairstylist Brigitte Brager describes as “…a mineral. It is an effective ingredient commonly used in hair care products. It provides slip and shine, can help smooth and straighten hair and gives hair a luxurious conditioned feel”. The only problem with silicon is that the shine it gives is an illusion, caused by it’s rubber-like nature. It acts as an sealant and can stop nutrients from penetrating the hair’s cuticle – which helps create the natural, healthy shine we want; This shine is caused by sebum nourishing and sealing the hair cuticle, and it’s subsequent ability to reflect light (as seen in the diagrams below).

nopoodiagrams

Essentially, shampoo strips your hair of it’s nutrients creating both dryness and an ongoing necessity to use it, whilst conditioner and other styling products aim to mask this damage by causing further damage. Great.

Not only this, but these products have the ability to be detrimental to the environment. Whilst most commercial shampoo formulations aim to have low toxicity and good biodegradability, most chemical ingredients found in shampoos, even those of salon quality, are harmful to nature in one way or another. Hair products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate are especially bad, as they are mutagenic to animals, and are definitely products that you don’t want to wash down your drain.

My Experience

The must common techniques of washing one’s hair without shampoo is using plain ol’ water, lemon juice, neem tree, tea tree oil, coconut oil, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda/bi carb soda) or apple cider vinegar – with the latter two being the most popular.

  •  Unfortunately, whilst sodium bicarbonate and apple cider vinegar work well to clean the hair, the pH is too high and many #NoPoo participants experience extreme breakage and even hair lose. 

I decided to go with plain water as I figured  that was the most accessible and affordable option.

I have (seriously) extremely oily skin and hair, so whilst I went into #NoPoo determined, my subconscious was telling me that I’d only be able to keep it up for a couple of weeks before the oil became too much and I had to give in to it’s power.

If you’re of African ancestry and have highly textured hair, or have woolly hair nevus, try this video. If you have otherwise curly hair, try  this book .

During the first couple of weeks, I didn’t have the washing technique/massage quite down pat – the same massage you give your scalp with commercial shampoo – as it felt odd to do so without the foam that commercial shampoo creates. This definitely impacted how clean my hair came out.

During this time my hair felt quite dry on the ends, but improved quickly as I allowed the sebum to infiltrate my hair cuticle. However, this creates a hydrophobic surface on the hair, meaning water is initially repelled and a longer wash time may be required in the first few weeks.This is because the hair is experiencing a transitional period where it withdraws from commercial shampoo products and adjusts to the fact that excess sebum production is no longer necessary. Depending on hair type, this transition can be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks (mine took 6, *sigh*).

Whilst this transition period was definitely annoying, and I did feel guilty for my longer showers, my hair is now out of the transition period and the benefits has been as follows:

  1. healthy, shiny hair that is easy to style due to natural but not excessive grease
  2. a slightly cheaper shopping list
  3. a much more ethical bathroom cabinet

Tips For Going #NoPoo

1. Learn About Your Water 

Water comes in two types – hard and soft. Soft water is water that contains only sodium, like rain water; But as this water travels underground and through our waterways it picks up various minerals like calcium, magnesium, lime and chalk, turning it into hard water. Hard water is preferred for drinking due to it’s taste and extra minerals, but it’s also popular to soften hard water through various methods, as the extra minerals can make running a household less efficient and can even impact your hair when you wash it. If you’re unsure whether your water is hard or soft, there is a simple DIY test you can do. If your house runs on hard water and you wash your hair with only that, then it could impact the length of your transitional period and/or how often you need to wash your hair.

If it does impact your plain water #NoPoo experience, then it’s suggested you use a DIY rye flour shampoo, as it aids in cleaning just as sodium bicarbonate or apple cider vinegar does, only it’s pH is much closer to your scalp’s. Rye flour also contains a decent amount of saponins, which are natural chemicals found in plants and they aid in strengthening hair and helping with hair loss.

2. If You’ve Recently Used Silicon-Based Hair Products, Wash Your Hair One Last Time With A Sulfate -Filled Shampoo 

Check all of your hair products – heat protectants, conditioners, serums, pomades, gels, dry shampoos, hair sprays – for silicon, because if silicon is not washed out, build-up will occur creating a greasy and waxy feel to the hair, as well as eventual dryness and brittleness, caused by nutrients being unable to reach the cuticle. Unfortunately silicon will only wash out using a shampoo with sulfates, so wash your hair one last time before beginning your #NoPoo journey.

If your hair product contain Dimethicone, Bis-aminopropyl dimethicone, Cetearyl methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearoxy Dimethicone, Stearyl Dimethicone, Trimethylsilylamodimethicone, Amodimethicone, Dimethiconol, Behenoxy Dimethicone or Phenyl trimethicone, it contains silicon. It’s also best to wash your hair with a sulfate-filled shampoo if any of your products contain mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum), petrolatum or waxes including bees wax, candelilla wax and so forth.

3. Invest In A Sisal Or Synthetic Boar Bristle Hairbrush

A Sisal hairbrush has bristles made from the sisal cactus fibre, meaning it’s bristles are stiff and are effective at distributing the hair’s natural oils all over the scalp. This, paired with the blood-flow stimulated by the bristles, encourages hair growth and allows all the hair to be nourished, whilst removing excess oil from the roots of the hair. Whilst boar bristle brushes are believed to be the most effective at this job, as the name implies, the bristles are made from the hair of a boar and are often harvested unethically, or even cruelly. Synthetic brushes are also a great alternative.

4. Your Hair Shouldn’t Smell, But If You’re Worried, Try Essential Oils

 Your hair should be clean enough not to smell with the #NoPooMethod, but it’s easy to miss the perfumed fragrance of commercial shampoos. If that’s the case for you, try rubbing a drop of essential oils into your hair when you feel it to be necessary. Lavender, Cedarwood, Peppermint, Rosemary, Clary Sage, Sage, Basil, Juniper, Ylang Ylang, Amazonian Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Lemon, Cypress, Rosewood and Melrose are particularly recommended for hair health. NoPooMethod.com actually has an entire section dedicated to essential oil recipes and their benefits on your hair.

5. Be Patient 

This one seems obvious, but for making no effort, #NoPoo is a lot of effort (in the beginning!). It takes time, but it’s so worth it.

An Open Letter To Teen Vogue, From A Pro-Life Feminist

As a millennial with a mother raised in the 70s, it was almost inevitable that my opinion on abortion be that of the mainstream feminist movement – pro-choice. I never thought of  abortion as something to be glorified, but I did take the view of Joy Behar – anyone that was anti-abortion was inherently “anti-choice” and more so “anti-women”. I once even tweeted that “God wouldn’t want women to die in backstreet abortions” as a way of reconciling my faith with this controversial issue (Though that sentiment does remain true, I will discuss the irony in this tweet further on).

It all changed when egalitarian theologian and feminist activist Jory Micah of Breaking The Glass Steeple sent me a follow request. As I scrolled through her feed, I noticed a post titled I Am A Pro-Life Feminist! and was instantly intrigued by this seemingly apparent oxymoron. The blog post art appeared to be a bumper sticker with the words “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” written in bold, with the alchemical symbol for Venus to the right – a symbol that has become synonymous with the feminine.

wdbbumpersticker-lg

In curiosity I googled the organisation that this catchphrase was trademarked to, Feminists For Life, and found that their president Serrin Foster had delivered a speech titled “The Feminist Case Against Abortion” to a UC Santa Barbara audience in 2001, and better yet – it was available to view on Youtube.

An anthology titled “Women’s Rights” labelled the speech one of “the great speeches of history” and it’s obvious why. 

I had never encountered a pro-lifer like Foster before. She was kind-hearted, open-minded and even started her speech by thanking “those (in the audience)…who support abortion rights, for being willing to listen to me” and “those..who don’t particularly like the word “feminist” (for being willing to listen to me)”. Her arguments weren’t ones of exclusivity and judgement – she never mentioned theology, she never shamed post-abortive women or put the lives of their offspring above their own, and she certainly didn’t offer unrealistic solutions.

She quoted pioneering feminists, namely suffragettes*, who were unapologetically pro-life and turned the arguments of modern feminists on their head.

She educated and taught that the legalisation of abortion was never a focus in the western Women’s Liberation Movement…not even at it’s reawakening in 1963.

SerrinHeadshotJune2015-edited-500x399

Serrin Foster

Alice Paul, a key figure in the pushing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution – prohibiting sex-based discrimination in the right to vote, once said that “abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women” – and 1st edition copies of Betty Friedan’s landmark book The Feminine Mystique, which is widely credited with beginning the second-wave feminist movement, never even mentioned abortion.

In a twist of depressing irony, the well worn line of “no uterus, no opinion” didn’t appear to apply to the first feminist pro-choicers, as it was really 2 men – Lawrence (Larry) Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson, 2 of the founders of The National Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (NARAL) – that nudged women’s rights activists to take note of the abortion issue, and they only nudged them for to push a personal agenda.

Lader was motivated to repeal abortion restrictions because of concerns regarding consumption vs population; Whereas Nathanson was motivated by the libertarian approach of “making abortion legal, makes abortion safe”.

Betty_Friedan_1960

Betty Friedan

Lader and Nathanson toured the US attempting to find senators to support their organisation, but they quickly realised that they would fail, unless they recruited activists who wouldn’t back down until they had been heard. As the Women’s Movement was just beginning to rekindle it’s fire, it seemed obvious to approach it’s precursor, Betty Friedan.

Friedan was not convinced with the men’s arguments and didn’t understand how this issue would resonate with young feminists, but Lader pushed her over the edge when he suggested that “100,000 women had died in botched illegal abortions” and that this was a civil rights issue that was sabotaging the lives of women. Whilst abortions certainly did occur during their prohibition, these statistics were imagined – it isn’t known how many died, and we only have record of 83 fatalities (not including the fetus) in the entirety of the USA’s history. In fact, most illegal abortions were performed by trained midwives or even physicians.

Inspired by Friedan and their own personal experiences, lawyers Sarah Wellington and Linda Coffee recruited Norma McCorvey, a young woman with an unwanted pregnancy, as a plaintiff in their 1973 Supreme Court case against the Dallas County attorney Henry Wade (aka the one enforcing the anti-abortion criminal statutes in Texas) – She is better known under the legal pseudonym of “Jane Roe”.

That same year, an undignified and provocative 1964 crime-scene photograph of deceased 29 year old Gerri Santoro began circulating as a pro-choice symbol thanks to Ms. (magazine). The photo was Santoro’s corpse, collapsed in a kneeling position on a motel floor, with a blood-soaked towel stuffed between her legs. Santoro had died from a hemorrhage caused by a botched illegal abortion.

It wasn’t revealed until the 1995 documentary Leona’s Sister Gerri however, that Santoro sought an abortion because she feared that her life would be in danger when her abusive estranged husband found she was pregnant with another man’s child.

Whilst she identifies as pro-choice, Santoro’s daughter Joanne was quoted in 1995 as saying “How dare they flaunt this? How dare they take my beautiful mom and put this in front of the public eye?”

A member of the National Abortion Rights

NARAL members, 2012. Photo byPaul J. Richards 

Until discovering organisations such as Feminists For Life, Secular Pro-Life and New Wave Feminists – I had never considered that women’s rights activists had their attention fixed in the wrong place. Why were we so concerned that women like Gerri Santoro have access to safe abortions that they don’t even want, but allow them to return to their abusive and unhappy marriages, whilst we just turn a blind eye? I believe that this is a true example of women’s oppression, and it seems as though our feminist foremothers would agree. 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and most notably, the first female candidate for US President Victoria Woodhull, were all pro-life. Woodhull was once quoted as saying “every woman knows if she were truly free, she would never bear an un-wished for child nor think of murdering one before it’s birth”.

This is why I find articles such as Teen Vogue‘s 11 Thoughtful Gifts Your Friend Who Just Had an Abortion Will Appreciate so disturbing. The article claims to want to end the shame and fear that women, particularly teenagers, feel when they have had an abortion; but instead the article glorifies the procedure as a bold statement of female empowerment and makes it out as a sort of fun bonding activity between friends.

Post Traumatic Stress specialist Susanne Babbel Ph.D MFT writes, “No matter your philosophical, religious, or political views on abortion, the fact of the matter is, the actual experience can affect women not only on a personal level but can potentially have psychological repercussions.” Yet the article mentions nothing of this; Instead it provides it’s  target audience of 12 to 18 year olds with advertisements of arbitrary gift ideas such as “angry uterus heating pads”.

Worst of all, it’s author Whitney Bell, a self-proclaimed “intersectional feminist bitch & dick pic artist” attempts to make a profit from the disconcerting piece by advertising her own brand among the rest of the items.

This article, like so many others, is just a cheap attempt to vilify and generalise all pro-lifers as inherently aggressive and anti-freedom; With Bell writing “Soo which one of you angry anti-choicers wants to call me a “murderous baby-killing c*nt” first?!” in the description of her personal Facebook post on the gift-guide.

Our feminist foremothers dreamed of an ideal world for women, and a business that is fuelled by our oppression would most certainly not be in that vision. Women deserve better than what abortion provides, a temporary fix to a deep-rooted problem.

Teen Vogue has a duty to provide it’s young readers with real stories, not misinformed political propaganda passed off as “advice”.

“When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society — so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged.”

– Mattie Brinkerhoff, The Revolution (1869)


Source listing coming soon

 

The Star-Crossed Christian Pt VII – A Seed Blooms From Darkness (Infertility & Gay Parenting)

הִנֵּ֤ה נַחֲלַ֣ת יְהוָ֣ה בָּנִ֑ים שָׂ֝כָ֗ר פְּרִ֣י הַבָּֽטֶן׃

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.

It’s true – a seed is planted in darkness, but it grows towards the light. The struggle to conceive is much the same, so remember to turn your face to the light.

Whilst many church authorities have objections, including the Catholic Catechism, assisted reproduction holds a special place in Christian life, and has for over 3,500 years! In fact without assisted reproduction, there likely wouldn’t be any Christianity. Ishmael, Moses, Esther and even Yeshua were all conceived through a type of surrogacy or adoption!

Most would agree that should a person be fit to parent, it is their human right to do so. However, the Bible holds children in the highest esteem and teaches that they are a also blessing; So when it’s impossible for gay couples to conceive, and 1 in 6 heterosexual couples struggle with infertility, it makes us wonder if those people are, in some way, being punished.

Of course the question of why God “allows” suffering is an extremely  philosophical one, and is deserving of it’s own post – but one thing is for certain, infertility is not a punishment. In Isaiah 66:9, God states “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?”, sometimes translated as” I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born”. Even more, the Bible offers many examples of righteous people who suffered with infertility.

  • Sarah suffered with barrenness for 90 years of her life (Genesis 16:1)
  • Rebekah suffered with barrenness for 20 years of her life (Genesis 25:21)
  • Rachel suffered with barrenness, eventually dying in childbirth (Genesis 30:1, Genesis 35:18)
  • Manoah and his wife suffered infertility (Judges 13:2)
  • Hannah and Elkanah suffered infertility (1 Samuel 1)
  •  Michal, first wife of King David, suffered with barrenness (2 Samuel 6:23)
  • The Shunammite Woman suffered with barrenness (2 Kings 4:16-17)
  • Elizabeth, mother of John The Baptist, suffered with barrenness (Luke 1:36)
The most important thing to know is that an infertility journey always comes to an end – whether it’s with children like Sarah, or without, like Michal.

Nowadays, those struggling to conceive have many options  to choose from, but in the spirit of keeping with the LGBT theme of The Star-Crossed Christian series, I will only be discussing surrogacy, sperm/egg donation and adoption.

First things first though, is it even right for same-sex couples to raise children? A common objection to this statement is that children need both a mother and a father, and that children with absent fathers (in particular) are statistically more likely to be incarcerated or to commit suicide. Yet what those who make this argument often forget is, the effects of an emotionally absent father are almost identical to that of a physically absent father and that multiple studies have concluded that children from families with lesbian parents are statistically just as well off as those with heterosexual parents. Of course each parent wishes to do the correct thing by their child, which is why it’s best to remember the words of Jane Blaustone – “the best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other”.

The idea of commercial surrogacy is a controversial one, especially in Christian communities.

On account of the physical (and often emotional) side effects that pregnancy can have on the body, commercial surrogacy is not a career many women are willing to take on – often meaning many commercial surrogates are women from financially unstable backgrounds that take on the job because there is an open position, not because it’s their passion, and they do so sometimes without even understanding the full ramifications of their decision.

According to an article on Forbes.com, surrogates residing in the US earn an average of $3.00US each hour of their pregnancy (based on a pregnancy of 266 days) – provoking the author to liken the practise to human trafficking. This means that commercial surrogacy, or womb-renting as some call it, directly violates the Bible’s commandment of not exploiting those in need (Proverbs 22:16).

It is absolutely paramount that the dignity and Holiness of the surrogate and child be upheld.

The womb of a woman is a sacred place, not merely an incubator; It was created by God to transport neshamas (hebrew for “soul”) from one realm to another, and to sustain the tiny body in which that neshama resides – a woman mimics God in this way, and is the only creature able to do so. In fact it was Miriam’s womb where Heaven and Earth first met, through the conception of Yeshua – this is why she is referred to as “theotokos” in the Greek New Testament, meaning “one who gives birth to God”.

When it comes to the dignity of the child, there is still much debate. Opinions vary on when ensoulment, and therefore personhood, occurs – some say at conception because of verses such as Jeremiah 1:5, and others say at first breath because of Genesis 2:7. So if for some reason, a couple chooses IVF instead of artificial insemination (the difference being whether the sperm is inserted artificially and left to fertilise the egg naturally, or whether fertilisation occurs in a lab), the decision of what to do with the “unwanted” or “left over” embryos should be carefully thought out with both opinions in mind. In cases such as these there are many compassionate options to choose from – the embryos can be frozen for future attempts or even donated to another couple!

Much like commercial surrogacy, commercial sperm donation raises questions regarding it’s ethicalness. Some speculate that commercial surrogacy, and therefore commercial sperm donation, treat children as commodities to be bought and sold, rather than blessings from the Creator (Matthew 19:14).

A wide range of problems can also arise when going through a sperm bank – including the legal rights of the donor, the child and their parents. There have even been cases of donors with STIs transmitting their infections.

For this reason most Christians would advise against the commerciality of surrogacy and sperm donation, perhaps suggesting a donor or surrogate with a personal and meaningful connection to you. This way children can also grow up fully understanding their origins and how wanted they were by their parents. Having a basic understanding of their ancestry or even just their immediate family tree, helps give children a sense of belonging, identity and security.

When it comes to the common, um, *cough* “”retrieval”” method of sperm used in donation, it’s a little more complex.

Historically, masturbation was a cultural toe’vah (abomination) because it involved “the spilling of seeds” and therefore sentencing the potential next generation to nonexistence, before they were even born. Nowadays however, the main concern among Christian ethicists is not the bodily action itself, but rather the often exploitative and  sometimes idolatrous, emotion behind it (see here).

In a discussion with Loveology author John Mark Comer, Dr. Gerry Breshears expressed that there is a way to get around this debacle; However, if it’s a serious issue that a couple is unable to compromise on, there is always options like

  • Percutaneous Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (PESA)
  • Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (MESA)
  • Testicular Sperm Aspiration (TESA)/Testicular Fine Needle Aspiration (TFNA)
  • Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE)

Or…adoption! Some would argue that this is by far the most appropriate method of “conceiving” for gay couples – simply because it appears to be the “purpose” of homosexuality in other species, and therefore God’s creation. There are multiple instances of gay animals adopting the abandoned offspring of their heterosexual counterparts, including among penguins and flamingos.

It must be noted that these are only the educated opinions of Christian ethicists; Ultimately, it is a parent’s decision on how they conceive and raise their child, and we must trust that God has endowed them with the binah (intuition) and chayil (valour) to do so.

The Star-Crossed Christian Pt VI – Answering Dr Michael Brown

Dr. Michael Brown is a Messianic-Jewish Theologian and author, who’s publications include Can You Be Gay and Christian? and Outlasting The Gay Revolution: Where Homosexual Activism Is.I have been reading Dr.Brown’s material, on multiple theological matters, and have a great respect for him as my brother in Christ, but I must say that for a heterosexual man – he seems awfully concerned with what homosexuals do in the privacy of their bedrooms – especially considering that there are sins that should be of much greater concern.

It must also be noted, that for someone with a Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Literature and whom also serves as a professor of practical theology, he appears to find it difficult to apply exegesis when studying/teaching.1

Nonetheless, the two questions2 he posed to Gay-Christian activist Matthew Vines last year, are both reasonable and easily answered, yet go unreplied (until now!).

Question 1: Can you give me a single, unambiguous biblical example of a God-blessed homosexual relationship?

  1. There is no Biblical relationship – whether it be homosexual, heterosexual, romantic or platonic – that is completely unambiguous. Theologians are still debating over the most seemingly simple relationships between Biblical figures; Was Yeshua involved in a courtship with Miriam of Magdala? Did he have siblings, or was Mother Miriam a perpetual virgin? Everything is open to interpretation, it’s just about whether you have the evidence to back it up.
  2. Whilst God’s instruction is unchanging, the context in which we understand it very much is. We know that over the course of the 1600 year period in which the Bible was constructed, homosexual relationships were adulterous, incestuous, idolatrous and usually involved pederasty. This is why every obvious reference to a homosexual practise in the Bible is written in the context of temple prostitution, or rape. Gay couples as we know them today were so rare that they were virtually non-existent (In saying this, we do know that same-sex attraction has always occurred – as is evident through these exploitative, yet very real relationships – and that it is also a biological fact relating to hormones and birth order – see question 2).

So no, for these reasons I’m not able to produce a completely unambiguous example; I can give an equivocal one  with some fascinating suggestions however (read more here, here and here):

Most of us know those words in which God declared the first marriage; words that are so often twisted around to batter LGBT people, “al ken azab ish eth ab eth em dabaq ishshah hayah basar echad” – “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined (also clung, cleave) to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Yet what those critics don’t realise, is that the same Hebrew word used to describe Adam’s oneness with Chavah, dabaq, is also used to describe Ruth’s feelings towards Naomi, “Ruth dabaq” – Ruth clung unto her” (Ruth 1:14). 

The book of Ruth was written between 931 and 1011 BCE, and the narrative begins in the town of Moab, where Naomi, her husband Elimelech and their two sons are forced to move after a famine sweeps their hometown of Bethlehem. It isn’t long before Naomi becomes a widow, and her sons husbands to Orpah and Ruth, two Moabite girls. Tragically, a short time later Orpah and Ruth too become widows. When Naomi declares that she will be returning to Bethlehem, she suggests that the girls also return to their families. Wisely Orpah compiles, but Ruth refuses and clings unto her.

the Bible goes onto to record Ruth saying (Ruth 1:16-17):

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die — there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!

These vows are regularly exchanged at Christian weddings, with unsuspecting couples not realising that they were first exchanged between two women! What’s more, the vows take on a far deeper meaning than first expected.

When Ruth mentions death, it’s not a farce; the enormously patriarchal society in which Ruth lived, gave women 3 choices – to remain daughters of their fathers’ households, to become wives of their husbands’ households or to become outcasts of society which would likely result in death (see 1 Kings 17:10-24 & 2 Samuel 14:4-12). No man meant no social status, and women relied solely on men for their survival.3 So when we see Ruth potentially risking her life by clinging onto, and honouring another woman as spouses are supposed to honour each other, we begin to understand the profound bond these two women had.

When Ruth did remarry to Boaz, the Bible makes it clear that it was a marriage purely for convenience and stability – love is never even mentioned in reference to their relationship. Furthermore when Ruth bears a son, the neighbours congratulate Naomi saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”, and as if he was simply their sperm donor, there is no mention of congratulations towards Boaz (Ruth 4:17). 

Whilst it’d be impossible to prove a sexual relationship between these women (although highly unlikely, as that would be adultery), we can speculate safely whether it was of a romantic nature.4 As Paul Halsall states:

Is this a story about Lesbianism, which was not forbidden at all in the Law? Whatever the answer, it is a story of love and loyalty between two women.

 Question 2: Do you agree that every reference to homosexual practice in the Bible is decidedly negative?

Homosexuality refers to romantic attraction, sexual attraction and/or sexual behaviours  between people of the same sex.5 So if Dr. Brown is referring to the first two types of attractions listed, then no.

As briefly stated in my response to question one, we know that same-sex attraction has always occurred, is natural, and even serves a purpose!

We must distinguish between romantic and sexual attraction, versus sexual behaviours – because not all of homosexual behaviours are Biblically moral (idolatry – Lev 18:22, rape – Gen 19:5, etc), just as not all heterosexual behaviours are Biblically moral (rape – Deut 22:25-27, adultery – Matt 5:27, etc).

Whenever the Bible makes mention of a sexual practise involving homosexuality, it is always in the context of idolatry or rape, which we understand to be immoral from a variety of other clearly-stated passages. There is no “decidedly negative” verse that refers to the “practise” of romantic or sexually moral homosexual relationships, as those were not relevant to the authors at the time. As Justin Lee has stated

Many things aren’t mentioned in the Bible, either because they weren’t part of the culture at that time (e.g. computer porn) or because they weren’t especially important issues to the Biblical authors (e.g. masturbation). In cases like these, we use general Biblical principles to address the issue, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.

I must also say that I personally find a great irony in Dr. Brown’s understanding of Leviticus 18:22, as he doesn’t appear to understand that this is a law forbidding idolatry, not homosexuality. In the hypothetical situation that he does and yet continues to preach against homosexuality in ALL cases – perhaps for the purpose of helping couples to avoid accidentally being idolatrous – there is a great irony that he has no problem cutting his hair as Leviticus 19:27 prohibits, which is also a law regarding idolatry.

So Dr. Brown, I hope that I was able to answer your questions sufficiently and help you to realise that you’re view of homosexuality, neither comes from God nor the Bible, but from yourself.  May God continue to bless you.


Sources:

1. “Biography – Ask Dr. Brown”. Ask Dr. Brown.

2. “Dr. Michael Brown Has 40 Answers And 2 Questions For ‘Gay’ Christian Matthew Vines”. Charisma News.
3. Lyimo-Mbowe, Hoyce Jacob. Feminist Expositions Of The Old Testament In Africa (Tanzania) In The Context Of The Office Held By Deborah In Judges 4 And 5, 2015.
4. “Ruth & Naomi, 20Th December”. Queering-the-church.blogspot.com.au, 
“Faithful To The Truth: The Teaching Of Sacred Scripture.”. Webspace.webring.com, “Ruth And Naomi: Love Between Women”. Jesusinlove.blogspot.com.au, “Would Jesus Discriminate? – Ruth Loved Naomi As Adam Loved Eve”. Wouldjesusdiscriminate.org.
5. Kaye, Bonnie and Doug Dittmer. Over The Cliff. [Terrace], B.C.: CCB, 2011.

The Star-Crossed Christian Pt V – Popping The Gay Marriage Question

This blog entry is Part V in my Star-Crossed Christian series, to see Part I click here, Part II here, Part III here and Part IV here.

Same-sex marriage – the most difficult topic in this entire theological debate. There are no examples of it given in the Bible, therefore it must be wrong, right? Or is it, there are no examples of it given in the Bible, therefore it must be okay….right?

Well, there is a traditional teaching that if one wants to find out the meaning of something in Scripture, one must flip back the pages to where that “something” first appears, because that is the headquarters of it’s elucidation.

The first marriage appears within the beginning chapters of Genesis, and it’s purpose has been briefly discussed in part 1 of this series. What I didn’t mention however was the extremely enchanting theology of bashert, meaning “destiny” or “soulmate” in english, which sadly goes unheard in most Christian circles.

We all know the story of Chavah splitting from Adam’s body, but we pass over the brief yet powerful story of Chavah splitting from Adam’s soul in Genesis 5:2

זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בְּרָאָ֑ם וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָ֗ם וַיִּקְרָ֤א אֶת־שְׁמָם֙ אָדָ֔ם בְּי֖וֹם הִבָּֽרְאָֽם׃ (ס)

be·ra·’am;   za·char  u·ne·ke·vah  vay·va·rech  vai·yik·ra   a·dam,   be·yo·vm   hib·ba·re·’am.

He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.

Here, “Adam” is translated “Man” yet in other places, “Adam” is the name of one individual in particular. Surely the original author of Genesis wouldn’t have been so careless as to include the same word with different meanings in such close proximity to each other? Even the Israelites, who understood it’s direct context, would’ve confused the two. This has lead Rabbis, Pastors and theologians to speculate that this was no accident, and “Adam” meaning “Man” actually takes on a far more complex meaning.

For centuries, people have understood this verse to refer to one androgynous soul consisting of both Adam and Chavah, some even going so far as to say one androgynous being with two faces, back and front.

Howard Schwartz has noted

Facing in two directions made walking difficult, and conversation awkward. So God changed His mind and split Adam (man) into two, making two backs, one for Adam and one for Eve, and dividing them into two separate beings.

Should this long-held understanding of soul mates be true, the first union would have been androgynous, being neither heterosexual nor homosexual, unlike the reunion (“one flesh” – Gen 2:24).1

It’s not clear where the modern perception of Christian marriage comes from, but bashert is only the beginning evidence of how our view of marriage has changed over the centuries.

We only have to open a history book to learn that premodern marriage wasn’t as peachy as we like to think. In fact, Stephanie Coontz – author of Marriage, a history: How Love Conquered Marriage – has joked that Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It? should’ve been the processional song for the weddings that took place during our early history.

♫ Got to do with it? ♫ Got to do with it?♫

During this period, marriages were usually arranged by families and were performed to strengthen alliances, form peace treaties, build a labour force and to keep assets in the family; This is why polygamy/bigamy was so widespread and is even referenced in the Torah, but never explicitly condemned.2

So if polygamy isn’t condemned in the Bible, does that mean we can still practise it? Well, that’s a topic for another day but what we can say is that the while God’s purpose of marriage has not changed, there is no mention of “one man, one woman” given in the Bible to tell us what a marriage should look like – Though it must be noted, many argue that Yeshua’s mention of “the two will become one flesh” in Matt 19:3-6 is proof of monogamy as God’s ideal.

The most fascinating thing in this entire debate however, is the findings of Dr. John Boswell – all of which has been published in his 1994 book Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe. Dr. Boswell spent 12 years researching same-sex unions/reunions in pre-modern Europe and some of his discoveries, including a multitude of antiquarian liturgical documents, were unearthed in the Vatican archives and in collections ranging from Sinai to Istanbul.

Among these, a captivating icon depicts a wedding between none other than St. Serge and St. Bacchus, whom are canonised in both the Catholic and (Eastern and Oriental) Orthodox traditions as holy Saints. Furthermore, the icon depicts Christ himself as the pronubus (best man/officiate), an idea which almost seems blasphemous to modern conservative Christians.3

In the 6th Century CE, Severus of Antioch said

“we should not separate in speech (St. Serge and St. Bacchus) who were joined in life”.

Then in the 10th Century CE account of their lives, Saint Serge is blatantly referred to as the “sweet companion and lover” of Bacchus, making it obvious that their relationship went far beyond friendship.4

EDIT: Image of the icon is not working, see it here, courtesy of Matt and Andrej Koymasky.

Dr. Boswell’s book also includes over 69 antiquarian manuscripts, detailing the instructions of how to conduct gay weddings, otherwise known as “adelphopoiesis” (ἀδελφοποίησις) or “brother-making”. These ceremonies included rituals such as gathering of a church community, a blessing at the altar, participation of a priest, joining of the right hands, eating the Eucharist and a banquet afterwards. These are all characteristics of a wedding, suggesting that it is just that, and not a ritual instead representing civil partnership.

Dr. John Boswell entered eternal sleep on Christmas Eve in 1994, but one thing is for certain – his research into LGBT+ people in the early church will go down in history. His fascinating discoveries give gay people a place in the church, just as they had before and just as God always intended.


Sources:

1. Schwartz, Howard and Caren Loebel-Fried. Tree Of Souls. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
2. Coontz, Stephanie. Marriage, A History. New York: Viking, 2005.
3. Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions In Premodern Europe. New York: Villard Books, 1994.
4. Roberts, Carlos C. Rainbow And The Spirit. Authorhouse, 2012.