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Reframing Normative Judaism: Queer Jewish Ritual in the United States

Tue, December 18, 10:15 to 11:45am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 2

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel offers three perspectives on queer reframings of normative Jewish experiences. Focusing on the categories of Jewish ritual and Jewish bodies, the panel calls for a greater critical engagement with hetero- and cis-normative assumptions in the field of Jewish Studies, and ritual practice in particular. The panel aims to revise existing historical narratives and imagine methods for creating a queer Jewish future by exploring LGBTQ Jews' contributions to American Judaism from the 1980s to today. Gregg Drinkwater will show that the contemporary Jewish healing movement, often described as emerging in the early 1990s as one of the central innovations of Jewish feminism, has less well-known roots among Jewish lesbian and gay activists in the 1980s. In particular, in the mid-1980s, gay and lesbian synagogues used healing services to comfort their own communities, then being ravaged by AIDS. He also re-centers the engagement with AIDS at the heart of Debbie Friedman's now ubiquitous Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing, and the context of AIDS and gay-male trauma behind the founding of one of the healing movement's most well-known organizations. Turning from the broadly-communal lens of Drinkwater's paper to the work of a single Jewish artist, SJ Crasnow considers art/rituals/ritual objects created by the San Francisco Bay Area-based transdisciplinary artist Nicki Green. Green's art/ritual objects reference both queer/trans and Jewish identities. Crasnow argues that Green radically and powerfully asserts that the queer/trans body itself is a holy site of transformation, positioning it as central to Jewish ritual. Crasnow explores the ways Green identifies both with and against normative elements of Jewish tradition in order to create a trans-affirming Judaism. Continuing with the theme of queer ritual innovation, Alex Malanych argues that Reform Judaism’s "liturgical impulse" has long tried to create a theoretically democratic Judaism by becoming bodiless, thus rendering queer bodies invisible in Jewish contexts. Malanych then explores queer Jewish ritual innovations that resist this liturgical erasure, as well as the category of liturgy itself, by instead ritualizing queer Jewish life through embodied writing and the will-to-adaptation. Malanych suggests that queer Jewish work not only writes queer Jewish experience into existence, but invites those who might not otherwise identify moments as queer to engage the queer possibility that they cannot control.

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