Kosher Queers

47 — Nitzavim-Vayelech: Tenderqueers and Rude Gays

September 10, 2020
Kosher Queers
47 — Nitzavim-Vayelech: Tenderqueers and Rude Gays
Kosher Queers
47 — Nitzavim-Vayelech: Tenderqueers and Rude Gays
Sep 10, 2020

This week, we talk about merisms that include everyone in a community, G-d modeling good public health and relationship boundaries, and the inherent holiness taking Torah wildly out of context as our ancestors did before us. Plus, taking care of yourself as a form of teshuvah to practice this holiday season.

Full transcript here.

Content notes: non-graphic discussion of self-harm from 25:09-27:58.

Not in the episode, but possibly of interest to listeners: an organization that Jaz used to work for is starting a new program called Serve the Moment. It's a 10-week part-time paid program where people aged 18 - 29 do service work via a Jewish lens, and also do learning to address the COVID-19 crisis, its economic fallout, and the current movement for racial justice. Corps Members will volunteer with a local community-based organization, learn with peers about systemic change, and mobilize the Jewish community to show up with and for neighbors. The program dates are September 30-December 11. Applications close September 14th.

The informed consent clinic where Lulav got HRT was Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis. The prayer book Jaz ended up purchasing for their friend was the Hadesh Yameinu machzor from Congregation Dorshei Emet (actually called a machzor, not a siddur, because it's for high holidays, not Shabbat or weekdays). The Dan Nichols song that references this parsha is "Kehillah Kedoshah." The oven of Akhnai story starts here.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at [email protected], follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript was written by Reuben Shachar Rose and Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

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Show Notes Transcript

This week, we talk about merisms that include everyone in a community, G-d modeling good public health and relationship boundaries, and the inherent holiness taking Torah wildly out of context as our ancestors did before us. Plus, taking care of yourself as a form of teshuvah to practice this holiday season.

Full transcript here.

Content notes: non-graphic discussion of self-harm from 25:09-27:58.

Not in the episode, but possibly of interest to listeners: an organization that Jaz used to work for is starting a new program called Serve the Moment. It's a 10-week part-time paid program where people aged 18 - 29 do service work via a Jewish lens, and also do learning to address the COVID-19 crisis, its economic fallout, and the current movement for racial justice. Corps Members will volunteer with a local community-based organization, learn with peers about systemic change, and mobilize the Jewish community to show up with and for neighbors. The program dates are September 30-December 11. Applications close September 14th.

The informed consent clinic where Lulav got HRT was Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis. The prayer book Jaz ended up purchasing for their friend was the Hadesh Yameinu machzor from Congregation Dorshei Emet (actually called a machzor, not a siddur, because it's for high holidays, not Shabbat or weekdays). The Dan Nichols song that references this parsha is "Kehillah Kedoshah." The oven of Akhnai story starts here.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at [email protected], follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Lulav Arnow and our transcript was written by Reuben Shachar Rose and Jaz Twersky. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union.

Support the show (

Lulav: Hi Jaz! 

Jaz: Hi Lulav! What's something cool or queer or Jewish you've been up to this week?

Lulav: Well, I just got hit by a wave of dust because we were doing some preliminary planning on our Rosh Hashanah episode for next week, and I was looking for old services — um (snaps) like, uh, the things — 

Jaz: Papers?

Lulav: — that you get, what are — 

Jaz: Flyers. Handouts. 

Lulav: Flyers? Ha — yeah handouts are right, but more narrow- what's it called when you get a handout for a specific service and it tells you what's going to happen?

Jaz: It's uhhh, supplemental text. It's uh, I don't know. 

Lulav: Order of service? Order of service, there we go. 

Jaz: Sure. 

Lulav: Um, anyway, I was kneeling down looking in Extremely Dusty Pile Where I Throw Things that Have Emotional Importance to Me But Which I Don't Want to Look At All the Time. 

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: And while rooting around back there for an order of service that definitely did not exist I found  the prescription fulfillment paperwork for my first ever prescription of HRT. 

Jaz: Aww. 

Lulav: So I just wanted to talk a little bit about that. I probably mentioned this before but I was lucky enough to be able to change my name legally before actually going on HRT and also to have some leeway in deciding when I wanted to make that decision for myself. 

Jaz: That's rad. 

Lulav: Yeah, informed consent clinics are the way to go. Frankly, the state of transgender healthcare in the world is atrocious. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: But like, my first experience trying to get hormones, I knew that I wanted to be on HRT at some point. I didn't know, like, exactly when I wanted that because of certain things related to gamete storage in case I ever wanted to have natural children, and the doctor at the, like, regular clinic was pressuring me — like, she wouldn't prescribe me hormones unless I like, went threw the entire decision first?

Jaz: What does that mean, went through the entire decision?

Lulav: Uh, like stored my gametes or decided that I absolutely wasn't going to do it. 

Jaz: Ah. 

Lulav: And it's a whole process, and also it's one specific kind of gamete storage facility and so they assume everybody going there is a man. 

Jaz: Ahh. 

Lulav: Which is wild. So, like, not only was there occasional misgendering, but also just like trying to figure out that whole nonsense. And it was a lot and for months I was just like, yeah I'll figure this out tomorrow, oh I'll figure this out tomorrow, and pushing it down later and later. 

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: But I finally DQ-ed from the waiting list for Family Tree Clinic and got an opportunity to do their whole shebang and the nurse practitioners who worked there were like, “Yeah, okay we can prescribe you HRT as long as you're physically ready to take it and it will be your decision as to when you want to start that,” and so I was empowered by my health care provider to make my own decisions about my health, and I basically held onto this first prescription of HRT until New Years 2017, when I was just like, “You know what, this is a great time to start because I'll know exactly how long i've been on hormones.” (laughs)

Jaz: That's great! 

Lulav: So, as we’re recording this I have been on hormone replacement therapy for eight months, 21 days, and 21 hours. Uh, and also three years. 

Jaz: Ye — yeah. (laughs) 

Lulav: Can't forget the three years. Yeah, that's just cool. I don't like the adversity, but I do enjoy remembering being met on my level. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: And the thing is, I ended up making approximately the same decision that I probably would have anyways, but I wasn't being pressured to either sterilize myself or go through a really expensive and complex and demeaning process. 

Jaz: Yeah! 

Lulav: So, yeah. Jaz, what's cool and queer or Jewish in your life?

Jaz: Well, a nice Jewish thing that happened in my life is a Jewish friend of mine — well, okay a friend of mine who is like, probably in the process of converting to Judaism, but like, I don't know exactly where she's at in her process — 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: — just that she's, in process. Anyways, looking for a high holiday siddur. 

Lulav: Aww. 

Jaz: Because you know, normally we'd be going in person to high holidays services, but none of us are doing that this year. 

Lulav: (Laughing) Oh, that's not happening this year? Okay. 

Jaz: I say very optimistically, “none of us are doing that this year.” Probably some of us are doing that this year — 

Lulav: Oh G-d. 

Jaz: I and my friend aren’t doing that this year but she wanted a siddur and high holiday siddurim are kind of expensive. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: Siddurim in general, if you're looking for ones that sort of meet our general values system (Lulav chuckles) are often kind of expensive because people put a lot of work into them and they're kind of a niche product. 

Lulav: When you say expensive, are we talking $37.50 or like, more?

Jaz: It depends… uh, more. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: But, that was such a specific number. 

Lulav: So, (laughs) back in ye olden times, when we used to have in person services at Shir Tikvah there was an announcement at the end of services that was like “hey everybody, if you borrowed a siddur remember to bring it in or bring $37.50 to the front office and we’ll get a replacement copy.”

Jaz: Uh huh. That's sweet. 

Lulav: Yeah. It might have been 47?

Jaz: That sounds more plausible, honestly. 

Lulav: Yeah, okay. (Laughs) It's a nice book! 

Jaz: It is! Yeah. I don't know which specific book you had but they're fairly expensive, and also if you're looking for something with specifications, you know, there's a certain amount of like, I want something with transliteration and translation and gender-neutral language for G-d and maybe readings that I'm going to feel okay about — 

Lulav: Mm, mm hmm. 

Jaz: And, you know, that narrows your options, because if you don't care about any of that you can get a used siddur for under $10, (Lulav laughs) but that's for people who, you know, don't need any of those things. 

Lulav: Right. 

Jaz: Anyway, so now I have a fun project of tracking down a proper siddur for my friend and getting it to her in a way that costs her no money, so. 

Lulav: Yeah! And involves less mental editing which is like, a really cool thing. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Okay, so i'm looking it up and you can get a digital version of Mishkan Tefilah: A Reform Siddur —

Jaz: Uh huh. 

Lulav: — the complete thing with Shabbat, weekdays and festivals from Jeff for $20, or apparently a new hardcover version, also from Jeff, is $195.

Jaz: Sure.

Lulav: So I see what you mean about it being expensive. (laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, also —

Lulav: Hot diggity.

Jaz: That might be a weekday siddur. I don't know which one specifically you're looking at. High holidays have their own specifics —

Lulav: Right.

Jaz: Anyway, you have to get separate ones for weekdays and Shabbat and high holidays, so it's a whole thing. (Lulav laughs) Also, I think we're going to get her a Reconstructionist one.

Lulav: Ooh, fun.

J; Yeah. But there's also instances where there's maybe one or two synagogue and it is a synagogue, you know, that makes this specific siddur because there's just not that many people who want it, so —

Lulav: Alas.

Jaz: You know, I'm just going to call up some people on Monday and be like, can I buy one siddur from you. (Lulav laughs) (on loop) One, one, one, one.

[Brivele intro music plays]

Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions! Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They’re Jaz — 

Jaz: And she’s Lulav — 

Lulav: And we’re here to joke about Judaism and talk Tanakh together. Today, our chevruta is learning Nitzavim-Vayelech.

Jaz: We sure are. And I was a little nervous because it's another joint parsha week

Lulav: The last one. 

Jaz: And they have been historically super long, (Lulav laughs) but these are pretty short so I feel better about them.

L; Yeah. These are two that it's actually reasonable to stick together. (laughs)

Jaz: Uh huh. Which is kinda unusual.

Lulav: (chuckles) Do you have anything else to say as we're like, nearing the end of the Torah?

Jaz: It's wild to be nearing the end. We've been doing this for a year.

Lulav: (giggles) Yeah!

Jaz: Yeah, do you have things that you wanted to say about that?

Lulav: I mean, mostly it's that I got to the end of this joint parsha and I was like, okay, I’m using a big text copy of the Torah and there are only like 10 pages left. What the heck?

Jaz: Uh huh.

Lulav: So I just read through the rest of it and this is the last thing we get where it's Moshe talking to us.

Jaz: Mm hmm. Well, that's not entirely true.

Lulav: Right, but like, for Haazinu, it's a poem followed by like a paragraph or two of narration —

Jaz: The poem is Moshe talking to us

Lulav: (making a sound of frustration) Right, he's expressing the words of his heart, I guess. (laughs) I just think that poetry is like, a slightly different medium from, you know, slightly edited speeches.

Jaz: Oh-kaayyy.

Lulav: And then V'Zot Haberachah is like a blessing in the form of a poem and it's essentially the same thing where we get a little bit of narration and then we're done. So this is the last time where we have Moshe speaking to us, you know, Grandpa telling us things from the mountain instead of Grandpa singing us lullabies. 

Jaz: I would not have described the next one as “singing us lullabies,” and in fact, I didn't. (Lulav laughs) Do you want to hear what I did say about it, in my summary?

Lulav: Oh? I do. How many seconds would you like for that summary?

Jaz: I think I can do it in 30?

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Haven't tried it, so we'll see how this goes.

Lulav: You remember what happened last time you said you wanted 30 seconds?

Jaz: I'm going to do it in 30.

Lulav: Okay, soldier on brave text warrior. (Jaz laughs) Three, two, one, go!

Jaz: Moshe wraps up a dramatic monologue. He warns people that there will be consequences for their actions, and says that Torah is actually super close to you, all the time, super easy, and it’s not like this very passage is going to be argued about and reinterpreted for hundreds of years, right? (Lulav snorts) So simple. Moshe tells everybody that he’s going to die, gives final instructions to his successor because he’s an anxious Jewish mother, tells the people, “You behaved like this when I was alive, so how much worse will you be when I’m dead? No, no, no, it’s fine, I’ll sit in the dark!” (Lulav giggles) because like any Jewish mother he can totally lay a guilt trip. Finally, (ringer goes off) he prepares to launch into his slam poem and leaves on a cliffhanger

Lulav: Oh okay! Yeah! Again, you were over by five seconds —

Jaz: Ugh!

Lulav: And we have to stop the entire project now. (Jaz laughs) Just shuttered.

Jaz: Ugh. (Lulav laughs) I was so fast, and yet!

Lulav: You were! (Jaz laughs) It was really good.

Jaz: Hubris.

Lulav: So we see, just as the people can't continue with only Moshe's guidance, that occasionally you have to have revised estimates of what the work is going to look like.

Jaz: Oh-kay. Alright, let's go through it more slowly then, in a way that people can actually understand.

Lulav: Please. I would love that. Where do we stand, going into this parsha? (giggles)


Jaz: Is… this a joke about the name of the parsha?

Lulav: Yeah, a little bit. (Jaz laughs) I thought it was a beautiful segue. (laughs)

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: But maybe that's not how you were starting your summary and I was wrong and should let you —

Jaz: No! Uh, have you ever heard of the Dan Nichols song that has the lyric, "If you are atem/then we're nitzavim/ we stand here today and remember the dream"?

Lulav: (laughs) That's cute

Jaz: (laughs) I did go to Jewish summer camp.

Lulav: And I very much did not, unfortunately. (Jaz laughs) So thank you for bringing back your camp songs wisdom and tell me a little bit about what that song means to you.

Jaz: That's the beginning of the parsha. So it starts "atem nitzavim." Atem is like —

Lulav: Y'all?

Jaz: Yeah. And nitzavim is like, "are standing."

Lulav: Nice.

Jaz: Although it is an unusual way to talk about standing.

Lulav: So the root an uncommon way to talk about standing?

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: Okay. Is it maybe more of a sense of place than a sense of literally standing up?

Jaz: That's a good question! Cuz we use other forms of standing liturgically as well, like the Amidah is the standing prayer. (Lulav chuckles)

Lulav: That one seems like literal standing.

Jaz: Sure. But you know, it's also just got resonance.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: But this one is a little more metaphorical. It can  be related to things like to be fixed and established and determined.

Lulav: Cool.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Determination

Jaz: Okay, so we start with Moshe saying you stand here, all of you, before G-d, and he lists off a bunch of people who are there, basically indicating everybody's there, everybody.

Lulav: The two genders, woodchopper and water drawer.

Jaz: (laughs) And notes that like, you're here to enter the covenant. That it's like, we're making this covenant with you who are standing here and with those who aren't.

Lulav: Mm hmm. Is that the point of contention that you were talking about in your summary?

Jaz: No. What are you referring to?

Lulav: Oh okay. You said something in your short summary about a line that definitely hasn't been interpreted a whole bunch of different ways.

Jaz: Oh no, that one’s a little later.

Lulav: Okay, cool.

Jaz: Do you have something you want to say about this one?

Lulav: I just really like that there is an explicit statement that there will be others in the covenant.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Like, conservatively, you could interpret this as, “with y'all and with your children.”

Jaz: Uh huh.

Lulav: But I think it's the same sense in which we say everybody who will ever be Jewish received the words at Sinai.

Jaz: Mm hmm. And it also doesn't say “children.”

Lulav: Right?

Jaz: Like, plenty of times there are places where it does, and this one —

Lulav: Very especially "your children" and here it's just like "those who are not with us."

Jaz: Yeah

Lulav: So. Love a convert.

Jaz: Also, just to note, there are quite possibly other converts who are there right there.

Lulav: Right.

Jaz: There is a reference there to "the stranger within your gates," "v'gercha" and ger is often a word for people who weren't originally part of your community and now are.

Lulav: Hey, you said "gercha."

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: Is that like, "your stranger"?

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: That's so cool. I love that.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Even your stranger. (giggles)

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: So thank you for pointing that out.

Jaz: Also I enjoy that it's got a little bit of a folksy, "Well, you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and we passed through, in the midst of various other nations.”

Lulav: The first two paragraphs of this parsha begin with "y'all" and "well, you know." (both laugh)

Jaz: It's cute. Moshe's secretly from the Midwest. (Lulav snorts) It's all good.

Lulav: So are there any things from this second big paragraph that stand out to you?

Jaz: Well, the next bit is like, when hearing the words of these sanctions, such a one may imagine a special immunity, thinking, "I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart." And also then the next bit is "to the utter ruin of moist and dry alike."

Lulav: Yeah, uh. This is definitely the thing where it's like, “Here are two opposites and by saying that we include everything.”

Jaz: Mm hmm. Merism.

Lulav: Merism. Thank you. What? Like, what about the specific choice of dryness stands out to you?

Jaz: I know this isn't what it means.

Lulav: Okay

Jaz: It's a little bit of like, here are your tenderqueers and here's your sarcastic rude people. (Lulav cracks up laughing)

Lulav: Good. 

Jaz: Tell me I'm wrong.

Lulav: Uh... you're very handsome. (Jaz bursts out laughing)Tthe other thing that I think of is like, mold grows well — 

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: — in moist conditions.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So it might be like, both the people growing in dissension within a community and the people who are just kind of out in the sun and not particularly prone to leave the covenant.

Jaz: Okay. And what does that indicate for you? Is this like a Jacob and Esau thing?

Lulav: Um... explain that a little more?

Jaz: You know, one of them was out in the fields and doing his thing and physical labor and the other one was like, in the tents chillin’ there.

Lulav: No, what I mean by that is that in the last parsha, we talked a lot about how all these good and bad things are meant for the community as a whole. Everybody who subscribes to the covenant needs to actively continue upholding that covenant or else some really bad stuff is going to happen to everyone. And so, when we talk about the moist and the dry, it's comparing it to houses from way back when. The treatment for mold in a house is to tear out all of the parts of a house that have that and rebuild. Otherwise the entire thing gets moldy.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: So I think that's why that specific merism was chosen here. Does that make sense to you?

Jaz: Sure.

Lulav: Regardless of how we feel about that particular sentiment, I think that's what's being said here.

Jaz: Okay. Also, your example of mold reminds me of medical stuff too.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: And the way that public health is a public health thing, right? Like, "I shall be safe though I follow my own willful heart" — like, there's a bunch of things where you can't say, “It's fine because I'll be fine.”

Lulav: Right.

Jaz: If not everybody's going to be fine.


Lulav: Exactly. None of us are fine until all of us are fine.

Jaz: Yeah. Okay, so in the next bit, if people are running amuck like that, they aren't abiding by the agreements that they made. There's a thing about your descendents and other people will see that there's plagues and disease and the soil is devastated and everybody will ask, why'd G-d do that? And they'll be answered, (echoing G-d voice) "Well, cuz the people didn't abide by their agreements."

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: (echoing G-d voice) "They couldn't live there anymore."

Lulav: Perhaps because they had an economic system that was meant to enrich the already the rich and impoverish the people who have nothing but in general do all the work and also there was a racial hierarchy set up where bias led to —

Jaz: G-d.

Lulav: People being displaced and generally oppressed?

Jaz: Okay, sure.

Lulav: I'm sure that has nothing to do with anything going on right now.

Jaz: You can go in that direction. (Lulav laughs) Absolutely. (Lulav snorts) I — yeah. You can definitely take it in that direction, of like, they did terrible things in that particular place and so they didn't get it anymore. You could also take it in a different direction, which is the thing that I was thinking about. Like, G-d is building a home and a life with these people.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And doing so on the basis of a set of certain agreements, right?

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And then those people just aren't abiding by those agreements. Let us say —

Lulav: V'imru.

Jaz: As an example, theoretically, I'd invited you to come visit me and did so contingent on the fact that you treated my roommates nicely.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And if you came to visit and did in fact do that, then we'd be like, “Great, this is wonderful.” If you came to visit and did not in fact do that, I would like, “Well, you do have to go home now. You cannot stay here.”

Lulav: Yeah. So basically you are standing on Mt. Gerizim and saying, "We can play four player card games that involve bidding on tricks," (Jaz laughs) and standing on Mt. Eval and saying, "I am kicking you out of my house if you are mean." (Jaz chuckles)

Jaz: Yeah. Well, it feels to me that there's good precedent to be like, if you invite somebody into your life under the conditions that they're like, being good to you and then they are bad to you, you don't need to keep them in your life. You know? And in particular, if they're living in your home, and you're like, well, I actually do not think we live well together, you do not have to keep living together.

Lulav: Which is, (chuckling) speaking of 2016, something that I wish I had told myself. But...

Jaz: Anyway, G-d is modeling better relationship deals.

Lulav: Yeah, right. I like how a lot of the stuff that we talked about in discussing Torah has involved looking at these divine agreements and like, national agreements and applying the same logic to them as we would to interpersonal agreements.

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: Because fundamentally, treating people well means treating people well, regardless of how many people are included in that focus.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: So then what happens?


Jaz: So there’s this one little line that I would love to hear your thoughts on if you have any. 

Lulav: Okay. 

Jaz: 29:28, “concealed acts concert G-d, with overt acts it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this teaching.” 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: This Torah. 

Lulav: The first thing that comes to mind is, intent is something that you have to work out with yourself and Hashem. 

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: Whereas somebody does not take action irrespective of their community. 

Jaz: Mm. 

Lulav: Like, if you evict people from the property that you own —

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: — because they are not giving you as much money as they possibly could be in a crisis situation — or frankly even in a non-crisis situation — when you do that, the whole community sees that evil, but like, when you're just, you know trying to figure out how to like balance your personal budget or something, I don't know, that is what I am seeing as a concealed act, something where its like, just about you and not about the community. 

Jaz: Mmm, yeah. 

Lulav: If it affects other people, then it is up to all of us to make sure that the effect is just. 

Jaz: Yeah, like, okay, we're coming up on the high holidays. There's stuff in how Yom Kippur is framed where like, if you think of it as a thing you've done wrong that's between you and G-d, Yom Kippur makes up for it completely. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: If you've done a thing wrong that's between you and another person — 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Yom Kippur does not make up for it until you've made it up to that other person. 

Lulav: Right. 

Jaz: And unless you have. So, sometimes this is a really helpful thing to think about, if you're a person who struggles with self harm and you’re like, "This feels like a thing that is bad that I have done to myself," and maybe depending on how you think of it, in your relationship with G-d, you get a fresh start with Yom Kippur. You know, like, that one’s just between you and your G-d. But the same is not true if you hurt somebody else during that year, so you have to make it up to them or apologize, you know, unless they've indicated that they don't wanna hear from you, because that's just doing more harm. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Jaz: And then once you've done that like, if you go to your friend and say, "Hey, I'm sorry I said that really mean thing. I won’t ever do it again and it was really inappropriate and I would like to make it up to you in this particular way," and your friend says, "Thank you for your apology, I accept it, I see that you're behaving differently now, I'm down to move forward," then you can go, "can Yom Kippur give me a fresh start?" and then it can. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. A thing I thought of when you were saying all that is with the self-harm thing, or with other kinds of self harm like overuse of substances, like, you get, you know, a two month chip for not hurting yourself in those ways. You don't get a two month chip for not being a douchebag. There's like, other stuff that goes into that. 

Jaz: Uh huh. So, I just also, I think this is partly what you were just saying but I want to say it very explicitly. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: I don't think self harm makes you like, a bad person — that's like a thing you need to atone for. It has been in my own life helpful for me to think of the new year as a fresh start, so. 

Lulav: Yeah. Thats cool.

Jaz: I just want to be clear that I'm not like, condemning that as a moral wrong, just like a thing that people can struggle with. 

Lulav: Yeah. I guess part of how I think of moral wrongs, if it's okay if we just like, spiral down on this topic?

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: The issue, being like, concealed acts that concerns Hashem is that you're not taking care of yourself?

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: That’s not like, (dramatic voice) a stain on your soul or something like that, it's just, you have to do better next time. 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: If the problem is that you're not taking care of yourself, take care of yourself and that's the teshuva that you need to do. 

Jaz: Yeah. And sometimes it is helpful to have a conception of G-d as caring about that so that I can make a promise about it to someone who's not me! 

Lulav: Right. And also somebody who isn't like, a person who has all of their like, potential judgements or interactions with you. It's just like, I am vibing with the universe — 

Jaz: Uh huh. 

Lulav: — about taking care of myself. 

Jaz: Yeah! 

Lulav: And I just think that's neat. 

Jaz: Yeah! Next, G-d’s like, "Bad things happen and you’re all scattered. If you want to be, you can be gathered together even if your outcasts or at the end of the world. From there, you will still be gathered together." Which is nice! Especially if you don't think of it as being gathered together has to mean you literally all go to the same physical place.

Lulav: Well, I think that's the textual context. 

Jaz: Mmm! 

Lulav: 'Cuz, 35, “And Hashem will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed and you shall possess it and He shall make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers.” 

Jaz: Unnecessary textual context. 

Lulav: Agreed. 

Jaz: I don't think that you need to have that. Also, in like, a paragraph worth were going to come to some lines that one of my favourite stories involves very esteemed rabbis taking this line pretty firmly out of context. 

Lulav: (Laughs) Okay, I can’t wait. 

Jaz: I think that if you’re like, "every line of Torah is holy," any line can stand on its own. You can make it mean whatever it means if it stands on its own. (Lulav laughs) You don't have to read every line in context. Anyway, so the bit I was referring to there — 

Lulav: Yes please. 

Jaz: — is in 30:11, "surely this instruction,” or this mitzvah “which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens that you should say. ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and then part it for us that we may observe it?’

Lulav: Right? 

Jaz: “Neither is it beyond that sea that you say who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it to us and impart it to us; no, the thing is very close to you. In your mouth, and in your heart to observe it."

Lulav: This is my favourite Talmud story that we definitely have talked about on this podcast but yes, please go where you're going with this. 

Jaz: Okay. I heard a really interesting take on it since the last time we've discussed it on the podcast I'm pretty sure. 

Lulav: Ooh. 

Jaz: Anyway, but this bit and the next bit are a little different but they're both about, "Hey, you fool. You nincompoop. The Torah is so easy.” (Lulav giggles) “Observing it is right there, it's like right in front of you. You absolutely can do it. It’s a For Dummies book.” Like, that is what the text is implying here and so the story that I was going to tell — do you want me to tell the oven of akhnai story?

Lulav: Yis.

Jaz: Okay, if you want to follow along at home this is in Bava Metzia on 59b. I guess It starts technically at the end of 59a. Rabbis are arguing over whether a particular kind of oven can be ritually pure or not, like is it susceptible to impurity or not. It's like an oven that you can put into pieces and assemble and carry around with you. Anyways, this is called, “the oven of akhnai.” The more permissive Rabbi Eliezer said that it could be pure, and the rabbis said, "No, no, no. It can't be." And they deemed it impure, or susceptible to impurity I guess. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: And Rabbi Eliezer gives a million answers to support his position. We don't get any of them in the text but he gives a million answers (Lulav laughs) and they did not accept his explanations. And so he was outvoted, and he's like, "Well, okay but I'm right though. If the kalacha is on my side this carob tree will prove it, and a carob tree was uprooted from its spot and it walked some say 100 cubits, and some say 400 cubits to prove his point and the Rabbis were like, "Okay buddy, but we don't get proof of halacha from a carob tree." (Lulav chuckles) and Rabbi Eliazer's like, "Well, if the halacha is on my side the stream will prove it" and the water in the stream turns backwards and goes flowing in the opposite direction, and they're like "Okay but we don't get halacha from a stream! That has nothing to do with anything." Rabbi Eliazers like "*grumbles* Well, if the halacha is in accordance with my opinion the walls of the study hall will prove it" and they like, start caving inwards.

Lulav: Hey you can't do that to a bet midrash! 

Jaz: The main rabbi that was opposing him, Rabbi Yehoshua, scolds the walls and says to them, "If Torah scholars are arguing about halacha, what business do you have getting involved in this argument?" (Lulav laughs) And so the walls didn't fall, because they were trying to respect Rabbi Yehoshua, but they also didn't straighten all the way up because they wanted to respect Rabbi Eliezer, and they just kind of stayed diagonal like that. And then Rabbi Eliezer says, "Okay, we’ll just really settle this. If the halacha is in accordance with my opinion, shamaim, like, the heavens shall prove it,” and a divine voice, a bat kol, comes down and says, (echoing voice) "The halacha is in accordance with Rabbi Eliazer every time. All the time. He’s right." (modal voice) And Rabbi Yehoshua stands up and yells back, and quotes this verse — 

Lulav: Mm hmm! 

Jaz: From Devarim 30:12, and says, "It is not in the heavens!" (Lulav chuckles) and another rabbi offers an explanation of what he meant: “since the Torah was already given at Mt. Sinai, we don't draw the halacha even from bat kol! Even from a divine voice because listen, you already gave us the Torah. It's not in the heavens anymore! It's down here on earth, in your mouth and your heart — it's right here and so we get to decide what the halacha is. You can't come down and give addendums” and G-d  says, (echoing voice) "My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me." (modal voice) Now, often the story ends there, when people are telling it and that's probably where we ended it last time.

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: That's not where the story ends.

Lulav: (Laughs) Uh oh. 

Jaz: The story continues and says since now the majority of the rabbis agree that Rabbi Eliezer was wrong, they took all the things that have been declared ritually pure by him, and since we know we can't trust his opinion, they burnt them all in a fire (Lulav makes disbelieving sounds) and then decided that he should be excommunicated. They sent Akiva to tell him that he was excommunicated, because he liked Akiva and Akiva liked him, and Akiva was like, "If somebody who didn't know him went, he might destroy the entire world," since he’s already like, done some magic with the trees and the streams and the walls. (Lulav laughs) And so Akiva like, comes in mourning clothes and sits far away like you're supposed to do with somebody who's excommunicated and Rabbi Eliezer asks why he's behaving weirdly. Rabbi  Akiva says very tentatively like, "My teacher, it appears that your colleagues are distancing themselves," and Rabbi Eliezer tore his clothes and removed his shoes, sat on the ground and shed tears, And because he was crying the olives in the town were spoiled, and the wheat, and the barely, and dough that was being kneaded at the time, and also when he looked at things they burned up because he had laser eyes. (Lulav scoffs) There were huge waves that were threatening to drown the head of the Sanhedrin, Rabban Gamliel, who happened to be at sea at that time, and Rabban Gamliel was like, "It wasn't for my sake that I did it, or for the sake of anybody personally, it was for the sake of you, G-d." And then the seas calm down... anyway it's like a whole rest of the story that ends with Rabbi Eliezer dying?

Lulav: I am increasingly seeing why the Karites didn't like our rabbinical ancestors. (Lulav chuckles)

Jaz: I love them. (Lulav laughs) I love them, I think there's so much richness here. Imagine if we only had this text and no tradition of like, yelling back at it. (Lulav laughs) Not to say that's what modern Karites do, I just like— 

Lulav: No, I get it. I just — this is cancel culture. (Lulav laughs) 

Jaz: Is it? So the person that I learned this from this summer was like, "What’s troubling a little bit about Rabbi Eliezer’s story is that often we focus on the like, “humans don't have to bow before G-d part, the joy of ‘it's not in the heavens, it's here on earth’ and G-d being like ‘my children have defeated me, my children have defeated me,’ but it's also a story of like, Rabbi Eliezer puts forward a bunch of reasons and we don't get to hear any of them, and he's right! Like, (Lulav laughs) all of these miracles happen to show that he's right, but he's just outvoted, he's the minority voice and they're like, "We don't have to listen to minority voices."

Lulav: Mm hmm. 

Jaz: Even when they're more accurate. The person who taught it to me was like, "A lot of the people who tell the story do it as a like, sort of revolutionary ‘we get to make the rules,’ and also they'd probably be outvoted,” you know? We’re over here telling queer Torah and like, I think I’m right. And also, I’d probably be outvoted. 

Lulav: Mm hmm. Even though the water ran backwards, and a voice came down. 

Jaz: Even though I'm gonna get laser eyes at the end of it.

Lulav: Yeah. Gonna have to change your name to Scott Summers. 

Jaz: Hah! Anyway, before I move on, did you want to say more about —

Lulav: X-Men? No. (Laughs) Mostly just that, yeah, I think the preservation of minority voices is very important. If it were something like if you were in the minority, saying that a modular oven is uniquely susceptible to impurity or like, saying something that becomes very exclusionary? 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: And it's clear from the community that like, that's not how we need to conduct ourselves. 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: Then I would be fine with cancelling him. 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: But the fact that he says this is, under certain circumstances, not susceptible to impurity in the way that you’re talking about. 

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: The fact that he says, "Hey, we can chill a little bit — 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: — if we need to."

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: And that doesn't preclude going with the majority opinion, you know? I just think that's a wild and mostly inconsequential thing to cancel someone over. 

Jaz: Mmm. Well, partly the reason I brought up this story also — 

Lulav: Mm hmm?

Jaz: — and I agree with you on that part, is, like, the original part of this in Nitzavim is talking about like, “Torah is easy y’all! You can just do it. Mitzvot are easy. It's just right in front of you.” And then there's this whole argument about how it's so not easy! (Lulav laughs) And they quote this text to be like, "Now we get to decide because you just gave us a text and then we have to interpret it," and I appreciate this way that a verse can mean in one context "it's just right there" and in another context it means something really different. 

Lulav: But also the thing about that is even when something is easy, putting it into practice can be really hard. 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: For instance, we talked about how this is a short double parsha, and yet (Jaz laughs) we've already been recording for an hour and a minute! 

Jaz: Oh no. 

Lulav: So like, it's more in the implementation than in the ease of understanding the thing itself necessarily. 

Jaz: Mmm. 

Lulav: Can you tell us about how Moshe, vayelech or whatever?


Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Vayelech Moshe.

Jaz: Is went. He went. Like, the word holech is like walked. Anyway Moshe announces, "I'm 120. I'm no longer going to be leading. Y'all gotta take over,” and calls over Joshua and is like, “Be strong and resolute because it's you who are going to lead now.” And he writes down the Torah and gives it to some priests who put it in the mishkan and Moshe tells them to celebrate Sukkot. Then G-d tells Moshe that he's going to die. So calls Joshua to him. They're in the center of the mishkan and G-d appears in like a pillar of cloud and has a chat with Moshe before he's about to die and says like, (echoing voice) "Tell this poem to people because it's going to be harder for them to behave properly once you're not there to guide them. You're not going to be like the ultimate person that they an pass things up the chain to."

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: (echoing G-d voice still) "So you gotta give them this extra instruction." (modal voice) So Moshe writes down a poem and he says this thing of, well, I know how defiant and stiff-necked you are even now! While I am alive! You're behaving like this, so badly, and I don't like it. (Lulav chuckles) But you know, I guess that's just what you're like, this is fine. But you're going to behave much worse after I die. I know, you don't have to tell me otherwise.

Lulav: That's not very encouraging.

Jaz: I have made you this short instructional poem so that you may know what to do after I die. And then: cliffhanger.

Lulav: Right? (Laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, we don't get the poem this week. Next parsha.

Lulav: Two weeks, yes. Rewinding a little bit, 31:10, "And Moshe instructed them as follows: every seventh year, at Sukkot, you shall read this teaching aloud in the presence of all Yisrael."

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: Is that a thing we do? Do we have like... septuannual — heptannual? No, whatever. Do we have Sukkot readings of Torah every seven years?

Jaz: Not that I know of. That's not to say no, but not that I know of. But there are other things that are every seventh year and this might have gone away when the rest of the shmita year things went away.

Lulav: (sighs) Rest in peace to a real one. (Jaz laughs) So yeah, that's the parsha.

Jaz: That's both of the parshot. Yeah.

Lulav: Thank you. Correct. I think that brings us to a very special segment called Rating G-d's Writing, in which we rate the writing which we have received.

Jaz: Lualv, out of 120 years that Moshe lived, how many years of Moshe's life would you rate this week's reading?

Lulav: I think I would rate it 118 (Jaz chuckles) because he's been the old guy for so long that he's been telling a lot of the same stories over and over again, but like, the thing is, he's in a part of his life where he can feel that there's not much time left and so can the people around him and so the way in which he tells those same old stories over and over again, that's novel and interesting and is the thing that you're really going to remember when he's gone: that last little bit when you see a different aspect of him.

Jaz: Mm.

Lulav: And you will of course remember how crotchety he was, how he told you that “aw, you're just not going to behave as well. Like, we're not even going to think positively about this. You're not going to be great and so here's a poem.” But at the same time, there was a lot about specifically acknowledging that the people who are receiving this message aren't the only people who are ever going to be part of the covenant and like, talking about how you deal differently with the community than you deal with yourself.

Jaz: Hmm.

Lulav: Yeah, I think it's a really interesting parsha.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: And I think this is the last two years of his life.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: Jaz, (sigh) from woodchopper to water drawer, what is the gender of this double parsha?

Jaz: (groans) Okay.

Lulav: (chuckles) Sorry that it's a really open concept.

Jaz: It sure is. I gotta give you harder scales.

Lulav: (giggles) You do!

Jaz: I think the gender of this parsha is all of the people of Israel.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Specifically including the stipulation of "you elders, you children, you women, you men, you wood-choppers, you water drawers, your stranger" because this is about how people live together and how they should live together, and it's about how do we read texts and interpret it, how do we live it out, how do we keep it as a living document, how do we manifest our agreements and our standards in our lives, and all of those things are things that everybody in a community has to figure out if we're going to live together.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: And so, yeah, it's everybody.

Lulav: The gender of the parashot is everybody. I like that. Jaz, can you take us to the close?

Jaz: I can. Thanks for listening to Kosher Queers! If you like what you’ve heard, you can support us on Patreon at, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at [email protected], and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. I also just got stickers from them and I think you can also buy stickers from them right at the moment.

Lulav: (Gasp) Ooh.

Jaz: Right? Our sound production this week is done by my lovely co-host, Lulav Arnow. 

Lulav: I am so hungry that I can't think about anything, but what I am thinking about is how our transcript team of Jaz and Reuben, DiCo, and Khesed, they bring you full transcripts of every episode and you can find a link to those transcripts in the episode descriptions.

Jaz: I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Lenape people. I'm back in New York, y'all.

Lulav: (chuckles) Yeah. I’m Lulav Arnow and you can find me @spacetrucksix on Twitter, or yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg.

Jaz: Have a lovely queer Jewish day!

[Brivele outro music starts, then pause]

Lulav: I'm so hungry!

Jaz: Babe, why didn't you eat anything?

Lulav: I... yeah. I'm going to make some, uh —

[Brivele outro music starts playing again, under the conversation] 

Jaz: (overlapping) We're going to do a gender of the week — 

Lulav: (overlapping) cookie dogs after this.

Jaz: — and then you're going to go do that.

Lulav: That's why I said after this.

Jaz: Oh, okay.

Lulav: (fading out) So it's your turn because I was gender last week.

[Brivele outro music ends]

Jaz: This week's gender is collective and count nouns.

Lulav: This week's pronouns are inclusive we and exclusive we.