Tag Archives: religion


I heard a performance about a week ago of Handel’s Messiah. (My review of the concert is here.)

I’ve sung in performances of the piece. I’ve attended sing-along performances and done my share of singing along. But this may have been the first time I sat as an audience member through a complete concert performance of the classic oratorio.

And so somehow I missed that people always stand up for the Hallelujah Chorus.


I mean, not why did I miss that point, but why do people stand?

According to the program notes and to general legend, King George II was so moved at his first hearing of the work that he stood in reverence.

So I have a few questions about that.

I’m guessing he wasn’t so swept away by the first few bars, or even the first “Hallelujah!” The excitement of this chorus is cumulative. It starts off joyfully enough, and from there it grows – in volume, in tessitura, in complexity. Some people suggest that the king, hard of hearing, thought the opening was the national anthem.

Anyway, at what point was the king so moved that he stood?

The ever-dubious-yet-interesting Wikipedia offers as a possible explanation: “As was and is the custom, one stands in the presence of royalty as a sign of respect. The Hallelujah chorus clearly places Christ as the King of Kings. In standing, King George II accepts that he too is subject to the Lord of Lords.”

Well, if he was reacting to the reference to the King of Kings, he wouldn’t have stood until the music reached that point. Another website offers the practical possibility that the king was just stretching his legs. (There are some interesting thoughts here.)

It just felt weird to me. We stand at particularly sacred moments in religious services. We stand for national anthems and the raising of flags. We stand for things that are apart from everyday life.

The Hallelujah chorus is a rousing piece of music, beautifully crafted and exciting to hear. But I don’t understand how it has taken on this level of sacredness and inviolability. A more adamant commenter than I wrote:

…it seems not only a barbarism,  but also a weird form of idolatry to continue this practice. It imparts a quasi-religious directive to a work of art, thereby disrespecting the work in its concert context as well as the religion that inspired this masterpiece. Why? Because — and this should not have to be said — concerts are not worship services, and the kinds of physical responses worshipers in many traditions follow at particular points in their services are out of place at concerts.

Yes. I’m not going to tell anyone not to stand – that’s their prerogative – but I sure as hell didn’t feel comfortable standing, and yet I felt uncomfortable sitting.

I’m reminded of a story. Continue reading


Filed under music

Gay and Jewish, Part II

I seem to be on a big Jewish kick.

That’s what I get for talking about how Reform Judaism is all warm and fuzzy and accepting of gays like me, and then saying that I’ll come back to the topic. And for my obsession with a Yiddish song. And for being Jewish.

So, here I am. Back to the topic, two weeks later. And as I promised (threatened?), I’m asking: what about other branches of Judaism?

Last month, 175 Orthodox rabbis signed onto a Statement of Principles on homosexual members of the tribe.

It surprised me. While Orthodox Judaism obviously adheres closely to the letter of the law, and some of the laws aren’t so fond of homosexuality, much of it was warm and accepting.

My favorite parts:

  • All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.
  • We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches [i.e. ‘change’ therapies] they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
  • Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality.
  • Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. They should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion as any other member of the synagogue they join.
  • Jews with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction should be encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability. The attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.
    [Halakha is Jewish law.]

*The bullet points above and below are excerpts; the full text is available here.*

The parts I understand but don’t love:

  • Halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression. The sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle.
  • Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited.
  • Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings.

That said, even the items that cannot accept homosexuality are qualified in compassionate ways:

  • It is critical to emphasize that halakha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them.

Regarding the prohibition on same-sex marriage:

  • Communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting, and we encourage parents and family of homosexually partnered Jews to make every effort to maintain harmonious family relations and connections.

The last item on the statement is particularly interesting to me. Continue reading


Filed under politics, random

Gay, Jewish, and happy

Judge Walker of California overturned Prop 8!

The fight’s not over, but I (and lots of other people) are still awfully happy about this step.

Anyway, that’s just an intro to a post that I was writing already. About equality and religion.

Because religion always comes into it. Because even though I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, I was. I was surprised that in response to my post of signs from the National March for Equality, people started talking about Christianity.

As I said in one of my comments on that thread, I’m Jewish. I don’t think about Christianity all that often unless something prompts me to. Christianity doesn’t really govern my day-to-day life (except that I get Christmas and Good Friday off from work but have to take personal days for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). More to the point, Christianity doesn’t govern my morals or principles. It’s just not relevant to me.

But lots of people in this country of ours are Christians, and many of those are devout believers for whom the religion does govern their morals. Fine. Let them be happy and healthy in their Christian lives. I’m all about people living their lives the way they want to. But what does that have to do with me, I wanted to ask?

Nothing, really. But some people can’t seem to separate their perspective from the idea of absolute truth. So they tell me my “behavior is sinful, wrong and will one day be judged.” Sigh.

So I asked another question: what does my own religion say about my gay-itude?

When I was still in high school, before I had a clue that I was gay and years before I came out, my rabbi gave a sermon on gay rights. And he didn’t hide his sermon on a small Shabbat service with forty attendees. He saved it up for the High Holy Days, those holidays that bring in all the twice-a-year Jews, so that he could tell my entire congregation – hundreds and hundreds of people – how important it was to welcome gay people into the Jewish community. This was in the mid-’90s, when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell came into law and most people weren’t speaking out that loudly.

I heart my rabbi and his longstanding support of my peeps.

Continue reading


Filed under politics