David and Jonathan

David and Jonathan, St. Mark’s Portobello, Scotland

David and Jonathan, St. Mark’s Portobello, Scotland

St. Mark’s Portobello is an Episcopal church in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It was one of the first Episcopal churches to be built after the Jacobite risings in the 18th century. While I have never visited, there are many pieces of art which adorn this church.  Of particular interest is a stained glass window of the biblical figures David and Jonathan.  The window’s inscription reads, “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1).

Many believe David and Jonathan were not just comrades but lovers.

People have grappled to understand the Tanach’s “opinion” on same sex relationships.  The reality is there is not a single clear statement.  Leviticus has an opinion (Lev 18:22) while Genesis acknowledges we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27).  Thus, as homosexuality is not a choice but simply how we are created, this too must be in God’s image.  I believe Judaism expects us to nurture consensual, respectful and caring relationships – regardless of your partner’s gender.

I appreciate there is not unanimity in the Jewish world around acceptance of same sex relationships.  But as we continue to strengthen the Beth El community, I want to be clear that loving relationships focused on building Jewish homes are all welcome.

While the issues surrounding homosexuality continue to stir in the culture wars of America and play out in protests, court rulings and other venues, Beth El will continue to be a sanctuary for all who seek a caring community, engage in spiritual discovery and want to connect with the richness and relevance of our Jewish tradition.

A final note about the stained glass window.  Created in 1882, the window has a dedication at the bottom: “In loving memory of George Frederick Paterson of Castle Huntly who died at Portobello, 30th Sept. 1890, aged 33.” All that is known about Paterson is that he was in the army and unmarried. The window was paid for by “a friend.”

This weekend, Beth El members will be participating in an array of DC Capital Pride events.  Having attended numerous Pride parades over the years in DC and San Francisco, I look forward to hearing about their experiences.

I imagine even David and Jonathan might have chosen to march among the crowd.

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris

4 comments

Martin Sieff

Another wonderful article – thank you, Rabbi

It is obvious from any clear reading of I Samuel what their relationship was.

The Biblical author recognized this and simply straightforwardly acknowledged it.

There is a wonderful – witty and wise – treatment of their relationship by the great German-Jewish novelist Stefan Heym in his “The King David Report.”

Your article about the variety of lifestyles, goes beyond tolerance to welcoming others into the community. It provides a rationale for acceptance consistent with Jewish historical tradition as well as moral values.

You opened with reference to a church in Scotland with its stained glass window. We have another interesting one in Chestertown, MD. Emmanuel Episcopal Church on the town square has a stained glass window behind the altar of Moses with the ten commandments –not Jesus. During the Revolutionary War, they claim to be the first Church of England in the new colonies to leave the mother church. This was the beginning of the Episcopal denomination in America. More recently, they have been home to the Jewish community in Chestertown, and Miriam has had the opportunity to read from the Torah there.

Thanks for your ongoing commentaries.

Stephanie Ventura

Thank you so much for your wonderful commentary.

Sarah Fradkin

Rabbi, Thank you for your article. It is so important that we teach members of our community to take pride in their Judaism and also their sexual orientation.

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