Horizons 2000: the 16th World Conference of GLBT Jews was held July 27-30, 2000, at Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, USA. The conference is held every couple of years, sponsored by The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Jews: Keshet Ga'avah and a local organization, in this case New Jersey's Lesbian & Gay Havurah.
At the conference, I facilitated a seminar entitled, "LeatherJews: GLBT Jews in the World of Leather, BDSM, and other Radical Sexualities". At least 30 men and women attended, and they were a mix of heavily-in-the-scene, mostly-vanilla-but-do-some-play, seriously-curious-about-exploring-the-scene, just-curious, and interested-in-understanding-friends-congregants-lovers etc.
We began by briefly defining some of the terms we would be using, since not everyone there was aware that "Leather" can be used very specifically to refer to people who have an attraction to leather or very generally to refer to people involved in a range of radical behavior, including bondage, discipline, domination, submission, etc.
Then we did an exercise to start us thinking about the contrast between looking at LeatherJews from the outside and understanding the experience of LeatherJews from the inside, i.e. how do we feel about LeatherJews vs. how do LeatherJews feel? (See Leather: It's Not Just Tefilin! for more details.)
We then addressed the question of whether Jewish values can inform the sexual behavior of LeatherJews, using Master/slave relationships as an example. First we looked at some biblical verses to understand the Jewish approach to slavery. Then we looked at some actual personal ads that presented different approaches to modern consensual slavery. Applying what we learned from the biblical text, we were able to identify some approaches to modern consensual slavery as consistent with Jewish values, while others appeared not to be.
Finally, we explored whether the particular experience of LeatherJews can make a positive contribution to their lives as Jews. This question needs much discussion within the LeatherJewish community in coming years, but one possibility to explore further is how some traditional qabbalistic constructs of Jewish mysticism which have been expressed in terms of masculine and feminine could be reformulated in terms of dominance and submission. Also, we reviewed a definition of S/M as an empowerment experience, and I noted that the S/M experience of power exchange has helped me better understand the flows of energy between sephiroth. (For a leather view of the qabbalistic Tree of Life, see "Tom Qadmon".) If you have insights or comments on Leather and Jewish values, or Leather and Qabbala, please email me at LeatherJews@aol.com.
I was very pleased with the group's participation in the discussion and the generally positive response. People who had not attended expressed interest later because of what they had heard from participants. One straight rabbi in particular sought me out to ask about it and we talked several times during the weekend. A leading proponent of gay rights within the Conservative movement was the best kind of questioner. He was interested in understanding, as opposed to judging, this aspect of gay culture with which he was unfamiliar. He listened to both my words and my meanings and he challenged my assumptions honestly, because he did not have any prejudices to hide. I think that he left with a greater understanding of BDSM and of Jews who are in the Scene. If you leave this website with greater understanding, it will have fulfilled its purpose.