Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is a deeply traditional and radically progressive advocate for trans rights and a vocal ally for LGBTQ inclusivity. Raised as a secular Jew in Richmond, Virginia, he began identifying as Orthodox at 17 and spent the next 20 years learning and teaching in the world of yeshivahs. Rabbi Moskowitz received three Ultra Orthodox ordinations while learning in the Mir (Jerusalem) and in Beth Medrash Gevoha (Lakewood, New Jersey). His work on behalf of trans rights began while he served as the Rabbi of the Old Broadway Synagogue in Harlem and as the Aish NY Rabbi at Columbia University. Rabbi Moskowitz is currently a Scholar-In-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City, the world’s largest LGBT synagogue. He is the author of Textual Activism.
Vennly: How can people best use their own spirituality to inform ways to be a better ally for others?
Mike: If we want to have a relationship with G-d as a parent, we must love each other as siblings. Seeing our human interactions as part of our spiritual responsibility helps us to engage with allyship as a spiritual practice. Just as G-d asks us to listen to the Divine needs, and partner in fulfilling them, so too must we expand our capacity to hear the voice of those in traditionally marginalized communities.
Vennly: Specifically, what does it mean to be an ally to the LGBTQ community?
Mike: Each community is unique and therefore deep relationship building is essential to know when to help and how. No one’s life is ever hypothetical and the more awareness of the lived life experience of the LGBT folks in the broader community can help ensure that all spaces are safe. Amplifying the first person narrative by providing platforms and opportunities for these stories to be told is essential. Words mean things and the way we say things can go a long way in reinforcing better practices of inclusivity and equality.
Vennly: You’ve commented that you frequently look different than other LGBTQ supporters. How has your appearance impacted your justice efforts?
Mike: Presenting as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, there is a lot of prejudice. People generally assume that I am in opposition to the queer community because traditionally rabbis in my very insular community have been. So part of the work is destigmatizing the perception of “religious communities” and educate folks on the growing number of Orthodox Jews who are also queer. People do also seem to listen more because of the authority that my education is perceived to have and what writing within the rabbinic texts and methodologies provide.
Vennly: What gives you hope about the future of LGBTQ acceptance in the religious world?
Mike: It is very easy to hate things and people that we have never experienced. So much of the change comes when we open ourselves to the truth of the lives of others. Today, most religious people know someone, often in their own families, who is queer. Many people, especially young people, no longer want to choose between a religious identity or a queer identity and are out as both. Also, there is a growing awareness of the deleterious consequences of the rabbinic malpractice to encouraging folks to hide or change their true nature.
Vennly: True or false: you used to be able to bench press 400 pounds?
Mike: That is true and, unfortunately, a stat of the past 😉