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A slightly different version of this talk was presented at the 28th Annual Convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries (June 22, 1993) as part of the panel, Library Collecting Policies: The Social, Political and Historical Context. Part One: Gay and Lesbian Jewish Literature.

Abstract

Jewish library collection policies as they relate to Jewish gay and lesbian issues are discussed. Questions considered are whether a book about gay Jews or a book written by a Jewish gay author should be included in Judaica collections. The issue is placed within a historical Jewish literary tradition which includes authors such as Grade, Ozick, Miller, Roth and Rukeyser—who write about such transgressive themes as sexuality, assimilation, self-loathing, agnostic rabbis, etc. Through personal examples drawn from her collection of Jewish short stories, Hot Chicken Wings, the author makes a case for including books with Jewish lesbian content. Also considered are the consequences of excluding such works and the ultimate arbitrariness of banning works with gay content from the Jewish library shelf.

The author also comments on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, written by a gay Jewish man, Tony Kushner. Even though Angels is being touted as an AIDS play, it is replete with Jewish characters, questions about assimilation, and Jewish self-loathing as exhibited by the lead character Roy Cohn. The play derives from a long tradition of Jewish avant-garde writing dealing with the nature of Jewish identity. For this reason, the author uses Angels to make a case against censoring gay themes in Judaica collections. Jewish literature throughout the ages has had a transgressive bent, and gay themes must be read in this context and viewed by Jews as legitimate literary material worthy of reading by Jewish communities.

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