Integrity and the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

In honor of the news of 2 weeks ago, that the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was finally overturned, I turn my thoughts to integrity.  I’m not only speaking of the integrity of sexual identity, but that of spiritual wholeness—an integrity that should transcend gay-specific issues and be a message to us all.

When, in the 1990’s, Don’t Ask Don’t tell was passed, it served as a compromise, allowing gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) individuals to serve in the armed forces as long as they kept that information private. In reality, the compromise had little to do with privacy, and instead, required service men and women to hide who they were and to lie. These soldiers, whose service was supposed to be guided by honor, were required to hide their real feelings, experiences and relationships, in the closet. Our country required an unhealthy level of compartmentalization and threatened basic integrity.

Finally, our nation’s GLBT service men and women are permitted to serve openly in the armed forces. Why is one’s sexuality an important component of one’s self to share? Because it’s a part of who we are, and hiding important parts of ourselves can prevent us from a life of wholeness. A few years ago, in partnership with Congregation Beth Ahavah, Rodeph Shalom celebrated Coming Out Day with a panel of people who shared their stories about coming out of the closet—coming out of hiding in their lives—about their sexual identities. One woman spoke about the alienation and lies of being in the closet. She said that coming out of the closet allowed her to honestly integrate different aspects of herself, to experience life as a whole person. Once she was true to who she was, the impact reached farther than just her sexuality or relationships—the impact was a life of truth. Even her food tasted better!

Torah provides us with rich narratives about the quest for a truthful understanding of the self, and about the obstacles—the masks and disguises—along the way. Right now we are reading about Moses in the Book of Exodus. At the beginning of the Book, Moses’s mother hides him in order to save him from the Pharaoh’s decree to kill the Hebrew boys. Moses is raised as an Egyptian in the Pharaoh’s home. When one day, Moses sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew, Moses kills that taskmaster. Is Moses just trying to help the underdog? Or does he understand perhaps deep inside, that he is an Israelite? The text is unclear. My colleague Rabbi Beth Janus suggests there is a possibility that Moses knows his identity and that, until this moment, he has lived a life of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Jewish Mystical and Hasidic thought urge us to identify division in our selves and to engage in a quest for union in the self. The Book of Ezekiel begins “I am amidst the exile.” Hasidic thinkers understand this to mean that the “I,” the self, is exiled in experiences of inner alienation. In a new collection called Jewish Mysticism and Spiritual Life, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky teaches that the self that is in alienation suffers, and seeks a way home.

The overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has the potential to put an end to one aspect of inner exile. And gay or straight, I believe each of us can learn from the message in our own spiritual quest for wholeness and oneness. May we repair the suffering of exile in our lives and seek out an ingathering of the exile within our souls.