Orthodox Rabbis issue a statement on homosexuality
August 1st, 2010
A collection of Orthodox Rabbis have issued a statement on homosexuality (JTA):
Dozens of Orthodox rabbis have signed a statement of principles calling for the acceptance of homosexuals in the Orthodox community.
This statement is careful to lay out up front that homosexual acts are not acceptable. But it also recognizes that gay Orthodox Jews exist and that many of them are in relationships and calls for their inclusion anyway.
Here are the points that I find most interesting:
- Mistreatment of gay people is “a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.”
- Those with a homosexual orientation have the religious right to reject ex-gay therapy which they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
- Synagogues can set their own standards for membership with regard to gay individuals or gay couples who are in violation of halakha, but those standards have to also be applied fairly and objectively to others who violate halakha.
- Families should not cut off their gay children.
- Synagogues and schools should accept and embrace the children of gay couples.
- And most importantly: “Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.”
Of course this does not go nearly as far as I would like. The statement makes clear that Orthodox Judaism is opposed to marriage for gay people or for encouraging homosexual Jews to find a partner. But it does recognize reality and encourages Orthodox Judaism to treat gay people decently. And once you start seeing gays as real people, change often soon follows thereafter.
(This is not to suggest that I expect all of Orthodox Judaism to embrace full religious equality for gay couples any time soon. I drive through Hancock Park daily and I still see men wearing a shtreimel(a giant fur hat that sort of resembles a cheese wheel) and heavy black suit in the heat of the summer. If your faith, culture, and tradition won’t let you wear clothing that is fitting with your climate, it surely is not going to accommodate your sexuality.)
This statement is reflective mostly of the views of Modern Orthodox Judaism, but about 150 Rabbis have signed on so far.
The full statement is after the break.
Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a
Homosexual Orientation in Our Community
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.
2. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.
3. Halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression. The sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle.
4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition. While halakha categorizes various homosexual acts with different degrees of severity and opprobrium, including toeivah, this does not in any way imply that lesser acts are permitted. But it is critical to emphasize that halakha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them. (We do not here address the issue of hirhurei aveirah, a halakhic category that goes beyond mere feelings and applies to all forms of sexuality and requires precise halakhic definition.)
5. Whatever the origin or cause of homosexual orientation, many individuals believe that for most people this orientation cannot be changed. Others believe that for most people it is a matter of free will. Similarly, while some mental health professionals and rabbis in the community strongly believe in the efficacy of “change therapies”, most of the mental health community, many rabbis, and most people with a homosexual orientation feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.
We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
6. Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering. For example, homosexual orientation may greatly increase the risk of suicide among teenagers in our community. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality. Rabbis and mental health professionals must provide responsible and ethical assistance to congregants and clients dealing with those human challenges.
7. Jews struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve our support. Accordingly, we believe that the decision as to whether to be open about one’s sexual orientation should be left to such individuals, who should consider their own needs and those of the community. We are opposed on ethical and moral grounds to both the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and to coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.
8. Accordingly, Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. As appropriate with regard to gender and lineage, they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of the synagogue they join. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakha.
We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner. Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with regard to membership for open violators of halakha.
Those standards should be applied fairly and objectively.
9. Halakha articulates very exacting criteria and standards of eligibility for particular religious offices, such as officially appointed cantor during the year or baal tefillah on the High Holidays. Among the most important of those criteria is that the entire congregation must be fully comfortable with having that person serve as its representative. This legitimately prevents even the most admirable individuals, who are otherwise perfectly fit halakhically, from serving in those roles. It is the responsibility of the lay and rabbinic leadership in each individual community to determine eligibility for those offices in line with those principles, the importance of maintaining communal harmony, and the unique context of its community culture.
10. Jews with a homosexual orientation or same sex attraction, even if they engage in same sex interactions, should be encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability. All Jews are challenged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability, and the attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.
11. Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious
same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings, and halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood. But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting, and we encourage parents and family of homosexually partnered Jews to make every effort to maintain harmonious family relations and connections.
12. Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives. They should be directed to contribute to Jewish and general society in
other meaningful ways. Any such person who is planning to marry someone of the opposite gender is halakhically and ethically required to fully inform his or her potential spouse of their sexual orientation.