Orthodox Rabbis issue a statement on homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Matt

August 1st, 2010

Shalom to this!

Varburg

August 1st, 2010

This might be the best possible statement of support from an organization working with the premise that homosexual acts are immoral.

Matthew

August 1st, 2010

Orthodox jews are actually more open minded these days. I got back from Israel. I went with my longtime friend Rachel. People asking why we weren’t together. Some of her roomates who happened to be orthodox jews made passes at me. Pretty girls,nothing more. So Rachel told them the truth. I was like “WHAT!”. They were actually accepting on the issue. I asked them if they find it immoral. They say its fine. For the record, I’ve known for nine years (age 13) and still struggle with it.

David C.

August 1st, 2010

For the record, I’ve known for nine years (age 13) and still struggle with it.—Matthew

Stop struggling and get on with your gay life. You are not in need of those that reject you and those that accept you will be there for you as they are able. You are on your own, just as you would be if you were straight or somewhere else along the sexual preference continuum. Relax and get on with your life, paying attention to what really matters: the return of the love of those that love you and making the world a better place for those around you. Do these things and the rest will take care of itself.

JB

August 1st, 2010

I recommend a fascinating documentary called “Trembling Before G-d: The Secret Lives of Gay and Lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews”.

Two (of many) interesting things in the film: 1. One rabbi had an ultra-literal interpretation of the Leviticus passage; he thought everything except anal sex is ok. 2. A LGBT social worker in Israel who conducts group sessions with rabbis thought she could predict which ones would be more sympathetic based on their appearance (modern or orthodox dress, beard, etc); in fact she found that gay-positive attitudes correlated only with whether the rabbi personally knew a gay constituent.

David

August 2nd, 2010

Good to hear that a religious group is moving in the right direction!

Lucrece

August 2nd, 2010

Certainly light years ahead of their Catholic counterparts, Opus Dei, or most evangelical sects in the U.S.

Judaism isn’t that more saintly record-wise than Christianity, but in my experience Jews have a far better record of acceptance and being non-judgemental than any Christians I’ve met.

Jon

August 2nd, 2010

For those of you who think that Orthodox Judaism is moving in the “right direction” – don’t get your hopes up.

The prohibition on gay sex is a “Torah prohibition,” and warrants the death penalty. It’s like an article of the Constitution – only not subject to amendment, under any circumstances. The moment any congregation or rabbi permits gay sex de jure, by definition, they cease to be Orthodox. (Of course, the upshot is that, when reading that statement, keep in mind that it would probably be far more liberal if it possibly could. That statement is pretty much as far as the envelope can conceivably be pushed within Orthodoxy.)

Emily K

August 2nd, 2010

Jon, the circumstances that allow for a person to be put to death in the whole of Halakha (this especially includes the Oral Torah, the interpretations of the scriptures) are actually quite specific and extraordinary. Actually for the past 2000 years such stringent qualifications have been placed on the offense that it’s almost impossible to legally, in Judaism, put someone to death.

Christians do not have the Oral Torah so if they take it literally, they take it literally.

cd

August 2nd, 2010

The moment any congregation or rabbi permits gay sex de jure, by definition, they cease to be Orthodox.

Yes, but they’re not going to do that. Everyone is going to pretend that no gay sex is going on, there might have to be some white lies, and then life goes on.

Religious orthodoxy of any kind requires a certain amount of hypocrisy these days, which the group usually copes with by tacitly accommodating and ignoring the hypocrisies to the extent possible. Any friend from such a community will have many tales of the evasions and white lies, fronts and undergrounds, embarrassments and failed copings with reality that is inevitable in life within them. The complexity and drama of it is in part what keeps people in, the need to live with higher integrity than is possible inside is why people leave.

Jon

August 3rd, 2010

Emily, not only am I aware of those qualifications, I can cite their sources in the Talmud. As should have been obvious, I was never claiming any Orthodox Jew would actually try to kill anyone for gay sex. But that does not detract from the extreme severity with which Orthodox Jews view the prohibition itself, insofar as it affects their public policy.

cd: as should be apparent at this point, I’m an Orthodox Jew. I don’t see myself as too big a hypocrite. For better or worse, the fact that the Orthodox leadership is self aware enough to know that very often, what you described as “Everyone is going to pretend that no gay sex is going on, there might have to be some white lies, and then life goes on,” often happens with these kinds of things, is precisely what is preventing many of those rabbis that didn’t sign the statement of principles that we’re discussing from doing so. And I’m sure that those who did sign were just as aware of the potential consequences, but chose to ignore them in favor of whatever good they could do for the gay members of the community. (I’m not just saying that – there are a ton of places in the Talmud, and subsequently, where decisions were made based on public policy considerations, which makes for rabbis that weigh the potential outcomes of their actions in those terms.)

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