Identity, Religion, Sex & Gender

Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in the Orthodox Community

Check out this interesting Statement of Principles, written and edited by leaders in the Modern Orthodox community:
For the last six months a number of Orthodox rabbis and educators have been preparing a statement of principles on the place of our brothers and sisters in our community who have a homosexual orientation.
The original draft was prepared by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot. It was then commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.
Significant revisions were made based upon the input of Rabbi Aryeh Klapper and Rabbi Yitzchak Blau who were intimately involved in the process of editing and improving the document during the last three months.
The statement below is a consensus document arrived at after hundreds of hours of discussion,debate and editing. At the bottom, is the initial cohort of signators.
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 halakhah.
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 their
potential spouse of their sexual orientation.
We hope and pray that by sharing these thoughts we will help the Orthodox
community to fully live out its commitment to the principles and values of
Torah and Halakha as practiced and cherished by the children of Abraham, who
our sages teach us are recognized by the qualities of being rahamanim
(merciful), bayshanim (modest), and gomelei hasadim
engaging in acts of loving-kindness).
(as of 7/25/10)
Rabbi Yosef Adler
Rabbi Joshua Amaru
Rabbi Elisha Anscelovits
Rabbi Hayyim Angel
Rabbi Marc Angel
Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum
Mrs. Nechama Goldman Barash
Rabbi Avi Baumol
Rabbi Benjamin Berger
Rabbi Dr. Shalom Berger
Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman
Rabbi Todd Berman
Rabbi Yonah Berman
Dr. David Bernstein
Rabbi David Bigman
Rabbi Yitzchak Blau
Rabbi Nasanayl Braun
Dr. Erica Brown
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow
Dr. Aubie Diamond
Ms. Yael Diamond
Rabbi Mark Dratch
Rabbi Ira Ebbin
Rabbi Rafi Eis
Mrs. Atara Eis
Mrts. Elan Sober Elzufon
Rabbi Yitzhak Etshalom
Rabbi Dr. Shaul (Seth) Farber
Ms. Rachel Feingold
Rabbi Yoel Finkelman
Rabbi Jeffrey Fox
Rabbi Aaron Frank
Rabbi Aharon Frazier
Rabbi Avidan Freedman
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Rabbi Mark Gottlieb
Rabbi Barry Gelman
Rabbi Uri Goldstein
Rabbi Benjamin Greenberg
Rabbi Zvi Grumet
Rabbi Alan Haber
Dr. Aviad Hacohen
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark
Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot
Rabbi Josh Hess
Dr. Daniel Kahn
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
Rabbi Jay Kellman
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper
Mrs. Judy Klitsner
Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner
Rabbi Jeff Kobrin
Dr. Aaron Koller
Rabbi Barry Kornblau
Dr. Meesh Hammer Kossoy
Rabbi Binny Krauss
Mrs. Esther Krauss
Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau
Rabbi Zvi Leshem
Rabbi Daniel Levitt
Rabbi Norman Linzer
Rabbi Dr. Martin Lockshin
Rabbi Dr. Haskel Lookstein
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Chaim Marder
Rabbi Joshua Maroof
Rabbi Dr. Adam Mintz
Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern
Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Nagen (Genack)
Mrs. C.B. Neugroschl
Rabbi Yossi Pollak
Dr. Caroline Pyser
Rabbi Daniel Reifman
Rabbi Avi Robinson
Rabbi Chaim Sacknovitz
Rabbi Noam Shapiro
Rabbi Yehuda Seif
Rabbi Murray Schaum
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger
Rabbi Adam Schier
Ms. Lisa Schlaff
Rabbi Yehuda Septimus
Rabbi Yair Silverman
Rabbi Jeremy Stavitsky
Rabbi Adam Starr
Rabbi Chaim Strauchler
Rabbi Yehuda Sussman
Rabbi Joel Tessler
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner
Rabbi Jacob Traub
Rabbi Zach Truboff
Mrs. Dara Unterberg
Rabbi Michael Unterberg
Rabbi Dr. Avie Walfish
Dr. Dina Weiner
Rabbi Ezra Weiner
Ms. Sara Weinerman
Rabbi David Wolkenfeld
Rabbi Elie Weinstock
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz
Rabbi Alan Yuter
Rabbi Josh Yuter
Dr. Yael Ziegler
Rabbi Dr. Stuart Zweiter
How do the principles they’ve written resonate with you?

42 thoughts on “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in the Orthodox Community

  1. As a straight, non-orthodox Jew with a growing skepticism/critical eyebof halakha, I am pleasantly surprised by this document. There’s a decent amount i’m not wholly comfortable with, but all in all, very pleasantly surprised.

  2. Well, as a gay, conservative-ish Jew, I think that this is about as progressive a document as we could hope for from the orthodox establishment. If you feel bound by the current interpretation of Leviticus and the halachic precedent about same-sex intimacy, then this is definitely an excellent place to be–it promotes understanding and inclusiveness, and it demonstrates an understanding of homosexuality as generally immutable (although I think they could have been more strong on this point–they kind of hedge their bets by using a “some say…., others say…” formula).
    It is a document that embraces “tolerance,” in the strict definitional sense (i.e., the ability to put up with something with which one does not agree) and I think that is all that we can truly demand from others. Of course, I hope to see the day when all Jews transcend “tolerance” and move toward “acceptance,” but who knows. This is definitely a first step.
    It’s interesting, though….homosexuality presents a theological problem: if homosexuality is real and immutable, and if G-d is loving and kind, why does G-d (seemingly) call the only love that homosexuals can achieve in this lifetime “toeivah”? Reform Jews say, the Torah says shrimp is “toeivah” too, so why bother? Conservative Jews write some pretty creative readings of leviticus, and right-wing orthodoxy denies homosexuality as real and immutable. This document accepts the reality of homosexuality, but essentially says “sorry gays, we know it’s tough and it kind of sucks, but hashem says you can’t have a loving partner in this life….but we promise to be nice to you along the way and respect you as a human being.”
    Anyway, for those curious about this topic, Chaim Rappoport has a great book about the standard Orthodox positions on homosexuality, and (gay, Orthodox) Rabbi Steve Greenberg has an excellent book about a pretty fascinating (if subversive) re-reading of Leviticus that is definitely worth checking out.

  3. It’s funny that Rabbi Joel Tessler is on this list, considering he signed a pretty nasty statement about gay families in the Washington Jewish Week last week..
    I guess that it’s good to keep quiet and smile at gay people to get them into your shul, but go all-out with NOM-inspired nonsense rhetoric to deny gov’t protection to their families?
    July 15, 2010
    An Open Letter to the Greater Washington Community:
    We the Rabbis of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington representing the large majority of the orthodox Jewish community of Washington wish to reiterate the position of Jewish law and tradition re: The question of gay marriage.
    The eternal and unalterable word of G-d as revealed through the Torah (in Leviticus chapter 20, verse 13) states that homosexual relationships are forbidden and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman through matrimony.
    This is consistent with the Jewish tradition that marriage of a man and a woman is the very basis of human society, in keeping with the Divine plan as set forth in the Biblical description of the creation of mankind. From Genesis chapter 2, verse 22 when we are told that G-d created Eve to serve as a mate for Adam, Jewish teachers have understood that we cannot progress in this world without preserving and protecting the immutable format of traditional marriage. History has shown that many societal ills result from the weakening of this fundamental institution. Any representation of the position of traditional Judaism as differing from the above is inaccurate and unauthorized.
    We call on you to look past the popular sentiments and recognize that moving in this direction away from traditional family values is a grave mistake.
    Please, we ask you; do not support gay marriage.
    Also please be aware that the Jewish Community Relations Council does not speak for the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.
    Rabbi Hillel Klavan, President
    Rabbi Dovid Rosenbaum, Assistant Rabbi, Y.I.S.E, Secretary
    Rabbi Shaya Milkowsky, Rabbi, Ohev Shalom, Olney
    Rabbi Joel Tessler, Rabbi, Beth Shalom Cong.
    Rabbi Barry Freundel, Rabbi, Kesher Israel, Vice President
    Rabbi Jack Bieler, Rabbi, Kemp Mill Synagogue
    Rabbi Yosef Singer, Rabbi, Y.I. Potomac
    Rabbi Kalman Winter, Rabbi, Southeast Hebrew Cong. Director
    Rabbi Eliezer Kreiser, Rabbi, Ezras Israel Cong.
    Rabbi Avraham Sussman, Rabbi, Am Hatorah Cong.

  4. I agree that this is about the best that can be reasonably hoped for right now from the Orthodox establishment, and it’s significantly more progressive than the Conservative movement’s position just a few years ago (and more progressive than some positions that remain official options in the C movement), and even the Reform movement’s position a generation ago.
    I think the missing piece is a more explicit statement in #11 that religious marriage is not the same as civil marriage. It would be a great improvement if Orthodox organizations could stay out of the civil marriage debate entirely, rather than running ads like the one quoted above from the Washington Jewish Week.

  5. Why don’t gay/lesbian/bisexual/transexual/transgendered/two-spirited/questioning people just become Conservative/Reform/Reconstructionist/Renewal/Post-Denominational?
    That way they won’t have to deal with whatever their rabbis say or don’t say, and save everyone, including themselves a lot of unnecessary bother

  6. Even if they did, Orthodox Jews would still interact with them, and would still be obligated (according to this statement) to treat them with respect.

  7. @Dave
    That makes a lot of sense. Why don’t the Shiites just become Sunni or visa versa? That would save them a lot of unnecessary bother.

  8. Many of those involved in composing this document are colleagues of mine, and I feel that the release of such a statement is a positive step, however I ultimately decided not to sign it myself out of disagreement with article 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.

  9. This intriguing document clarifies how awful it must be to live a gay, Orthodox Jewish life especially when you are a teenager and can’t leave home. The last two principals are certainly a step in the right direction…but how different is this from Catholic doctrine?
    Also, when did lesbian sex become illegal? The Torah only prohibits man-on-man sex.

  10. @ Sarah, look up yevamos 76a, and shabbos 65a. See the commentaries there. You are probably right though, the “torah” does not prohibit it.

  11. Am I the only one who expected more from #9? It’s not the job of a statement to fill in guess work about what communities feel comfortable with, but it seems to me that this opinion gives plenty of support for rabbinic institutions to refuse entry into programs based on an assumption that communities would be uncomfortable with the person.

  12. @Yaakov – I would be very interested to know what your reasoning was regarding #11, and where you fall on the issue.
    Personally, my – non-orthodox – teachers have taught me pretty convincingly that the job of the Rabbis is to massage and argue the halakhah around to accomodate people as times change.
    I think that this is a very careful and more importantly CARING document, and seems to be about as close as Orthodox Rabbis can get to the topic in public. I’m very moved, even if I have yet another reason to remain non-Orthodox.

  13. From a feminist standpoint (not necessarily a homosexual standpoint) this statement is not only lacking, but once again paradoxically reinforces the sad and shocking invisibility of women in orthodoxy and Jewish law. The laws regarding women’s and men’s sexuality are not comparable in the slightest, and the attempt to address a halachik approach to homosexuality without distinguishing between men and women is absurd. That any orthodox woman – or man, for that matter – identifying as a feminist signed this without reservation or qualification (and I know, or knew, some of the signers) is especially disheartening.
    To clarify: this is a halachikally viable approach to male homosexuality, where there is an explicit prohibition of the ACT, not the orientation, in the Bible. It’s quite probably the best available approach in light of the tenets of orthodoxy and the clear letter of the law, and I have known orthodox gay men who live by these principles, and who will quite probably live out their lives without the touch of a loved one.
    However, there is no comparable prohibition against female homosexuality. Indeed, as evidenced in the very same parsha where the male homosexual prohibition is found, women are not perceived to have any sexual autonomy whatsoever, and their acts do not carry any halachik import. In the Talmud, there are some references to such acts by women, but in the context of a discussion on whether they were permitted to marry kohanim. If I recall correctly, the answer was yes, which is telling. The Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot indicates that the prohibition against engaging in the customs of Egypt included women marrying women. Since traditional Jewish marriage involves a purchase of the female’s sexuality by the man, it is not something two women could legally achieve under halacha even if they wanted to. And then Maimonedes has a vague exhortation for men to keep their wives away from women known to engage in such acts, while using a word for the acts that is not specific, and also noting that ‘ein lav meyuchad’, there is no specific prohibition.
    For once the invisibility of women in Jewish law works to their benefit. There is no specific offense in lesbianism. But apparently even progressive orthodoxy can’t give its women the sole advantage of what is generally their disadvantage, and must lump them into the same category with men. How liberating, though not at all halachically accurate. Frankly, I just don’t think they were thinking about the women at all. How many incidences of violence or exclusion have occurred to lesbians in orthodox communities? Women are all but invisible in shul, and in halacha in general, to begin with. But if this was aimed solely at male homosexuality, in response to acts of violence or exclusion by men against men, the responsible thing to do is qualify that. Instead, a choice was made once again to incorporate women into the position with no regard or reference to their distinct halachik standing, which paradoxically, works in their favor for a change.
    Finally, unless orthodox congregations plan to scrutinize each member for compliance with all jewish law, the question as to what two same-sex oriented people who may choose to live together do in private should merit the same trust as the assumption that someone who says they keep shabbos actually does. If they claim to be halachik, it is between them and G-d if they are not. And this position statement stopped just short of providing gay orthodox Jews with that benefit of the doubt, for all its well meaning.
    I applaud the motivation. The execution is typically male centered and feeble.
    Michal Rogson
    Celebrating halachik invisibility through lesbianism.

  14. @Simcha Daniel Burstyn: I don’t fit into any simple categories of Jewish denominational affiliation (an experience to which I’m sure most Jewschoolers can relate). In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I am a non-YCT, orthodox ordained, orthoprax rabbi.
    As for article 11 of the document, I would feel comfortable signing on to the document were it not for the fact that it states unequivocally that 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.
    I understand Judaism to be more than a “religion” in the Western sense of the word, and to be something that impacts nearly every aspect of one’s life. That said, I do not agree that all things not explicitly ordained or permitted by Torah are presumed to be forbidden. If two individuals come together in a committed homosexual relationship (and do not engage in acts explicitly forbidden, which I would presume they do not, just as I would presume that a married heterosexual couple follows the laws of taharat mishpacha), of what halakhic consequence is it if they wish for that relationship to be somehow formalized or announced in front of friends and relatives?
    What is a “wedding” or “commitment ceremony” anyway? It is simply the act of a couple standing before their friends and family and God and committing to spend the rest of their lives in partnership. If a gay couple wishes to have halakhic kiddushin, their is little I can do to help them; I am not a posek (and besides, I believe that the existence of halakhic kiddushin in most heterosexual marriages is questionable). But if a gay couple wants to establish some other sort of contract and commit to each other in the presence of their loved ones, who am I to say that they should not do so?
    To say explicitly that “halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood” is just too far for me. What is “religious legitimacy?” How is it defined? There are plenty of things outside the bounds of normative halakha that are not necessarily religiously illegitimate.
    Article 11 simply takes this a step to far for my comfort.

  15. @Uzi ‘Why don’t the Shiites just become Sunnis or vice-versa. That would save them a ot of unnecessary bother’
    Yes it would, but I don’t see what that has to do with my idea of gay born-Orthodox jews become Conservative/Refrom/etc.

  16. Dave,
    It makes a lot of sense that if something isn’t right for you–like a community–to leave it and go somewhere that is right for you. However, your suggestion that gay born Orthodox Jews become Conservative/Reform/etc. is essentially saying, “leave the people you know, the culture you know, the practices you know.” It’s not an easy choice to abandon what you know. Despite the repression and oppression, it still might be home.
    shalom v’ahava,
    Menachem

  17. @Dave Boxthorn,
    I was trying to be sarcastic. In my view your suggestion makes no sense. If someone can not be totally mitzvah observant and still a member of an Orthodox community there is no reason that this same standard should not apply to homosexual ortho Jews as well.

  18. As a woman who is happily partnered with a woman, I read this document with an eye to whether it would be a good thing to show my dad. On the whole, I think not.
    1. It uses outmoded wording, most of which is demeaning. “openly practicing homosexuals”? It’s not witchcraft. And no one ever says of a straight couple that they are “openly practicing heterosexuality”. [article 8]
    2. It supports people who stay in the closet, and offers absolutely no support to those who come out. It goes so far as to condemn “outing” without considering the consequences of “inning” (coercing people to stay in the closet). The general tone suggests that those who are out are doing it just to be dafka (contrary) rather than trying to be honest and at peace with themselves and their community. [article 7]
    3. It recognizes that people commit suicide over their sexuality, but does not offer members of the community a better out. “Don’t kill yourself, just live your whole life without love, family or children.” Oh yeah, that’s compelling. Many would quite reasonably rather die, given that choice. [article 6]
    4. It allows that rabbis may think of LGBT folk as having a choice. This denies individuals the basic courtesy of having their reality recognized. [article 2]
    5. It does not allow for any sort of marriage or lend legitimacy to any long standing partnership. A religious community cannot fully accept the children of LGBT folk while their parents cannot marry. This has been proven time and time again, in a variety of contexts. [article 11]
    6. It legitimates the “comfort” of the community over the integrity of the individual. People do not become comfortable with anything until they have seen it happen, at the very least. Just as with desegregation, people will be made uncomfortable if LGBT folk are baal korei (leaders of prayer). It is only through that discomfort that they can grow and become comfortable once again. Moreover, comfort is a poor litmus test. People don’t need comfort as much as they need to be challenged to grow, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally. Guaranties of comfort should be confined to mattress sales. [article 9]
    At the end of the day, what has this document said? What was it’s goal? This has not said much beyond “Don’t cut off your children or commit hate crimes” which I’ll admit is something, but… What was the political or social goal of these rabbis? It is far from clear.
    I’m disappointed. If this is the best the orthodox community can do, I had better not show it to my dad and hope he can be convinced to better conclusions than these rabbis reached. I’m not even looking for acceptance in an orthodox community anymore. I just want my family to share Thanksgiving with my partner and me, and maybe eventually attend a wedding. This document leaves them no room to do even that.
    Props to Yaakov, and any other individuals out there, for refusing to sign.

  19. Thanks for that explanation, Naomi. When I first read this statement, it seemed mostly compassionate, but something about it was bugging me. You’ve perfectly explained my doubts.

    1. Call it soft bigotry if you will, but I guess I had low expectations. Any of these things would bother me much more coming from non-Orthodox communities.

  20. Reading this, it’s clear that comments largely fall into two groups.
    1) Those who understand that there this is coming from Orthodox rabbis, and is thus limited by their view of halachah- what it says, and how it interacts with society. Yes, there is Yaakov, whose views I have seen hints of in other Orthodox rabbis, but his views are so far from normative. There are others, such as BZ, who understands, even though he thinks it sucks, which is of course his right.
    2) Those who don’t understand why the Orthodox can’t just conform to their personal views, and I can’t help but feel that is silly. You have your personal view of halachah? Great! What does that possibly have to do with normative Orthodox practice? If it’s on lesbians, which some of you have harped on, believe me, somebody in the orthodox world has said it. If you pushed a lefty Ortho rabbi hard, he’d probably allow it in serious circumstances if (huge if!) he viewed it as a rabbinic law, but let’s be clear- the “ways of the Egyptian” aspect which Michal glosses over is the very avenue under which a good number of rabbis think that the issue is also one of Torah law. I think that sucks, but I’m not an Orthodox rabbi.
    Kudos to those who can see past their own emotions, something not encouraged in non-Orthodox movements, and at least acknowledging that people are trying. I am so proud that my rabbi signed onto that statement…

  21. I appreciate and agree with Naomi’s criticisms point by point. I would like to add that article 3 (about the ideal coupling is hetero) and article 4 (about the prohibition of homosexuality) does not explain much purpose for those rulings except that it is normative Modern Orthodox Halacha. What is the value of maintaining this Halacha and cultural practice? The other articles about tolerance are backed by explanations about psychological and superficial inclusivity not precedence in Halacha.

  22. Celebrating halachik invisibility through lesbianism.
    Michal, you’ve just coined my favorite slogan of the decade.

  23. Thanks, cW. 😉
    And Josh, I thought my response was long enough without explicating the entire hishtalshelut of halachik approaches to lesbianism, but suffice it to say that there is no halachik consensus whatsoever that the “ways of the Egyptians” renders lesbianism an issur de’oraita, which by the way EXPLICITLY contradicts Rambam’s “ein lav meyuchad”. Furthermore, while objecting to your implication that emotional bases for arguments are somehow illegitimate (how linear – particularly when the Statement we are analyzing is aimed at trying to change how people “feel” about the subject – people do not commit hate crimes, or suicide, based solely on thoughts), my point was in fact based on a halakhic, not emotional, objection. Legitimate halakhic conversation cannot ever ignore gender distinctions because Jewish law is inherently male-focused, and the legal gender categories are so distinct as to be entirely seperate. This is a halakhic objection at its root. And I firmly believe that it is the duty of orthodox feminists, male or female, to address that, which was not done here, to the detriment of orthodox lesbians who may now feel MORE oppressed as a result of this statement than when they originally looked up the halakhah. I do believe that was irresponsible – with both my mind and my extraordinarily legitimate heart.

  24. Josh wrote: Kudos to those who can see past their own emotions, something not encouraged in non-Orthodox movements.
    Would you like (a plethora of) examples of the encouragement of non-thinking in Orthodox communities? Or do you want a chance to explain this ludicrous statement?

  25. I don’t have much to add to the many analyses here (yasher koach, Michal, Yaakov, and Naomi, for pointing out important flaws). Like many here, I am glad to see an Orthodox statement that encourages tolerance and discourages hatred and ostracism. I am especially glad to see this statement reject reparative therapy, and encourage the full acceptance of the children of GLBT couples.
    I do want to note my discomfort whenever there is an implicit assumption that GLBT people are more acceptable and sympathetic when they are struggling, suffering, or conflicted (articles 4 and 6), and less acceptable and sympathetic when they are fulfilled (articles 8 and 11). I am not sure how this could be addressed in an Orthodox context, but wanted to note it anyway.

  26. I am a married ba’al teshuvah man, and I fully support both the statement and sentiments expressed in this fine document. It simultaneously recognizes the Halacha incumbent upon LGTB men and women, and the Halacha incumbent upon heterosexual men and women.
    So far as the issue of LGTB marriage is concerned, this document correctly locates LGTB marriage as incompatible with Halacha, but spares the children of such marriages from the consequences of Halachic breaches.
    Personally, I fully support LGTB marriages in the civic arena, where they would benefit the individual parties and society at large. Both Eretz Yisrael and the United States are democracies, not theocracies, and I consider it foolhardy and Halachically contraindicated to interfere with LGTB civil marriages.

  27. Thanks, Ya’akov, for your candor and your clear explanation. My feelings echo those of BZ – my expectations were low, so I was pleasantly surprised. Nevertheless, I have learned that the purpose of Halakha is to do the kind of thing you do very nicely in your answer to my question about section 11.
    Notwithstanding all the criticisms, this is a very sensitive document, especially considering the milieu of the authors and signatories.

  28. Firstly, I am a secular Jewish American who strongly believes in LGBT marital rights, non-discrimination protection for LGBT members, and pretty much everything on the HRC agenda.
    However, Naomi, I must take issue.
    Point by point on her response:
    1) “openly practicing homosexual” is a perfectly descriptive term. It is not pejorative. It actually seems better than more idiomatic alternatives like “out”. This is unnecessarily pedantic of her.
    2) It does wholeheartedly condemn people for “inning”. It makes it pretty clear that all should be treated with respect. In fact, Naomi seems less tolerant here as she condemns the rabbis for “supporting people who stay in the closet”. I agree with the Rabbis that it should be a personal choice, not coerced or forced by anyone.
    3) It never says to live without “love, family, or children.” Nowhere does it condemn anything besides sexual acts between two people of the same gender. They are entitled to live together, love each other, adopt together. Possibly even find willing, opposite gendered participants for in vitro fertilization.
    4) It does not say whether or not LGBT individuals have a choice. It merely states the irrelevance of that question. In fact affirms the reality of LGBT individuals in the most forceful way possible. It affirms their reality independently of whether or not they chose it.
    5) Halachah is what it is. As a secular Jew, I do not subscribe to it but it seems quite clear that according to Halachah, marriage is between a man and woman. However, Naomi seems to be saying that a child born out of wedlock is treated as Mamzer (bastard) that is not fully accepted. That is simply not true. ( http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/236,2496/What-is-the-legal-definition-of-a-mamzer.html )
    6) I’m not as familiar with rules regarding Cantors and Aliyah, but if Halachah says that people need to be comfortable, that is what it is. However, the statement STRONGLY implies that Rabbis and Cantors have an obligation to educate their congregations on acceptance and tolerance, guiding them towards the point where they are comfortable. This is pretty clearly derived from the numerous statements that all LGBT members should be treated with respect and as members of the community.

    1. Max Cantor writes:
      1) “openly practicing homosexual” is a perfectly descriptive term. It is not pejorative. It actually seems better than more idiomatic alternatives like “out”. This is unnecessarily pedantic of her.
      “Out” and “openly practicing” are not synonyms (and I think this document gets major props for recognizing the difference). Many people are outwardly identified with a particular sexual orientation (heterosexual is the default in our society, but there are of course others), and also not in a relationship (whether by choice or by circumstance) and therefore without opportunities to “practice”.
      5) Halachah is what it is. As a secular Jew, I do not subscribe to it but it seems quite clear that according to Halachah, marriage is between a man and woman.
      That’s correct if by “halachah” you mean “Orthodox halachah”. Which is of course what the Orthodox rabbis who wrote this statement do mean. But as for yourself, it seems odd (though all too common) that secular Jews should privilege Orthodox halachah over all the other forms of halachah that they “do not subscribe to”.
      However, Naomi seems to be saying that a child born out of wedlock is treated as Mamzer (bastard) that is not fully accepted. That is simply not true.
      Where does Naomi say that? I read her as talking about social acceptance (which doesn’t always conform to legal definitions), not halachic personal status.

    2. Max Cantor writes:
      Nowhere does it condemn anything besides sexual acts between two people of the same gender. They are entitled to live together, love each other, adopt together. Possibly even find willing, opposite gendered participants for in vitro fertilization.
      The statement says “halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood”. What you describe certainly sounds to me like “couplehood”.

  29. A response to Naomi:
    “It goes so far as to condemn “outing” without considering the consequences of “inning””
    Actually, the document discusses outing and inning in the same sentence on equal terms. I quote: “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.”
    “4. It allows that rabbis may think of LGBT folk as having a choice. … [article 2]”
    Article 2 says nothing about a choice. The only two sources of homosexuality it considers are “genetic” and “environmently generated”. Implicitly, that says that people do NOT have a choice to be LBGT.
    “It is only through that discomfort that they can grow and become comfortable once again. Moreover, comfort is a poor litmus test. People don’t need comfort as much as they need to be challenged to grow, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally.”
    Has anyone (of whatever religion) ever said you were going to hell for being gay? Did you welcome the resulting “discomfort” as a “challenge” to “grow spiritually”? Or is it only people who disagree with you who should be made to feel discomfort?

  30. I’m happy that everyone here is thinking about the issues that this statement addresses. In fact, the strongest and most positive piece of this statement is the simple fact of its existence, generating discussions like these.
    Max Cantor –
    “openly practicing homosexual” is, as I stated, an example of the outdated terminology that is used throughout. The term “homosexual,” though not necessarily intentionally pejorative, it carries with it a sense of the other. This is borne out by studies in which significantly more people surveyed agree that “gays and lesbians” should have various rights than agree that “homosexuals” should have the same.
    Further, “homosexual” is a term borrowed from an age in which being anything other than straight was diagnosed as a disease. This history gives it a pejorative ring. The writers probably did not know this and hence did not necessarily intend the sting. Therefor I will excuse this, but not the larger slight that it betrays- namely that these rabbis did not do their homework.
    “Openly practicing” as a concept is another telltale sign of the writers’ greater acceptance of those who are in the closet than those who are out. This language coupled with greater support for those who stay in (allowed to be a member, etc) than to those who are out (we do not address, i.e. you can kick them out) confirms for me my read of the ‘inning’ going on in these communities. It is not, perhaps, the covert ‘inning’ of “don’t tell.” It is simply the ever so slightly more subtle “don’t tell unless you want to be kicked out of the synagogue and current social groups.”
    And I quote: “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.”
    I take this to mean that LGBT folk are definitely forbidden by these rabbis to have romantic love, family, and children. According to this, “lesser acts,” such as, for example, setting up life together or adopting children in the way you describe, are not permitted. This reading is corroborated by the statement separating actions from desire. The separation made is not between various actions, all of which are seen as forbidden.
    BZ – You are correct, I was referring to social acceptance, not halachik status as a mamzer.
    To all – Halachah is not simply halachah. A very telling example is that there are a huge quantity of Orthodox rabbis who would not sign this document. Many are on the side of it being to permissive a document, a few are on the side of it being too restrictive. Orthodox Judaism is not a monolith. Some rabbis say you can eat so-and-so’s hecksher, some say you can’t. Some communities strictly enforce dress codes, some don’t, and some enforce different dress codes than others. Halachah is a tricky thing which is not easily understood, and which many have long-standing (and friendly) disagreements about, even within denominations. “Eilu V’Eilu Divrei Elokim Chaim.” “These and those are both the words of the living God.” (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b).

  31. I think that ultimately Naomi is right, in that the most important aspect of this document has little to do with what it ultimately says, but with the conversations that it engenders among the “silent majority” of traditional or orthoprax Jews who are neither on the far left or far right of the current spectrum of the orthodox world.
    Whether one agrees or disagrees with specific points made in the document, one must acknowledge that the simple fact that it was composed and publicized is a step forward.

  32. Like Yaakov, I am also Orthodox-ordained and traditionally observant. Signatories of this document include many of my teachers, friends, and parents of my friends. And my issue with the document also centers around the statement in #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.
    Many different values are in tension in the halakhic process. A particular ruling may be the result of many things, including:
    a) a decisor privileging one value over another
    b) a decisor taking a different view of the cost/benefit of permitting or forbidding a specific phenomena
    c) a text or legal precedent that nobody has yet found a creative way to “get around” – in spite of the value conflicts it produces with other (usually less specific) text and precedents
    Halakhic VALUES include attraction/affection-based coupling, supportive partnership, and the raising of healthy and responsible children.
    But there are texts and precedents that are specific in their prohibition of homosexual activity.
    In the middle of all of this are halakhic decisors and the values, perception of the phenomena, and creativity they bring to the table.
    I would like the signatories to answer the following questions:
    1) How do you perceive the cost/benefit of gay and lesbian civil unions/marriage? For the individuals themselves? For their families? Their community? Their children? Their observance of mitzvot?
    MY ANSWER – I see MANY benefits, and I don’t see any costs. I know many gay and lesbian singles and couples, and their living their lives with the same freedoms, privileges, and responsibilities as heterosexuals leads to stronger communities.
    2) What are YOUR values here (apart from what the texts and precedents say)? Without precedents from an earlier day and age, how would you want observant gays and lesbians to liver their lives?
    MY ANSWER – I fully believe that any discomfort I once had with homosexuality stemmed either from its strangeness to me or the association of homosexuality with seediness and sexual promiscuity that I find equally problematic for heterosexuals. Once my community, place of work, and circle of friends came to include gay and lesbian couples whose values and aspirations matched those of their straight counterparts, any last vestiges of personal discomfort or disapproval dissolved.
    3) Even if you don’t have the standing now to make a more radical change in the course of halahha, can you imagine a halakha that encourages more gay and lesbian coupling and permits a wider range of homosexual activity?
    MY ANSWER – Of course I can. One can introduce all sorts of qualifications that limit the scope of the prohibition. The basic line of reasoning would be that the homosexual activity referred to in the past was of a different nature than that which we seek to permit today. Perhaps it was referring to activity rooted purely in the desire for sexual gratification and not for the bonding of a committed couple. Perhaps it was referring to the activity of otherwise heterosexual people who were engaging in homosexual activity for improper reasons.
    People more creative than I can (and have) come up with stronger arguments.
    Ultimately, I believe that if Orthodox communities embrace and live by this document, the increased participation of gays and lesbians in mainstream Orthodox Jewish life will make #11 less and less tenable for many of the signatories of this document, or at least rabbis and educators like them one or more generations from now.
    For me, though, #11 is untenable now.

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