Global, Sex & Gender

Synagogues and LGBT Jews

A survey, co-authored by Caryn Aviv (of Mosaic and the University of Denver) and Steven M. Cohen (of Jewschool fame) found that “[f]ew synagogues actively welcome gay and lesbian Jews.”

TheWanderingJew, years ago, at Montreal pride width=”180″ align=”right” />The new transdenominational synagogue survey on LGBT inclusion and diversity, which questioned 1,221 North American rabbis, synagogue directors and board presidents, found that 73 percent of respondents believe their congregations do a good or excellent job of welcoming gay and lesbian Jews. Nearly a quarter, mostly Orthodox, said they were minimally welcoming.
By contrast, only 33 percent of rabbis said their congregations held programs or events related to gay people. The most popular “program” was marriage equality, eclipsing events like gay pride Shabbat and gay and lesbian havurah groups.
“There’s a lot of goodwill in the American Jewish community, but there’s not a lot of action,” said Caryn Aviv, a Jewish studies scholar at the University of Denver and co-author of the study with Dr. Steven Cohen, a research professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

I attend services at independent minyanim (which I’m guessing were not polled in this survey). And, while they are certainly gay friendly, I wouldn’t say any of them are “actively welcoming.” The minyamin I was a part of in other cities weren’t either, nor were the synagogues before that (some were, in fact, actively unwelcoming).
If you have a position of leadership in your Jewish community, be it a minyan, shul, or social group, I would urge you plan a program that explicitly deals with LGBT issues – make it an educational or advocacy event, or just a social event for the LGBT in your community. See if it makes a difference for those who attend.
And, because it’s annoying:

While 73 percent of non-Orthodox congregations had rabbis who officiated at same-sex weddings or commitment ceremonies, the same was not true for interfaith marriages. According to the survey, 40 percent of rabbis of Reform, Renewal, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated congregations do not officiate at interfaith weddings.

Why are same-sex marriages always compared to interfaith marriages? One has nothing to do with the other. Two separate halakhic issues. (Two separate secular/civil/legal isssues – one is legal, one is illegal (in most US states).) Is interfaith marriage suppose to be a litmus test of how “progressive” a rabbi is, and thus a good metre by which to measure if they’d also officiate over same-sex marriages? Bah.
[Article here.]

23 thoughts on “Synagogues and LGBT Jews

  1. People need to get a life. If a Shul/Synagogue/Temple is open to everyone and doesn’t prohibit anything(leadership, marriage, aliyot, davening, etc…) on sexual orientation, then it’s welcoming. You don’t need to have a rainbow talit Shabbat to be welcoming to LGBT.
    I’ve never seen a white male pride Shabbat, does that make every Synagogue I’ve ever been to not welcoming to white males?

  2. The writer asks a fair question: Why draw a parallel of any sort between intermarried (a.k.a., “interfaith”) and GLBT Jews. The reason, borne out by the research, is that more liberal (or traditional) attitudes with respect to one non-mainstream group are correlated with similar attitudes to other non-mainstream groups. We examined attitudes towards not only these two groups, but to racially and ethnically diverse Jews (a way of saying, other than white), converts, and people with disabilities. Yes, atittudes differed, but they were also correlated — a fascinating and predictable finding, but one with policy-relevance. I hope that clarifies matters, but if it doesn’t, please feel free to write me at [email protected] or Dr. Caryn Aviv who is the lead researcher in this endeavor.

  3. Avi, nice try, but the old straw man of “why aren’t we celebrating the majority” is just that – a straw man. (And didn’t the Reform movement publish a white male pride haggadah last year?)

  4. Just a comment. In doing interviews about Kavod House ( an indy-minyan Jewish social justice house/community center (when something defies categories it takes a lot of adjectives to describe) one respondent said that what she appreciated about Kavod house was that it was clearly welcoming of queer Jews, but did not do specifically GLBTQ oriented programing. I took her to mean that Kavod did not tokenize or segregate queers via special programming, but did have a culture that (more or less) did not impress upon people assumptions about sexuality.
    It should be noted that, in opposition to Avi’s comment it takes a lot more than a lack of prohibitions to be welcoming. Battling hetero-sexism, perhaps even by presuming queerness can create a welcoming space without special programing, though it does require that the straights in the community be willing to loosen their grip on straightness and even feel uncomfortable sometime. I want to stress than that in this model, the goal is not everyone feeling comfortable, but everyone feeling like this community in question is “their” community and represents them.

  5. So let me preface this by saying I plan to attend HUC for Rabbinical School in the near future. Is it odd that I would as it stands now have no qualms about officiating at a “same sex” marriage ceremony but that I would have to think long and hard about officating at an “interfaith” marriage ceremony? Does anyone share my view? What do you think this says about the whole dichotomy or lack there of one?

  6. Not odd at all. Once you conceptualize opposite-sex marriage as a mutual relationship between two equal partners (as most liberal Jews do), same-sex marriage isn’t such a leap.

  7. Jesse T, why would you think harder about an interfaith wedding? I’m interested in why clergy feel they must audit people’s relationships in one way or another before giving a blessing.

  8. JesseT: Why think long and hard about it?
    Neither a same-sex marriage or an interfaith marriage is halakhically defensible.
    Given that fact, your reasoning for presiding over a same-sex marriage should be that the importance of recognizing that two people in a relationship are committing to each other is more important than whether it is halakhically valid.
    Why apply a double-standard to interfaith couples?
    It’s not like Jews who are really concerned about halakha will recognize either marriage anyway.

  9. Jesse T, why would you think harder about an interfaith wedding? I’m interested in why clergy feel they must audit people’s relationships in one way or another before giving a blessing.
    The formal role of clergy in a Jewish wedding isn’t to “give a blessing” to a relationship, but to attest that the marriage is properly effected according to Jewish law (and unlike Kari, I include any of our many understandings of Jewish law). It seems clear to me that a same-sex marriage can be valid under progressive halacha (no more or no less than an egalitarian opposite-sex marriage). The halachic status of interfaith marriages is a more complicated issue, and I’m not sure we’ve even begun asking the right questions, let alone come up with answers. I’ve started to discuss this in part four of this post.
    (Anyone inclined to repeat Kari and say “OF COURSE IT’S NOT HALACHIC”, save your breath. You’re not participating in the same conversation.)

  10. BZ: Frankly, I don’t think it should matter whether or not halakha supports my being a lesbian. There’s more to life than halakha.
    That said, there is a clearly prevailing opinion among poskim on this subject. I’d prefer to not challenge the integrity of that opinion when I’m not as learned as they are. (And I say this as a lesbian and a strong advocate for same-sex civil marriage.)

  11. MS: As I said in the post: “If you have a position of leadership in your Jewish community, be it a minyan, shul, or social group, I would urge you plan a program that explicitly deals with LGBT issues – make it an educational or advocacy event, or just a social event for the LGBT in your community.”
    It takes more than just saying a space is LGBT-friendly for people to feel welcome, accepted, and able to be open about their sexuality or gender identity in that space.

  12. As the director of Jewish Mosaic and therefore someone involved in the study, a few things:
    1) Feygele: Yes, the survey did include independent minyanim. The 1,221 responses represent just under 1,000 unique congregations affiliated with all movements (or non-movements, as the case may be), which is over 25% of all the congregations in the U.S. and Canada.
    2) As to interfaith weddings, as Steven Cohen noted above, rabbinic willingness to perform such ceremonies IS correlated with a host of other diversity issues. But yes, it’s complicated, and that correlation doesn’t hold for all clergy. The JTA article was VERY brief and therefore minimally descriptive of the details of the study or the findings. So please don’t make assumptions about the focus of the study or the findings from that 300 word article. A full study report will be available soon, with much more detail about the wide range of questions relating to multiple diverse groups in the Jewish community.
    3) On the question of outreach as “tokenizing” it really depends on what you do for outreach. A GLBT havurah, or a program that invites GLBT people to come together (without straight allies) for a GLBT-only event might be perceived by some as tokenizing and by others as creating “safe space.” Context is everything and every community is different. The survey asked about a range of outreach and programs, most of which would NOT have been targeted at GLBT people, but referenced GLBT people/issues or invited conversation about GLBT topics within the entire community.

  13. And ditto to Feygele about the need for pro-active inclusion to make synagogues (and other Jewish institutions) truly welcoming. Just last week, the Jewish Outreach Institute featured an essay I wrote about this very topic. So rather than repeat all of that here, I’ll just offer a link:
    And Avi, I’d invite you to read parts of a qualitative study Jewish Mosaic did in Colorado in 2006 to really answer in detail why for most LGBT Jews, feeling welcome is about SO much more than just not being prohibited:

  14. For BZ’s conversation –
    I think there should be a distinction between “interfaith” marriage and marriage between two people of no faith who happen to have different ethnicities. I don’t know which would be more problematic for the officiant (NOT cleric).
    It would seem to me that it shouldn’t work under progressive halakha either: marriage is an act with religious significance which can’t extend beyond the borders of the religion. THis wouldn’t preclude a rabbi (or anyone else) “blessing” the union by acting as an agent of the state. THe two roles seem to be confused all the time.

  15. Kari, the reason why same-sex marriage is not as stigmatized as intermarriage in the “liberal” Jewish community is largely sociological. You can marry a person of the same gender in the same faith, but God Forbid you should marry ANYONE who isn’t Jewish! And I won’t repeat the cries against intermarriage here, as anyone can go see one of many Jewish-establishment/Traditionalist websites to see them.

  16. Why put it in the negative? G-d willing you should meet your besheret – who of course is Jewish – marry them, and have a houseful of beautiful babies.

  17. I realize it’s been said, but it was glossed over.
    The reason same-sex and interfaith marriages are so often lopped into one category is because no matter how much the Reform movement talks about “progressive halacha,” everyone knows that they’re BOTH ASSUR. There’s no getting around it; halacha does not sanction same-sex or interfaith marriage.

  18. I think the reason it was “glossed over” was that this type of argumentation is too subtle and nuanced for us lefties to grasp. Maybe if you could put it in simpler terms, we’d be able to understand better. Thanks in advance!

  19. Victor’s comment is a shining example of what I’m talking about. A houseful of beautiful babies! Who could say no to that?

  20. I’m planning on attending HUC rabbinical school soon too, and I’ve already decided that I will perform interfaith weddings for gay couples unconditionally (straight, I’m not sure yet). Until the Jewish community creates dating spaces for queer Jews, I don’t think we can even have the interfaith discussion.
    The Jewish community has got it all wrong on programming. As a 21 year old Jew, I don’t feel personally welcomed by my synagogue when it hosts one more marriage equality educational event. You know why? Because until they put as much effort into helping me find a Jewish woman to date as they do into finding a Jewish man, I’m not going to feel supported.
    Why can’t I be bisexual on JDate (try it–you can’t)? Why is there only one LGBT birthright trip per year? Why was I out to all of my high school friends except my youth group friends? Other Jews can support my rights all they want, but until they acknowledge that sexual orientation is about SEX and develop programming that at least acknowledges that fact, I’ll continue to check this part of my identity at the synagogue door.

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