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Are Orthodox Jews Coming Around On Homosexuality?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Mordechai Beck, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 9th August 2010 12.00 UTC

If you think the Christian world has a problem with gay people, you should try orthodox Judaism. For centuries homosexuality has been taboo; it’s not what nice Jewish boys or girls do. The biblical proscription against “men lying with men as though with a woman” (Leviticus 20:13) is considered the very bedrock of Jewish morality. For traditional Judaism marriage is the highest state of social bonding – a true union of body and soul. Despite some odd exceptions in biblical and rabbinical literature, (Jeremiah is told by God to stay single, Ben Azzai, one of the greatest of the Mishnaic teachers, remains a bachelor by choice), even celibacy was frowned upon. Part of this opposition was no doubt based on a response to the cultural environment – pagan in the biblical era, Christian in the rabbinic one. But despite major shifts in sociological contexts, the ban against homosexuality was rigidly enforced throughout the centuries. Whilst in other areas the rabbis often showed great flexibility and understanding, this particular area remained off-limits.

In recent years, however, homosexuality, among even the most Orthodox sectors of Judaism, has become a growing feature of contemporary Jewish life. In both America and Israel – the world’s two largest Jewish communities – it has not been uncommon for rabbis and others to “come out”, often suffering the consequences that such a confession entails. Moreover, reports of homosexual relations between rabbi-teachers and their students have been a regular feature of news items in both communities. In Israel and the US these behaviours have been the subject of a number of feature and documentary films.

Still, it was something of a surprise when, on 22 July, a large group of Orthodox Israeli and American rabbis, teachers, psychologists and community leaders published a “statement of principles on the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community“. The statement, which has some 170 signatories, many of them prominent in their respective communities, took some six months to prepare, undergoing countless revisions. The fact that so many rabbis eventually agreed to issue a joint statement is something a miracle in and of itself. There are no popes in the Modern Orthodox world. Rabbis are respected for their individual learning and their ability to solve current problems in the light of the tradition. For so many authorities to agree to such a radical shift in attitude reflects the seriousness of the issue.

The statement declares:

“All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect … 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.”

Superficially at least this a complete about turn from centuries of deeply embedded prejudices. Neither do the worthy signatories distinguish between “genetic or environmentally generated homosexual behaviours”. Their main message is “our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect”. This includes: “affirming the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.”

Rabbi Benjamin Lau – one of Israel’s most popular Modern Orthodox rabbis – observes: “Although the document came out only now, it is the product of 10 years’ preparation. Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot in the US and Rabbi Ron Yosef in Israel worked in parallel to bring the statement to fruition. Although it does not herald a change in the religious law – halakha – it is meant to be an opening for a public debate on this very complex, multi-faceted issue. We are calling on all Jewish communities to relate to their gay members in a way of dialogue, not violence.”

This latter reference could refer to an incident in Israel last year where a gay bar in Tel Aviv was attacked – killing two and injuring many more. More recently, an apparently romantic affair between two Haredi men ended in murder and suicide. It is thus of interest that last week’s publication also found itself its way into the Haredi press.

Rabbi Ron Yosef, who is not only a community rabbi, but also a religious judge, would like his fellow gay people to be accepted within the framework of Orthodox law. This has not happened yet but, as Rabbi Lau observes this bold declaration, which allows for individual communities to decide on their own policy towards gay people, “has started the discussion.”

After 3,000 years, it may be time.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

EARLIER:
What Will It Take to Get Orthodox Jews to Embrace Their Gays?

By:           Arthur Dunlop
On:           Aug 10, 2010
Tagged: , ,
  • 25 Comments
    • Cam
      Cam

      Wow, if even the Orthodox Jews are coming around, this just makes the Vatican seem all the more out of touch.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 9:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • horus
      horus

      not perfect, but making an effort. keep moving forward, shalom.
      the creator made us just the way we are.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 10:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kieran
      Kieran

      “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect … Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation….”

      The Vatican has issued plenty of statements exactly like this condemning physical and emotional violence against gay people. This is hardly new. Words are cheap. ACTIONS are what matters. Is the Church and Synagogues finally going to acknowledge that one’s sexual orientation is not something you choose just as you don’t choose to be left-handed?

      Aug 10, 2010 at 10:53 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
      PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS

      @Kieran: Amen brother! Lets toss in the members of the repugnatican party to the list also…….

      Aug 10, 2010 at 11:19 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Aaron
      Aaron

      They have a long, long ways to go, but explicitly discouraging reparative therapy and heterosexual marriage being forced on gays is a HUGE step forward by Orthodox standards.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 11:23 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      @Kieran: said..

      “This is hardly new. Words are cheap. ACTIONS are what matters. Is the Church and Synagogues finally going to acknowledge that one’s sexual orientation is not something you choose just as you don’t choose to be left-handed?”
      _______________________________

      Actually the largest brance of Jews in the nation “Reform” already will perform gay marriages or commitment ceremonies (in states that don’t allow gay marraige). This is just the ultra conservative Orthodox sect. This is the same as if the head Cleric in Saudi Arabia said that gays needed to be treated with dignity. When even the strictest are saying that it’s pretty much a done deal int he religeon. I for one have never heard of the Vatican releasing a statement remotely similar involving gays.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 11:47 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Johnq
      Johnq

      who cares, jew suck.

      i’m so tired of meeting gay jewish guys who only want to meet and hook up with other gay jewish guys.

      worse are the one that do sleep with you and then when you ask to take it to the next level, they ask you to convert.

      so essentially, being gay and in love with a jew isn’t enough, you must convert or be jewish to even count.

      to hell with them all

      Aug 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Fitz
      Fitz

      @Johnq: Bitter much? Unlovable much?

      Aug 10, 2010 at 12:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Stephen Murray
      Stephen Murray

      Who cares what orthodox jews think about homosexuality?

      It’s just another stupid religion which takes as the word of ‘god’ a several thousand year old, badly written, work of fiction which was invented solely to grant meaning to the lives of desert dwelling, illiterate peasants. Like christianity and islam, judaism is based entirely in fiction.

      I don’t care if a religion is homophobic, so long as it is prevented from influencing the secular nature of our state, and is prevented from perverting democracy by influencing legislation to suit its moronic agenda.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Queer Supremacist
      Queer Supremacist

      @Johnq: My god, you make Bill Perdue sound like David Ben-Gurion!

      I am Jewish. My ex-boyfriend was an Episcopalian, a denomination with one of the better records regarding gays. Religion had nothing to do with our relationship ending, but the trust issues that arose because of his cowardice, his selfishness, his questionable honesty, and his inability to commit. And the fact that he was in the closet undoubtedly had a great deal to do with it.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      @Johnq: said..

      “who cares, jew suck.

      i’m so tired of meeting gay jewish guys who only want to meet and hook up with other gay jewish guys.”
      _____________________

      Or thats just the excuse they give you because they don’t like you.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • GOProud Tea Party Homocon
      GOProud Tea Party Homocon

      @Johnq: Jews know how to sniff out and avoid losers like you!

      Aug 10, 2010 at 4:08 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gary B.
      Gary B.

      I’m Jewish (though non-practicing, and definitely not orthodox), and in my experience/perception, Jewish people are among the most accepting of LGBT people. Usually the ones who have a problem are conservative Christians, Muslims, etc.

      Regardless, any group coming out (pun intended) in support of LGBT equality is a good thing.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • B
      B

      No. 9 · Stephen Murray wrote, “Who cares what orthodox jews think about homosexuality?” … anyone who is impacted by how they vote in a secular election.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gary B.
      Gary B.

      @Johnq:

      “who cares, jew suck.”

      do they spit or swallow?

      seriously though, wow, all I can say is you must not have met many Jews. sure, some Jews only want to marry Jews, but the same could be said about any religion.

      seriously though, for someone who I assume is fighting against bigotry (or else why would you be on this site?), you sure act like one yourself.

      Aug 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Ogre Magi
      Ogre Magi

      @Gary B.: Maybe he looks like a pig, so they think he isn’t Kosher?

      Aug 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Gary B.
      Gary B.

      @Ogre Magi: Maybe they just prefer kosher pickles?

      Aug 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Skyler
      Skyler

      As a Jew, this issue’s extremely important to me. So happy!!! I’m not an Orthodox Jew but I am a Conservative Jew (Conservative of traditions, not necessarily politically). The rule of each synagogue choosing how gay-friendly to be happened a while ago for Conservative Jews in America (not outside of America, though). If the Orthodox Jews turn more gay-friendly, it’s only a limited time before Conservative Jews all around the world step up and become more accepting too.

      Aug 11, 2010 at 1:29 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Queer Supremacist
      Queer Supremacist

      @Skyler: I read the linked declaration and it’s not the huge revelation one would think. It’s a small step.

      Aug 11, 2010 at 11:02 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John
      John

      i have jewish friends but of all the men and women i dated from various religions and cultures, with jews, i’m always asked the same thing

      ARE YOU JEWISH?

      and this is usually asked before “Whats your nationality?” or “What do you do?”

      and it doesn’t end there. then we you decided to date, its all about “Come to Temple” or “Convert”

      this is why JEWS SUCK! plain and simple.

      its like dating someone who is closeted and having to change for them and no longer kiss in public or hold hands or say BABY or HONEY or THIS IS MY BOYFRIEND.

      but we give jews slack and no closeted gays or even straight people who don’t want us to stop being gay but just act less gay in public.

      gimme a fuckking break.

      i’ve yet to meet a Catholic, Muslim, or Christian who asked me what religion i was and then told me to convert.

      Aug 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bill Perdue
      Bill Perdue

      @Queer Supremacist: KapoQS hates nearly everyone.

      And nearly everyone hates him. Here’s why:

      “”Author: Queer Supremacist
      Comment:
      Bill Perdue: I didn’t know Nazi Quislings were a race. But just keep wishing for your anti-semitic (sic, sick) fantasies to come true, and maybe someday they’ll happen.

      Jadis, ron, L. Fuck Anyone who supports Palestinazis or Muslims is a racist, a Nazi, and, if they are Jewish and/or gay, an Uncle Tom. If you are pro-KKK, you cannot claim not to be racist. If you are pro Nazi or pro-Palestinazi (same fucking difference), you cannot claim not to be anti-semitic (sic, sick). If you are pro-Christian or pro-Muslim, you cannot claim not to be homophobic.

      Christianity, Islam and Heterosexuality are the real Axis of Evil. And unless you are actively working to stop the Christo-Islamic Breeder menace, you are enablers.

      No. 10 • Queer Supremacist
      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      There are no “Palestinians”. You’re nothing but an Arabist pig defending filthy genocidal homophobic Muslim camel fuckers, while perseverating (sic) (sick) discredited Stalinist tropes like a severely autistic parrot…

      Take your pro-Muslim blood libel elsewhere or I will report your IP address to the FBI for treasonous activity.

      The land of Israel belongs to the Jews, including the parts illegally occupied by goyische breeder terrorists. They have more of a right to exist than the United States…

      (I consider all heterosexual sex acts rape)…

      The only thing keeping Obama from becoming a dictator are the constitutional separation of powers…

      On the other hand, Israel’s founding, in a location where there was a Jewish state before the convicted thief Jesus and the child rapist Muhammad were even born, was to protect Jews from further hate crimes from heretic goyim (all gentile religions are heretic… Israel needs … to do whatever it takes to protect innocent people from being brutally murdered by terrorist scum who worship convicted felons like Jesus and child molesters like Muhammad.

      And the first equivocation of Zionism (that’s with a capital Z, for the rest of you Pan-Arabist scum) with racism by the United Nazis, I mean the United Nations…

      Uganda has no right to sovereignty. Iran has no right to sovereignty. Iraq has no right to sovereignty. Afghanistan has no right to sovereignty. Jamaica has no right to sovereignty. Saudi Arabia has no right to sovereignty. Zimbabwe has no right to sovereignty. The Vatican has no right to sovereignty…. China has no right to sovereignty…

      If the majority of the gays turn against Jews I will become celibate and actively homophobic.
      2 for 10 against ” Posted: Jul 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm • @Reply • [Flag?]

      To which other people replied: ”

      No. 11 • Bill Perdue
      @Queer Supremacist: Who let you out of your sty, racist.
      8 for 0 against
      Posted: Jul 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm • @Reply • [Flag?]

      No. 12 • Jadis
      @Queer Supremacist: You are everything that’s wrong with the world.
      6 for 0 against

      Posted: Jul 31, 2010 at 10:37 am • @Reply • [Flag?]
      No. 13 • ron
      @Queer Supremacist: Holy shit! You must be as exhausted from that tirade as I am from reading it! You, sir, are full of shit……
      6 for 1 against

      Posted: Jul 31, 2010 at 10:46 am • @Reply • [Flag?]
      No. 14 • L.
      @Queer Supremacist: You’re not getting paid by the word, I hope.
      3 for 1 against

      Posted: Jul 31, 2010 at 6:35 pm • @Reply • [Flag?]
      No. 15 • Queer Supremacist
      By the way, your ad hominem attacks have done nothing to disprove everything I said.

      Yes, I am a proud bigot. I am bigoted against the enemies of the Jews. I am bigoted against the enemies of the gay community. I am bigoted against people who hate me and want me dead for a “being crime.” I am bigoted against land robbers and genocidal maniacs. I am bigoted against people who worship thieves and child molesters.

      Queerty is the Gay Stormfront. Heil Hitler and Heil Muhammad.
      0 for 5 against”

      Aug 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • GOProud Tea Party Homocon
      GOProud Tea Party Homocon

      @Bill Perdue: Who let you out of your nuthouse?

      Aug 11, 2010 at 7:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jack E. Jett
      Jack E. Jett

      Jews always have pretty dicks.

      Aug 12, 2010 at 11:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Konrad Deire
      Konrad Deire

      I am a deeply spritual person and i am gay.
      I have jewish and christian roots, I have many muslim friends and my boy friend is hindu
      I come to understand that the PURPOSE in LIFE is LOVE
      LOVE is how souls bind,
      LOVE is the only reality…
      now SOULS have no sex (like angels in the Christian tradition)
      I am deeply disgusted by the narrow minded discussions about homosexuality. I know many gay couples who are worth a thousand times their heterosexual counterparts.
      I pretend from a spiritual leader, from any faith, that he acknowledges the soul within each of us and guides us on the way of true love to accomplish our goal of bonding our soul to the soul of another person.

      The people who believe that homosexuality is all about sexuality miss the bigger picture … there is more to it than meets the eye

      Oct 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John Grant
      John Grant

      I can’t wait ’til the whole world’s gay. We can then live in a big gay, multi-cultural utopia that will last forever.

      Nov 11, 2011 at 9:33 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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