Gay and Jewish, Part II

I seem to be on a big Jewish kick.

That’s what I get for talking about how Reform Judaism is all warm and fuzzy and accepting of gays like me, and then saying that I’ll come back to the topic. And for my obsession with a Yiddish song. And for being Jewish.

So, here I am. Back to the topic, two weeks later. And as I promised (threatened?), I’m asking: what about other branches of Judaism?

Last month, 175 Orthodox rabbis signed onto a Statement of Principles on homosexual members of the tribe.

It surprised me. While Orthodox Judaism obviously adheres closely to the letter of the law, and some of the laws aren’t so fond of homosexuality, much of it was warm and accepting.

My favorite parts:

  • All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). 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.
  • We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches [i.e. ‘change’ therapies] they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
  • 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. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality.
  • Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. They should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion as any other member of the synagogue they join.
  • Jews with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction should be encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability. The attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.
    [Halakha is Jewish law.]

*The bullet points above and below are excerpts; the full text is available here.*

The parts I understand but don’t love:

  • 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.
  • Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited.
  • Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings.

That said, even the items that cannot accept homosexuality are qualified in compassionate ways:

  • 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.

Regarding the prohibition on same-sex marriage:

  • 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.

The last item on the statement is particularly interesting to me. It stands in contrast to those religious communities who encourage gay people to enter into straight marriages regardless of their underlying feelings. The idea of the sanctity of marriage gets tossed around a lot, but this is the one statement that really does seem to understand what that means.
(Yeah, of course I wish same-sex marriage were accepted by this group of signatories, but I’m separating that desire from my view of the following statement.)

  • 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.

The rabbis’ statement concludes:

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).

I didn’t call this post “Gay, Jewish, and happy” (as I did the last one on this topic) because this is a more ambivalent stance, and a more difficult place for a person to try to live. But as one of the commenters on this page said, it’s about as accepting as one could hope for. It hews closely to halakha, both in its demand that Jews adhere to the prohibitions against same-sex relationships and in its call for compassion and kindness.

It’s kind of presumptuous to talk about my favorite parts and my least favorite parts. I mean, who am I to judge an entire branch of my religion that I’m not even a part of? But crazy liberal me, I want all my fellow gay Jews to be accepted in their communities, to be able to enjoy their relationships, to be able to get married. It’s not all here, but it’s a solid acceptance within the limits of halakha.

I’ll buy that.


Filed under politics, random

2 responses to “Gay and Jewish, Part II

  1. You could have called this post “Gay, Jewish and Happy (That I Didn’t Grow Up in a Super-Scary Religion That Teaches Hate Instead of Love).”

  2. sheikhjahbooty

    I thought it was OK for Jews to have sex outside of marriage. I mean, in the bible that I read, it happened a lot and wasn’t depicted as sinful. Sleep with my handmaid, sleep with my daughters, just don’t rape my guests, etc.

    In fact, I don’t remember seeing any clear stuff against sex until the new testament, in the letters from Paul.

    I understand the desire to have single gender marriages in the USA because monogamous Christian-style marriages have all these legal things that go along with them. But I don’t understand the desire for gay marriages in the Jewish faith, or why it’s important. I guess I don’t understand what function marriage serves in a Jewish community, probably because my knowledge of Judaism comes from stories about Abraham and Moses and whatnot, and not from modern practice.

    Incidentally scholars have found that in Roman times, eunuchs were not necessarily castrated (presumably just gay, since they had sex with men and were so trusted around the women). If anyone wants to convince me that Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad had a problem with homosexuality, they’re going to have to find a passage in which one of them clearly condemns eunuchs also.

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