Dozens of Orthodox rabbis call for accepting gay congregants
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Dozens of Orthodox rabbis call for accepting gay congregants

Beit Hillel organization publishes edict declaring homosexuals can fulfill community duties, should not be excluded

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Religious participants in the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Sept. 18, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Religious participants in the annual gay pride parade in Jerusalem, Sept. 18, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Dozens of Israeli Orthodox rabbis have signed a religious edict urging religious communities to accept gay members without prejudice and ruling that homosexuals can fulfill the same community duties as their heterosexual peers.

The Beit Hillel organization, a Modern Orthodox rabbinic group comprising 200 men and women that promotes inclusiveness in Orthodox Judaism, published the letter on Sunday night during a seminar in Ra’anana.

In the document the rabbis stressed that there is no reason in halacha — the Jewish code of regulations for daily life — to exclude homosexuals.

“Even though the forbidden relations cannot be permitted, there’s room to be lenient in the approach to social inclusion and to accept them into the community,” the letter said, where they can “serve as prayer leaders in the synagogue and carry out all public functions.”

“The matter of single sex [relationships] has resulted in confusion among many members of our community,” began the letter, which declared that its aim was to “dispel doubts” and lay down “an integrated path between religious law and loving-kindness and peace.”

During the six months it took to compose the edict, the authors were in consultation with representatives of the gay community. The event was also attended by the parents of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl who was stabbed to death during the 2015 gay pride parade in Jerusalem by Yishai Schlissel, an ultra-Orthodox man who had just been released from jail for stabbing and injuring someone at a previous gay pride parade in the capital.

The letter — which doesn’t use the words “gay,” “homosexual” or “lesbian” but rather relies on the formula “same-sex tendencies” — clarifies that “there is no way to permit relations between people of the same sex,” due to the halachic prohibition against such relations. Nonetheless, the rabbis emphasize that “according to the Torah and halacha, the acts are forbidden but not the proclivities, and therefore people with same-sex tendencies, men and women, have no invalidation in halacha or tradition. They are obligated by the commandments of the Torah, they can fulfill a [ritual] obligation on behalf of the public and carry out all of the community functions just like any member.”

“It is no secret that we [Orthodoxy] have preferred to ignore and not to debate this matter. It was out of bounds,” said Beit Hillel’s chairman, Rabbi Meir Nehorai. “The time has come to bravely and justly debate how they can be integrated in the community. Success depends on both sides working together.”

A verse in Leviticus stating that it is an “abomination” for a male to “lie with a male as with a woman” has often been cited in the context of the longstanding ostracization of openly gay people by Orthodox communities. However, more recently there have been calls from Israeli and US Modern Orthodox rabbis to be more accepting of gay Jews while not condoning homosexual acts.

“Because of their sexual tendencies their lives are usually harder than others’, and they face many challenges,” the rabbis wrote. “To our regret, it is still necessary to stress that single-sex inclination is not a matter for mockery or rejection.”

The letter noted that “just as it inconceivable to to mock someone for being physically, behaviorally, or mentally different, so too those with same-sex tendencies should not be mocked. On the contrary, those around them — family and community — should show special feeling for them, and apply to them the Torah commandment of ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ and to be diligent in avoiding the prohibition of insulting another.”

Havruta, a gay Orthodox organization, welcomed the document as a “significant milestone in our continued struggle for recognition, acceptance, and inclusion without going back inside the closet.”

In a statement, however, Havruta also pointed out “the many problems there are in the document, such as the complete absence of trans people or their status in halacha.”

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