JTA — A prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbi said that Jewish law does not forbid LGBTQ people from building a family.
Rabbi Benny Lau made the statement as part of a set of guidelines for observant LGBTQ Jews and their families released Saturday evening under the heading “It is Not Good for Man to be Alone.” The guidelines, published on Lau’s Facebook page (Hebrew), seek to reconcile a desire to welcome LGBTQ Jews into Jewish communities within the constraints of religious law.
According to Lau, Jewish law “does not forbid members of the LGBTQ community from raising children and building a family,” though he acknowledges that Jewish legal issues may arise for couples who use surrogacy or a sperm donor in order to have children.
Lau also discouraged family members of LGBTQ Jews from encouraging conversion therapy, a debunked practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation.
The rabbi said those attracted to members of the same sex should not attempt to enter heterosexual marriage if they are repulsed by their partner. And he affirmed that LGBTQ couples and their children should be full members of the community and that their dignity should not be harmed.
He emphasized that the guidelines are not meant as a ruling on matters of Jewish law, but are aimed at finding ways for LGBTQ Jews to manage their family lives within religious communities.
Lau is affiliated with Israel’s Religious Zionist camp, an Orthodox movement that is more integrated into Israeli society than the Haredi Orthodox community. In the past, he has drawn ire from some in his community for his progressive positions on a range of issues, including LGBTQ acceptance.
Like the Modern Orthodox community in the United States, Israel’s Religious Zionist community has struggled in recent years with the tension between the Torah’s prohibition on homosexual relationships and the increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in the secular world. The guidelines are significant because of Lau’s prominence and because few Orthodox rabbis have been willing to speak out in favor of LGBTQ acceptance.
Lau’s guidelines address the issue of same-sex weddings, for which he says there is no “no acceptable solution” with a Jewish religious framework. Still, he said the impulse to marry and have one’s relationship publicly affirmed is “understandable” and should not be ignored. Creating an alternative ceremony that does not attempt to “imitate” a traditional Jewish wedding may reduce the reluctance of religious family members to participate, he said.
Lau was previously the rabbi of the Ramban synagogue, a prominent Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem. He is the nephew of former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and the cousin of David Lau, the current chief rabbi. His brother, Amichai Lau-Lavie, is an openly gay rabbi living in New York.