Homosexuality (URJ)

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Q: What is Judaism’s view on homosexuality?

A: Traditional Judaism has seen – and continues to see – homosexuality as an abomination (Refer to Leviticus, chapter 18. Interestingly, neither the Torah nor the rabbinic tradition has much to say concerning lesbian relationships. It is the male’s “spilling of seed” anywhere other than in the usual “place” that is seen as a sin). Many in the traditional community today will say that they accept the homosexual person as a Jew, but they cannot condone what they understand to be sinful behavior nor can they that say that homosexuality is on the same level as heterosexuality.

On the other hand, there are those, not all, who believe that the traditional laws against homosexuality originated in a more ritual context, since, for the most part, the word “abomination” was applied more in the ritual sphere of life than in the ethical. The Torah seems to see homosexual relations in a cultic context rather than something more parallel to the interpersonal context of heterosexual relationships.

Although the sin of Sodom and Gemmorah is apparently homosexuality, later Jewish tradition, including the Biblical prophets, makes no reference to homosexuality and see the sins of Sodom and Gemmorah as cruelty and lack of hospitality to the “stranger” – xenophobia, as it were.

Reform Judaism, for the most part, seems to view the traditional prohibitions against homosexuality as mores from a bygone age, mores now replaced with clearer understandings of the reality of gender orientation as something which is, as it seems to me, beyond simple individual “preference.”

Is Judaism capable of doing such an “about-face” on a position which has been so firmly founded in the tradition? Some have made an analogy to the tradition’s disqualification of deaf people as valid witnesses, a disqualification which was later nullified when people learned more about what it means to be deaf. This reasoning would allow us to say that, since we now have more and better knowledge about homosexuality and no longer see it either as an abomination nor as mental illness, we have reason to reevaluate the tradition’s negative posture vis-à-vis homosexuality.

I may be overstating the case, but in my experience during the last few years, it seems that many, if not most, Reform Jews seem to be willing to make no great distinction between homosexual and heterosexual relationships, although it remains an emotionally charged question on all sides and there are still many “hot” issues. As a whole, however, the Reform Movement, both the “lay people” and the rabbis have come out very strongly in favor of civil rights for gays and lesbians. You will see this reflected in the resolutions below.

As for the sensitive issue of whether or not rabbis should or should not, could or could not, perform rituals affirming same-sex unions, be they called “weddings,” “commitment ceremonies” or “ceremonies of affirmation,” or something else, the CCAR indeed took a stand on this issue at our national convention which was held in March of 2000, in Greensboro, N.C. Preceeding the discussion and vote were years of studying the issues from traditional as well as psycho-social literature.

While virtually all of the rabbis affirmed gay/lesbian civil rights, some rabbis were not comfortable with affirming same-sex unions, either because they did not believe that it was warranted by the tradition or because they felt that a public statement might hurt relations with more traditional streams of Judaism, especially in Israel. When it came to a vote, however, the VAST majority of Reform Rabbis present on the Convention voted in the affirmative “that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual?” This was followed by language supporting those rabbis who chose to perform such ceremonies as well as those who chose not to. (The resolution with its background is added below.) For those who do officiate at such ceremonies, some will use the traditional language of “kiddushin ? sanctification,” while others will use terms such as affirmation or commitment.

Clearly, the official arms of Reform Judaism have taken a most welcoming stance vis-a-vis lesbian and gay Jews who wish to learn, worship, give, live and love as Jews.

One final note; if you are interested in learning more about Reform Judaism’s stance vis-a-vis welcoming gays and lesbians into synagogue life, I would highly recommend you looking at the UAHC’s publication entitled “KULANU – All of Us,” a guide to making our congregations even more inclusive.

I have shared with you both my own understanding of this question. It is in no way official. The resolutions listed below, both of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC – the umbrella organization of Reform Congregations in North America) as well as the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR – the organization of Reform Rabbis in North America.) speak for themselves.

Written by Rabbi Don Rossoff, Temple B’nai Or, Morristown, NJ

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