Orthodox rabbinical group in Israel calls for welcoming ‘people with homosexual orientations’

Julie Wiener

Thousands of Israelis celebrating gay pride in Jerusalem, Israel. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

Thousands of Israelis celebrating gay pride in Jerusalem. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

(JTA) — An Orthodox rabbinic organization in Israel has published what it says is the first Jewish legal document of its kind calling for a more welcoming approach to homosexual Jews.

Released Sunday at a conference of Beit Hillel, a rabbinical group that promotes inclusiveness in Orthodox Judaism, the document says that while gay sex remains prohibited, “there’s room for leniency in attitudes toward social inclusion and for accepting [homosexuals] into the community,” Haaretz reported.

The document, which says it seeks to “combine law with compassion and peace” also says “people with homosexual orientations” should be allowed to serve in “any communal capacity,” including leading prayer.

Sunday’s conference, titled “Halacha and inclusion – the religious community’s relations to homosexuals,” took place in the city of Raanana, near Tel Aviv. The parents of Shira Banki, who was murdered by a haredi Orthodox man at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade last August, were in attendance, according to Haaretz.

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Rabbi Shlomo Hecht, Beit Hillel’s director, told JTA the document was created in response to the fact “that homosexuals choose increasingly to remain within faith communities, which in the past they would leave because of their orientation. It used to be that you were either religious [Orthodox] or homosexual, but now you have both.”

Hecht said the change “creates a need for a halachic document that cements some principles for the relationship.”

He said his group stopped short of endorsing rabbinical officiation of any ceremonies that would, in the eyes of mainstream Orthodoxy, violate halachah, including gay marriages.

“We’re not recognizing any sort of homosexual unions – I mean, they exist, we don’t deny reality, but we don’t sanction them in an official form in the document,” Hecht said.

According to Haaretz, the document emphasizes that while the Torah prohibits homosexual sex, it doesn’t prohibit homosexual orientation.

According to the Times of Israel, the letter notes that “just as it is inconceivable 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.”

The religious gay organization Havruta, which the rabbis consulted while drafting the document, described the document as “historic” and hoped it would pave the way “for full recognition of us, our [sexual] relations and our families.”

However, Havruta said the document still has “many problems,” such as “the complete absence of trans[gender] people or their status in halachah.”

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