Judaism and Homosexuality

Traditional Judaism on Homosexuality

Nov 4 2008 The various movements within Judaism differ in their view of homosexuality. Traditional Judaism considers homosexual acts as a violation of Jewish law (halakha). More progressive movements of Judaism believe homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written so the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts needs to be adapted.

Biblical Prohibition

According to the Bible, homosexual acts are "to'evah," an abomination.


In Leviticus 18:22, it is written: "And you shall not cohabit with a male as one cohabits with a woman; it is an abomination."

And in Leviticus 20:13, it is written: "And if a man cohabits with a male as with a woman, both of them have done an abominable thing; they shall be put to death; their blood falls back upon them."

The Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts seems harsh at first glance, but not all orthodox Jews interpret these passages in a simple way.

Boteach

Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, Chairman of the Oxford University L'Chaim Society and author, uses a wider perspective in his interpretation of these passages. Boteach has developed a more humane interpretation of G-d's mandate for heterosexual acts and prohibition of homosexual acts.

According to Boteach, homosexual acts are wrong simply because the Torah says they are wrong, and not because they are an aberration or sickness. Sexuality as a whole is instinctive, and both heterosexuality and homosexuality are natural.
Then why does G-d say that heterosexual love is holy and homosexual love is an abomination? Heterosexual love is the way the human race propagates itself. G-d demands that we regulate our sexual activity so that we will lead happier lives and fulfill our commitments to our communities.

The Torah is against homosexual acts, not homosexual people.
Judaism and G-d love all people. Boteach reminds us that the Torah also calls eating non-kosher food 'to'evah', an abomination. The word 'to'evah' in the Torah does not depict a social repulsion.

Furthermore, the Torah condemns the homosexual act, not homosexual love or the homosexual urge. "Judaism does not prohibit or in any way look down upon homosexual love. In the eyes of Judaism the love between two men or two women can be as natural as the love between a man and a woman. What it does prohibit is homosexual intercourse."

Boteach recommends the Jewish approach to homosexuality focus on the benefits of heterosexuality, rather than on the repulsion of homosexuality. He also thinks that Jews with homosexual preferences should make a concerted effort to reorient their preference and to lead a life according to Jewish law (Halacha).

The Rebbe

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson accepted the fact that certain men and women have an inherent sexual attraction to the same sex. However, these men are not "gay" and the women are not "lesbian." Rather, these are people with a sexual preference for the same sex. In addition, the Rebbe believed this preference is a result of social conditioning, and not a result of an irreversible physical condition.


Consequently, the Rebbe believed that those with homosexual preferences could and should be encouraged to give heterosexual relationships a try. Traditional Judaism believes that even someone born with homosexual preferences may be able to find sexual fulfillment in a heterosexual marriage. And it is the heterosexual marriage that most benefits the community. Just as Judaism encourages a Jewish bachelor to get married, it encourages someone with homosexual preferences to try to reorient their sexual attraction and enter into a heterosexual relationship. Nov 4 2008 Traditional Judaism on Homosexuality The various movements within Judaism differ in their view of homosexuality. Traditional Judaism considers homosexual acts as a violation of Jewish law (halakha). More progressive movements of Judaism believe homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written so the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts needs to be adapted.

Biblical Prohibition

According to the Bible, homosexual acts are "to'evah," an abomination.

In Leviticus 18:22, it is written: "And you shall not cohabit with a male as one cohabits with a woman; it is an abomination."

And in Leviticus 20:13, it is written: "And if a man cohabits with a male as with a woman, both of them have done an abominable thing; they shall be put to death; their blood falls back upon them."

The Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts seems harsh at first glance, but not all orthodox Jews interpret these passages in a simple way.

Boteach

Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, Chairman of the Oxford University L'Chaim Society and author, uses a wider perspective in his interpretation of these passages. Boteach has developed a more humane interpretation of G-d's mandate for heterosexual acts and prohibition of homosexual acts.

According to Boteach, homosexual acts are wrong simply because the Torah says they are wrong, and not because they are an aberration or sickness. Sexuality as a whole is instinctive, and both heterosexuality and homosexuality are natural. Then why does G-d say that heterosexual love is holy and homosexual love is an abomination? Heterosexual love is the way the human race propagates itself. G-d demands that we regulate our sexual activity so that we will lead happier lives and fulfill our commitments to our communities.

The Torah is against homosexual acts, not homosexual people. Judaism and G-d love all people. Boteach reminds us that the Torah also calls eating non-kosher food 'to'evah', an abomination. The word 'to'evah' in the Torah does not depict a social repulsion.

Furthermore, the Torah condemns the homosexual act, not homosexual love or the homosexual urge. "Judaism does not prohibit or in any way look down upon homosexual love. In the eyes of Judaism the love between two men or two women can be as natural as the love between a man and a woman. What it does prohibit is homosexual intercourse."

Boteach recommends the Jewish approach to homosexuality focus on the benefits of heterosexuality, rather than on the repulsion of homosexuality. He also thinks that Jews with homosexual preferences should make a concerted effort to reorient their preference and to lead a life according to Jewish law (Halacha).

The Rebbe

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson accepted the fact that certain men and women have an inherent sexual attraction to the same sex. However, these men are not "gay" and the women are not "lesbian." Rather, these are people with a sexual preference for the same sex. In addition, the Rebbe believed this preference is a result of social conditioning, and not a result of an irreversible physical condition.

Consequently, the Rebbe believed that those with homosexual preferences could and should be encouraged to give heterosexual relationships a try. Traditional Judaism believes that even someone born with homosexual preferences may be able to find sexual fulfillment in a heterosexual marriage. And it is the heterosexual marriage that most benefits the community. Just as Judaism encourages a Jewish bachelor to get married, it encourages someone with homosexual preferences to try to reorient their sexual attraction and enter into a heterosexual relationship. Nov 4 2008 More liberal branches of Judaism are allowing for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and are allowing their rabbis and congregations to perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Conservative Judaism

The Rabbinical Assembly, founded in 1901, is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement.

For the first one hundred plus years of the Conservative movement's existence, the movement did not allow for the ordination of openly gay men and lesbians. In addition, Conservative rabbis who performed same-sex commitment ceremonies did so without the Law Committee’s sanction.

Then on December 6, 2006, the CJLS completed its deliberation regarding the halakhic status of gay men and lesbians.

The CJLS decided that the halakha of the Conservative movement now says that:
  • Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and institutions can perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies and are free to hire openly gay rabbis and cantors.
  • Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and other institutions may continue not to permit commitment ceremonies and not to hire openly gay or lesbian rabbis and cantors.
The decisions of the CJLS are advisory only, as the movement sees each congregational rabbi as the final decision maker on Jewish law in that congregation. The CJLS makes decisions - after serious research, thought, and debate - which are meant to provide guidance and support to congregational rabbis, who must ultimately make their own decisions.

Regardless of whether a Conservative rabbi and congregation choose to hire homosexual rabbis or perform same-sex commitment ceremonies, they are expected to show respect and sensitivity to all people. All Jews, no matter what their sexual orientation, are welcome into Conservative congregations.

Reform Judaism

As a progressive movement, the Reform movement tries to adapt Judaism to today's world. According to Reform rabbis in support of this new resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at the commitment ceremonies of same sex couples, homosexuality in today's world was not understood at the time that the Bible was written.

In 1969, both the National Institutes for Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association ruled that homosexuality is not an illness. When medical discoveries are made, Jewish law (halacha) is modified. More progressive rabbis will say it is not halachally correct for more traditional rabbis to ignore this discovery and to continue to call homosexuality an illness.

Many progressive Jews also believe that calling homosexuality "unnatural" is incorrect. They site numerous studies which have found that homosexuality occurs in nature among every species of mammal and among most other species of animals. Sexually aroused animals will try to mate with the nearest partner. It has been concluded, therefore, that there is an innate drive toward the release of sexual tension, and this release can be accomplished through either homosexual or heterosexual relations.

More liberal Jews believe that the translation of the word "to'evah" to "abomination" is inaccurate. The other times that "to'evah" is used in the Bible, it is used to refer to forbidden idolatrous acts. Therefore, looking at the biblical context in which the word is used," the passages in Leviticus about homosexuality must be referring to cultic practices of homosexuality rather than loving homosexual relationships which exist today.

While traditional rabbis say the Torah prohibits homosexuality because it destroys the family structure, many Reform rabbis will say that homosexual couples can and do raise children who are educated about Jewish traditions and values. Unlike in Biblical times, today's homosexual couples can fulfill the commandment to procreate through artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, co-parenting arrangements, and even adoption. Jonathan Oriole, in his article on "Homosexuality and its role in Judaism," writes that at "Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, or Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco, or any of the other 30 gay synagogues in North America, one can see numerous gay and lesbian couples WITH THEIR CHILDREN, all of whom are dedicated to preserving and continuing the Jewish faith and tradition." Oriole adds that many heterosexual couples do not maintain the traditional family structure and fail to give their Jewish children a good Jewish education.

In addition to being progressive, the Reform movement is also humanist. It has been estimated that as many 10% of Jewish men and 1% of Jewish woman are homosexuals. Many in the Reform movement do not want to turn their backs on these Jews.

Not only are homosexuals accepted in Reform congregations, the movement also accepts gay and lesbian rabbis. It has been argued that since gay and lesbian Jews have experienced adversity, they can be more understanding and effective Jewish leaders.

Many in the Reform movement believe that gay and lesbian Jews would be committed Jews if they were welcomed into the Jewish community. The idea of officiating at homosexual commitment ceremonies is another way to reach out to this segment of the Jewish population.

Agreement and Disagreement

Most Jews would agree that making Jews who are homosexuals feel like they are outcasts or sick is inhumane and un-Jewish.

Traditional Judaism believes we should reach out to those with homosexual preferences by educating about the benefits of and encouraging them to enter into a heterosexual relationship.

Reform Judaism believes homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written. Thus, the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts can and should be adapted to fit today's world. Nov 4 2008 Liberal Judaism on Homosexuality More liberal branches of Judaism are allowing for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and are allowing their rabbis and congregations to perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Conservative Judaism

The Rabbinical Assembly, founded in 1901, is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement.

For the first one hundred plus years of the Conservative movement's existence, the movement did not allow for the ordination of openly gay men and lesbians. In addition, Conservative rabbis who performed same-sex commitment ceremonies did so without the Law Committee’s sanction.

Then on December 6, 2006, the CJLS completed its deliberation regarding the halakhic status of gay men and lesbians.

The CJLS decided that the halakha of the Conservative movement now says that:
  • Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and institutions can perform or host same-sex commitment ceremonies and are free to hire openly gay rabbis and cantors.
  • Conservative rabbis, synagogues, and other institutions may continue not to permit commitment ceremonies and not to hire openly gay or lesbian rabbis and cantors.
The decisions of the CJLS are advisory only, as the movement sees each congregational rabbi as the final decision maker on Jewish law in that congregation. The CJLS makes decisions - after serious research, thought, and debate - which are meant to provide guidance and support to congregational rabbis, who must ultimately make their own decisions.

Regardless of whether a Conservative rabbi and congregation choose to hire homosexual rabbis or perform same-sex commitment ceremonies, they are expected to show respect and sensitivity to all people. All Jews, no matter what their sexual orientation, are welcome into Conservative congregations.

Reform Judaism

As a progressive movement, the Reform movement tries to adapt Judaism to today's world. According to Reform rabbis in support of this new resolution allowing rabbis to officiate at the commitment ceremonies of same sex couples, homosexuality in today's world was not understood at the time that the Bible was written.

In 1969, both the National Institutes for Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association ruled that homosexuality is not an illness. When medical discoveries are made, Jewish law (halacha) is modified. More progressive rabbis will say it is not halachally correct for more traditional rabbis to ignore this discovery and to continue to call homosexuality an illness.

Many progressive Jews also believe that calling homosexuality "unnatural" is incorrect. They site numerous studies which have found that homosexuality occurs in nature among every species of mammal and among most other species of animals. Sexually aroused animals will try to mate with the nearest partner. It has been concluded, therefore, that there is an innate drive toward the release of sexual tension, and this release can be accomplished through either homosexual or heterosexual relations.

More liberal Jews believe that the translation of the word "to'evah" to "abomination" is inaccurate. The other times that "to'evah" is used in the Bible, it is used to refer to forbidden idolatrous acts. Therefore, looking at the biblical context in which the word is used," the passages in Leviticus about homosexuality must be referring to cultic practices of homosexuality rather than loving homosexual relationships which exist today.

While traditional rabbis say the Torah prohibits homosexuality because it destroys the family structure, many Reform rabbis will say that homosexual couples can and do raise children who are educated about Jewish traditions and values. Unlike in Biblical times, today's homosexual couples can fulfill the commandment to procreate through artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, co-parenting arrangements, and even adoption. Jonathan Oriole, in his article on "Homosexuality and its role in Judaism," writes that at "Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, or Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco, or any of the other 30 gay synagogues in North America, one can see numerous gay and lesbian couples WITH THEIR CHILDREN, all of whom are dedicated to preserving and continuing the Jewish faith and tradition." Oriole adds that many heterosexual couples do not maintain the traditional family structure and fail to give their Jewish children a good Jewish education.

In addition to being progressive, the Reform movement is also humanist. It has been estimated that as many 10% of Jewish men and 1% of Jewish woman are homosexuals. Many in the Reform movement do not want to turn their backs on these Jews.

Not only are homosexuals accepted in Reform congregations, the movement also accepts gay and lesbian rabbis. It has been argued that since gay and lesbian Jews have experienced adversity, they can be more understanding and effective Jewish leaders.

Many in the Reform movement believe that gay and lesbian Jews would be committed Jews if they were welcomed into the Jewish community. The idea of officiating at homosexual commitment ceremonies is another way to reach out to this segment of the Jewish population.

Agreement and Disagreement

Most Jews would agree that making Jews who are homosexuals feel like they are outcasts or sick is inhumane and un-Jewish.

Traditional Judaism believes we should reach out to those with homosexual preferences by educating about the benefits of and encouraging them to enter into a heterosexual relationship.

Reform Judaism believes homosexuality today was not understood when the Bible was written. Thus, the Biblical prohibition of homosexual acts can and should be adapted to fit today's world.