In an unusual move, a body of Orthodox rabbis on Sunday night took a step toward encouraging the acceptance of homosexuals within their communities.
At a conference titled “Halacha and containment – the religious community’s relations to homosexuals” in Ra’anana, rabbis from the nonprofit Beit Hillel presented a document urging greater acceptance of homosexuals within the Orthodox realm.
While the document stated that the “Torah prohibits homosexual acts,” the paper penned by the rabbis stressed that Orthodox communities should be more accepting and socially inclusive.
The rabbinical document called for greater “flexibility” in regard to gay and lesbian members of the Orthodox community, and stated that “homosexuals are obliged to fulfill the Talmudic obligations and serve in any communal capacity.”
“Every Jew is included in the covenant between the Almighty One and the Jewish people and its realization must be acknowledged,” it read. “The right to shelter under the wings of the Divine Presence is absolute and there is no need to place guards at the entrance to the Beit Midrash (Jewish study hall) or the synagogue. It is not our duty to inspect the tzitziyot (ritual tassels) of those who come to pour their hearts out to Our Father in Heaven.”
While the document, which refereed to “people of homosexual orientations,” presented an alleged step in the direction of Orthodox acceptance of homosexuals, it also provided significant mention of “the halachic prohibition against homosexual relations.”
“According to the Torah and halachah, the [homosexual] acts are forbidden and not the orientation, and therefore people – men or women – who are prone to homosexual orientations are not flawed or immoral; they must fulfill the commandments of the Torah,” the opinion stated.
“Throughout the ages there have been explanations of various phenomena of homosexuality, and the tendency of the orientation to grow for some without free choice. In this regard, it is impossible to condemn the inclination or its order.”
Prior to the document’s release, Beit Hillel director Rabbi Shlomo Hecht on Friday 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,” he said. But the document does specify a number of halachic principles related to the need “to contain homosexuals within faith communities and make them feel at ease in their community.”
He said 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.” This change “creates a need for a halachic document that cements some principles for the relationship.”
The founding director of Beit Hillel, established in 2012 by religious Zionist rabbis, was Rabbi Ronen Neubert, who also worked for the Tzohar rabbinical group, which aims to make Orthodox Judaism more accessible to secular and progressive Israelis.