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Orthodox leaders issue statement supporting gay Jews; Westport rabbi among signatories

Orthodox leaders issue statement supporting gay Jews; Westport rabbi among signatories
By Cindy Mindell

A Connecticut rabbi is among the dozens of Orthodox rabbis from the U.S. and Israel to sign the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” originally drafted by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, co-chair of the public affairs committee of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis.

The document, which underwent several subsequent revisions, came in the wake of “Being Gay in the Modern Orthodox World,” a Dec. 22 panel discussion held at Yeshiva University (YU) in New York. Hosted by the university’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and the YU Tolerance Club, the event was moderated by Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual supervisor of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
The statement, signed by, among others, Rabbi Yossi Pollak of Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk, opens: “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.”
In its 12 principles, the document acknowledges the challenges faced by a person who is both gay and Orthodox, trying to reconcile the personal with the halachic. “Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering,” the authors write.
The statement continues: “Accordingly, Jews with homosexual orientations or same-sex attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. As appropriate with regard to gender and lineage, they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of the synagogue they join. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakha.
We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner. Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with regard to membership for open violators of halakha. Those standards should be applied fairly and objectively.”
Signed by Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. and Israel, and American-Jewish educators and mental-health professionals, the statement was released July 29, the same day as a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.
“The statement was sent to me in its completed form when it was ready for release,” Pollak told the Ledger. “While I might have reservations about small points here and there, I thought this document was something I should support. It reiterates our halachic values as Orthodox Jews, while reaching out to the LGBT community and saying, ‘We are not against you and we welcome you to our communities as we would any other Jew.’ Compassion, sensitivity, and understanding are the way that I try to relate to all Jews, so I didn’t find this statement controversial in the least.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Adler of Beth David Synagogue in West Hartford cites three reasons for not signing the statement.
“The statement does not say anything new,” he points out. “It was a collation of existing and already established expressions of compassion. The statement addresses male homosexuality while seemingly ignoring lesbian needs for communal acceptance and compassion. The statement concedes the reality of same-gender attractions and desires, yet it condones no expressions of affection. A careful reading of Biblical texts, complemented by Rabbinic Codes, would suggest that there are expressions of affection that would not be in violation of dogmatic statutes. Simply stated, I believe that the statement is a positive step and I endorse the effort, but I do not feel that it adequately addresses the pain, needs, and sensitivities of the gay and lesbian community.”
The statement concludes: “We hope and pray that by sharing these thoughts we will help the Orthodox community to fully live out its commitment to the principles and values of Torah and Halakha as practiced and cherished by the children of Abraham, who our sages teach us are recognized by the qualities of being rahamanim (merciful), bayshanim (modest), and gomelei hasadim engaging in acts of loving-kindness).

To read the entire statement:

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