Category Archives: LGBTQ Issues

Pray for Tolerance

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Last night I had the honor of participating in a local vigil in memory of the two young Israelis who were killed during the tragic Tel Aviv Gay/Lesbian center last week. The gathering was convened by Or Hadash, a congregation that serves the Chicago LBGT community and was co-sponsored by a number of other local Jewish institutions and synagogues.

Our vigil was all the more powerful coming after a particularly disgusting local demonstration of anti-gay, anti-Jewish hate.  This past Monday a small number of  Fred Phelps’ notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church came to Chicago for a series of protests targeting Jewish groups and synagogues (above.)  Even for Phelps it was a truly sick display: they gathered to demonstrate across the street from Emanuel Congregation (which houses Or Chadash), shouting and displaying signs that read, among other things: “The Jews Killed Jesus,” “Bloody Obama,” and “God Hates Jews.”

Last night’s prayer vigil, needless to say, offered us the welcome opportunity to voice a message of tolerance. It was especially gratifying that our service was attended by an impressively diverse gathering from across the spectrum of Chicago’s religious and political community. The high point for me: an address by Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Executive Director of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, who shared a sublime prayer which that was recently written by Rabbi Dov Linzer, the Dean of the orthodox Rabbinical School Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Among other things, Rabbi Linzer’s inspiring words helped to remind us that traditional religion and intolerance need not go hand in hand.

An excerpt:

Master of the Universe, give us the courage to stand up to and reject all forms of hateful speech and violence. Give us the strength of spirit to refuse to tolerate the rejection of any human being, each of whom is created in בצלם א- לוהים, in Your Divine image. Help us to internalize in our hearts and to manifest in our actions the mandate of the verse in this week’s parsha ואהבתם את הגר כי גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים, that it is our responsibility to care for, to love, and to protect all members of our society, and in particular those who are most vulnerable and most likely to feel estranged and rejected. Help us to value every member of our society for whom he or she is, to care for them, to support them, and to recognize that they are an equal part of our community.

Click here for the full text of the prayer.

Recons Slam Gay Marriage Ban

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I’m extremely proud to announce that all three arms of the Reconstructionist movement have released a joint statement condemning the recent passage of gay marriage bans across the country.  Read all about it in this JTA article. It was particularly gratifying to read this acknowledgment in the piece:

The Reconstructionist movement, the smallest of American Jewish religious denominations, has long been a leader in liberalizing Jewish approaches to homosexuality. In 1984, the movement became the first to ordain openly gay rabbis, followed six years later by the Reform movement and in 2006 by the Conservative movement.

Here’s the text of the entire statement:

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College deplore the passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar discriminatory initiatives recently passed in Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas. We are saddened and deeply disturbed by the denial of fundamental human rights—to marry, to adopt and care for foster children—to thousands of gay and lesbian citizens across the United States. We are particularly dismayed by the passage of initiatives that have reversed previously recognized equality for same-sex unions.

Beginning in 1993, in a series of resolutions, the Reconstructionist movement has affirmed the holiness of commitments made by same-sex couples. Religious recognition of marriages does not confer the legal and civil rights and responsibilities bestowed by the state upon married couples. We recognize the right of every religious denomination to affirm its own definition of, and limitations upon, the sacred ritual of marriage. No member of the clergy should be compelled to sanctify any union that is contrary to his or her understanding of sacred text and tradition. But neither should any gay or lesbian citizen of the United States be denied the legal rights confirmed by civil marriage.

We call upon leaders of other faith communities who share the commitment to civic equality and to the separation of church and state in the realm of marriage to speak out against bans on same-sex marriage and discrimination against GLBT people in the realm of adoption and foster care. We look forward to the day when all states will grant equal access to the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage.

Next They’ll Be Blamed for Global Warming…

250benizri_ta_baobao1.jpgIn what can only be described as homophobia of seismic proportions, Knesset Member Shlomo Benizri of the Shas Party (at right) has blamed gays for the recent series of earthquakes in Israel.

Whaaaa?

Explaining his position, Benizri actually offered this earthshaking whopper:

A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes.

Ha’aretz has the story here. Read if you dare…

Pushing the Button

The world press is abuzz about the Israeli entry in this year’s Eurovision song contest: “Push the Button” by the Israeli rap group Teapacks. Contest organizers say they may ban the song because of its “inappropriate message.” Seems “Push the Button” is a semi-satirical song that expresses fear about nuclear war and crazy world rulers. (Guess who they might be referring too?)

If you’d like to read more, here’s an article about the controversy from JTA. Apparently the Eurovision folks are going to convene a meeting in Helsinki to figure out how to handle this. (Good lord!!)

Those of you who follow such things will note the irony in all of this: Israel WON the Eurovision contest back in 1998 with “Diva,” a song sung by Israeli transsexual Dana International. Apparently Eurovision’s tolerance extends to LGBT acceptance but not as far as concern over nuclear proliferation…

You can see a performance of “Push the Button” by clicking above. Politics notwithstanding, I personally think it’s a pretty lame song (though I do appreciate Teapacks’ attempt to deal with such a terrifying issue through humor).

For video of Dana International in her moment of victory, click below. (Viva la diva!)

Gays, Lesbians, and Conservative Judaism

glbt-magen.jpgThere’s been a great deal of discussion in the mainstream and Jewish press about the recent rulings by Conservative Judaism’s Committee of Law and Standards on the status of gay and lesbian Jews. (You can click here for a complete news report on the decision. If you’d like to wade through the various Rabbinical rulings in question, they are available on the Rabbinical Assembly’s website.)

The truly historic aspect of these rulings are represented by the following words, which come from the decision by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reiser:

This ruling effectively normalizes the status of gay and lesbian Jews in the Jewish community. Extending the 1992 CJLS consensus statement, gay and lesbian Jews are to be welcomed into our synagogues and other institutions as full members with no restrictions. Furthermore, gay or lesbian Jews who demonstrate the depth of Jewish commitment, knowledge, faith and desire to serve as rabbis, cantors and educators shall be welcomed to apply to our professional schools and associations.

In short, this means that three out of the four American Jewish denominations (Reform, Reconstructionist and now Conservative) now sanction the ordination of gay or lesbian rabbis as well as commitment cememonies between gay/lesbian partners. Those of us who have worked for GLBT inclusion and affirmation in Jewish life are profoundly gratified by this important new step. My own denomination, the Reconstructionist movement, has long led the charge in this regard (read here) and it is gratifying to see other movements now following suit. We can only hope these breakthroughs will have an impact upon American religious life beyond the Jewish community.

However, there is one other aspect of the Dorff/Nevins/Reiser opinion that has attracted some attention (or possibly caused some jaws to drop onto the floor):

The explicit Biblical ban on anal sex between men remains in effect. Gay men are instructed to refrain from anal sex.

In other words, the Conservative movement has voted to ordain gay rabbis and sanction gay commitment ceremonies, as long as gays (or at least gay men) refrain from having gay sex. (I know, I know, it must have been as strange for you to read these words as it felt for me to write them…)

Without going too far into the legal complexities of this issue, this prohibition comes from the verse in Leviticus 18:22: “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman: it is an abhorrence.” For a movement that views itself bound by halacha, or Jewish law, this particular Biblical prohibition presents a formidable challenge. The Dorff/Nevins/Reiser ruling thus represents a kind of legal middle ground. While the logic of this ruling might seem mystifying or even hypocritical to some, it is nevertheless an important step forward for a movement that views itself as bound by Jewish law and yet desires to be responsive to 21st century American life.

My Reconstructionist colleague Rabbi Amy Small (who serves Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Chatham, NJ) put it well recently on our Recon rabbinical listserve:

The decision is not what we’d want, but it is also not what many in the Conservative movement want. Given their internal struggles to both hold the movement together in a time of much internal division and their hope of remaining engaged in a halachic process, they may have moved as far as they could for the moment. That movement on this issue, however, is a significant directional shift. I applaud them for that and lend my support to those who will continue to work for change.

Another Recon colleague, Rabbi Mychal Copeland (who serves Stanford Hillel and belongs to a Conservative congregation) described the ruling as part of “the growing pains all denominations deal with at different moments in their evolution.” Mychal shared that she used to serve a congregation that struggled with her being a lesbian rabbi. She added, however:

The relationship progressed so well that when they decided to affiliate with the Conservative moment years later after I’d moved on, it was only under the condition that they could hire a GLBT rabbi if they so desired. That kind of change is how I see the recent ruling working on the ground. Gay rabbis have to be visible in order to change minds.

And at the end of the day, this is what the Conservative movement ruling will help to accomplish: the increasing visibility of gay rabbis and the increasing affirmation of gay Jews. Yes, perhaps it is only one small step. But for all the GLBT Jews who are currently wondering if there could ever be a place for them in the Jewish community, this small step might well make a world of difference.

Where do we go from here? Let’s dream a little. I’ll give the final word to my Recon colleague Rabbi Toba Spitzer (Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, Newton, MA):

I personally am looking forward to the time when all of this bizarre negative obsession with homosexuality by the hetero mainstream will be behind us and we can move on to solving problems like world hunger and war, instead of having to defend our basic humanity…

Parashat Vayera 5767

ab-angels.jpg“As soon as (Abraham) saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and, bowing to the ground, he said, ‘My lords, if it please you, do not go on past your servant. Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree.'” (Genesis 18:2-4)

According to commentators, Abraham’s and Sarah’s eagerness to receive the three strangers demonstrates the sacred value of hospitality (in Hebrew: “hachnasat orchim” – literally, “receiving of guests.”) Since we are told from the outset that this visit represents a divine revelation (18:1), the implication could not be clearer: receiving guests in our home is tantamount to bringing God’s presence into our midst.

Even more powerfully, this story suggests we must, like Abraham and Sarah, be particularly open and welcoming to the stranger. (According to the Midrash, Sarah’s tent was open on all four sides for precisely this reason: all were welcome.) In Jewish tradition, hospitality represents much more than mere etiquette: it is a profound moral challenge. This is all the more critical in our day – in the age of security fences, border guards and gated communities, true hachnasat orchim is fast becoming difficult, if not impossible to contemplate.

To drive this point home, Vayera contrasts the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah with the inhospitality of the citizens of Sodom. The Midrash, in fact, is replete with references to their brutal and inhumane treatment of the strangers in their midst. Indeed, this “radical inhospitality” is the true sin of Sodom. Though the Sodomites are more popularly associated with homosexuality, it is their attempt to rape and brutalize Lot’s guests – not their sexuality – that defines their crime.

Recent events in Jerusalem give our Torah portion a sadly ironic relevance. A Gay Pride march in Jerusalem, planned for today, was cancelled due to widespread threats of violence by ultra-orthodox demonstrators. (At last year’s parade, three parade participants were stabbed by an individual who was later arrested). Jerusalem police were preparing to mobilize 12,000 officers, which would have made it the most heavily secured event in the history of the State of Israel. Yesterday, it was announced that the organizers of the parade, Jerusalem Open House, had decided to hold the event in a stadium, rather than risk the possibility of more violence.

In the end, this radical inhospitality to a peaceful display of pride and tolerance in Jerusalem begs the question: who are the real Sodomites?