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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776
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Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage; Rabbis Debate Homosexuality


President Barack Obama on Wednesday reversed his position on same-sex marriage.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday reversed his position on same-sex marriage.
Photo Credit: White House image

Rabbi Josh Yuter, a New York City congregational rabbi and one of the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) “Top 10 Jewish Influencers in Social Media,” no closed-minded Haredi right-winger by any stretch of the imagination, has published an eloquent response to the Greenberg same-sex chupa event in his blog “Yutopia.”

Yuter wrote: “Part of the allure of Modern Orthodoxy is its willing integration with the secular world and in legitimizing a wider range of religious lifestyles than their parochial counterparts. However, the religious proscriptions against homosexual activity must necessarily limit the extent of Modern Orthodoxy’s pluralism. While the topic of homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism has been discussed at length elsewhere, the frequent focus is on individuals struggling with their personal conflicting religious and sexual identities. In contrast, gay marriage is a public announcement and celebration of two people embracing a lifestyle forbidden by Jewish law.”

Rabbi Josh Yuter sees no possibility for Halachically sanctioned gay marriages.

Rabbi Josh Yuter sees no possibility for Halachically sanctioned gay marriages.

Yuter’s decisive conclusion is that “regardless of how Jewish communities accommodate the needs of gays in their respective communities, the formal recognition of a homosexual marriage – male or female – would in fact be condoning a halachically prohibited union, regardless of the private behaviors of the individuals. It would therefore follow that Rabbis who are committed to halacha should therefore not officiate or participate in these ceremonies, nor should halachic communities formally recognize the couple as such, as they would with any other union prohibited by Jewish law.”

Rabbi Yuter is one of several Orthodox rabbis who, unlike Rabbi Greenberg, do not suggest there is any halachic approval of marriage between two men or two women, but nevertheless advocate tolerance and acceptance of gay men and women seeking to belong to an Orthodox community.

Orthodox Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield, president of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (Rabbi Steven Greenberg happens to be a senior teaching fellow at CLAL), last year conducted an open, online discussion of gay marriages in America in the Washington Post.

While not exactly raising the banner of Orthodox gay marriages, Rabbi Hirschfield seemed to suggest, at least at one point, that Jewish law could be interpreted as being open, in theory, to homosexual relations:

“As to Jewish tradition, there are those who look to Leviticus and subsequent legal tradition which prohibits homosexual sex – not being gay, and say ‘no.’  Others  look to broad principles about human dignity – also rooted in the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic tradition – and say ‘yes.’

“It seems to me, that whatever one might say to the followers of their particular faith, unless one believes that each faith should aspire to making the United States into a theocracy in its own image — imposing it’s views on everybody — we need to distinguish between that which we teach to those who choose our respective faiths, and that for which we advocate as a shared norm.  The latter must almost always be wider than the former.  That too is a position with deep roots in Jewish tradition.”

Orthodox Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield thinks Jewish law could be interpreted as being open, in theory, to homosexual relations.

Orthodox Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield thinks Jewish law could be interpreted as being open, in theory, to homosexual relations.

Rabbi Meir Fund is quoted by a website serving Orthodox gays and lesbians, as saying: “We never heard that a Jew is barred from a shul because he is a sinner. If that was the policy of halacha, then I hate to tell you I doubt there would be a minyan in any shul. I have to believe that if someone is gay, that that’s an assignment from HaShem and that HaShem is somehow also sharing with that person not just the strength to carry out the assignment as best as they can but ultimately it’s part of the life purpose of that person to have struggled and worked with that particular issue, among others, to do the best they can. These are the secrets of the soul.”

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) last December issued a press release which, likewise, notes the difference between Orthodox Judaism’s treatment of the sin and the sinner:

“The Torah and Jewish tradition, in the clearest of terms, prohibit the practice of homosexuality. Same-sex unions are against both the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, which sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.

Yori Yanover

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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