Photo Credit:
Openly Gay Orthodox Israelis / Image Courtesy of Havruta

The Rabbinic organization Beit Hillel — Attentive Torah Leadership on Sunday issued an extensive opinion calling on Orthodox communities to include gays and lesbians in the entire gamut of religious life, including acceptance in the synagogue and, for the men, Torah aliyahs and even leading the congregation in prayer — while not endorsing the homosexual act itself which is forbidden by the Torah.

The document was introduced Sunday night at a forum in Ra’anana that included the parents of the late Shira Banki who was murdered during the Jerusalem gay pride parade last summer. Titled “The Community and People with Same-Sex Tendencies — A Position Paper in the Spirit of Halakha,” the Beit Hillel document stresses that the “prohibition against same-sex relations is from the Torah. And the Torah is eternal and will never be replaced, which is why there is no way to permit same-sex relations.” Nevertheless, the Beit Hillel document continues, “according to Torah it is the actions which are prohibited and not the tendency, and therefore people with same-sex tendencies, men and women, are not halakhically or morally blemished per se. They are obligated by the Torah commandments, may be counted on to “be motzi” the congregation (as in leading the congregation in prayer and reading the haftorah), and serve in every communal capacity like any other member. [Still,] because of their sexual tendencies their lives are usually harder than others’ and they face many challenges.”

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The document is not revolutionary in its halakhic decisions, separating between the sin and the sinner. It essentially follows the path laid down by the late Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a world authority in Jewish law who was also a national-religious Orthodox Jew and dean of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Judea. He suggested that there was no difference between the level of sin of a homosexual couple and that of a Jew desecrating the Shabbat. In fact, it could be said that the latter sin may be considered worse because it is often committed in public, while the intimate sin is more likely to take place in the privacy of one’s home.

The Beit Hillel document is more interested in the treatment of gays by the individual Orthodox communities than it is with offering innovative solutions to Orthodox gays. It prohibits shaming or otherwise humiliating gays, and, in fact, since Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria opined that the knowledge of how to rebuke properly has been lost to us (Arakhin 16b), we should probably abstain from publicly rebuking gay people.

The rabbinic organization Beit Hillel was founded in 2012 by Religious-Zionist rabbis led by Rabbi Ronen Neubert who was the CEO until 2015. Other renowned members are Rabbis Meir Nehorai, Ohad Tehar-Lev, Yehuda Gilad, Amnon Bazak, Shlomo Riskin, Esther Rosenberg, head of the Women’s Beit Misdrash in Migdal Oz, and Dr. Aviad HaCohen, dean of Shaarei Mishpat College. Beit Hillel receives most of its funding from abroad.

Rabbi Nhorai, the new CEO of Beit Hillel, told the Ra’anan forum Sunday night: “It’s no secret that we have preferred to ignore and nor debate this topic. It was beyond the boundaries. The time has come to deal bravely and honestly with ways to include [gays] in the community. The success depends on both sides together. [It requires new] thinking inside the community but also by the LGBTs. This is a process and not a magical solution — today we’ve opened the dialog.”

According to Ha’aretz, the Havruta organization of Orthodox gays, described the Beit Hillel document as “historic” and a “significant milestone in our ongoing struggle for recognition, acceptance and inclusion without having to go back into the closet. We are proud of the fact that our position was considered in the writing of this historic document, and hope that it will open a conversation among equals.”

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6 COMMENTS

  1. If this is the same Hillel that is found in US Universities, whereas it is an inclusive organisation with some excellent programmes such as that of Colombus, Ohio it is not an organisation catering for exclusively Orthodox students such as Chabad Lubavich and therefore may not be termed Orthodox. Regarding Homosexuality it is the act (whether in private or public) which is considered an abomination for which there is no penitence or pardon. The tendency however is not a transgression provided there is no act. For the sake of not spreading misinformation, please let us be careful in our reporting.

  2. Don't be foolish. Having dishonest weights and measures is an "abomination". Eating seafood is an "abomination". What's forbidden is forbidden. Hashem doesn't need you treating Jews like dirt because you happen to think that being gay is worse than everything else.

    And… "Sodomah"? Really?

  3. Is Esther rosenberg considered an orthodox rabbi? Hasn't "Rabbi" Shlomo Riskin come out as "Open-Orthodoxy"? If they are a part of this group of so-called orthodox rabbis, how can the group be considered orthodox? Also, since it states in the Torah that homosexuality is a sin, and as long as a man is performing homosexual acts he is considered sinning, how can we then give him the honor of leading the services or of even getting an aliyah l'Torah? Every day, every moment that they are considering themselves gay, they are sinning.

  4. Being gay is not a sin, and whereas I understand where people come from when they state its against religious context. Most people are born gay, did they ask to be gay! Its a state of no return and many difficulties. Gay people are intelligent, peaceful, socially acceptable throughout the world. Being accepted into the religion that they were born into, I believe is a life giving mainstay in a very difficult world (made even more difficult because they are labelled different).

    Who is to say who is sinning these days? in the name of religion people are chopping off other peoples heads,????

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