A number of modern rabbis from various movements have attempted to interpret the traditional sources on homosexuality as they apply to gay Jews today. Three basic approaches seem to emerge: (1) a reaffirmation of the traditional prohibition, tempered by a call for compassion for homosexuals (i.e., reject the sin, not the sinner); (2) a rejection of the traditional prohibition in favor of fully embracing the sexual needs of gays; and (3) an attempt to rework the halakhah in light of our modern scientific understanding of homosexuality.
Rabbi Janet Marder of the Reform movement, who served as rabbi of the gay synagogue Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles, takes the second approach:
“I believe, and I teach my congregants, that Jewish law condemns their way of life. But I teach also that I cannot accept that law as authoritative. It belongs to me, it is part of my history, but it has no binding claim on me. In my view, the Jewish condemnation of homosexuality is the work of human beings—limited, imperfect, fearful of what is different and, above all, concerned with ensuring tribal survival. In short, I think our ancestors were wrong about a number of things, and homosexuality is one of them.”
“…In fact, the Jewish values and principles which I regard as eternal, transcendent and divinely ordained do not condemn homosexuality. The Judaism I cherish and affirm teaches love of humanity, respect for the spark of divinity in every person and the human right to live with dignity. The God I worship endorses loving, responsible and committed human relationships, regardless of the sex of the persons involved.”
Rabbi Marder embraces gays by rejecting the halakhah.
Some commentators have gone even farther by saying that an authentic Jewish theology must reject any repression of the inner sexual drive. True spirituality, they claim, can be found only in relationships, which must grow out of authentic erotic urges. For gays to deny their sexuality is to remove themselves from God; to avoid relationships because the Bible forbids them is to live a life of incompleteness. The most articulate spokesman for this approach is Christian theologian James B. Nelson:
“God…is the ‘Cosmic Lover,’ ceaselessly and unfailingly in action as love. God’s abiding purpose for humankind is that in response to divine action we should realize our intended humanity as human lovers—in the richest, broadest, and most responsible sense of the term.”
“…As persons our sexuality means the possibility of expressing and sharing a total personal relationship in love, a relationship which contributes immeasurably toward our intended destiny…Gay persons desire and need deep and lasting relationships just as do heterosexuals, and appropriate genital expression should be denied to neither.”
One Jewish thinker who has developed Nelson’s ideas in a Jewish context is Judith Plaskow, who calls for a new theology of sexuality connected to spirituality:
“If we see sexuality as part of what enables us to reach out beyond ourselves, and thus as a fundamental ingredient in our spirituality, then the issue of homosexuality must be placed in a somewhat different framework from those in which it is most often discussed. The question of the morality of homosexuality becomes one not of halakhah or the right to privacy or freedom of choice, but the affirmation of the value to the individual and society of each of us being able to find that place within ourselves where sexuality and spirituality come together. It is possible that some or many of us for whom the connections between sexuality and deeper sources of personal and spiritual power emerge most richly, or only, with those of the same sex could choose to lead heterosexual lives for the sake of conformity to halakhah or wider social pressures and values. But this choice would then violate the deeper vision offered by the Jewish tradition that sexuality can be a medium for the experience and reunification of God.”
Plaskow maintains that for a homosexual to be involved in a heterosexual relationship out of conformity to halakhic standards would be a transgression. A gay man or woman can find true spirituality, which is the ultimate goal of the Torah, only in a living homosexual relationship. To Plaskow, not only is homosexuality not a sin, it becomes a mitzvah.
The following article is reprinted with permission from
Does God Belong in the Bedroom?