History of Jewish Lesbianism

A chronological outline of Jewish views of lesbianism from biblical to modern times.

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The gay and lesbian synagogue movement, which began in the early 1970s, also provided a locus for lesbians to explore religious identity. There are gay and lesbian synagogues in most metropolitan centers in the United States. Several of those synagogues have lesbian rabbis, including Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City, which named Sharon Kleinbaum, a graduate of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, as their first rabbinic leader in 1992. Reform rabbis Denise Eger and Lisa Edwards both serve gay and lesbian congregations in Los Angeles.

The 1990s have borne witness to a growing interest in lesbian issues in the Jewish community. Articles have been published in the Jewish press. Symposia and conferences have been held by mainstream Jewish organizations. Some synagogues have incorporated discussions of lesbian issues into their agenda and actively welcome lesbian and gay members. These activities have made it possible for lesbian Jews to feel welcome in the Jewish community.

Yet lesbian Jews continue to voice concerns that go beyond acceptance and toleration. They seek a reinterpretation of Jewish values, including the assumption that heterosexuality is normative. They desire inclusion of their visions and stories as part of a reconstructed Jewish textual tradition. And they aim to create an environment of complete comfort in which to claim their identity and celebrate the occasions of their lives.

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Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert

Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert is Co-Director of the Women's Studies Program and Assistant Professor of Religion and Women's Studies at Temple University.