Rejecting Halakhah

Some Jewish thinkers condone homosexuality, despite the condemnation of homosexual sex in Jewish law.

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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.”

gay couple“…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.”

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Rabbi Michael Gold

Rabbi Michael Gold is the rabbi at Temple Beth Torah, Tamarac Jewish Center in Tamarac, Florida. He is the author of four books, and his articles have appeared in Moment, Judaism, Jewish Spectator, B'nai Brith International Jewish Monthly, and numerous other publications. He also served as co-chair of the Rabbinical Assembly's committee on human sexuality.