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Policies and teachings of Jewish groups about homosexuality

Overview

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Summary: Jewish religious groups and equal rights for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals:

All religions and various secular belief systems view human sexuality as a potential source of sin. Non-consensual sex, unsafe sex, manipulative sex, etc. are almost universally regarded as sinful. Many regard recreational sex as immoral, and teach that sexual behavior must be restricted to loving, monogamous, committed couples. Some insist that sexual activity is only moral within a marriage; some go further and require that it be only a marriage of a man and a woman.

But faith groups differ in their beliefs about homosexuality:

bullet Some teach that these same rules apply to homosexuals and bisexuals as well as heterosexuals -- that sexual activity is not sinful if it is consensual, safe, non-manipulative, and perhaps within a committed and/or married relationship.

bullet Others teach that homosexuality is an intrinsically disordered, abnormal, chosen, changeable, and unnatural behavior that is hated by God. Same-sex behavior is always regarded sinful, regardless of the nature of the relationship between the participants -- whether it be a one-night-stand or a loving, committed relationship.

It has become obvious that the current moral conflict in North America over same-sex unions and homosexual behavior is not a battle between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Further, it is not a conflict between Christians and homosexuals or Jews and homosexuals. It is most often between:

bullet Conservative religious groups, (whether from the conservative wings of the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or other faith), and

bullet Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals (LGBT), liberal faith groups, secular groups, therapists, professional mental health associations, etc.
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Jewish groups and LGBTs:

Pew Research Center polls during 2008 & 2009 showed that about 75% of Jewish adults supported SSM. At the time, support among the general American population was slightly less than 50%.

In 2012, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81% of American Jewish adults support allowing same-sex couples to marry. This compares to about 55% for all American adults. Of this 81% most (51%) support SSM strongly.

By political party:

  • Among Republicans, 48% of Jews favor allowing SSM while 51% are opposed. This is approximately twice the support of Republicans generally.
  • Among Democrats, 89% favor allowing SSM.

Support for SSM differs widely among American adults of different ages; older adults are much less supportive. However, among Jews, the age effect is muted. Older and younger adults both heavily support SSM. 3

Within the Jewish religious traditions, different groups tend to mirror those of other religions. What matters is not primarily the religion itself, but where the group lies on a continuum from the most conservative to the most liberal:

bullet The liberal wings of both Judaism and Christianity (e.g. Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and Progressive Christianity) generally accept homosexuality as a part of what a person is. They view it as a normal, natural sexual orientation for a minority of adults. Although they revere their holy texts, they also integrate the findings of scientific religion into their understanding of God's will. They acknowledge that the Scriptures do condemn certain male homosexual behavior, but liberal theologians argue that this criticism is only for very specific same-sex behaviors: notably the raping of strangers, homosexual prostitution for financial gain, and homosexual ritual sex in Pagan temples. None of that applies to committed, consensual same-sex partners. They emphasize the importance of equal "liberty and justice for all."

bullet The more conservative wings of both religions (e.g. Orthodox Judaism and the Southern Baptist Convention) typically view homosexuality as a behavior. They often view it as abnormal, unnatural, and condemned by God. They view their Scriptures as forbidding all homosexual behavior as a grievous sin, irrespective of the nature of the relationship of the participants.

From the most liberal to the most conservative, American Judaism is divided among:

bulletReconstructionist tradition (very small),
bulletReform (the largest group in the U.S.),
bulletConservative,
bulletOrthodox, and 
bulletUltra-orthodox

According to one survey, there are about 6 million Jews in the U.S. of whom only about a third are affiliated with a congregation. Of those who attend a synagogue:

bullet 38% are Reform. They officially supported SSM in the 1990s.

bullet 33% are Conservative. They have supported SSM since 2006.

bullet 22% are Orthodox. Although Modern Orthodox segment of the Orthodox tradition have debated SSM, no group has accepted SSM.

There are other similarities between Jewish and Christian groups. For example, many conservative Christian denominations and Jewish traditions do not recognize liberal faith groups as being part of their religion. For example, in 1997-MAR, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (Agudath Harabonim) formally declared:

"Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. Their adherents are Jews, according to the Jewish Law, but their religion is not Judaism. ..."

  1. "The Agudath Harabonim has always been on guard against any attempt to alter, misrepresent or distort the Halacha (Jewish Law) as transmitted in the written an oral law, given by G-d through Moses on Sinai. It has therefore, rejected recognition of Reform and Conservative movements as Judaism, or their clergy as Rabbis. It has publicly rebuffed the claim of 'three wings of Judaism.' There is only one Judaism: Torah Judaism. The Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all, but another religion."

  2. "The present declaration is not based upon a new decision in Jewish Law. It is as old as Sinai. It is only giving new emphasis and vehemence, sounding an alarm and warning signal, because of the new dangers wrought by the conservative and reform movements. Their condoning of interfaith marriages, null and void conversions, and homosexuality are repugnant not only to Torah Judaism, but also to common morality. Yet, they do this in the name of “Judaism.”

    This declaration is thus a clarion call to all, that despite their brazen usurpation of the titles 'Judaism,' 'Jewish Heritage,' 'Jewish Tradition,' 'Jewish Continuity,' Reform and Conservative are not Judaism at all. They are outside of Torah and Outside of Judaism. ..."

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2010-SEP: A typical conflict over the acceptance of same-sex marriage:

The New Jersey Jewish Standard weekly newspaper covers news of the Jewish communities in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties in New Jersey. Their coverage area includes many Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. In their 2010-SEP-24 edition, they included an engagement notice which was remarkable only because it involved two men: Avichai Smolen, 23, and Justin Rosen, 24.

By the next week's edition on OCT-01, the newspaper had received complaints from group of rabbis who had "conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox communities to this issue." The papers did not name the rabbis. The paper printed an article on its editorial page saying that it would no longer publish announcements of same-sex engagements. They apologized for "any pain we may have caused" to persons who oppose equality for persons of all sexual orientations.

On OCT-06, James Janoff -- the paper's publisher published a statement saying that they might have acted too quickly in printing the previous week's apology. He indicated that he would be meeting with rabbis and community leaders, and that the paper would publish reactions to the controversy. He wrote:

"We did not expect the heated response we got, and -- in truth -- we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community."

Justin Rosen, one half of the engaged couple, said:

"What bothers me most is that this is supposed to be a community newspaper and a community institution, and it’s not clear to me what the litmus test is for having one’s voice as part of [that] institution."

The couple had met when they were counselors at Camp Raman in Nyack, NY. Avichai Smolen works at Keren Or, the Jerusalem Center for Blind Children with Multiple Disabilities; Justin Rosen is a graduate student in Jewish studies and public administration at New York University. They were scheduled to be married by a Conservative rabbi on 2010-OCT 17.

Rabbi Yosef Adler, rosh yeshiva of the Torah Academy of Bergen County and rabbi of the Orthodox Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck said:

"Most people who I spoke to were appalled that this would be highlighted. The feeling was that the overwhelming majority of the [Orthodox] community was not pleased with that type of announcement."

Edward Zizmor, a Teaneck resident and member of a Conservative congregation, said:.

"Everybody’s livid over this. I think that the real issue here isn’t the gay marriage thing; it’s the idea that a group of unnamed Orthodox rabbis can dictate policy to a community paper."

Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News, which covers other counties in New Jersey, thought that the paper should have published the names of the complaining Orthodox rabbis. He said:

"I can only imagine the pressures they came under from Orthodox leaders. It’s important for the people who have such objections to identify themselves and explain their objections."

On OCT-05, Dan Savage, a nationally syndicated sex columnist described the New Jersey Jewish Standard's initial apology as:

"... cringing, craven, spineless, [and] bigoted."

Comments by the public on the paper’s website, their Facebook page, and Twitter account, mainly criticized the paper for their initial apology.

The Jewish Daily Forward wrote:

"Jewish newspapers appear to have broadly divergent policies on the publication of announcements of gay weddings and commitment ceremonies. The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent published its first announcement of a gay wedding last year; the New Jersey Jewish News did so this year. The Long Island-based 5 Towns Jewish Times, which serves a mostly Orthodox community, said that it would not publish a gay wedding announcement. Florida’s Jewish Journal and Boston’s Jewish Advocate said that they had never been asked to do so." 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "On Reform & Conservative Judaism," TrueJews.org, at: http://truejews.org/
  2. Josh Nathan-Kazis, "N.J. Jewish Paper In Knots Over Gay Nuptials," The Jewish Daily Forward, 2010-OCT-15, at: http://www.forward.com/
  3. Robert P. Jones,  & Daniel Cox, "Chosen for What? Jewish values in 2012," Page 24, Public Religion Research Institute, 2012-APR-04, at: http://publicreligion.org/  This is a PDF file.

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Site navigation: Home > Conflict > Homosexuality Religion > Judaism & homosexuality > here

or: Home > World religionsJudaism > Judaism & homosexuality > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-25
Latest update: 2012-OCT-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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