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Jewish Controversy Over Gay Rights

14/08/2017 12:46

Perhaps it is no coincidence that, fifty years after the decriminalisation of homosexuality, there has been a major controversy within the Orthodox Jewish world.

It all started back in June when a prominent strictly Orthodox rabbi, Bassous, labelled another Orthodox rabbi as "corrupt" and "dangerous" for speaking out about gay love. The person being criticised was Rabbi Joseph Dweck, the senior rabbi of the Spanish and Portugese Sephardi community, who came over from America three years ago and has since made a big impact through his modern attitude (albeit within Orthodox parameters).

The problem started when he gave a talk on contemporary issues in which he said that the revolution in feminism and homosexuality in society at large had been "a fantastic development".

This was a seen as a major departure by some sections of Orthodoxy, who see feminism as a challenge to the natural (male) order and who regard homosexuality as, in the words of the Bible, "an abomination" (Leviticus 18.22).

In reality, what he said was not quite so controversial, for the greater tolerance of gays in wider society in recent years has led a number within the Orthodox rabbinate to rethink their position, distinguishing between homosexual practice (which they still regard as forbidden) and homosexual orientation (which is not).

This more open approach has extended to not stigmatising gay people, saying that, providing they do not practise, they should be treated just like anyone else. This differs from responses in previous decades about undergoing therapy to make them heterosexual, or taking medication, (never proven to have worked), along with suggestions that they simply repress their feelings, marry and have children.

By distinguishing between sex and love, the biblical ban has been maintained, but it allows a gay person to be who they are, a line that Rabbi Dweck was advocating. It begs the question of 'well if that's the case, why was he attacked so vehemently?'

The answer is that it is partly to do with the fear of change, while the fact that it is being suggested from within Orthodoxy, makes it harder for them to resist than if it came from someone outside the fold whom they could dismiss as irrelevant.

There is also an element of religious politics, a rivalry between factions within Orthodox who are competing to be seen as the true leaders. It is a battle between those who wish engage with wider society and those who wish to have no compromise with it.

What is truly sad is those caught in the crossfire: Orthodox gays who wish to remain within traditional Judaism, but who find it increasingly difficult. However, they can find a home with Reform and Liberal synagogues, who do see them as fully equal and who follow the law of the land in permitting same-sex marriages.

Reform and Liberal rabbis would revise the words of Genesis 1.27 and extend them, saying not only that 'God created people male and female', but also heterosexual and homosexual. We are all God's creatures and all to be treated equally.

For us, one can be religious and gay, Jewish and homosexual, and there is simply no contradiction. In fact, the inability to be both would be a mockery of religious values and Jewish ethics. It is a shame that gay rights have become enshrined in law but not yet in
the mindsets of all people of faith. But progress is being made, and, hopefully, the tide of tolerance will prove impossible to resist.

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