Dozens of Israeli and U.S. Orthodox Rabbis Come Out in Support of LGBTQ Community

Missive by liberal religious leaders is response to a letter published last week by over 200 other rabbis, who labeled LGBT community ‘perverts’ and their behavior 'aggressive terrorism'

A member of the American LGBTQ community praying next to an ultra-Orthodox man at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, May 2016.
Eyal Warshavsky

In a rare show of solidarity, over 75 liberal Orthodox rabbis and educators from Israel and abroad have signed an open letter declaring their support for the LGBTQ community – following a vicious attack on it last week by the Orthodox establishment in Israel.

Organizers of the initiative, which was launched Tuesday, believe more of their peers will sign the letter before Thursday, when they intend to publish the final version to coincide with this year’s Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.

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The move comes in response to the letter published last Thursday by more than 200 Orthodox rabbis – including local chief rabbis and yeshiva heads – that described members of the LGBTQ community as “perverts” and their behavior as “aggressive terrorism.”

The original letter was meant as an expression of solidarity with Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern, who had come under fire for voicing opposition to same-sex couples raising children.

In their response letter in support of the LGBTQ community, the rabbis – all of whom identify as either Modern Orthodox or Open Orthodox – wrote: “It is clear and obvious that the use of insulting, hurtful words like ‘perverts’ directed against human beings created in the image of God is unacceptable and dangerous, all the more so when they come from rabbis who have been directed to ‘be very careful with your words.’ Questioning the normalcy of a precious group of people prepares the round for the terrible physical and verbal violence from which this group suffers on a daily basis.”

>> 'Agressive terror': Over 200 Israeli rabbis slam LGBT groups as 'deviants'

In their letter, the rabbis and educators also urged the Orthodox community to “redouble our efforts to turn our synagogues, homes and communities into safe and tolerant places for the LGBTQ community.

“Instead of hate, let us offer love,” they wrote. “Where others demean, let us strive for equality.”

Two years ago, Beit Hillel – an association of progressive-minded Orthodox rabbis – issued a call for greater inclusivity of gay men and lesbians. But never before have Orthodox rabbis issued such a strongly worded letter in support of the entire LGBTQ community.

Among the prominent U.S. rabbis signing the letter were Asher Lopatin, the former president of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York; Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder of Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice movement; Sara Hurwitz, the dean of Maharat – the first yeshiva to ordain women as Orthodox clergy; Yosef Kanefsky, the spiritual leader of B’nai David-Judea in Los Angeles; and Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg.

The Israeli signatories included Rachel Keren, head of the Beit Midrash for women at Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv; Zvi and Oshra Koren, the spiritual leaders of Congregation Kinor David in Ra’anana; and Devorah Evron, a halakhic scholar and prominent Orthodox feminist.

Among the organizers was Avidan Freedman, an Orthodox social activist and driving force behind the recent campaign to stop Israel from selling arms to rogue regimes.

“We’ve received great feedback from the LGBTQ community,” he told Haaretz. “They were very touched.”

The idea was initially raised in Torat Chayim, an association of progressive-minded Orthodox rabbis. Indeed, most of the rabbis who signed the letter are members of the association.

Zehorit Sorek, a prominent Orthodox lesbian activist, said it was the first time a group of Orthodox rabbis had declared publicly “that it is possible to embrace at once both LGBTQ and Orthodox identities,” adding, “This is the beginning of something big.”

In their letter, the Orthodox rabbis and educators wrote: “The verses ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’ are also written in the book of Leviticus, and as rabbis dedicated to a Torah ‘whose paths are pleasant, and all its ways are peace,’ we are forbidden from ignoring these verses, or from treating them lightly.”