Israeli Orthodox Rabbinical Group Calls for Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians

Beit Hillel organization presents opinion laying foundation for homosexual participation in religious communities.

Jerusalem's gay pride parade in 2015.
Emil Salman

Dozens of religious Zionist rabbis urged their communities last night to be tolerant of gays and lesbians, though stressing that the religious prohibition on gay sex remains unchanged.

“Although forbidden sexual relationships must not be permitted, there’s room for leniency in attitudes toward social inclusion and for accepting them into the community,” the rabbis wrote in a religious opinion issued by the Beit Hillel organization.

The opinion said gays could serve in “any communal capacity,” including leading prayer. The signatories’ goal, it added, was to present an approach that “combines law with compassion and peace” in order to “magnify the Torah and increase love, brotherhood and peace.”

But the document never uses the terms “gay” and “lesbian,” referring only to “people with homosexual orientations.”

Beit Hillel, which includes many prominent mainstream religious Zionist rabbis, worked on the opinion for a long time and presented it last night at a conference in Ra’anana. Participants included the parents of Shira Banki, who was murdered by an ultra-Orthodox man during Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade last August.

Orthodox rabbis in both America and Israel have spoken out against excluding gays and lesbians from religious communities. The most prominent Israeli rabbi to do so was Aharon Lichtenstein, a leading light of religious Zionism who died last year.

So while the new document isn’t groundbreaking, it represents a significant step forward toward Orthodox acceptance of gays and lesbians.

The document stated that while the Torah prohibits homosexual sex, it doesn’t prohibit homosexual orientation. “Therefore, people with homosexual orientations, men or women, are neither halakhically nor morally disqualified,” it said, referring to Jewish religious law. “They are obligated by the Torah’s commandments, can fulfill them for others and can serve in any communal capacity, like any other [community] member.

“Because of their sexual orientation, their lives are generally harder than those of others and they face many challenges. Unfortunately, there’s still a need to stress that homosexual orientation isn’t a reason for scorn or revulsion. ... [T]heir relatives and community must display special sensitivity toward them, fulfill[ing] the Torah commandment to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself.’”

The religious gay organization Havruta, which the rabbis consulted while drafting the document, termed it “historic.” It called the document “an extremely significant milestone in our ongoing battle for recognition, acceptance and inclusion” and hoped it would pave the way “for full recognition of us, our [sexual] relations and our families.”