Proposition 8 was overturned in part because it placed “the force of [U.S.] law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians,” according to a ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. Just days before, in a statement released in late July that draws extensively on Jewish law, a group of Orthodox rabbis and educators wrote that even though halachah prohibits homosexual sex and same-sex relationships, gay Jews in their communities shouldn’t be subjected to social stigma.
“Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions,” the statement says. By Aug. 4, the day of the court ruling blocking Prop. 8, more than 150 Orthodox rabbis and educators worldwide had signed the “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community.”
“Halakha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction,” the carefully worded statement says; “Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community.”
The statement says gay Jews, even those that “engage in same sex interactions,” should be “encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability.” Though the statement does not take a stance on the efficacy of therapies designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, it says gay Jews who consider those therapies “useless or dangerous” have the right to turn them down. The decision about whether or not to reveal one’s sexual orientation is also left up to the individual.
The statement does not endorse alternatives to heterosexual marriage, saying that, “Halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression.” It also leaves certain key decisions up to individual communities. Whether to admit “openly practicing homosexuals” as members of their synagogues, or to restrict certain religious offices even from celibate gay Jews, is left up to the individual community.
Orthodox rabbis who did not sign the statement have been mostly quiet thus far. “There is a basic reluctance on the part of many opponents of the statement to speak publicly about this issue, because of the sensitivities about modesty matters,” Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, N.J. wrote in an email.
Pruzansky is vice president of the northeast region for the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the world’s largest association of Orthodox rabbis. “The fact that so few RCA members have signed on—we are a rabbinical body of more than 1000 Rabbis—is testimony enough,” Pruzansky wrote. Many of those who did sign the statement are affiliated with Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), an Orthodox rabbinical program whose graduates are not allowed to join the RCA.
YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss signed the statement, as did a number of other YCT instructors and graduates. Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, the chair of the bible and Jewish thought departments at YCT, drafted the statement with input from and revisions by rabbis and scholars, mental health professionals and others over the course of six months. It comes less than a year after a panel at Yeshiva University called “Being Gay in the Orthodox World” brought the issue to the fore.
The full text is available at http://statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com/.