April 21, 2011
Reform Rabbi + LDS in TX: Sinai and Gay Marriage
Dr. Michael Freckleton, a personable radiologist, is an innovative stake president (stake = LDS diocese) in San Antonio, Texas. For the second year in a row he organized a two-day religious education conference (a mini-Limmud, if you will) featuring speakers from several states. On the first day, I had the honor of interviewing Reform Rabbi Barry Block, senior rabbi of the city’s largest synagogue. We drew the largest crowd of the conference, and I wish we had allotted more than 30 minutes for questions. Liberal Judaism was on display for a Mormon audience, and the contrast in theological reasoning could not have been more marked.
The most striking example of our divergent views on scripture and morality came during a discussion on same-sex marriage. I really wanted to know how God’s will was expressed in the marked shift in the Reform movement’s position in the last 20 years. For some reason Rabbi Block was unaware that the Reform movement officially opposed any kind of marriage for gays until the 1990s and only began sanctioning ‘rituals of union’ for gay couples in 2000. This gap in his knowledge caught me by surprise, considering that the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a responsum in 1985 stating “Judaism places great emphasis on family, children and the future, which is assured by a family. However we may understand homosexuality… we cannot accommodate the relationship of two homosexuals as a ‘marriage’ within the context of Judaism, for none of the elements of qiddushin (sanctification) normally associated with marriage can be invoked for this relationship. A rabbi can not, therefore, participate in the ‘marriage’ of two homosexuals.”
While I find myself agreeing more with the Orthodox in terms of doctrines and interpretation of scripture, an understanding of liberal Jewish thought and theology is indispensable in a country where the majority of Jews are liberal in both politics and pulpit. I am grateful to Rabbi Block for sharing his passion for tikkun olam with us, and wish him and all of my Jewish readers a hag sameach.
Those readers wishing to peruse a comprehensive list of documents on homosexuality and Reform Judaism can go to the following link: http://huc.edu/ijso/PoliciesResponsa/