More than 60 US rabbis have signed a declaration calling for Jewish communities to be accepting and tolerant of lesbian and gay people.
The declaration, signed by prominent rabbis and community leaders, says that homosexual sex and same-sex marriage remain prohibited by Judaism’s laws (halakhah) but urges faith leaders and communities to treat gay people with “dignity and respect”.
It was formulated after a panel debate on Judaism and homosexuality six months ago in New York.
The declaration says that it is “irrelevant” whether people are born or choose to become gay as the faith obliges all adherents to treat people respectfully, with gays and lesbians becoming full members of synagogues and schools.
It states that gay people must not be forced to undergo ‘conversion’ therapy and notes that many people believe the controversial techniques do not work or may cause harm.
The declaration also cautions against homophobia, saying: “Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism”.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, statement co-author Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, of New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, said: “A group of educators decided it was time to give people some guidance on this sensitive matter.
“I’m sure there will be people on the right who won’t like it and people on the left who will say it hasn’t gone far enough, but that’s the nature of trying to write a balanced document and trying to be as inclusive as possible.”
He added: “We want Jews of this orientation to not feel shunned. The goal is now for communities to take up the challenge of fidelity to halakhah on the one hand, and embrace people of homosexual orientation and their families as much as we can on the other.”
Although the statement says that halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the “ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression”, it says that Judaism does not prohibit same-sex attraction.
Rabbis and communities are urged to be “sensitive and empathetic” to gay people undergoing “emotional and psychological challenges”, while being aware that gay and lesbian young people may have a heightened risk of suicide and self-harm.
‘Outing’ people who do not wish to announce their sexuality is unacceptable, the statement’s authors say.
The declaration says that Judaism cannot recognise gay weddings or blessings but says that communities should display “sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews”.
Synagogues should be permitted to make their own decisions on whether to welcome gay members who are not celibate, the statement says.
Finally, it states that gays and lesbians should not, “under most circumstances”, be encouraged to marry an opposite sex partner, as this can cause “great tragedy”.