Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, LGBT campaigner Oliver Kasin talks of how his Orthodox Jewish faith has created a personal conflict due to his sexuality. He would also like the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks to end his opposition to equal marriage.
Last week was the twenty five hour Jewish fast day, Yom Kippur. The name Yom Kippur means ‘Day of Atonement’ or ‘Day of Judgement’ and is the final day of a ten day period known as the ‘Ten Days of Repentance’. Every year, Jews will take the time to look inwards, make plans for the future and assess the sins they have made in the past year.
Yom Kippur is the day in which God makes his final decisions for each Jewish person about the coming year, before inscribing them into the Book of Life. This Yom Kippur, I started the fast in the normal fashion, without any expectation of what was ahead of me. Little did I know, but this Yom Kippur would soon become a personal judgement of my own Jewish Orthodoxy.
One of the prayers consists of tapping your chest by your heart and saying sorry to God for various sins that have been done during the last year. I reached one of the sins, ‘sexual deviancy’ and was suddenly flooded with discontent. Here I was, saying sorry to God for a variety of sins I believe in, only to reach a sin that I consider to include as part of my identity as a gay man. ‘Sexual deviancy’ is any sexual relationship outside of Jewish heterosexual marriage and is seen by many to include or imply homosexuality. It was then that I decided I could not continue with my prayers. It made no sense to me to be saying words that completely contradicted who I am.
As someone who has spoken publicly about my sexuality before, I have also acknowledged and embraced my Jewish Orthodox upbringing. Orthodox parents, Orthodox synagogue, Orthodox schools. I was even heavily involved with the Orthodox Youth Movement. My upbringing was great, but it was always the religious Orthodox, not the cultural Jewish side, of my life that made my coming out harder. I have had nothing but acceptance from friends and family, regardless of religiosity.
There are many Jews who practice the cultural parts of the religion, the community element, rather than the Orthodox religious theologies and practices. However, it was the Jewish Orthodox theology that made my coming out tough, as I have always considered myself an Orthodox Jewish man.
The UK coalition government has recently held a consultation on equal marriage. The reaction from the Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the leader of the United Synagogue, and the London Beth Din (court of the chief Rabbi), was out right dismissal of the measure:
“While Judaism teaches respect for others and condemns all types of discrimination, we oppose a change to the definition of marriage that includes same-sex relationships. Jewish (Biblical) Law prohibits the practice of homosexuality. It therefore follows that same-sex unions are against Jewish Law,” Chief Rabbi Sacks said.
This is not a great comfort to someone who was brought up Orthodox, but I am not going to deny a part of who I am because of this statement. As a gay man, I am pleased that there is the existence of civil partnerships, so that same-sex couples in the name of the state can cement their relationships.
However, that is not enough for me. I have always wanted, like many others from the homosexual community, to get married. Civil partnerships are not enough, not only because of the differences in legality, but also due to the sheer difference in etymology. The Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din’s statement contradicts itself, disagrees with the notion of homosexuality and denies same-sex unions, systematically pushing me away from the community I was brought up in.
The community that I grew up in had many benefits that are heavily linked to being part of a religious setting. There are frequent and set opportunities for families and communities to have a chance to congregate, along with religious festivals that allow you to spend time and celebrate with those you love most.
These are some of the many elements that make being part of a religious community such as mine so fantastic. However, the downside is the hermeneutic usages of the biblical text that attacks same-sex acts. This leaves myself and many other Jewish Orthodox people in such a dilemma. Do we turn our backs on a community that we hold so dear to us because of the interpretation of just some of the biblical text? Or do we remain in the community, regardless, because of the comfort it provides?
Sadly, the conclusion I have reached is that while same-sex marriage and homosexuality have no place in Orthodox Jewish life, then Orthodox Judaism has no place in mine. I cannot simply ignore the fact that contained within its teachings are elements that not only disagree with my ‘lifestyle’, but also seek for me to apologise and feel guilty for who I am.
However, this does not mean turning my back on the Jewish community as a whole. There are other Jewish movements to explore and cultural traditions to maintain. My Judaism is still as integral to who I am as my homosexuality. Nevertheless, the only way for me to return to Orthodoxy is if it changes its motifs to include homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I do not intend on telling other homosexual Orthodox people to make a choice, because that is for them to decide. All that I intend to show is that eventually, a choice has to made. Not because I wish to make one, but because unfortunately, I have to.
The views expressed in the piece by Oliver Kasin are his own and not that of PinkNews.co.uk