Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Sarah McCulloch responds to a recent comment piece by Oliver Kasin and says life is getting easier for LGBT Jews in the UK.
I love being Jewish and I wouldn’t change being bisexual for the world. They are both intrinsically part of who I am. But it’s hardly surprising that a faith of 3,000 years standing can come with some historical baggage, including a traditional disdain for homosexuality. There’s so-called “clobber verses” in the Torah which allegedly prohibit same-sex sexual activity. There are references in the liturgy (public worship) that can be uncomfortable. Sometimes, with just 300,000 Jews in the UK and under a tenth of them being LGBT, you can feel a little isolated.
The Bible itself has a long history of interpretation, and particularly in the Jewish community, of reinterpretation. The numerous references to the death penalty, including for homosexuality, were legislated away a long time ago. There’s a story in the midrash of a prominent rabbi walking in on two men having sex, and one of them says that, as Jewish law requires two witnesses, there is nothing that the one of him can do. The rabbi agrees and walks off! So even then, the rabbis were concerned to limit the applications of the law. Since then, many Torah scholars far greater than I, have confronted the “clobber verses” head on and proffered sincere and progressive interpretations, so I will say no more other than to direct you to Google. But the words of the Bible, so often used against us, are now read and studied by us alongside everyone else.
This is why it is so important for rabbis and Jewish community leaders to stand up for the Jews in their care. And though the Orthodox have made cautious moves towards the inclusion of LGBT Jews in their communities, seeking to offer pastoral care but not religious acceptance, the Progressive movements have gone as far as they can. In my synagogue, al chet, the prayer of repentance recited on Yom Kippur, has been changed in translation from referring to “sexual deviancy” to “misuse of sex”. So now you can feel guilty only for the sins you did, not the people. I wouldn’t say that my rabbi is a prominent cheerleader for gay rights, but every time he casually mentions us from the bimah, I cannot help but reflect that we’ve come a long way from when being gay was a dirty word, unspoken and unmentioned at all.
But even if your family and your neighbours have no problem with you, you can still find yourself feeling like you’re the only gay in the shul. But people are working on that too. Nationally, Keshet UK, a group for LGBT Jews, started up in 2011 is making great strides in raising awareness of LGBT issues in Jewish schools, synagogues and groups. I support Keshet Manchester, a regional group that started in 2007. Gay Jews in London now has hundreds of members. So we’re starting to organise ourselves so that Jews throughout the UK can know that they are not alone.
I was so pleased, therefore, when the Movement of Reform Judaism resolved, along with Liberal Judaism, to call for the right to perform religious same-sex marriages and have been lobbying the Coalition government hard on that point ever since. I personally don’t want a civil wedding, and it has been very frustrating to know that the gender of the person that I end up wanting to marry would determine whether I would have to have one or not. Now, given that my shul is just waiting for the law to change, and with Labour already committed to religious same-sex marriage, it is a matter of time for Progressive Jews before we will be able to marry without regard to gender. Soon, we will all be Jews together. What a glorious thing.
The views expressed in the piece by Sarah McCulloch are her own and not that of PinkNews.co.uk