Title: Judaism and LGBT Rights Credit: Craig Young Comment Monday 9th July 2007 - 2:58pm1183949880 Article: 4622 Rights
In today's Melbourne Age, a gay Jewish couple is celebrating their commitment ceremony before an unspecified rabbi and denominational congregation. What perspectives does Judaism have about homosexuality? As with Christianity, Judaism has a range of perspectives. As with fundamentalist Christians, there is an Orthodox Right, although its pressure groups are miniscule. Progressive Jews dismissively refer to organisations like Towards Tradition, Jews for Life and Jews for Morality as misguided co-belligerents for the Christian Right, which has swept its earlier anti-Semitic affiliations under a bulging carpet. Often, such pressure groups are limited to either the United States or Israel. Curiously too, they lack theological elaboration of their antigay beliefs. So, what are these beliefs? According to Leviticus 18.22, homosexuality should be treated as a to'evah, or abomination, next to incest, idolatry, eating unclean food or economic injustice. Rabbinical opinion backed away from the death penalty for gay men, and even corporal punishment was restricted to cases where two gay men were caught having anal sex together. Insofar as lesbians went, they were ruled out because of its alleged existence in Canaanite territories. Even the more esoteric and mystical Kabbalah tradition has homophobic roots, affirming the mystical sanctity of sex, but only in the context of heterosexual procreation. One wonders whether Madonna is privy to this knowledge? Like Catholicism, though, Orthodox Judaism is not homogenous. At onepole are the Haredi, a Hasidic Orthodox extremist sect which believes that homosexuality is an act of deliberate rebellion against Yahweh, and that this 'perversion' of humanity's reproductive purpose can be countered through 'reparative therapy.' Like British Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jakobovits, conservative Orthodox Jews hold that homosexuality results from a hedonist ethic of deliberate 'choice' against heterosexuality, although some more enlightened US and British Orthodox Jews refer to it as 'ones', an 'accident' that is 'beyond one's control.' Apart from Israel and areas of the United States though, there are other ways of being Jewish. Conservative Judaism's Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Laws and Customs believes that gay conduct can be combined with a religiously observant Jewish existence, and their rabbinical seminaries also admit lesbian and gay candidates for ordination. However, individual congregations have autonomy, and the Rabbinical Assembly's authority does not extend to more traditionalist Conservative synagogues outside the United States. In addition, blessing same-sex weddings is still problematic. If Conservative Judaism is reminiscent of Anglicanism, then its more progressive denomination, Reform Judaism, has ethical insights akin to liberal Christianity. Since 1990, the Central Conference of American Rabbis has allowed lesbian and gay ordination, and in 1996, it even went so far as to allow civil weddings. Presiding at religious same sex weddings was an issue until 2000, although the CCAR still opposed banning same-sex civil marriage. In 2000, it left it up to individual rabbis, their congregations and consciences whether or not they wanted to preside at religious same-sex weddings. Reconstructionist Judaism is smaller, but has the most progressive record of all, ordaining lesbian and gay rabbis since 1985, and not barring its rabbis from officiating at religious same-sex weddings. What explains this diversity? Nineteenth century Jewish emancipation, liberal modern religious and secularist elements within Jewish culture and the Holocaust all contributed to this diversity. As noted above, some US and IsraeliOrthodox Right organisations do align themselves with the Christian Right, although the existence of residual Christian Right anti-Semitism has made it difficult to explain their actions to the rest of religious and ethnic Judaism. However, Reform and some Conservative Jews counter this through liberal co-belligerency. In New Zealand, a smaller national Jewish community and the continued existence of the League of Rights has made such relationships fraught, given the gullibility and fellow-travelling of some elements of militant fundamentalism here. In addition, just as we have to put up with the so-called 'ex-gay' movement, so there is "Jews for Jesus", which seeks to subordinate Judaism's independent identity to fundamentalist Christianity, and leading to frictions with Orthodox Jews over the historical practice of their faith. Moreover, given the existence of the League of Rights too, there is some common cause with the Jewish community over the need for hate speech curbs. Judaism may contain a diversity of beliefs about homosexuality, butit also contains some highly inclusive congregations and traditions as well. One should not judge Judaism by the actions of a tiny right-wing Orthodox minority. Craig Young - 9th July 2007    
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