Three leading Modern Orthodox rabbis and personal teachers of mine (Nathaniel Helfgot, Aryeh Klapper, and Yitzchak Blau) recently released a statement of principles on how Orthodoxy can and must relate to homosexuals in our community. This document, which has now been signed by over 100 Orthodox rabbis and educators, was carefully drafted over the course of 6 months and “revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals, and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.”
While this statement is far from perfect, it officially marks the beginning of the Orthodox community’s willingness to wrestle with this complex issue and is a huge step forward. These principles have been framed, from the start, with a tone of compassion, love, and inclusion. It states that “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.”
The book of Kohelet (7:20) teaches us that “there is no person so wholly righteous on earth who (always) does good and never wrong.” We all, at times, act in ways that the Torah seems to deem inappropriate, and we must remember to be more compassionate with one another, because each of us struggles religiously and ethically in different ways.
Our whole-hearted acceptance of the dignity of homosexuals should lead us to advocate for homosexuals to be treated as full and equal citizens in the public sphere in addition to the synagogue. Gay Americans have been shamed and weakened by religious institutions across the country, and attacking the vulnerable, ha’neheshalim, is a characteristic of Amalek. We are commanded to remember the injustice of Amalek’s actions, and we must be vigilant neither to emulate nor to tolerate such behavior.
I am proud to be a signer of this Orthodox communal statement, and I look forward to following the courageous leaders guiding these new deliberations in order to ensure that our halakhic communities are just, fair, and continue to honor all of our enduring Jewish values.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Jewish Educator at UCLA and a 5th year PhD candidate at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology.