Orthodox Communities Struggle with LGBT Acceptance

The anti-LGBT “Torah Declaration on Homosexuality” endorsed by ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky is just one of many voices in the Orthodox Jewish community speaking out about LGBT people. Although Rabbi Kamenetsky claims to have about 130 signatures from other rabbis and health professionals on his document, his view is far from the only one held among his community.

The Modern Orthodox community last year released a statement that encourages the full integration of LGBT Jews into religious communities and emphasizes respect and human dignity. Although the statement stops short of condoning relationships of gay and lesbian couples, it was a huge step forward in terms of LGBT acceptance among the Modern Orthodox community.

Jayson Littman noted in his article about the Torah declaration, UK-based Rabbi Chaim Rapoport acknowledges that so-called “ex-gay” therapies do not work and can lead to bigger issues, such as depression. A similar understanding led Mordechai Levovitz, a co-founder of Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), to attend this year’s Nefesh conference for Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals. Although Levovitz attended the conference as an individual and not officially on behalf of JQY, his presence marked the first time any LGBT organization has had any representation at a Nefesh event. JQY works specifically with LGBT Orthodox Jews to promote acceptance and community. Levovitz says that his experience at the Nefesh conference was positive overall, and many attendees were supportive of his presence. Malka Engel, a therapist who practices in Manhattan and on Long Island, says “people need to hear that there is a gay population in the Orthodox community that needs to be integrated.” Unlike previous years, JONAH, a Jewish “ex-gay” program was not present.

Of course, there is still a struggle for those who believe that halakah (Jewish law) prohibits relationships between gay and lesbian couples. Although few are as unsympathetic as Rabbi Kamenetsky, most Orthodox Jews do not condone relationships or marriage between gay and lesbian couples. Those who are supportive, like Rabbi Steve Greenberg, who studied at Yeshiva University and is ordained in the Modern Orthodox tradition, are often lone voices open to criticism from their peers.

It’s important to remember that the vast majority of Jews are supportive of LGBT people, and it is encouraging to see Orthodox Jews also moving along a trajectory of acceptance. But change takes time, and it is clear that change is slowly taking place. GLAAD is pleased to see these changes and hopes that the Orthodox communities can continue to move toward acceptance of LGBT Orthodox Jews fully and completely.