A prominent Religious-Zionist Israeli rabbi said in a documenet posted on motzei Shabbos that Jewish law does not forbid LGBTQ people from raising a family. (In Israel, Yom Tov ended with the conclusion of Shabbos.)
“This overview does not seek to permit what is forbidden or forbid what is permitted. It is an attempt to pave a way for a possible life while finding a life,” wrote Rabbi Benny Lau, formerly of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, in a set of guidelines for observant LGBTQ Jews and their families
In the past, Rabbi Lau has drawn ire from some in his community for his progressive positions on a range of issues, including LGBTQ acceptance.
At the start of the document, titled ”Couplehood and Relationships for Members of the LGBTQ+ Community,” Rabbi Lau notes that he wrote it after watching the documentary film “Marry Me However,” which he calls “shocking.”
The film tells of LGBT men and women who, to comply with Torah laws and be accepted into their families and religious communities, marry against their own sexual orientation. Rabbi Lau said those attracted to members of the same sex should not attempt to enter heterosexual marriage if they are repulsed by their partner.
The guidelines, published on Rabbi Lau’s Facebook page, seek to welcome LGBTQ Jews into Jewish communities within the constraints of religious law.
Jewish law “does not forbid members of the LGBTQ community from raising children and building a family,” though halachic issues may arise for couples who use surrogacy or a sperm donor in order to have children, he writes. He affirmed that LGBTQ couples and their children should be full members of the community and that their dignity should not be harmed.
Rabbi Lau also discouraged family members of LGBTQ Jews from encouraging conversion therapy, a debunked practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation.
He emphasized that the guidelines are not meant as a ruling on matters of Jewish law, but are aimed at finding ways for LGBTQ Jews to manage their family lives within religious communities.
Like Modern Orthodox communities in the United States, Israel’s Religious Zionist community has struggled in recent years with the tension between the Torah’s prohibition on homosexual relationships and the increased acceptance of LGBTQ people in the secular world. The guidelines are significant because of Rabbi Lau’s prominence and because few Orthodox rabbis have been willing to speak out in favor of LGBTQ acceptance.
Rabbi Lau’s guidelines address the issue of same-sex weddings, for which he says there is no “no acceptable solution” within a Jewish religious framework. “Halachic marriage for men and women in the LGBTQ+ community does not exist in the religious world,” he wrote. Still, he said the impulse to marry and have one’s relationship publicly affirmed is “understandable” and should not be ignored. Creating an alternative ceremony that does not attempt to “imitate” a traditional Jewish wedding may reduce the reluctance of religious family members to participate, he said.
“There are very few who want to cut ties with a son or daughter who comes out of the closet, but the way in which it should be handled in family and community life is very unclear, and there is a need to map out a guide,” Rabbi Lau said, adding that some people want to adhere to the ideas of the Torah by ignoring reality, and there are those who seek to “correct” reality by giving up on the ideas of the Torah.
“But a person who wants to fully worship G-d in this world must get used to holding onto the ideas of the Torah as well as reality, and living with them both. This is always harder, and often leaves us without an answer, without understanding, and sometimes frightened at the gap between heaven and earth,” Rabbi Lau writes.
Rabbi Lau states that it is a mistake to hide one’s sexual orientation and marry a person of the opposite sex.
“If contact with or attraction to members of the other sex is completely repulsive, [a person] must not try to build a conventional family. It is very harmful to the person to whom you enter the covenant of marriage,” he writes.
In the event that a non-LGBTQ partner wants to marry a homosexual person, the couple must be mentored in making decisions, and informed of the reality that could lie ahead of them, “including concerns that a sexless partnership could prompt them to seek alternatives outside the home.” Rabbi Lau says that opting for a sexless partnership is a “possibility,” but unnatural.
Regarding “conversion therapy,” Rabbi Lau writes, “There are therapists who say they can ‘fix’ a person’s sexual preference. We should be very careful about that, because the emotional damage can be destructive or lethal. A parent who is exposed to a son or daughter who comes out can respond with alarm, and try to ‘help’ out of love. A deeper understanding that this is generally not a choice but an inborn tendency will help parents, and the family as a whole, deal with the goals that will remain with them along the way. On the other hand, a mature person can ask a (professional and licensed) therapist to help them deal with their nature and their tendencies and must not be prevented from doing so.”