LGBT Life and Halakhah

Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah was  a landmark opinion that I co-authored with Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Rabbi Avram Reisner, which was approved by the CJLS on December 6, 2006. In it we argued that the halakhic demand to preserve human dignity and prevent humiliation superseded the rabbinic level prohibitions on same-sex intimacy. This resulted in a normalization of status for gay and lesbian Jews, their eligibility for all forms of religious leadership, and the possibility of recognizing same-sex marriages. It paved the way for the admission of openly gay and lesbian Jews to the rabbinical and cantorial schools of JTS, of the Ziegler School, and eventually, the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, as well as their ability to be members of The Rabbinical Assembly and The Cantors Assembly.

Subsequently, we returned to the topic with  Ceremonies and Documents for Same Sex Marriage and Divorce developing several ceremony templates and documents for each in a responsum approved by the CJLS on May 31, 2012.

While our general approach and the impact of our work continues to be beneficial, I have always had misgivings about our brief passage related to bisexuality, which has drawn principled objections that I accept. In 2021 I returned to this topic in a d’var Torah for Aharei Mot, writing,

Our core halakhic claim was that sexual orientation is a fixed feature for many people, and that the prior demand that gay and lesbian people suppress their sexuality and try to pass as straight was demeaning, cruel, and futile. As such, it violated the rabbinic principle of human dignity, causing shame and suffering, which are themselves biblically forbidden. In passing, we commented that for bisexual people it might be difficult but not impossible to restrict themselves to the ancient heterosexual norms. This comment was problematic at the time, and has caused pain and anger, which I deeply regret. Bisexuality is its own identity, often misunderstood, that deserves respect and protection from hurtful comments and policies. Our paper should either have included bisexuals in its conceptual framework, or left their questions for a different responsum, much as we left transgender issues for a different project.

While I would indeed like to return to this topic in a new responsum, I think it may be preferable now that we have so many outstanding LGBTQI+ rabbis for a scholar with greater insight to take up the pen.