Gay Jews Need More Than Tolerance
Wed, 05/01/2013

I write in response to Stuart Kurlander’s Opinion piece, “Door Is Wide Open For Gay Jews To Be Leaders” (April 26).

I am a 21-year-old observant gay Jew actively involved in my campus Hillel. I fear that articles like this one proclaiming that LGBT Jews “have arrived” serve as a counterproductive distraction to the real issues that remains to be dealt with in making Jewish institutions more welcoming to the LGBT community.

Kurlander’s dilemma is a product of the at-best lukewarm acceptance that existed when his generation was coming of age in Jewish organizations. This situation has absolutely changed in the Reform movement, but the Conservative movement is only beginning to address it, and Orthodoxy has not even started to talk about what comes next after “tolerance.” Even if mainstream Jewish organizations are better at inclusion today, they are by and large still not good.

Conservative Judaism, as represented by the 2006 responsa “Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halacha,” tells LGBT youth that “heterosexual marriage between two Jews remains the halachic ideal” and identifies gays and lesbians as those who are “incapable of maintaining a heterosexual relationship.” This kind of categorization of queer identity as an infirmity comes from the most liberal halachic body in existence.

Mainstream organizations like Jewish federations necessarily make sacrifices for pluralism. But if this is the most developed ideological position that they will take on homosexuality, is it any surprise that many queer Jews choose to devote their energy to other groups that not only accept but also celebrate them?

Proclaiming that “the door is wide open” to LGBT leadership puts all the burden of getting involved on LGBT Jews and gives the false perception that enough institutional changes have now been made to accommodate them. It may be the right time for some of us to “lean in.” However, if retention of young potential Jewish leaders is a priority, then mainstream Jewish organizations must move from tolerating LGBT Jews to blessing them.

 

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Dear Benjamin ..."Yasher Koach".....Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe

Thank you, Benjamin, for your insightful letter. You mention that "Orthodoxy has not even started to talk about what comes next after 'tolerance.' " For the most part that is still true. But you should be aware that there are organizations out there serving the Orthodox LGBT community, the most prominent one being Eshel, which has been very successful in bringing together Orthodox, formerly Orthodox and future Orthodox gay, lesbian and transgender Jews, of all ages, from all over the country and beyond. You can check out our upcoming events at www.eshelonline.org. The Eshel community would love to have you join us and help make the Orthodox world a more welcoming place.

Well said, Benjamin. Many of the JQ community members that we work with couldn't disagree more with Mr. Kurlander's sense that the doors are wide open. Even though we have multiple LGBT synagogues and a well-meaning Jewish Federation, the onus is still on LGBT Jews to walk IN the doors. As soon as the Jewish community realizes this and begins more heavily investing in broader outreach, this will be the case. The Jewish community suffers from bad PR and most young LGBT Jews look first to their queer community resources first because the idea of a "religious" response is the scarier option. Thanks for your thoughts!

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