“Va’Yivra Elohim et ha’Adam b’Tzalmo, b’Tzelem Elohim bara oto… – And God created Adam in God’s image, in the image of God created him…” (Breishit 2:27)
“Lo tikom, v’lo titor et bnei amecha, v’ahavta l’rei’echa kamocha, ani hashem – You shall not take vengeance, or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Vayikra 18:19)
These verses prohibit the most immoral form of behavior known to mankind: the treatment of some people by other people as inferior, second-class, or having fewer rights within the community. This manifests itself in people being ridiculed, discriminated against, excommunicated, and ostracized in their own communities.
The verses above command us to recognize that God created every person in a godly image. We are each unique and special, but what makes us different should be celebrated, not criticized.
When the issue of homosexuals in the Jewish community is raised, many people quickly point to Lev. 18:22 as an easy way to solve the ‘problem’: “personae non gratae, the Torah says that if you cannot change you are an abomination.” The common error people make (aside from a questionably Jewish translation of the word toeva) is to consider homosexuals themselves as being spoken against by the Torah.
The Torah speaks about acts, not people. And many of the acts that the Torah describes are what we call bein adam l’makom – between people and God.
I cannot imagine the theological struggle a homosexual Orthodox Jew has when they read that verse in the Torah. That is a personal struggle they must each go through, and address in their own way. They may seek a Rabbi’s advice, they may see a psychiatrist for counseling, or they may find comfort in the supportive company of friends and family.
What is of supreme importance is guaranteeing the acceptance and welcoming of homosexual Jews in the Orthodox community. Like any other person who is not living a life in complete observance or compliance with every law in the Torah, we do not demand secrecy and denial in the community.
If we demand that homosexuals in the Orthodox community remain closeted to all but their rabbi, we are asking for a a host of terrible consequences. At best there will be very awkward conversations about dating. At worst we have cases of depression, broken and dishonest marriages, suicidal thoughts and suicidal actions rachmanah litzlan.
We need to create a safe environment for homosexual Jewish in the Orthodox community. This is an unquestionable case of pikuach nefesh.
It is unclear what has caused so many people in our community to not see this reality. Some have suggested that homophobia is rampant in our community, but I have to believe that these are well-intentioned people. Perhaps living in America has led to excessive influence from Right-Wing Christian groups that believe homosexuality is an illness in need of a cure. It is not their fault for being corrupted, but it is our challenge to shed the light on this misconception.
It is not going to be simple, but we must make every effort possible to create an LGBT-safe Jewish community. We will face much opposition on this front, and may be called many disparaging and hateful names. We need to remember the Torah commandment of kol Yisrael Arevim ze ba’ze – all of Israel is bound to one another. We cannot sit by idly while our brothers and sisters are attacked and ostracized.
Through all of this, we must be honest with ourselves, and with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, regardless of communal pressure, considerations or consequences.