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Senior Israeli rabbi says 'don’t condemn homosexuals over other sinners'

A leading Modern Orthodox Judaism scholar has called on religious Jews to be more sympathetic to homosexuals and to treat homosexual acts as no greater transgressions than other things proscribed in Jewish custom
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.
Photo: Yeshivat Har Etzion

A leading Israeli rabbi in the Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodoxy branches of Judaism has warned that homosexuals should not be condemned over other kinds of sinners and has urged greater tolerance for gays and lesbians.

Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, who heads the Har Etzion Yeshiva religious college in the West Bank, made the remarks in an address to students, one of whom then published the comments online.

In his address, Lichtenstein said religious Jews should rise above feelings of aversion and aggression towards gays and lesbians and pointed out that, while homosexuality was termed an abomination in the Torah, so were many other things that Jews did not condemn in the same way.

‘If you deal only with the use of the term [abomination as it appears in the Torah then] you can only push that particular envelope as far as you push the cheating on the weights and the measures,’ Lichtenstein was reported to have said by student Dov Karoll.

‘[In that context abomination also] refers to people who don’t feed [the poor] properly … If you are dealing with weights and measures, and you cheat a little bit on the weights and the measures, that’s [abomination] also.

‘[Now] find for me a [religious] community which responds and relates to homosexuality ... like it responds to those who are cheating a little bit on weights and measures.’

‘We do need to agree to abide by a greater measure of honesty in dealing with [the LGBT] community than I think at present applies.’

Lichtenstein asked his students to think about why homosexuality was singled out for condemnation by religious Jews when other things that are similarly proscribed were not.

‘Which is a greater sin – desecration of [the sabbath] or homosexuality? Is it appropriate and fair to say to our communities that we have no problem with all of the Jewish people's sins… but that there is only one scapegoat?’

Lichtenstein pointed out that homosexuality was only a personal sin in Judaism whereas failing to give adequately to the poor was a public communal sin.

Lichtenstein urged sympathy for the situation that homosexuals found themselves in in relation to Jewish religious prohibitions while disapproving of homosexual acts.

‘I certainly have criticism, disapproval, but [that is] tempered with an element of sympathy. These are people who are very unfortunate,’ Lichtenstein said.

‘I said to one of them who came to talk to me: you are thrice punished. First of all, you are punished in that you can’t have a normal life: one of the great joys of my life is my children, my family, my wife, and children you can’t have.

‘Secondly, you are punished in that you have no one to whom to turn – you come out, risking your own situation, taking a position.

‘Thirdly, the disapproval generates further disapproval. Particularly, if one acknowledges that many of the people who are caught in this situation feel that they are [not homosexual by choice].’

A spokesperson for the Kamoha association of gay Orthodox Jews welcomed Rabbi Lichtenstein’s comments, telling YnetNews: ‘We are pleased to hear that through the comparison to [sabbath] desecrators, the rabbi placed a mirror in front of the public, demonstrating that many times the fear of homosexuality does not stem from [religious] considerations but from pure homophobia.

‘Kamoha respects the rules and spirit of [Jewish religious law] … We are glad that a senior rabbinical personality like Rabbi Lichtenstein chooses to voice his opinion openly and without fear.’

However Kamoha took issue with the rabbi calling gays and lesbians ‘unfortunate’ people.

‘We are not unfortunate, but live a more challenging and complex life,’ the Kamoha spokesperson said.

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