Responsum: The Congregation and People with Homosexual Tendencies

Halachic Position Paper

This document addresses the congregation. It deals with the issue of homosexuality, but does not address homosexuals themselves. In our view, the voice of Beit Hillel’s Torah must be heard on this issue, which has appeared frequently on the public agenda in recent times. As congregational leaders and rabbis, we must take part in influencing public discourse, especially within our communities. It is up to us dissipate the unease that surrounds this issue, to speak in the spirit of the Torah, and to contribute to shaping its ethical complexity.

The prohibition of homosexual relations is from the Torah, and since the Torah is eternal and irreplaceable, homosexual relations can’t be condoned.

Indeed, the Torah and Halacha prohibit homosexual acts, not homosexual inclinations. Thus, there is nothing wrong, morally or halachically, with individuals, men or women, exhibiting homosexual tendencies. They are bound by the Torah’s commandments, may fulfill others’ obligations, and may serve in any congregational capacity, just like as any other member of the community. Usually, their sexual orientations make their lives difficult and present them with many challenges.

Unfortunately, we still need to underscore that homosexual inclinations are not cause for ridicule or rejection. It is just as unthinkable to mock those with homosexual tendencies as it is to mock those who are physically, behaviorally or mentally different from us. On the contrary – it is up to those around them – like their relatives and other members of the community – to be even more sensitive to fulfilling the Torah’s obligation of “loving your neighbor as yourself” in the way they conduct themselves with them. They also need to make sure they don’t violate the prohibition of verbally harming others.

Homosexual inclinations create challenging emotional predicaments. The role of congregational leaders, aside from teaching them the existing prohibitions in this regard, is to guide the congregation toward overcoming obstacles and developing the ability to accommodate homosexual individuals.

Homosexual individuals who refrain transgressing prohibitions are of the “mighty ones, who do G-d’s bidding” (psalms 103, 20).
Those who transgress the prohibition of homosexual relations, like any others who transgress prohibitions from the Torah or rabbinic prohibitions, are required to do Teshuva. Even if they struggle to return to the righteous path, they are not exempt from keeping the Mitzvot. They would be well-advised to find ways to minimize the number of restrictions they violate, and find a teacher of Halacha who is proficient in these topics to assist them.

Many congregations do not reject individuals who transgress prohibitions – be they prohibitions between man and his fellow men, or between man and G-d (i.e., Shabbat) – and it is in this spirit that many of our rabbis guide their congregations. This flexibility must be applied with regard to someone who transgressed the prohibition on homosexual relations. Clearly, when we are unsure of whether someone had transgressed such a prohibition, we mustn’t suspect him for naught.

Conjugal relations, according to Halacha, are only allowed between a man and a woman. It is this union that the Torah comments on, saying: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh”. Our scholars had men and women in mind when they said that the Divine Presence joins them when they merit it. Thus, it is impossible to formally recognize, based on the Torah’s code of law, the validity of a homosexual partnership.

An individual whose sexual orientation precludes him or her from entering into a union sanctioned by the laws of Moses and Israel, and seeks a way to avoid solitude, may forge ties of friendship and partnership with a person of the same sex. Despite the apprehensions and suspicions that may arise from such a relationship, the congregation should assess the possibility of embracing them. We call on congregations to refrain from adding insult to injury, and find ways to allow these people, who wish to be part of the religious community, to do so. They should not be subjected to any restrictions beyond those that are acceptable in the congregation regarding other types of transgressors.

By demonstrating love and compassion toward those in rejected state, including those who don’t conform with the congregation’s behavioral norms, human beings improve spiritually. This is a test of a congregation’s values. Loyalty to G-d and to His commandments and the acceptance of the yoke of His Rule and His commandments include the obligation to embrace the distant and the distanced. Along with the duty to make sure that justice is done, not matter what, and strive to perform each commandment, no matter how simple or burdensome it may be, we must also be the students of Aaron, by loving others and bringing them closer to the Torah.