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November 12, 2014 1:49 am

Why Are Loving Jews Exiled by the Orthodox World?

avatar by Deborah Jacobi

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Tel Aviv's LGBT pride parade on June 7, 2013. Photo: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv.

Over the years we have seen the return of Russian Jewry, Ethiopian Jewry, and more recently the homecoming of thousands of French Jews to the land of Israel. Just as many Orthodox Jews view this as a G-d given return of the exiled, so must Orthodox Jewry look within, and give serious consideration to those whom we have exiled from our midst.

One group excluded from our communities are those with homosexual predispositions. We have seen fit to punish and banish them from our society.

Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once proudly proclaimed that homosexuality did not exist in Iran. A sad but true statement, as most had been eliminated by horrific acts of hanging. We take pride in our more civilized, sensitive response to those who suffer homosexual leanings, but are we really much better? For years our response has been to exile and pretend they, and their condition, do not exist.

Jewish law goes to great lengths to show one cannot be proven guilty of any sin without two witnesses present. So why are we so obsessed with what goes on in the privacy of another’s bedroom? Perhaps our own relationships would improve if we took that energy and looked more closely at what is going on in our own bedrooms, homes, and private lives. We have much work to do to reverse the divorce trend in both the U.S. and the Jewish home, yet we point fingers at the presumed sexual relations of others. Perhaps it is our own sexual relations that need more attention.

So how can we reverse the trend and welcome home those we have abandoned?

Perhaps one way is to refrain from calling those with differing sexual tendencies homosexuals, gays, lesbians, or any other terminology that separates them from the rest of the community by virtue of their sexual preference.

When we call a vegetarian a vegetarian, we have defined that individual entirely by his food preference. A more complete form of recognition would be to address him as an individual whose preference is to eat a vegetarian diet. How would you like to be defined, termed, and introduced by your sexual preference? We need to define each other as men and women, in recognition that we are all so much more than just our sexual preferences.

Should homosexuals get married? Marriage between two people of the same gender is not Kedushin as the Torah defines it. According to The Torah, Kedushin is a sanctified union that can only exist between a man and a woman, therefore, Jewish Law, as handed down at Sinai, cannot be altered to accommodate differing sexual tendencies. Those with homosexual predispositions cannot expect the community to break with Torah law, or rewrite the definition of marriage.

However, recognition that two people of the same gender choose to partner with each other can be acceptable. We can view a relationship between two people just as we view other loving relationships and friendships, and not dwell on the sexual nature of such relations. Spouses and lovers may be introduced as partners who may share in the raising of a child. We cannot presume to know if they encounter each other sexually or if they choose to refrain. It is neither our business, nor our concern. Let’s seek common ground and begin the long overdue conversation that will bring both sides together, and with it the kernel for return for those who have long been estranged.

We also need to acknowledge the excruciating pain that family members suffer from the outcast of their children. We cannot expect the rest of the world to feel compassion for a victimized Jew if we cannot find it within ourselves to address the pain that endures in our very own communities. We need to acknowledge pain wherever it exists, and not view any element of pain as threatening to Jewish Law. The Torah addresses every issue, and so should we.

G-d never suggested banishing those who sin, perhaps because the very nature of Teshuvah (the concept of regret and correction), which was created prior to the creation of the world, applies to all peoples with all tendencies, temptations, and struggles. Individuals who wish to grow deserve the support of a community. On what basis do we select which Jews may pray and participate in our communal life and grow in Torah, and which don’t have a right to the G-d given process? Do each of us confess our sins to our rabbis? No, because we consider the very nature of sin a private business, and one that is mostly between man and G-d.

Be grateful your sins are well within the private domain, that it is not your lot to be publicly condemned for a possible transgression that is sometimes painfully obvious to the world. We need to develop some compassion for those who have extenuating challenges, and who are trying to be like the rest of us and stuff their lives with mitzvas. Let’s learn from each other and view each other by our deeds and acts of kindness, because at the end of the day nothing else will remain.

How many Jews are there in the world who don’t keep Shabbos or kosher?  We would happily offer a seat at our table to such an individual, yet those with homosexual tendencies whose punishment in The Torah is identical to that of the free Jew, are banished and condemned. Nowhere in the Torah does it mention that those with homosexual tendencies should be exiled from the rest of the Jewish nation. Are we more righteous than G-d?

As the New Year takes hold and we see more of our brethren returning to our land, may we make significant efforts and strive towards a year of complete redemption by warmly embracing all those we have exiled. They and their families have suffered long enough. Let’s find a way to open our hearts and our homes, and strive, as we should each day, to love our fellow Jew.

Deborah Jacobi is a holistic health coach and founder of TimeToThinkHealthy.com Her new book The Intimate Act of Eating is due out in the Spring. You can contact Deborah at Timetothinkhealthy@gmail.com.

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