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Jewish streams diverge in stance toward gays
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Jewish streams diverge in stance toward gays

When the Republican candidate for New York governor, Carl Paladino, addressed Orthodox voters last week about his opposition to gay pride parades and how children shouldn’t be “brainwashed” into thinking being gay is OK, he clearly thought he’d find a receptive audience.

He was right.

Orthodox viewpoints on homosexuality are derived from the Torah, which is clear in its condemnation of male gay sex, and Orthodox leaders almost uniformly oppose celebrating gay identity.

The dilemma for Orthodox leaders is how to condemn anti-gay violence and harassment without being seen as endorsing the “mainstreaming of the homosexual lifestyle,” as one Orthodox spokesman put it. For many that means not addressing the issue at all. For others it means addressing the issue only when pressed or absolutely necessary.

Conservative and Reform leaders issued statements condemning anti-gay violence following a spate of recent episodes, including last month’s suicide by a Rutgers University student after his roommate posted video on the Internet showing him kissing another male.

“We are taught to respect each other,” wrote Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “We know that children are born gay, straight, or somewhere in between on the scale, and gayness cannot be taught or learned. We also know that there is nothing shameful in being gay. That is what religion teaches us.”

The wide chasm between Orthodox and non-Orthodox attitudes toward homosexuality was seen in this month’s controversy over a decision by The Jewish Standard, a weekly newspaper in Bergen County, to publish its first same-sex wedding announcement. One week later, the paper, whose coverage area includes heavily Orthodox Teaneck and Englewood, apologized for offending Orthodox sensibilities by printing the announcement and vowed never to do it again.

That led to an avalanche of outraged letters by readers, including dozens of non-Orthodox rabbis, who support the publication of same-sex announcements. The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly issued a statement saying “no single sector of the Jewish community may decide for all what is an acceptable practice.”

The Standard then issued a statement saying it may have “acted too quickly” in heeding the complaints from its Orthodox critics.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a past president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, was the Orthodox rabbi who in a meeting with The Jewish Standard warned the paper that its same-sex wedding announcement might alienate Orthodox readers.

“Sometimes people feel that they have the right to make their choices and then to obligate others to celebrate their choices,” he said. “We believe that we cannot celebrate these choices.”

(New Jersey Jewish News published its first same-sex wedding announcement in January. “Our policy reflects the fact that same-sex marriage and commitment ceremonies are sanctioned and blessed by the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, that Conservative rabbis are permitted to perform such ceremonies, and that the role of a Jewish community newspaper is to reflect the largest possible range of practices and beliefs,” said Andrew Silow-Carroll, NJJN’s editor-in-chief.)

The Reform movement believes same-sex unions are “worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual,” welcomes gay rabbis and cantors, and advocates for legalizing same-sex unions. The Conservative movement still officially forbids one specific sexual act between men, but now permits its clergy to officiate at same-sex ceremonies and allows gays and lesbians to become rabbis.

The Orthodox Union, by stark contrast, opposes same-sex marriages and is lobbying for religious groups to be exempted from a proposed federal law that would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

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