The transformation in attitudes toward homosexuality in general society is nothing short of miraculous. And in many ways the Jewish community has been in the forefront of welcoming this change. It has not occurred without significant resistance however. When the Rabbinical Assembly published its Teshuvah some dozen years ago, I established opportunities for text study and we engaged in serious conversation. Today we take this acceptance largely for granted. I have officiated at my share of same sex weddings and openly gay couples participate fully in our congregation. Several have children in our religious school.
Some headway has even been made in parts of the Orthodox community. The powerful film "Trembling before God" focuses on the pain of rejection of young gay Orthodox Jews and the challenge this presents to some of the most sensitive Orthodox rabbis. Rabbi Steven Greenberg, graduate of the rabbinical program at Yeshivah University, published a self-revelatory book, exploring traditional sources alluding to homosexuality throughout history, titled "Wrestling with God and with Man". It's an exceptional read.
But the following, published recently in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, demonstrates how even the smallest opening to gay men is condemned by virtually all authorities. Those who may be sympathetic are cowed into silence. Here's the story of a courageous exception, even if his opening is a tiny light in the tunnel.
The article "London Rabbi Preaches Inclusivity Toward Gay People and Sets Off an Uproar" written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt
"In a packed auditorium in the Ner Israel synagogue in Hendon, northwest of London, a young, polished Rabbi Joseph Dweck stood up. His usual eloquence gave way to a long introduction, betraying a certain trepidation.
"He knew he was wading in dangerous waters. 'This is not an easy shiur to give,' he began, referring to the sermon.
"'Chances are, I will upset everybody in this room tonight. I am going to say something that will strike an uncomfortable chord. I knew that would be the reality when I decided to give this lecture, and I decided to do it anyway. Nobody is talking about it,' he said.
"'In the Orthodox world, very few people are talking about it. I don't claim to have all the answers...I may say things you may be quite upset at me for saying. All of that risk I am taking tonight, and I am being extremely vulnerable in front of you, in the recording, and whoever else is going to hear me. And I am sure that people will hear this lecture.'
A brief pause.
"'I have spent time, years and years, thinking about this issue, researching this. Our sexuality is the foundation of our identity' it is so powerful a force within us that we are afraid of it. I say this with trepidation, because we are dealing with serious stuff.'
"The next hour was devoted to exploring the ancient history of homosexuality and the relevant Torah and Talmudic texts. Dweck probably had no idea what a backlash his lecture would unfurl.
"The senior rabbi of London's S&P Sephardi Community, Dweck received his rabbinic ordination from Ovadia Yosef, an Israeli Sephardi chief rabbi who died in 2013. And Dweck is married to Margalit, the granddaughter of Rabbi Yosef.
"'He is dedicated first and foremost to Torah, and his teachings are always in line with traditional Sephardi halakha,'
one community member said, referring to Jewish law. 'A man of integrity, he is always looking to learn from others and the world round him.'
"Dweck's lecture emphasized that homosexual acts themselves are forbidden by Torah--and that this won't change. But it questioned society attitudes toward gay community members, condemning those who question whether to allow openly gay men to receive usual Torah honors.
"'Should we put them (gay people) up to the Torah? What kind of a stupid question? You know how many people we should not put up to the Torah if we start that kind of scrutiny? You won't be able to fill a minyan, you won't be able to fill the synagogue, you won't be able to read the Torah if that's the kind of scrutiny you'll start making,' he said.
"'Should we start asking whose wife goes to mikvah? When and how? And what their sexual history is? Should we start doing a witch hunt like that? There are plenty of skeletons in everybody's closet. Let's not sit on a high horse,' he added his voice rising.
"'The entire revolution of feminism and homosexuality in our society is a fantastic development for humanity. The world is moving towards love. And if you're not on the bandwagon, well then fine, you can stay back.'
..."In the past two weeks since the lecture hit YouTube, Dweck has been condemned by numerous leaders in the Haredi, or--from the hard line ultra-Orthodox, Sephardi community---from the hard line Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi, taking to his YouTube pulpit, to Rabbi Aharon Bassous of London's Golders Green community requesting that the London rabbinical court investigate Dweck. The controversy went all the way up to Israel's Chief Rabbinate.
"Rabbi Eli Monsour, a popular Syrian rabbi in Brooklyn, encouraged Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, to involve himself in Brooklyn politics and write a letter against Dweck.
"Dweck, affiliated with the Sepharic Community Alliance, was set to spend the summer lecturing in Deal, New Jersey--but that is now up in the air, with Monsour trying to block it 'Dweck is his own thinker, he is tremendously popular, and he draws hundreds to his classes,' One community member said. 'The right sees him as a threat.'
"Under pressure from Monsour, Yosef the chief Sephardi rabbi denounced the general issue of homosexuality, as 'nonsense and heresy that were uttered in opposition to the foundations of our faith in the holy Torah.
"Yet his brother, Rabbi David Yosef of Har Nof in Jerusalem, a frequent fundraiser in Monsour's community, felt the chief
rabbi's letter wasn't harsh enough. So, he took to his pen too, writing in Hebrew: 'Do whatever you can to prevent him from entering your holy camp, and without question he cannot be allowed to serve in any communal capacity'.
"Some rabbis have stood up to defend Dweck from the onslaught. 'If a mistake does appear in a rabbi's words, one must find the appropriate way to react, in the way of peace,not in the way of a burning strong fire, even if it is well-intentioned', wrote Rabbi Sammy Kassin of the Shehebar Sephardic Center.
"But most leaders, community members say, have been deafeningly silent, too afraid to comment.
..."'No surprise about the tempest this maverick 'rabbi' has stirred up,' one Syrian community member posted on Facebook. 'Just this summation of his positions leaves me shaking my head in disgust. He has zero respect for other rabbis and holds his personal opinions and interpretations as a way out for the homosexual community. Let him find a reform or conservative congregation that will lap his views up. He has no place in an Orthodox rabbinical setting.'
..."The infighting surges in matters of gender, too. In one Brooklyn synagogue this past Simchat Torah women were permitted to have their own hakafot (dancing--albeit without Torah scrolls). It caused a scandal in the community.
"'The black hats were infuriated', one woman present said. 'We come from Middle Eastern values-women just don't get involved in ritualistic practices.'"