Rabbi Danny Rich

Rabbi Danny Rich

By Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism

I applaud the decision of Jewish News to launch a section on its website dedicated to the Jewish LGBT community.

A pioneering community newspaper ensures it covers the news, events and views emanating from all parts of the community – however the relevant section describes itself.

Liberal Judaism welcomes this decision to report from and about the LGBT community. Not only do its members have much to say, and something to teach, but the wisdom and experience of LGBT Jews has been absent from the Jewish community’s consciousness.

Liberal Judaism seeks to be an active force in the lives of Jewish individuals as well as attempting to support Jewish communal life and making a contribution to the betterment of human society.

Affirming the Jewish conception of humanity that despite natural and other differences  each individual is created in the image of God, Liberal Judaism has sought to offer the same opportunities to, and demands the same obligations of, everyone who seeks in good faith to join the community.

The history of the Jewish LGBT community – in common with LGBT groups elsewhere – is one of marginalisation and discrimination. Against the background of the AIDS epidemic and the resulting intolerant backlash which stigmatised AIDS sufferers and targeted the lesbian and gay community,  Liberal Judaism in 1991 published its pamphlet Where We Stand on Homosexuality.

This rejected prejudice and discrimination, demanded that its constituents offer support and membership to all regardless of sexuality and, supportive of gay relationships, suggested controversially the idea that ‘the appropriate context for the expression of human sexuality is a lasting relationship of mutual love and faithfulness between two persons’.

Before the year 2000, Liberal Judaism had no policy on how this might happen, so its rabbis did as they considered right. Our Rabbinic Conference then set up a working party, chaired by me, to consider the more formal matter of same-sex commitment ceremonies.

As a result, the conference approved ‘the recognition of same-sex partnerships between two Jews by appropriate Jewish ritual and support(ed) those (rabbis) who officiate at such ceremonies’.

It accepted that, for Jewish same-sex couples, the natural and appropriate symbols for such ceremonies would be those of the wedding service, and the traditional terminology of holiness and sanctification rightly reflected the way in which many same-sex couples understand and conduct their relationships.

It further gave permission for ceremonies in synagogues where the rabbinic and lay leadership of the congregation agreed. In the wake of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act, Liberal Judaism in 2005 published Lesbian and Gay Jews and Same-Sex Relationships in its Liberal Judaism in Practice series.

More significantly, and probably as the first synagogal movement in the world to do so, Liberal Judaism published Brit Ahavah: Covenant of Love: A Liturgy for the Service of Commitment for Same-Sex Couples.

This pamphlet enabled same-sex couples to craft a service of Jewish material appropriate to needs. In March 2011, Liberal Judaism resolved to update its liturgy and practice to make marriage for same-sex couples fully equal to that of heterosexual couples.

The evidence suggests that on this matter Liberal Jewish thought and policy were in tune with the changing public mood by which individuals did not wish the state to prevent others expressing their relationships in meaningful ways.

We believe it is time to hear the voices of LGBT Jews.

This new Jewish News website section is the beginning of a new era in which the community can delight in a greater number of expressions in our delightful, diverse and Divine world.

  • The new LGBT section will be live on our website from Monday, 23rd June! Find it at the top menu bar