Though Jewish law prohibits sexual relations between men as fundamentally wrong, dozens of prominent rabbis have now decided that the halachic prohibition does not involve negative treatment towards gay members of the religious community, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.
Twenty important rabbis in the Religious Zionist camp signed a document of principles calling for a change in the approach to the community's gay members. Another 80 rabbis adopted the document.
The turnaround that has occurred in recent years in the religious public's view of homosexuality within the religious community is due largely to two Orthodox organizations for religious gays: Hod and Havruta.
For more than a year, Hod worked on drafting a binding document of principles regarding the social-halachic approach to the religious-haredi homosexual population with the hope of creating a broad consensus within the rabbinical world on the tenets put forward in the document. Many rabbis helped in writing the piece, including Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of Har Bracha Yeshiva.
In the past, every time the explosive subject was brought up in rabbinical circles, it immediately drew harsh condemnation, if not complete propaganda against the phenomenon. This time around, the document, worded with great thought, evoked respectable agreement when it was sent to hundreds of rabbis.
No fewer than 20 rabbis openly agreed to adopt its principles. Some 80 more rabbis also agreed to do so, but, according to Hod, preferred not to do so publicly until the document is approved by Tzohar or Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, one of the senior-most figures in Religious Zionism.
'Clear that lying with another man is forbidden'
"This is the first time that a large group of rabbis are recognizing or accepting homosexuals," said Rabbi Ron Yosef, founder and director of Hod. "I presume they don't like the phenomenon, but are trying despite this to deal practically with the difficult questions of homosexuals in the face of halacha."
Rabbi Ron Yosef, 35, from Netanya, came out of the closet about a year ago. He was ordained as a rabbi about six years ago and today serves as a pulpit rabbi in Netanya.
For Rabbi Yosef, agreement on the document of principles is very encouraging and indicates that change is under way: "No doubt there has been huge progress in the past two years. In the past, there wasn't a fruitful dialogue, but rather the issue would be swept under the carpet. Now there is a discussion. Now there more empathy and they attack us less than in the past."
"The document, which was agreed upon by a broad range of rabbis, addresses the halachic aspect while educating towards acceptance of the other and stopping hatred and homophobia," Rabbi Yosef explained.
"People used to try to change sexual tendencies; now they are trying to accept us and the process of dealing with it," Yosef added. "It is clear to me that lying with another man is forbidden, and our starting point is commitment to halacha and Torah. The goal is not to seek permission. But you need to give us a shoulder and support."
Yosef elucidated the issue further: "As opposed to a heterosexual who knows what is allowed and what is forbidden, for a homosexual religious person there is an unclear halachic situation. Unprejudiced, homophobia-free rabbinical intervention without fear is needed in order to grapple with and clarify the deep halachic issues on the matter."