WARWICK – "I don't object to gay-lesbian parents or single mothers bringing a child into the world, as long as they do so responsibly," said Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the rabbi of the Efrat settlement, during a discussion on the subject of Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality Tuesday.
The meeting took place as part of the Limmud annual conference on Jewish learning, which is being held in Warwick, Britain this week. Some 2,500 people from the UK and the world participated in this year's conference.
The session was attended by many gays and lesbians who spoke of the difficulties they had to endure once their sexual orientation became known in their religious communities.
Gregg Drinkwater, the executive director of Jewish Mosaic, The National Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity who chaired the session, said that "young people are scared to approach the rabbi and share their distress… the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in the US and Britain refuses to address this phenomenon."
Rabbi Riskin presented to the audience his approach to the subject: Accepting the other despite the ideological differences, so as not to push them out of the congregation.
"The synagogue is meant to accept any Jew. I must love the foreigner, as well as those who are different. Our role as parents is to love our children, and the rabbis' role is to love the members of their congregation," he stated.
'Rabbis must not judge, but accept'
The rabbi spoke of his first encounter with the dilemma through a young member of his congregation in Lincoln Square, a "sensitive and wonderful" young man who one day confessed to Risking that he was not attracted to the opposite sex.
"He also asked me if I wanted him to stop attending prayers as part of the minyan. I hugged him and we studied together. He's the one who made me realize that human beings are human beings, and that rabbis must not judge, but accept. Of course I asked him to continue coming to minyan," Riskin recounted.
One of the youngsters at the session said that he had been "pushed" to marry by an organization that claimed it could cure his sexual orientation. Rabbi Riskin replied by saying that if someone is bisexual then it would seem right to encourage him to marry, but that it would be wrong to offer this to someone who finds no satisfaction in a relationship with a woman.
Despite all this, Riskin stressed the importance of adhering to Orthodox practices, and clarified that he could not advocate gay marriage instead of heterosexual ones.
"The Bible goes out against homosexuality and defines it as an abomination," he said. "However, when a man doesn't engage in the act itself – there's no problem. We must remember that we are subordinate to the Halacha, but also to humaneness. When such a large group of people wants to stay part of Judaism, the religious establishment must not ignore it," he concluded.