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News: All God's Children

Gay rabbi asks the orthodox to embrace gays and lesbians

By Caroline Crispino · April 26th, 2001 · News
  Rabbi Steven Greenberg
Rabbi Steven Greenberg

Like Jews, homosexuals are long familiar with oppression. Rabbi Steven Greenberg of New York might be uniquely qualified to help the two groups understand one another. He is one of the first openly gay Orthodox rabbis.

Greenberg, author of Wrestling with God and Men, is a senior teaching fellow at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. The Jewish Family Service's Gay and Lesbian Task Force sponsored his April 25 speech at Hebrew Union College.

"I hope to convey that the traditional communities have to find the resources among them to make room for gays and lesbians," Greenberg says.

"Being gay in Orthodox Judaism is very shunned. The tradition prohibits sexual relations between men. Love between members of the same sex is a big issue in the traditional community."

Greenberg said his presentations cover his personal journey, experiences and insights for the future of gays in every community.

"The traditional communities believe that love between a man and a woman should be shared in a family," he says. "Same-sex love is seen as irresponsible, and they are avoiding the commitment."

The topic of homosexuality is so controversial in Orthodox Judaism that Rabbi Greenberg declines to answer when asked if his religion treats gays and lesbians unfairly. But shunning, he says, is wrong.

"A religion that excludes 4 percent of its people because they do not fit the box cannot be a vision for humanity," he says. "Homosexuality is an issue of self-character and innate genes in people's makeup. There is no reason to exclude people for the basis of sexual orientation."

Indeed the exclusion of gays is counter to the purposes of religion, according to Greenberg.

"If a religious community allows only straight people, they become a straight club, not a religious community," he says. "Nothing is wrong with that, but when a religious community does that, it becomes very different than a religious community that invites all types of people and tries to make sense of the difference."

Fittingly, Greenberg calls his speech, "All G-d's Children: Homosexuality in the Jewish Community." But his message is not only for gays and Jews, he says.

"The message of the speech is on the 3,500-year-old wisdom tradition, Judaism," Greenberg says. "There are plenty of resources available to engage the world anew all the time. In each of the traditions -- Catholic, Mormon, Protestant and Muslim -- we need to find our spiritual resources, the rich spiritual tradition we are a part of. All communities need to listen to the testaments of gays and lesbians, and over time new ways to handle it will emerge out from within."©



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