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Orthodox Jews Issue Statement In Support Of Gays

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By Michele Chabin
Religion News Service

JERUSALEM (RNS) More than 100 modern-Orthodox rabbis, educators and mental-health professionals in Israel and the U.S. have signed a document that urges respect for homosexuals but stops short of condoning same-sex relationships.

The "Statement of Principles," released on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting at a gay club in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem's annual gay pride parade, pushes the boundaries of traditional Orthodox Judaism, which considers homosexuality an abomination.

Initiated by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, who teaches Bible and Jewish Thought at Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York, the document is a collaboration between rabbis, educators, mental health professionals and gay activists in the Orthodox community.

Helfgot came up with the idea after Yeshiva University, an Orthodox institution, held a forum last December that attracted nearly 1,000 students, he told The Forward newspaper.

The document makes a clear distinction between homosexual behavior, which is prohibited by the Torah, and the respect due to people with a homosexual orientation.

It states that "all human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," and that "embarrassing, harassing or demeaning homosexuals is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism."

Although Jewish law views heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression, the statement says "the sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle."

An especially controversial section says gays and lesbians should be "welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community, and that they should count ritually, for the purposes of communal prayer, and be eligible for ritual synagogue honors."

While Jewish law "cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings," Jewish communities should (fully) "embrace the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting," the statement said.

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