10/18/2010 04:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Orthodox Judaism and Homosexuality: Choosing Healing Over Hatred

Coming on the heels of the tragic suicide of Rutger's University Freshman Tyler Clementi and the arrest of nine Bronx thugs accused of brutally torturing gay people in their community, Joseph Paladino teamed up with Rabbi Yehuda Levin, an extremist orthodox rabbi, to deliver a hate-filled speech opposing "homosexual agenda" and calling on other Orthodox Jews to support him in his fight to prevent the "brainwashing" of America's children.

Paladino since has retreated, at least publicly, from this extreme stance, much to the dismay of Rabbi Levin."I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich," Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."

This isn't the first time Rabbi Levin has offered inflammatory remarks on GLBT issues. He's previously said that "gays are endangering America," or that "gays are moral terrorists." The question remains: How representative of Orthodox Judaism is Rabbi Yehuda Levin? Is this kind of homophobia and hatred inherent to how Orthodox Jews understand GLBTQ issues?

This summer, a group of Orthodox rabbis wrote and published a statement of principles on "the place of our brothers and sisters in our community who have a homosexual orientation." The Statement of Principles was released and then signed by hundreds of rabbis and Orthodox leaders.

The document is fascinating, as it approaches this pressing issue from deep, deep commitments to Jewish learning, Jewish law and Jewish morality. It addresses questions of whether homosexuality is inherent or a choice, "treatment" therapies, the suicide risk for gay teens in unwelcoming communities, religious tensions and more. The entire document can is well worth reading.

A few highlights from the statement that might be of interest to the question of Rabbi Levin though are:

  • All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot).
  • Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.
  • The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.
  • While some mental health professionals and rabbis in the community strongly believe in the efficacy of "change therapies," most of the mental health community, many rabbis and most people with a homosexual orientation feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients. We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.

Clearly, Rabbi Levin has strong views on homosexuality. But his views are not "Orthodox" in the truest sense of the word (Ortho the Greek word correct or single, Doxa Greek for opinion). They are his own interpretation of Jewish tradition, an interpretation which is probably on the margins of the way most Orthodox Jews feel about homosexuality. He by no means speaks for Orthodox Jewry or the Jewish tradition.

There aren't always simple or clear solutions to the tensions inherent in living an orthodox Jewish life in today's world. But Rabbi Levin's approach, one of derision, insensitivity, hatred and ignorance is not the way of the Torah. It is inspiring to see rabbis like the ones who have signed the Statement of Principles working on the same issue -- Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality -- in such a thoughtful, dignified and sacred way.