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Wrestling with issues

09/06/17 14:51:48


I write these words with an aching heart as my brave and fearless father-in-law, Zelik Bedell, Caron 's dad has fought his last battle and died at home in Johannesburg in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Zelik was 97, tough, principled and honed by time and the trials of a long and eventful life. He was a craftsman and a soldier, a father and a Zeida, a thinker and a doer. We will miss his constancy in our lives, his obduracy and his connections to a wondrous Jewish past that is no more.

It’s hard at a time like this to focus on anything other than your personal anguish and loss, but before boarding the plane, I’m conscious of the heated discussion across some of our community about our (Rabbi and Board’s) decision to invite the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi to talk at our inkr572 dinner for young Jews next Friday night (15 June). I am therefore reprinting an excerpt of the newsletter of several weeks ago outlining our rationale for inviting him (See below). I would also like to state for the record:

We have many different visitors to our Shule and invite and encourage a vigorous and open debate of all issues relating to our Modern Orthodox outlook. We have had speakers representing atheistic and agnostic, humanistic and libertarian views. We have welcomed visitors from the right and the left, politically, ideologically and religiously.

We are secure and determined in our commitment to Torah and Halacha. We couldn’t possible endorse all the views of all of our speakers! But we also don’t stifle them; allowing for views that are even diametrically opposed to yours, sharpens your own and often allows you to better understand and empathise with the contrary view – even if you can’t endorse it.

So we certainly don’t endorse or support all of Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s attitudes and interpretations of the Torah and Halacha. We do however support his right to express them. It’s ludicrous to suggest that inviting Steven is like inviting a speaker who advocates and eats non-kosher food. Unlike many of his critics, Rabbi Greenberg cares deeply about Judaism and keeps kosher and keeps Shabbat KeHalacha. He also cares about Judaism’s sexual ethics and that is why he wrestles with the issue. You can’t deny he’s a serious Jew even if you don’t want to call him a Rabbi or Orthodox Jew. And unlike many of his critics he does have semicha (from Yeshiva University). I certainly don’t agree with all his interpretations and views about homosexuality and will be sure to say so. But the most fundamental point is this: Rabbi Greenberg, Orthodox or unorthodox, is addressing a heartbreak within our community: young Jews and a good few of them from frum homes, who identify as gay, feel alienated from our traditional community. Many feel rejected and ostracised and are driven to drugs, alcohol, depression and suicide. What we are saying to them is that you don’t have to go down that path. Here is a rabbi who has struggled as you struggle, who has found a way of living a dati lifestyle and being gay. His sexual practices may not accord with the Halacha and that’s really problematic and not ideal but if he can live as a Jew in all other ways so can you. Being gay doesn’t mean you have to discard your connection to your community. Let us help you as much as we can after all we're all in this life together struggling to fulfil the lofty principles of our amazing Torah.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Ralph


(From previous newsletter)

One of the fundamental challenges today is that of the inclusion of GLBT individuals
in the Orthodox Jewish community. It remains one of the dominant social issues
in Australia today.  Orthodox Judaism has always embraced the traditional and Biblically based definition of marriage as that between a man and woman; “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).  So it is legislated in every Code of Jewish law. It’s also legislated that homosexuality is forbidden. This is not going to change but does this mean that there is no place for the gay individual or couple in the Orthodox community?  It’s easy to say – “It’s against the Bible and Judaism, that’s it.” It’s a lot harder to say that to a sincere gay individual, to your son who has come out or to your sister who is living in a gay relationship. It’s intellectually dishonest and morally cowardly to avoid the reality that homosexuality is what Rabbi Chaim Rappaport calls “the formidable challenge” for Orthodoxy today. It’s a fearsome challenge, he asserts because it brings into question issues of freedom of choice (is homosexuality genetically wired or a matter of conscious choice) and if some are wired that way how can a caring God demand they go against
their nature? The overwhelming evidence suggests that homosexuality is not a choice.  I don’t know why God created us differently and why the Torah decreed homosexuality forbidden. But I do know that we need to recognise the vulnerability of young individuals, to affirm their right not to be alone, not to be driven to despair and suicide, but to establish loving relationships.  I will leave it to God to judge who is right: the one who respects and reaches out with love and thoughtfulness to those who are GLBT even if having to reject their right to a same-sex marriage or union; or the one who rejects those who are gay and fails to appreciate their yearning for relationship.  It is for this reason we’ve invited the first openly Orthodox gay rabbi, Rabbi Steven Greenberg to address our young inkr572 Shabbat dinner on 16 June. It doesn’t mean I or the board endorse all of his views (and I will be there to present alternative approaches). We’ve invited Rabbi Greenberg because the issue itself should not be hidden in the Orthodox
closet. Rabi Benny Lau who has been an outspoken advocate for those who are gay, has said “a closet is death”. We’ve invited Steven, not only to air the issue but to give support to the gay kids in our community, to help them feel they are validated even if we can’t necessarily approve of all that they do. They’re our kids, they’re part of our community and we will do all in our power to help them.  It’s our responsibility to have the diffi cult
conversation to engage with it and our kids in as caring and thoughtful a way we can. If Steven Greenberg stops just one young gay Jew from contemplating suicide his visit is worth the controversy and dissension.
We will continue to reach out with empathy to our gay brothers and sisters and GLBT individuals and accept their pain even if we cannot accept all their requests."

Tue, 14 July 2020 22 Tammuz 5780