Thank you for reprinting Rabbi Motzen’s article in Cross Currents as well as the follow up letters these past two weeks. (A First Step: LGBTQ+ and the Frum Community, September 30, Letters from Dr. Tzvi Small and Alan Levin in subsequent weeks). The Jewish Link is doing our community a tremendous service by giving space for open and respectful discussion on this important issue and I am hopeful that our kahal will continue to engage with our LGBTQ+ friends, neighbors and family members in positive ways.
I want to echo Dr. Small’s exhortation to Rabbi Motzen to make this a topic that we can and do speak about from the bima as well as Mr. Levin’s words of encouragement for careful language and respectful engagement. However, I must respectfully disagree with the pre-set limitations Mr. Levin proposes.
The statement “You can come to shul, but…” is not a viable path forward. The practical limitation after “but” (in this case not allowing same sex-couples to be members) is still sending the message that LGBTQ+ persons are not welcome, no matter how nicely you package it.
At the same time, LGBTQ+ persons and allies need to address the point that I believe Mr. Levin is raising: However strongly we want to advocate for equality for same-sex couples, chuppah v’kiddushin refers to a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are demonstrably wonderful, but they are not “k’daat Moshe v’Yisrael” as described in the Torah and Talmud.
But why should that exclude them from shul membership? Does “household” membership in a synagogue require chuppah v’kiddushin? We have households with one adult and children that are a distinct category from single households. We also have households that are composed of a parent and adult child. Grown siblings sharing a home also form some of the households in our community. While some shuls have limitations set in their by-laws, there is no Halachic barrier to membership being defined as being open to any Jewish* household.
Telling a LGBTQ+ person that they are welcome to remain in the Orthodox community only if they remain celibate and lonely is disingenuous at best, cruel at worst and in no way a viable path forward. Perhaps when the “LGBTQ+ person” is a Halachic or intellectual concept, a person can be callous and propose these limits. However, applying this intellectual position to a real person who you care about is wholly different and difficult to the point of impossibility.
I fully recognize that for some this position is self-evident, for others it will be outside their comfort zone, and for still others it will be deemed beyond the pale. For all of us, the way forward is to keep talking and listening to each other to build our personal connections.
*Intermarriage raises different Halachic, cultural, psychological and social questions that are beyond the scope of this letter.