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social sciences

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Conservative Judaism believes that homosexual sex is a sin, but separates this scriptural interpretation from its political position. This denomination believes in civil rights for gays and lesbians and welcomes glbtq people into congregations, youth groups, and schools.

In the Conservative movement, many decisions about the acceptance of glbtq people in areas of lay leadership and education are left up to individual congregations, though the movement officially prohibits the performance of commitment ceremonies. Finally, the admission of glbtq people to the clergy is conducted with a "don't tell" policy, meaning that "out" individuals will not be accepted, but those who gain entry will not be later excluded as a result of witch hunts. It is important to note that these policies were adopted in 1992 and can be revised in the future, as the Conservative movement is open to the notion of change.

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Both the Reform and Reconstructionist movements have no prohibitions against ordaining openly gay and lesbian clergy. In 2000, the Reform movement adopted a statement supporting the individual decisions of clergy as to whether or not they were willing to officiate at commitment ceremonies. The Reconstructionist movement supports same-sex marriage, not merely commitment ceremonies.

It is important to note that even within these denominations, agreement is far from universal. The platforms represented here are those advocated by United States national organizations of rabbis and congregations--the Orthodox Union, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform), and Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, respectively.

Many individual Jews, along with members of the clergy and particular congregations, disagree with these platforms and choose to act on their own personal opinions. Rarely, if ever, would a congregation or rabbi be disciplined for this choice, and individuals are not excommunicated.

For instance, there are some congregations that function as traditional Conservative ones but have rabbis willing to perform commitment ceremonies. Additionally, some Orthodox leaders veer away from the rigid position of the Orthodox Union. For instance, noted Orthodox Jewish sex expert Shmuley Boteach, while not condoning homosexual acts, finds the singular focus on homosexuality as an abomination to be an exaggeration.

Orthodoxy has additionally faced criticism because of the fact that glbtq people suffered a fate similar to that of Jews during the Holocaust and many Jews believe that this shared history should make Jews more sympathetic to glbtq civil rights.

Gay-Friendly Congregations

Finally, there are some congregations that are notably gay-friendly. Most of these are not affiliated with any particular denomination so that they can offer a wide array of worship styles for members who come from diverse backgrounds; others are Reform or Reconstructionist.

Among the best known of these congregations are Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York City (founded in 1973), Congregation Etz Chaim in South Florida (founded in 1974), Congregation Or Chadesh in Chicago (founded in 1976), Congregation Beth Ahavah in Philadelphia, Congregation Keshet Shalom in Toronto, and Congregation Sha'ar Zahav in San Francisco (founded in 1977).

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur

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literature >> Overview:  The Bible

Perhaps no other book has been more influential--for better or worse--in determining the construction of gay and lesbian identity in the modern world, as well as social attitudes toward homosexuality, than the Bible.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Churches and Synagogues

Spurred by the gay liberation movement of the late 1960s, a number of religious groups--including specifically gay-oriented churches and synagogues--have been formed to address the needs of gay and lesbian believers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Israel

Even while struggling with anti-gay prejudice and internal divisions, queer activists in Israel have managed to gain a legal status that is equaled in only the most progressive countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America, formed to rehabilitate masculinity in the early twentieth century, has constantly seen itself as under attack or at least challenged by homosexuality or effeminacy, and its official policy excluding homosexuals has recently led to several legal and social challenges.


Balka, Christie, and Andy Rose, eds. Twice Blessed: On Being Gay or Lesbian and Jewish. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

Beck, Gad, and Frank Heibert. An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin. Allison Brown, trans. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

Boteach, Shmuley. Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Passion and Intimacy. Mansfield, Oh.: Main Street Books, 2000.

Boyarin, Daniel, Daniel Itzkovitz, and Ann Pellegrini. Queer Theory and the Jewish Question. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Cohen, Alfred S. "Tumtum and Androgynous." Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society No. 38 (1999): 62-85.

De Lange, Nicholas. An Introduction to Judaism. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

DuBowski, Sandra Simcha. "Trembling Before G-d." [videorecording]. A Simcha Leib Production and a Turbulent Arts Production. Israel: Keshet Broadcasting, 2001.

Jacob, Walter and Moshe Zemer, eds. Gender Issues in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001.

Isherwood, Lisa, ed. The Good News of the Body: Sexual Theology and Feminism. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Magonet, Jonathan, ed. Jewish Explorations of Sexuality. Providence, R. I.: Berghahn Books, 1995.

Mendelsohn, Daniel Adam. The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity. New York: Knopf, 1999.

Moore, Traci, ed. Lesbiot: Israeli Lesbians Talk about Sexuality, Feminism, Judaism and Their Lives. Oxford: Cassell Academic, 1999.

Schneer, David, and Caryn Aviv, eds. Queer Jews. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Shokied, Moshe. A Gay Synagogue in New York. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Arthur, Mikaila Mariel Lemonik  
    Entry Title: Judaism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated January 17, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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