Synagogue and Sexual Orientation

“Should gay flocks have their own churches?”

That was a question raised by Manya Brachear, a religion reporter for the Chicago Tribune. At JOI, we believe it doesn’t have to be either/or. A synagogue can be inclusive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) members, just as LGBT synagogues can be inclusive of straight members. What’s important is that each congregation is welcoming towards all who approach. If the commandment is to welcome the stranger, than the orientation of the synagogue or congregation shouldn’t matter.

Manya posed the question on the Tribune’s religion blog The Seeker. She asks, “Should gays and lesbians have distinct congregations? Does that discourage mainstream houses of worship from welcoming them into their midst?” Some think separate congregations are okay, just as there are African American churches, but others think GLBT folks “should be part of mainstream churches.”

We think this can be applied to most groups who find themselves on the periphery of the mainstream Jewish community – intermarried families, adult children of intermarriage, multiracial Jews, etc… The shared common denominator among these folks is they are all Jewish. Shouldn’t that be enough to open the doors of any Jewish institution? What do you think?


  1. The original Tribune article, and Levi Fishman’s framing above, both imply that the main (or only?) question here is about discrimination vs. inclusion. If “mainstream” congregations simply “open their doors” then LGBT-outreach congregations will no longer be needed. There is some truth to that. But it masks another, possibly more fundamental question: To what extent do LGBT people want or need a spiritual community that explicitly speaks to their shared experiences and shared needs? As Rabbi Larry Edwards noted in the article, some moments in Torah and some moments in life resonate differently for LGBT people. In an LGBT-outreach congregation, those resonances can be actively highlighted and celebrated.

    The ideal Jewish community is not one where differences don’t matter or cease to exist. Rather, we should strive to create a community in which differences and Jewish diversity are actively and consistently celebrated and affirmed, not erased or compartmentalized. For LGBT people, that affirmation is a given in an LGBT-outreach congregation. As more “mainstream” congregations learn that “opening their doors” means pro-actively affirming and making space for difference, then the interest in separate LGBT space may indeed diminish.

    Most LGBT-outreach congregations learned this lesson long ago and are now therefore among the most welcoming congregations in the Jewish world for ALL those who find themselves on the periphery of the mainstream Jewish community (as Levi put it). Walk in to nearly any LGBT-outreach synagogues and you’ll experience a profoundly diverse mix: LGBT, straight-identified, interfaith families and couples, people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, Jews by Choice, non-Jews seeking connection to the Jewish world, etc.

    Comment by Gregg Drinkwater — July 22, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  2. Timely! An interesting article entitled “Straight believers find a home in gay churches, synagogues” ran today in USA Today. It’s definitely worth reading.

    Comment by Gregg Drinkwater — July 23, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  3. The best way I can describe it is like having two souls. I have a Jewish soul and a gay soul. Any time I show up at a Jewish event or Jewish House of Worship, they welcome my Jewish soul. If I go to a gay event, then my gay soul is welcomed. To be in a place that speaks to my identity as a gay Jew is rare. This is why gay and lesbian people (among others) need house of worship and prayer books that speak to them as Jews and as others (gay, lesbian, intermarried, whatever).

    Comment by G. Konecky — July 25, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  4. When I was young and went to a Reform temple we were all given the kiddie version of Channukah (among other things). We couldn’t get the adult version of Channukah because of the messy fact that the Maccabees killed Jews who they didn’t feel were religious enough and that would have caused certain uncomfortable questions to be asked at temple.

    Similarly since Judaism was one of the few ancient religions to have any objection to homosexuality, a GLBT Jewish congregation would have to cut short any uncomfortable discussions of homosexuality and Judaism, and just keep things at a similar kiddie level.

    Of course there are many heterosexual Jews who love their Judaism kiddiefied, and may very well prefer a GLBT congregation.

    Comment by Dave — July 26, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

  5. It is not a “kiddie” interpretation, it’s a decent, sane, balanced, realistic, loving interpretation - to recognize that God created - and continues to create - gay/bi/trans PEOPLE. That’s why it’s called “Reform.” We get to use our minds and our own conscience to extract the wisdom from Jewish teachings and to ignore the parts that are no longer relevant - and to reject ideas that are violent and ugly. I’m proud that half my congregation is gay - and the other half doesn’t think twice about it.

    Comment by Sara — July 27, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

  6. Anglican Church may have ‘two track’ structure
    And for another fascinating development, on a related note, see the article below.

    Published: 7/27/09, 7:47 PM EDT
    LONDON (AP) - The worldwide Anglican Communion may have to accept a “two track” system in which churches can hold different opinions about gay clergy and same-sex unions, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Monday in a bid to keep the church unified….

    Here’s the URL for the full story:

    Comment by Rabbi Hayim Herring — July 27, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

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