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Of Religion and Rubbers

‘It keeps adults safe.” That’s the explanation Rabbi Melissa Simon hears parents give kids about the bowl of colorful condoms in the front office of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the West Village gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender shul where she’s a rabbinical intern. And at “Faith in Latex,” a panel on religion and rubbers hosted by Fifth Avenue’s Museum of Sex last week, that sentiment provided a cogent catchphrase for one of the evening’s themes — that the imperative to protect a life can supersede biblical strictures against contraception.

“It’s like a commandment to use a condom,” Simon told the audience of about 50 who packed a small exhibit room at the Museum of Sex that displayed wall texts discussing the “Porn Industry,” “Sex Acts” and “Sexploitation.” Simon added that she became a rabbi partly “because the Reform movement was able to recognize sexuality and sexual identity.”

During the panel discussion, Simon found allies in a Buddhist monk and a Pentecostalist minister. The former, Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Abbott of Village Zendo, a Zen temple in New York, cited the first of her faith’s 10 precepts, “I will not endanger others or myself,” as a basis for advocating condom use.

The Pentecostalist, the Rev. Brenda Starks-Ross, associate pastor of Brooklyn’s Trinity Pentecostal House of Prayer, stood up to preach that “when it comes to people’s lives, we’ve got to deviate” from doctrinaire interpretations of scripture. “The same faith that can move a mountain can help you move a penis and put a condom on it,” she said.

A Catholic priest, the Rev. Gilbert Martinez, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, (“In a word: No,” he opened his homily on the subject) and an Episcopal minister, the Rev. Earl Kooperhamp of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church of Harlem, rounded out the panel, which was moderated by Columbia University medical ethicist Joel Roselin. “I think it’s safe to say that many religions struggle with physical expression of spiritual love, as well as the purposes of sexual relations,” Roselin told the Forward in an e-mail. “It’s also safe to say that individual religions are not monolithic and can have different views even within a religious community.”

Simon, the rabbinical intern, expressed a similar view. “We’re seeing the dawn of a new age of people talking about this,” she told the audience. “It’s a lot less taboo.”

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