With stories like these breaking every few months, it seems that the issue of LGBT acceptance and Modern Orthodoxy is at last becoming boring. by the Forward

The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

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A few days ago, I saw a headline that read: “This Orthodox Jewish rabbi just performed his first-ever ‘joyous’ same-sex wedding.” As a gay Jew, this piqued my interest, but for the rest of the world, it seemed that this news went over with a yawn. It was covered dryly by the Times of Israel, Pink News, and the Jewish News of Northern California.

Where was the celebration? The condemnation? The excitement? The fear?

With stories like these breaking every few months, it seems that the issue of LGBT acceptance and Modern Orthodoxy is at last becoming boring.

Early in September, for instance, an Orthodox Jew — a Yeshiva University professor, no less — penned an op-ed in which he stated that Orthodox halacha, by continuing to forbid homosexual relationships, is violating the dignity, autonomy, and quality of life of queer Jews. In other words, on the issue of LGBT acceptance, halacha is in the wrong. “Jewish law ought to be consonant with our values,” wrote Dr. Aaron J. Koller. “In a clash between humanity and halacha, opt for humanity, and have enough faith in halacha that the problem will be solved.”

Opinion | The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

An opinion like this from an Orthodox Jew should be shocking. But the truth is that Dr. Koller’s position is increasingly commonplace.

The dam is breaking. Modern Orthodox Judaism is shifting in its position on homosexuality.

Here a rabbi, there a rabbi. First, a call for compassion, then a call for welcoming, then a call for halachic reevaluation. And now, at long last, a wedding.

Interestingly enough, these changes often come from top brass. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat, has suggested that the Torah’s prohibition on homosexuality may not apply to homosexuals. Rabbi Daniel Landes of Pardes has ordained Judaism’s first openly gay Orthodox Rabbi.

Meanwhile, the default setting for many synagogues has become a welcoming-but-not-condoning approach, the parameters of which were first articulated in a 2010 “Statement of Principles” signed by over 100 Modern Orthodox rabbis, leaders, educators, and laypeople. Opening with a firm reiteration of the Torah’s prohibition on male and female homosexual acts, the statement went on to disavow coerced conversion therapy, call for the full inclusion of LGBT Jews in religious life, and recognize unequivocally the adopted or biological children of LGBT Jews.

These shifts, which are most prominently (but not exclusively) felt in the United States, can be traced along the same lines as the shifts in LGBT acceptance in the culture at large. In the U.S., acceptance of homosexuality has swiftly moved from a matter of opinion to a matter of broad consensus.

An anti-LGBT stance increasingly feels like an unnatural pose for individuals who are not otherwise inclined to bigotry. As a result, Modern Orthodox parents, themselves fully integrated in an LGBT-affirming society, are often unwilling to disavow their queer children. Queer Jews, meanwhile, are less willing to disqualify themselves from religious life, leading to a situation in which an ever increasing share of the Modern Orthodox world knows, loves, and is perhaps related to someone queer.

Opinion | The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

In light of all this, Dr. Koller’s stance stands out not for its radicalism — but rather as the crystallization of what is now a normalized minority opinion in the Orthodox world.

Interestingly enough, this newfound normalization could even be perceived in the negative responses Dr. Koller received from rabbis, colleagues, and thinkers who disagreed wholeheartedly with his approach.

I read each one with interest — marveling at the lack of denunciation, of vitriol, of moral panic.

Growing up in the United States in the early aughts, the debate over Christianity and homosexuality had a far uglier tone.

Homosexuality was cast as wickedness, homosexuals as perverts. But in the responses to Koller’s essay, the Torah’s prohibition on homosexuality was most often treated as an amoral proposition, one which nevertheless must be obeyed, much like the prohibition on wearing shatnez — fabric made from mixed linen and wool which is forbidden for observant Jews.

“While my writing gives the impression that I am taking a hard stance against the LGBT movement, I also want to express the importance of sensitivity to this issue,” wrote Brian Chernigoff in the YU Commentator. “It is only those who brazenly and wantonly disregard explicit Biblical verses whom I have no empathy for.”

“How will you teach Tanakh and Talmud when you dismiss their laws based on your own values?” wrote a commenter with the moniker R. Gil Student on the website Torah Musings. “Do you really think that you can prevent your children and students, and future generations, from changing more and more?”

In both of these responses, Koller is not called out as a promoter of abomination, but rather as an anti-halachist. This is a good sign for the discourse.

Opinion | The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

That said, Koller is not truly an anti-halachist. Indeed, the battle is not between halacha’s defenders and its opponents. Rather, the battle is between those who wish to preserve halacha’s structural integrity (for fear that it will collapse) and those who wish to preserve halacha’s ethical integrity (for fear that it will lose meaning).

Moreover, it’s not even a battle. It is a civil discussion happening within Modern Orthodoxy’s publications and institutions.

For now, the center holds. In the meantime, gay Jews can have an Orthodox rabbi at their wedding, or even be Orthodox rabbis themselves. For queer Jews and their allies, this is a great victory and a source of joy.

For those who disagree, on the other hand, it seems to be little more than a blip on the radar.

Matthew Schultz is a writer based in Tel Aviv. His first collection of essays, What Came Before, is forthcoming with Tupelo Press. His work has also appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Ecotone, Haaretz, Tablet and elsewhere.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

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The dam is breaking for LGBT acceptance in the Orthodox world

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