NEW YORK, April 17 (JTA) Reform rabbis have “gravely misled not only other Jews, but the entire world by fostering the notion that Judaism tolerates homosexual acts,” a fervently Orthodox group is charging.
Agudath Israel of America attacked the Reform movement’s acceptance of gay commitment ceremonies in a quarter-page ad on the April 14 New York Times op-ed page.
The ad was a response to a March 29 resolution adopted by the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, which asserts that “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.”
The executive director of the CCAR said he was not surprised or overly concerned by Agudath Israel’s advertisement.
“My sense was before the resolution passed, and now that it’s over, that while other groups may disagree and disagree strongly with our stance, that ultimately our friends will remain our friends and our detractors will remain our detractors,” said Rabbi Paul Menitoff.
Gay and lesbians and many liberal Jew welcomed the CCAR resolution, which passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote, but is not as strong in its wording as some had originally expected. It does not use the words “marriage” or “wedding” and supports the decision of rabbis who choose not to officiate at same-sex unions, as well as those who do.
Nonetheless, Orthodox leaders have been vociferous in condemning it. The recent advertisement, which states “Judaism Is Not a Mirror of Society’s Shifting Mores” in large writing at the top, goes on to say, “Let it be said loudly and clearly: The Torah, the very basis of the Jewish faith, explicitly considers such acts and relationships deeply sinful, condemns them without qualification and leaves no room for their formal recognition.”
Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesman for Agudath Israel, said his group’s advertisement is not intended to provoke a fight with the Reform movement but is “aimed at doing one thing: making sure the general public, both Jewish and non-Jewish, realizes this is not a Jewish move of a Jewish movement and doesn’t reflect Judaism as it has been historically defined.”
Agudath Israel’s last advertisement in The New York Times, said Shafran, was a 1995 statement denouncing the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Another Orthodox group, the Rabbinical Council of America, recently published an article in its journal titled, “Homosexuality: A Political Mask for Promiscuity.”
That article, written by a retired psychiatrist who identifies himself as a longtime member of a Reform temple, compares homosexuals to smokers and drug addicts, and wrote that they “can change their habits, but only if they want to.”
Despite the criticism from Orthodox groups, the CCAR’s Menitoff emphasized that the general reaction to the resolution has been positive. “What’s been heartening is the tremendous positive response from certainly lots of individuals in the Jewish community, both straight and gay and lesbian,” he said.
“This has meant on a deep level a great deal to not only gay and lesbian Jews but to non-Jews,” he added, noting that many non-Jewish clergy leaders have privately “expressed their admiration for what we’ve done and indicated that they hope their respective groups would be able to follow suit in the not- too-distant future.”