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Rabbi Ari Ellis

Rabbi Ari Ellis: Not all Orthodox Jews Oppose Manitoba’s Anti-bullying Bill

March 18, 2013

[ Editor's note:Rabbi Ellis wrote this article below after learning of  the comments of Rabbi Avrohom  Altein's of chabad-Lubavitch as reported in the Canadian Press, which are reported here: 

The Canadian Press article refers to Rabbi Altein as saying that a gay-straight alliance at school would be the same as a group demanding non-kosher food in school. “It would be wrong for a student of an Orthodox Jewish school to demand the right to eat a lunch of non-kosher food such as pork. It would be even more disrespectful for students to form an official group within the Jewish religious school to advocate for the ‘right’ to eat pork.”

According to an article in the  Winnipeg Free Press, Rabbi Avrohom Altein e said while he supports efforts to protect children from bullies, Bill 18 should not come at the expense of embracing "every opinion and every behaviour."

"We each have different and often opposing beliefs in politics, religion and moral," he said in his letter. "Orthodox Judaism believes in the sanctity of the Bible that rejects homosexuality, as do other great religions. That is not because of intolerance of people that have a natural inclination towards such lifestyles." 

See also:  ]


Rabbi Ellis: Not all Orthodox Jews Oppose Manitoba’s Anti-bullying Bill:

Earlier this month we had the honour of welcoming Rabbi Steve Greenberg, author of Wrestling with God and Men, to Limmud, our community-wide festival of Jewish learning. Among the topics that Rabbi Greenberg spoke about at Limmud, and throughout the community over the weekend, were his views on homosexuality and Jewish law. In a book review of Wrestling with God and Men, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, a Chicago Orthodox rabbi known for his fostering an inclusive view of Orthodox Judaism, rejects the book as a valid Orthodox approach to homosexuality. Nevertheless, he affirms Steve Greenberg′s “importance as a voice within the Orthodox community”, and calls him “a brilliant, thoughtful and courageous rabbi” and his book “a brilliant work of creativity and research.”


As Rabbi of Herzlia – Adas Yeshurun, Winnipeg’s largest Orthodox congregation, we were honoured to host Rabbi Greenberg on Shabbat afternoon. Although some of Rabbi Greenberg’s personal views on homosexuality and Jewish law are outside of mainstream Orthodoxy, which he himself freely admits, I nevertheless learned a great deal from his visit. In particular, I found his personal struggles and the challenges he has faced as someone who is homosexual and who desires to remain within the Orthodox community especially moving. Many others in his position have abandoned Orthodoxy or have had similar experiences of not being welcome at Orthodox institutions. I resolved to make our synagogue a place that all Jews can come to explore and experience meaningful Jewish living.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know what the future will bring. But I do know that we cannot continue to close our eyes and pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist within the Jewish community. As we move forward, we are going to have to reconcile this very real phenomenon with the norms of Jewish law and tradition.

As Orthodox Jews, as a matter of faith, we believe in the divinity of the Bible, of both of the Written and the Oral Law, just as Rabbi Altein of Chabad of Winnipeg asserted in his letter to Premier Selinger as reported by The Canadian Press. Jewish law, therefore, cannot change to reflect each and every latest fad or trend. However, I do not believe that having a gay-straight alliance is similar to having a group for Jewish students who wish to promote the eating of pork.

At our synagogue we don’t judge individuals or ask someone whether they observe Shabbat or Kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws) before welcoming them into our congregation. Everyone is welcome to attend and be a part of our community. But welcoming someone into our community doesn’t mean than we endorse all their personal choices.

Rabbi Altein claims that Orthodox Judaism “rejects homosexuality.” However, such a statement is not entirely true or clear. Leviticus 18:22 states “Thou shall not lie with a male as one lies with a woman.” Orthodox Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. But what about sexual orientation? How does Orthodox Judaism relate to an individual’s same sex attraction? Do we embrace it? Do we reject it?

In a Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community1, over 200 leading Orthodox Rabbis, educators, and community leaders have affirmed that it is critical to emphasize that Jewish law only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction and nothing in the Bible devalues the human beings who struggle with them. Heterosexual marriage is the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression. Nevertheless, the sensitivity and understanding we express for Jews with other sexual orientations in no way diminishes that principle.

Furthermore, demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Jewish law. Also among the twelve clauses discussed in this document, as Orthodox Jews we affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches to attempt to change their sexual orientation that they deem futile or dangerous. And, most relevant to our discussion of the anti-bullying legislation, the document emphasizes that Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions must be welcomed as full members of our synagogues and school communities.

Also, the Statement of Principles notes, that Jews with a homosexual orientation confront serious emotional and psychological challenges to the point of greatly increasing the risk of suicide. Rabbis and communities and mental health professionals are urged to be sensitive to this reality and provide responsible assistance to those dealing with these challenges.

Therefore, as an Orthodox Rabbi and a Jewish educator, it is my belief that a gay-straight alliance could be a welcome institution in our schools and communities. In fact, I would want to encourage Jewish teenagers with a homosexual orientation to seek guidance from their Rabbis and teachers in dealing with their struggles within a Jewish framework, instead of turning elsewhere for help.

The Statement of Principles leaves the decision as to whether to be open about one's sexual orientation to each individual, and urges them consider both their own needs and the needs of the community. And we oppose on ethical and moral grounds the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and also coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.

For those who choose to come “out of the closet,” I share Rabbi Altein’s concern that a gay-straight alliance could be used by schools or students to promote practices or espouse views contrary to Jewish law and tradition violating our freedom of religion. Nevertheless, I believe that it could have an even greater potential for being a place for guidance and support for us all.

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