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Reform Judaism won’t back down

Parshat Kedoshim

Leviticus 19:1 -20:27

This week’s Torah portion Kedoshim contains the second explicit verse that is often pointed out condemns gay male sex. Leviticus 20:13 prescribes the death penalty. Of course this entire section of Leviticus has a whole series of punishments for sexual transgressions and idolatry all of which are punishable by death in the Bible. Including verse 9 of chapter 20, “Anyone who insults his father or his mother, shall be put to death”. And any man who has sexual intercourse with a woman while she is menstruating is excommunicated from the people. In ancient times excommunication was certain death because it put you outside the camp and tribe and you no longer had the group’s protection. You were subject to brigands and the whims of warring tribes. When radical religious fundamentalists of any stripe use the Levitical verses to condemn homosexuality they often conveniently forget to read the rest of the nearby verses. Why aren’t they making an issue of those who insult their parents? Why aren’t they discriminating against those who commit elder abuse? In American society it is often these same Christian Fundamentalists who want to defund Planned Parenthood but they never harangue anyone about sex during menstruation. In fact I have never seen them try to take the civil rights of those who do so. They only wrongly focus on gay people. The Bible also says not to eat seafood but I haven’t seen Christian Fundamentalist preachers give up their Lobster Bisque. The ancient mindset did not understand the notion of sexual orientation. Gay sexuality was not the issue in Leviticus. Idolatry and rape were the issues. Leviticus isn’t commenting about same-gender loving relationships. It is only seeing a man who lays the laying of a woman as a male in a submissive position and something that the pagans engage in the worship of their gods. This isn’t what homosexuality is about-not today. The Reform Movement of Judaism has been clear in its resolution process of support for the civil rights of gay men and lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. Since the 1960’s Reform Judaism has been an advocate for equality. First the Women of Reform Judaism (Then Sisterhood) in the 1960’s called for the decriminalization of consensual adult relations. Later the Union for Reform Judaism (then the UAHC) called for full federal recognition of gay and lesbians relationships in the 1980’s. And in 1996 the Central Conference of American Rabbis called for marriage equality and in 2000 by a resounding resolution vote the Reform Rabbinate supported religious marriage equality as well! Reform Judaism is undergoing a significant leadership change in the next year. There will be a new head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs. But there will be no change in the historic supportive position of Reform Judaism for full civil equality including marriage equality for gay men, lesbians, and bisexual and transgender people. In fact the youth movement leaders of Reform Judaism and our Jewish educators have been doing extraordinary work to educate young people on the dangers of bullying and on learning to accept and welcome and make our camps and youth groups into safe places for gay youth. Our young people are increasingly involved in Gay –Straight Alliances at their schools and engage in advocacy on behalf of full civil equality for the GLBT community. So even as we read this week’s Torah portion, let us call out this verse in Leviticus and name it, confront it and answer those who mis-use the Bible for their own political gain. Perhaps they ought to read what comes before these verses as well in this Torah portion and which gives this portion its name, Be Holy for I am holy. Perhaps they would do better if they engaged in holy work rather than holy war. Our world would be a far better place.