Dear Rabbis: A letter from a frum LGBT Jew

Dear Rabbis, yes all rabbis out there. This one is for you. To all those rabbis standing in front of their congregants each week speaking about the fate of the world we live in; to all those who hope to rally their congregants to do acts of chessed, acts of Kiddush Hashem, acts of kindness, acts of Ahavat Yisrael, acts that unite us as a people rather than tear us asunder, acts that bring light into the world not darkness – this is your time. This is your time to stand on the right side of history.

A month ago, the RCA opened its doors to some of us in the frum LGBT community. First and formeost, I must thank each and every one who made it possible, who came to listen and who took our words into their hearts, as they went back out to their communities. One of the panelists, began by saying that “the gay rights movement is the biggest civil rights movement of our time.” Indeed it is. Of course I recognize the difficulty that this brings to your shul’s door step, but Judaism already has a guide for you. You just have to love your fellow Jew enough to see it. It is called Kvod Habriyot and it is the key to finding a place for us in the Orthodox world.

We do not ask for your blessing. We do not ask for you to change halacha. We do not ask for you to say whether this is right or wrong. We simply ask for you to love us. The way the Torah commands you – Vehavta Lere’echa Kamocha. We ask you to be merciful, just as you ask of Hashem each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when we all reflect upon the year behind us, and pray for only goodness and his mercy in the year ahead. Indeed, the Yamim Noraim are just around the corner. Ask yourselves, “What can we do? What sources can we turn to? What lessons in our history can we bring to this table?”

May I, most respectfully, suggest a few? You are each familiar with the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza and the public shaming of a fellow Jew (which we equate with murder), the consequence of which, some attribute, was the destruction of  our Holy Jerusalem. You also all learned the words of Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not onto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” And even turning to one of our most recent and great rabbinic scholars, we learn from Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l, the importance of Kvod Habriyot, when an error is made in calculating a Pidyon Haben. Rav Feinstein Z”L paskened that to prevent embarrassing the family, the Pidyon Haben takes place even though a period of 29½ days and 793 chalakim from the birth have not elapsed (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1: 196). Such is the importance of Kvod Habriyot.

With these things in mind, what can each of you do? Embrace us. Treat us like any other Jew that comes to daven and learn. Invite us to your table — if you make us a pariah, so will your congregants. Lead by example and we Jews will follow. We want to “make” good men our rabbis. The Mishna teaches us,”Aseh Lecha Rav.”  We want you. Can you not find a place in your heart, in your shul, at your table for us?

For example, I learned the hard way that my family could not have a family membership. Where did that leave my daughter when we were charged as two singles? And I understand the difficulty of using words like family and marriage in the context of halacha, when it comes to membership. Then how about finding a solution? How about making a “Household Membership” for your congregants? That would cover a divorced mom or dad and their kids, a single adult caring for an elderly parent who lives with him or her, the widow or widower and their kids, siblings living as roommates, and on and on. You get my drift. It would also cover us; partners, civily married or not, and our children. We could attain a place in your shul, a place where Kvod Habriyot reigns supreme; all you have to do is simply welcome us.

How can you make this a reality? When you invite congregants to your home, invite us. Talk to us in shul (not during davening of course!) and ask us how we are doing? Do we need anything? How about just talking to us about baseball or football? Or our jobs? Or the weather? Or how our kids are doing in school? We have those too, and they look to you as well and watch the example that you set. My daughter has had to learn that some rabbis can be callous, lack Ahavat Yisrael and Kvod Habriyot. Ask yourselves, do you want to be that kind of rabbi? A rabbi that a frum child turns to and asks, “How could that be, he is a rabbi?”

Thank G-d, I was able to tell her about how lucky I was to speak to some of the RCA rabbis, one-on-one, after the panel discussion had concluded. I was invited to join them for dinner (one kind rav even invited us for Rosh Hashana!), and I was zoche to meet some amazing and good rabbis from all over the U.S.; from California, Arkansas (they do have Jews out there!), Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois and the tri-state area. Several of them told me that they did not want to be the kind of Rabbi that harms a fellow Jew. One told me I had literally moved him to tears, and I could see his eyes glistening. Another told me he really had to rethink how to deal with his congregants. Another simply told me he wanted to be a better rabbi. Well, you know what? He already was! They all were and are. I believe that with my whole soul.

Since writing for The Blogs – The Times of Israel, I have been contacted by so many, approached by others who told me that what I had to say mattered in this world to them, that change would come and that we just have to have faith. I have faith in you.Your congregants will watch you, so please lead with kindness, let Kvod Habriyot be your yardstick, and they will follow it. They too will treat us the way that they see you treat us. And I understand that this road is one fraught with difficulty for you, but we Jews overcome a lot and we can overcome this chapter in our history. We can move forward to create a more loving and united Am Yisrael. I believe that too. We all just have to want it.

About the Author
Shlomit is a career prosecutor -- one who believes in seeking justice for others. She holds a degree in Judaic Studies from Brooklyn College and a law degree from Hofstra (1998). She is a yeshiva high school graduate (Central/YUHSG,1988). Shlomit recently spoke on a panel at the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) on the necessity for inclusion of the LGBT community in the Orthodox world and the impact that exclusion has caused to that community.
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