Rabbi Adina Lewittes, the first Canadian woman to become a Conservative Rabbi, explains why it’s time to accord full religious respect to bisexuals and gay men, following the old teaching “Great is human dignity.”
“Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah” was approved by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) on December 6, 2006, representing a watershed moment for the Conservative Movement. Rigorous scholarship, moral clarity and rabbinic courage provided a compassionate religious response to a complex matter, epitomizing the ethical and redemptive power of halakhah. However, despite wide recognition, its finer details are often ignored or misunderstood, posing ongoing challenges for the lives it impacts, especially gay men and bisexuals.
The authors surely never intended for their teshuvah (rabbinic response) to have the last word on sexuality and halakhah. Indeed, over the last decade the growing transgender community has raised complex yet meaningful questions about ritual and identity, highlighting how the increasing fluidity of sexual and gender norms remains a pressing subject for rabbinic scholars.
One troubling feature of the teshuvah which allows for gay sexual activity is its continued ban on male anal intercourse. The authors demonstrate that the principle they invoke for enfranchising gay and lesbian Jews, “gadol k’vod habriyot” (“great is human dignity”) has been used to overturn not only rabbinical enactments but even some biblical prohibitions, albeit with limitations. However, they conclude that these precedents cannot be used to justify overturning the biblical ban on this central expression of gay male intimacy.