AUSTRALIA’S Orthodox rabbis will soon have a set of guidelines on engaging with gay congregants under an initiative being developed by the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ).
RCANZ president Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, senior rabbi of St Kilda Shule, reflected that making Orthodox shules optimally accessible to non-heterosexual people “is especially confronting for religious Jews because of how deeply they value the Torah which forbids the form of intimacy they naturally desire”.
He said that while the halachic ruling against homosexuality needs to be adhered to, “We can and should be encouraging gay religious Jews to stay connected to their faith to the best of their ability. Indeed, fundamental to Jewish belief is that the ‘all or nothing’ attitude towards religious practice is not an approach adopted by halachah.”
He said, “One way to achieve this is through the formulation of sensitive, clear halachic guidelines to help rabbis and others assist same-sex attracted religious Jews to remain part of the Orthodox community.
“Indeed, state-based rabbinical councils in Australia have produced guidelines for religious CSG volunteers who wish to keep the laws of Shabbat while serving on duty in front of shules, as well as guidelines for engaging in interfaith dialogue. Surely then the rabbinate can produce guidelines for an issue as important as ensuring our same-sex attracted youth maintain their rightful place in their community.”
The RCANZ guidelines being formulated were inspired by protocols developed in the UK under Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to safeguard the wellbeing of same-sex attracted students at Jewish schools.
“While those guidelines focus primarily on the school environment, the guidelines to be produced by the RCANZ will focus on the synagogue, religious community and home environments, with the goal of trying to help same-sex attracted Jews maintain their rightful connection to the religious community,” Rabbi Glasman explained.
RCANZ rabbis have been encouraged to submit questions. The guidelines will cover issues such as how to respond to young gay people who insist that they wish to engage in conversion therapy (a practice which the guidelines will not support), and whether rabbis should discourage conversion therapy, given the proven health risks associated with this practice.
Seed funding for the project came after Rabbi Glasman, together with Doron Abramovici, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s board member responsible for social inclusion, applied for a ‘Dave’ Grant (named in honour of the late Australian Jewish activist Dave Burnett) from Australian Jewish Funders and its LaunchPad platform.