Judaism & Gayness

LONDON: Some years ago, Rabbi Dow Marmur of the North-Western reform Synagogue was asked to comment upon the Wolfenden Report. Seeking advice from a colleague, he was told, “What is there to say? It (homosexuality) doesn’t exist among Jews”. Rabbi Marmur saw little reason to doubt that the generally accepted figure of 5% of the population being homosexual applied equally to the Jewish community.

He was speaking to an attentive and crowded meeting of‘“Integroup” at Golders Green, which is a society of homosexual and heterosexual men and women meeting to promote integration and a better understanding of human relationships.

Rabbi Marmur traced the history of Jewish attitudes to homosexuality and the abhorrence with which it has been traditionally regarded. However, homosexuality was only one example of the inevitable tension between the individual and the orthodox tradition. In Judaism the collective interest had always come first. This did not mean that orthodox rabbis could not be – indeed no doubt they often were – compassionate when faced with homosexuality but what could they do in the face of the Law?

He regarded the task of religion as to make people whole. Persons came before principles; but how could the Law accommodate to this?

Despite the Law, he felt that Jews of all people should have a special feeling for and sympathy with persecuted or misunderstood minorities. Their history was such that it could be said that Jewish homosexuals stood in the same relation to Judaism, as Judaism stood in relation to the Gentile world. There were those present who doubted whether it was characteristic of minorities to tolerate other minorities; indeed often quite the contrary.

Rabbi Marmur expressed some dismay at the separatist tendencies of Jewish Gay Liberation, feeling very strongly that the congregation should not be divided. This provoked some debate. One member of the audience who said he was both gay and Jewish felt that the attitude of the synagogue had rendered it totally irrelevant to him. Another speaker felt that gay separatism might bring the Jewish establishment to its senses and encourage liberalisation.

Certainly there was plenty of lively discussion, leaving no doubt that this is a topic which needs airing openly and with understanding.

Integroup, Golders Green.

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