RAANANA, Israel (ChurchMilitant.com) - A group representing Orthodox-Zionist rabbis is saying homosexuals must be integrated into society.
The group Beit Hillel gave a conference in Israel last week titled "Halacha [Jewish law] and Inclusion — The Religious Community's Relations to Homosexuals."
Although the group doesn't exclusively represent Orthodox (religious) Jews, the organization represents a significant portion of Orthodox thinking. The majority of Reformed and other types of Jews already believe there is nothing wrong with sexual acts between same-sex partners and that they should be allowed to marry. Many non-Orthodox rabbis have been "marrying" same-sex couples for quite a while.
Although Orthodox Judaism holds that homosexual acts are sinful, scholars teach "public sins" like violating the Sabbath are worse. Beit Hillel director Rabbi Shlomo Hecht said homosexuals should be allowed to lead communal prayers and read from the Torah except on Yom Kippur.
He commented, "It is up to those around them — like their relatives and other members of the community — to be even more sensitive to fulfilling the Torah's obligation of 'loving your neighbor as yourself' in the way they conduct themselves with them. They also need to make sure they don't violate the prohibition of verbally harming others."
According to the Jerusalem Post, the statement by Beit Hillel doesn't specifically mention same-sex acts like sodomy are allowed. It talks about same-sex attraction, saying that "there is nothing wrong, both morally or halachically, with individuals, men or women, exhibiting homosexual tendencies."
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a leader in the Orthodox Jewish community, made news in 2013 when he called for acceptance of homosexuals and asked why they are condemned more than people who violate the Sabbath.
His comments, however, didn't imply he personally approved of homosexuality. He thought militant homosexuals pushed their agenda too much. "There are some, who are very militant, who wouldn't want you to use the term cure. They are not sick any more than the heterosexual people are sick — that's how they regard it. That, I think, is pushing it a bit too far."
He continued, "I don't support homosexuality, God forbid, but we must commit to a higher standard of communal integrity than what exists today,"
He noted the Torah — the Hebrew Scriptures — calls sodomy an abomination, but it also considers it an abomination to be dishonest with weights and measures and to not help the poor. He reasons that Jewish people should be as horrified at the desecration of the Sabbath, noting sodomy is considered a private sin.
Beit Hillel's statement maintains that sexual relations between persons of the same gender is still forbidden, but demurs that "there's room for leniency in attitudes toward social inclusion and for accepting [homosexuals] into the community."
A spokesman for the organization asserted, "We're not recognizing any sort of homosexual unions — I mean, they exist, we don't deny reality, but we don't sanction them in an official form in the document."
Not all Orthodox, however, agree with Beit Hillel's statement. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner lambasted it, saying, "This organization does not represent anyone but themselves, and not Jewish law. ... Jewish law states that to lead a prayer service one must be free from sins, and for certain not to commit a sin so severe which is an abomination."
In 2011, a large group of Orthodox rabbis declared same-sex civil marriages are wrong.
The United States and Israel are home to approximately 80 percent of the global Jewish population. Half the Jews in Israel are Orthodox, while the majority of Jews in the United States are Reformed or Conservative, with only a small percentage Orthodox.