Statement On Marriage Equality to the Parliament of Australia by the Masorti Beit Din of Australasia

[Original media release here]

The following is a statement issued by the Masorti Beit Din to Members of the Australian Parliament on the question of marriage equality.

For further information please contact Rabbi Adam Stein on 0422 674 455 or by email at rabbistein@kehilatnitzan.org.au

Statement On Marriage Equality
to the Parliament of Australia
by the Masorti Beit Din of Australasia

Marriage Equality is an issue which has been addressed in different ways in a number of English speaking countries (and beyond) over the last couple of years. Ireland approached it as a constitutional issue while both the New Zealand and United Kingdom parliaments legislated on it. In the United States of America, the Supreme Court recently declared same-sex legal in all 50 states.

The Masorti Beit Din is guided in its deliberations by the Rabbinical Assembly1’s
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS). In December 2006, the CLJS adopted
a responsum entitled “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah”2 which states that
rabbinic prohibitions banning gay and lesbian intimate acts “are superseded based upon
the Talmudic principle of kvod habriot, our obligation to preserve the human dignity of all
people (p19).”

The responsum also “normalizes the status of gay and lesbian Jews in the Jewish community,” and declares “stable, committed, Jewish relationships to be as necessary and beneficial for homosexuals and their families as they are for heterosexuals (p19).”

Subsequently, in Spring 2012, the CLJS adopted an addendum entitled “Rituals And Documents Of Marriage And Divorce For Same-Sex Couples.”3 This document states “we are convinced that the nomenclature of gay marriage and divorce should be equal and clearly stated as such, not obscured in ambiguous language (p3).”

This Beit Din, cognizant of the above documents and precedents, calls on the Australian Parliament to legislate for Marriage Equality.

We base our call not only on the above CLJS decisions but upon the following principles:

  1. The Hebrew Bible tells us that we are all created in the Image of G-d. G-d does not distinguish between heterosexuals and homosexuals.
  2. One of the gifts G-d has placed in the world is love. G-d did not discriminate between the love experienced by people who are heterosexual and those who are homosexual

Much of the opposition to monogamous homosexual relationships is based on the assumption that it is a lifestyle choice. It was not that long ago that homosexuality carried a diagnostic category as a mental illness (the American Psychiatric Association removed it by a vote of the APA membership, and homosexuality was no longer listed in the seventh edition of DSM-II, issued in 1974).

Judaism has never seen the role of sexual intercourse as only for procreation. Judaism has seen it also as a way in which a loving relationship can be expressed between two individuals.

The Beit Din rejects the spurious argument advanced by some who oppose marriage equality that the best environment in which to raise children is one where there is one father and one mother. Rather the Beit Din sees the best environment being one in which the child is raised in a loving, caring environment which may be with either one or two parents, of either or both genders.

The current debate in Australia regards the civil and government recognition of same sex marriages. We see no reason to oppose such legislation. Rather, we encourage all Jews who care about respect and dignity for everyone in Australian society to support marriage equality.

The Jewish community, and the broader Australian community, should be aware that the rabbis and other communal leaders who oppose marriage equality DO NOT represent the whole Jewish community, nor probably even a majority of it .

We are happy to use values and principles drawn from Jewish text, law, and tradition, and well as proven research, to support the basic rights and dignity of fellow Australians.

Dated 03 July, 2015

Masorti Beit Din of Australasia
Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, DD, DMin, FRSA, MPH, BCom, BCC- Chair
Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, JD, MHL- Masorti@Emanuel, Sydney
Rabbi Adam Stein, MARS, MAEd- Kehilat Nitzan, Melbourne

The Beit Din is the Rabbinic/Ecclesiastical Court for Masorti Judaism in Australia and New Zealand

1 The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative/Masorti rabbis.
2 www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20052010/dorff_nevins_reisner_dignity.pdf, or http://tinyurl.com/pcrpw23, accessed 12 June 2015.
3 www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/same-sex-marriage-and-divorce-appendix.pdf, http://tinyurl.com/cmsgpk6, accessed 12 June 2015.

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone | Haaretz

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone | Haaretz.

Australia’s LGBT community marks a bar mitzvah milestone

Thirteen years after the Jewish float debuted at Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, members of the community look back on their struggle and say there’s still work to be done.

By Dan Goldberg | Mar.04, 2013 | 11:19 AM

Mazel tov! The Jewish float at Sydney’s 2013 Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Photo by Tomer Hasson

It was a bar mitzvah like no other. A throng of Jewish men and women adorned with rainbow-colored prayer shawls and sporting pink kippot danced near the centerpiece of the simcha – a truck decorated with a gigantic Star of David emblazoned with the words “mazel tov.”

Some 10,000 others joined the parade while hundreds of thousands watched, as Australia’s Jewish float marked its coming of age Saturday night at the 2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Twenty-four hours earlier, 75 people attended a gay Shabbat dinner at Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue, which incorporates Conservative, Reform and Renewal congregations, following a special service peppered with readings by gay members to mark the milestone.

Kim Gotlieb, the president of Dayenu, Sydney’s Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender group, acknowledged the support from Emanuel Synagogue in a letter last week. It is reassuring to know that “we belong to a gay-friendly synagogue which continues to walk beside us in addressing issues of inclusion and acceptance,” he wrote.

Emanuel’s rabbi, Jacqueline Ninio, also made mention of the LGBT community in the congregation’s weekly newsletter, writing: “During the years, we have used the process of interpretation and understanding to reimagine the laws of Judaism to be inclusive and welcoming of gays and lesbians. But there is still a long way to go – both legally and within our culture.”

‘Stars of David Come Out’

Despite Rabbi Ninio’s caveat, most of Sydney’s gay Jews acknowledge their predicament today is a far cry from the first Jewish float at the Mardi Gras in 2000, which featured a three-ton truck adorned with a giant three-dimensional Star of David. The float has been an annual feature since then, with the exception of 2006.
Back then about 150 gay Jews and their supporters, including Holocaust survivor Susie Wise, celebrated alongside the float, under the banner “Stars of David Come Out.”

“We were the Stars of David glowing in the dark of homophobia,” recalled Dawn Cohen, the coordinator of the first Jewish float, in a reflective article. “We’re saying ‘no’ … we’re going to invite you all to work through your internalized anti-Semitism and homophobia and to celebrate with us.”

Cohen and the other founders named themselves “Dayenu,” the Hebrew word for “enough” that is the common refrain of the Passover song of the same name.

However, “Dayenu” was also the response the group received from the Orthodox rabbinate, which was exacerbated by Vic Alhadeff, then editor of the Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News. Alhadeff published a front-page photo of the first Jewish float on March 10, 2000.

“Of all the controversial positions I took as editor of the Australian Jewish News, the one of which I was proudest was going to the barricades on behalf of the right of Jewish gays to be gay,” Alhadeff told Haaretz this week. “Because I saw the impact it had – on human lives, on families, on individuals, on members of our own community.”

The controversy dominated the newspaper’s pages for weeks, including an ad signed by 28 prominent Australian Jews expressing support for gay Jewish rights and for the newspaper to reflect the community’s diversity.


2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

[Gallery]
Bar mitzvah boys celebrate at the 2013 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.Tomer Hasson


“Overwhelmingly, the community spoke out in support of the newspaper,” Cohen recalled. “They didn’t want Jewish homosexuals to be invisible. It was not a vote in favor of lesbian and gay marriage, but it was an unprecedented warning to the Orthodox rabbinate about the limits of its control.”

Inevitably, the backlash soon followed. The Sydney Beth Din demanded Alhadeff explain himself at a rabbinic hearing. They also summoned Hilton Immerman, the chief executive of the Shalom Institute – which advances Jewish learning and leadership – for hosting a gay Shabbat on the Friday night before the 2000 Mardi Gras.

Neither Alhadeff nor Immerman agreed. Immerman said he would only consider it “after being able to peruse the charges that a particular individual had brought against us.”

“As these were never forthcoming, we did not appear,” Immerman told Haaretz. “I was lobbied by two or three Orthodox rabbis at the time to cancel the event. I explained that any Jews had the right to celebrate Shabbat and that I would protect their right to do so.

“It’s absurd to think that sexual orientation was even regarded as relevant,” Immerman said.

Among those who attended that Shabbat dinner was Ariel Friedlander, an American-born lesbian rabbi, and Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, the senior rabbi of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney.

The furor created “huge tension” among Australian Jewry, recalled Kamins, who was also a board member of Shalom at the time.

But gay Jews have become “hugely” enfranchised since then, Kamins said, noting that Emanuel was at the “vanguard and forefront.”

‘Mutual respect regardless of sexual orientation’

Indeed, the former Californian officiated at Australia’s first same-sex Jewish commitment service at Emanuel in 2008 – between Scott Whitmont and Christopher Whitmont-Stein – following a May 2007 decision by the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

However, Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick, president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, countered at the time: “While we may and should be tolerant towards individuals, we certainly cannot sanctify something that our Bible clearly prohibits.”
Haaretz recently has learned the names of several Orthodox rabbis in Sydney and Melbourne who welcome individual gay Jews, but their names cannot be made public.

“Do 612 mitzvot and we won’t worry about the 613th,” one Orthodox rabbi told a gay congregant, according to Dayenu’s Gotlieb.

Kamins and Immerman agreed the general Jewish community is more open. “Gay Jews are less marginalized today,” Immerman said. “Most of the Jewish establishment has become more welcoming but I guess some segments of the community are more so than others.”

In 2010, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry adopted a resolution in 2010 calling for “mutual respect” regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But the elected leadership acknowledged there is still “much work” to be done to “remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community.”

Intolerance and discrimination were widespread in Melbourne in 1999 when Michael Barnett led the first attempt by Aleph Melbourne, a Jewish GLBT support group, to apply for membership of the roof body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

The move sparked an acrimonious debate ending with an impassioned plea by now-deceased Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky, who claimed if the motion passed it “may well be a turning point in our community,” and would result in the collapse of the council because Orthodox associates would be forced to resign.

“This JCCV has no right to meddle with the fundamentals of Judaism,” he said.
But Barnett argued that rejecting the group would be “a win for fear, intolerance and prejudice.” The motion was narrowly denied, 46-39, and the Jewish LGBT group has remained outside the tent ever since.

Barnett told Haaretz this week that the improved lot of gays in the general community affected the Jews as well. “The conversations seem to be less unacceptable now, given that homosexuality is more visible in wider society,” he said.

“It’s not something that can just be dismissed as ‘not our problem.’ It’s still taboo in the frum circles, and I suspect it’s pretty much spoken about in disparaging terms,” he added.

But while Reform and Conservative Judaism in Australia has embraced the gay community, Gotlieb wants to “challenge” for more inclusiveness.

“I would like to see more inclusion at Emanuel, more awareness that most gay people are somewhat distanced from their families,” he said.

There are still many Australian Jews whose view on gays is “personal and heartfelt and accepting,” he said. “But then they apologize that they are not able to express that publicly.”

ABC The Drum – Gay Marriage – Aug 7 2012

In this episode, Geraldine Doogue speaks to ABC Religion and Ethics Editor Scott Stephens, NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward and Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins from Sydney’s Emanuel Synagogue.

Australian Masorti welcomes same-sex ceremony guidelines | AJN

8 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
PETER KOHN

Australian Masorti welcomes same-sex ceremony guidelines

AUSTRALIAN Masorti rabbis and Jewish communal figures have welcomed Conservative Judaism’s decision to issue guidelines for its rabbis to conduct same-sex commitment ceremonies.

But groups representing the Jewish Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex (GLBTI) communities, while endorsing the move, noted it fell short of a fully fledged gay chuppah. Gay marriage is not legal in Australia.

The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the American organisation for Conservative (Masorti) rabbis, voted last week in favour of issuing the rules under which its rabbis can conduct these ceremonies.

It follows the RA’s decision six years ago to allow its rabbis to officiate at same-sex ceremonies if they wished.

The RA has published two sets of guidelines, for ceremonies that more closely resemble a marriage, and for those that are more distinct from marriage.

Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney, who has officiated at a same-sex commitment ceremony in Australia, welcomed the decision “which supports civil rights and equal rights for all Jews, regardless of their sexual orientation”.

Rabbi Adam Stein of Kehilat Nitzan in Melbourne said he was glad his movement approved same-sex ceremonies in 2006 and that it has now issued guidelines, but he would need to consult with Nitzan’s board before conducting such a ceremony. John Rosenberg, a founder of Kehilat Nitzan, told The AJN the guidelines are a positive move. “Masorti Judaism strongly supports inclusion and I think this is a wonderful move towards inclusion for all members of our community. But Rabbi Stein will need to provide guidance for the congregation in terms of what we do.”

Michael Barnett, convenor of GLBTI support group Aleph Melbourne, welcomed the guidelines, but called for a commitment ceremony to be made available to heterosexual couples. “Separate is not equal. With the Conservative Jewish movement creating a special class of religious marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, despite the positive message given by the recognition of these relationships, they are sending the message that the relationships between same-sex couples are second class and not equal to that of heterosexual couples.”

In Sydney, GLBTI support group Dayenu’s acting president, Kim Gotlieb, saw it as “a wonderful step forward in legitimising the loving bond and commitment that many same-sex couples feel for one another”, but noted that “kedushin” – the concept of a sanctified Jewish marriage – continues to be excluded from the ceremony. “However, the Masorti and Progressive synagogues in this country are poised to provide gay marriage, whenever the groundswell of public support manages to convince our politicians to move into line with prevailing international trends.”


[ Clarification: the reference to commitment ceremonies for heterosexual couples was printed out of context. It was submitted to the paper by way of comparison, in relation to Progressive Judaism in Australia currently offering same-sex Jewish couples a commitment ceremony, but denying this option to those heterosexual couples who would like religious recognition of their relationship but who do not want to get married.  — Michael Barnett ]

77 multi-faith clergy call for marriage equality | AME

77 multi-faith clergy call for marriage equality | AME.

Jewish rabbis supporting marriage equality include:

  1. Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky, Adelaide.
  2. Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Senior Rabbi, New South Wales.
  3. Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Victoria.
  4. Rabbi Paul Jacobson, New South Wales.
  5. Rabbi Jacki Ninio, New South Wales.