Welcoming Shuls

Resources for ShulsASCALON_STUDIOS,_David_Ascalon,_Lincoln_Square_Synagogue_Ark_New_York

Taking Action

Principles of Inclusion

Discussion Questions


Resources for Shuls

If your community wishes to provide a safe and welcoming environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, ask yourselves the questions below to help you assess where you fall on a welcoming spectrum; what values, beliefs and practices are you ready to espouse to be welcoming?

Ask yourself the following questions:

    • Are you open to learning about the LGBT members of your community?
    • Is your shul ready to serve the religious and communal needs of its LGBT members and families by providing an open and non-discriminatory environment for them?
    • Are you ready to stand publicly against ignorant, homophobic or hateful comments made by community members or leaders in your community? Are you ready to approach them privately?
    • Do you want families with LGBT members to be able to share information about them without fear of discrimination or shame when they share this information?
    • Are you ready to take a stand publicly against bullying in communities and schools that targets nonconforming gender expression and sexual orientation?
    • While we do not expect Orthodox rabbis to perform same-sex weddings, will you and your rabbi help LGBT members and their families celebrate milestones in their lives?

  • While poskim continue to explore possible responses to the challenges faced by transgender people, will you remain personally respectful and engaged on a human level to the challenges that trans people and their families face?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions then you are ready to make your synagogue more welcoming to LGBT people. Read below about some action steps to take.

Taking Action

Here are some actions to take to make your community an accepting environment for LGBT members:

Do not make hateful, ignorant or homophobic remarks from the bima, around the shabbos table or anywhere else. If you are a congregant in a synagogue where a rabbi demonstrates insensitivity or misunderstanding of LGBT people, tell him this is hurtful to you. These kinds of statements publicly humiliate LGBT people and their families.
Avoid use of term “homosexual lifestyle.” LGBT people do not have a particular lifestyle that is different from anyone else.

Do not presume everyone in your community is heterosexual. Be sensitive about offering to create a shidduch (match) for someone unless you know with certainty that they are interested in meeting someone of the opposite sex.
Do treat a LGBT person with the same regard and dignity you would any other community member.
Acknowledge the partner of an LGBT person as you would anyone else’s spouse: invite them to your simcha; ask about their welfare; express concern if they are facing some difficulty.

Celebrate the milestones of LGBT people and their family members just as you would any other person in your community. If your synagogue is not ready to do any kind of commitment ceremony, you can still acknowledge their union, or celebration of their union if they choose to have one. Celebrate the birth of their children just as you would anyone else’s.

Encourage your shul to have an inclusion statement for LGBT people, and to define “couple” and “family” membership to include LGBT-headed households.

Familiarize yourself with resources that are appropriate for LGBT Jews, their rabbis or family members. For a list of resources go to our resource page.

Principles of Inclusion

Eshel has drafted the principles below to help allies make their Orthodox synagogues and communities more inclusive of LGBT people. A welcoming shul accepts certain principles that will bind the rabbi, LGBT congregants, and the community as a whole in a covenant of inclusion. We welcome you to use these principles as a guide in creating a more LGBT inclusive Orthodox community.

1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kavod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic or environmentally generated is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with dignity and respect.

2. Whatever the origin or cause of homosexual orientation, the psychiatric community does not feel that orientation can be changed with therapy. Since most mental health professionals feel that these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients, it is not halakhically acceptable to demand that gay people attempt to change their sexual orientation. Consequently, we affirm the religious right of gay people to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous. The Rabbinic Council of America has affirmed that therapy of any type “be performed only by licensed, trained practitioners and…that no individual should be coerced to participate in a therapeutic course with which he or she is acutely uncomfortable.”

3. LGBT Jews who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering. For example, homosexual orientation may greatly increase the risk of suicide among teenagers in our community. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality. Rabbis and mental health professionals must provide responsible and ethical assistance to congregants and clients dealing with those human challenges and should communicate their openness to providing respectful pastoral counseling to LGBT individuals.

4. Jews struggling to live in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve support. The demand that LGBT people remain closeted is an unacceptable burden that has socially and psychologically destructive consequences. Nonetheless, the process of coming out is one that should not be forced upon anyone, and it is certainly wrong to “out” an LGBT member of the community. Clearly we should leave up to an individual the timing and context of a decision to share their sexual orientation with family, friends and community. We support the honesty and grasp the relief of coming out for the gay members of our community, but leave up to them the timing and context of their decision to share their sexual orientation with family, friends and community.

5. LGBT Jews should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. They should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of their synagogue. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakha.

6. At present, an often-recommended halakhic “solution” for LGBT Orthodox Jews is life-long celibacy. Clearly, this is a demand that can be followed by very few individuals, whether hetero- or homosexual. Since, under these circumstances, the vast majority of young LGBT Orthodox Jews will either leave Orthodoxy or find same sex companionship and endeavor to remain in this community, the Orthodox world is challenged with finding a way within halakhic parameters to welcome these Jews as well as their partners and children.

Discussion Questions

Here are a few questions you may find helpful in guiding discussions within your community:

  • Do you feel that these principles describe your shul?
  • Which do you feel are a fair expression of your views or those of your rabbi or community?
  • Which would you need to edit, and how would you edit them, to make them useful in your community?
  • Which do you feel are just beyond your ability, or the ability of the tradition as you understand it, to accept?

We invite rabbis, congregational and community leaders, LGBT people, their families and friends to take part in the construction of a welcoming Orthodox congregation.

Want to make your community more welcoming?
Drop us an email and we will help you tailor a plan appropriate for the specific needs of your community.