I was invited to participate in “A Pluralist Panel on Homosexuality and Judaism” by Hineni (Melbourne) and the Monash Jewish Students Society on Thursday June 3 2010. The other panelists were Michael Cohen, Rabbi Shamir Caplan (Orthodox), Rabbi Ehud Bandel (Conservative), Rabbi Fred Morgan (Progressive). Absent from the panel due to illness was Hinde Ena Burstin who was to talk from a Jewish lesbian perspective.
Kudos to the event organisers Hineni and MonJSS for bringing this much-needed discussion to the community. It is perhaps the first time an intelligent, informed public discussion has been had in the Melbourne Jewish community on anything to do with homosexuality.
It was put to me that the evening was going to be controversial, not so much because of homosexuality being in the topic, but that there was going to be one each of a Progressive, Conservative and Orthodox rabbi (a Neapolitan assortment?) in the same room at the same time. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. 🙂
Aside from a few minor technical and logistical glitches the evening went really well. Each of the first four speakers delivered their address from their respective professional perspectives with no real surprises or revelations.
The Orthodox perspective given apologised for being intolerant of homosexuality and didn’t offer very much real hope for same-sex attracted people.
The Conservative perspective was up front about being “in the middle” of tradition and change, yet said that gay men and women were equal within the community and their sexuality needed to be taken into account and not ignored.
The Progressive perspective similarly acknowledged the importance of a person’s sexuality and went on to say that the Progressive movement was supportive of same-sex relationships and would acknowledge them as much as possible, yet they weren’t on par with heterosexual relationships.
Both the Conservative and Progressive perspectives put forward also acknowledged that children could be successfully raised in a same-sex relationship, something that the Orthodox perspective didn’t seem to have the capacity to understand.
Audience members were asked to write questions down on paper supplied and then at the end of the panel presentations, a selection of questions would be put to the panelists. The questions asked were intelligent for the most part but didn’t ask the tough questions that I felt needed to be asked of the rabbis.
What made me most unsettled about the line-up of speakers (aside from me) was that they were all heterosexual men, dictating the terms of acceptance, to one degree or another, of same-sex attracted men and women and our relationships. I would really like to have seen a female rabbi (yes, they do exist in the Progressive world) or an openly gay one (yes, they do exist) speak on the topic.
My thanks again to Hineni and MonJSS for organising the evening. My thanks also to my wonderful partner Gregory Storer for giving me the necessary support. His photographs of the evening can be viewed on Picasa and Facebook.
My address from the evening can be read here.