I would remind my child that all of the Torah’s laws are contextual. This means that what is forbidden in one context might be permitted in an entirely different context, as the Talmud teaches us (Talmud Bav’li, Chulin 110a). The Torah’s proscription of homosexual sex applies solely to men, while lesbian sex is forbidden neither by biblical law nor by rabbinic law. In regards to male homosexual sex, anything short of complete penile penetration is not included in the biblical prohibition (Talmud Bav’li, Yevamot 54a-56a, Sotah 26b, Niddah 13a; Pirush HaRambam ahl HaMish’nayot, Sanhedrin, Chapter 7). Moreover, this prohibition is listed among those cultic practices of seven specifically named peoples of ancient times that the Jews were forbidden from emulating (Leviticus 18:3 and 22, 20:13 and 23; Deuteronomy 23:18). The ancient Jewish philosopher and historian Philo describes how [in some cultures] “men mounted men, then little by little they accustomed those who were by nature men to submit to play the part of women” (Philo on Abraham, Chapter 26, pp. 134-136 in Volume 6 of the Colson Edition of the Loeb Library Edition). Accordingly, the wording in the Torah—that it is forbidden “to lie with a man as he would with a woman” (Leviticus 18:22)—clearly addresses a heterosexual male. And so, understood in context, it may not refer to loving gay couples, only to heterosexual men imposing their will on other heterosexual men as part of orgiastic cultic rites.
Rabbi Gershon Winkler
Walking Stick Foundation
Thousand Oaks, CA
Why is this matter of identity formation different from any other identity formation? Does the question imply that being gay or lesbian requires special handling, including the possibility of trying to guide a child away from that choice? Would we give different guidance if our child announced that he or she was straight? Is the issue really one of giving advice, or of listening with an open mind?
Each new generation, thankfully, finds greater acceptance of a full range of gender and sexual identity preferences, but we are far from parity. Coming out as gay or lesbian to others, not to mention oneself, is fraught with opposing feelings: excitement about finding oneself and anxiety of being rejected, not just by a potential partner, but by family and society.
It seems to me that the best thing parents can do is model acceptance and an openness to talk more. It also seems to me a great thing if the child feels comfortable bringing up the subject in the first place.
If we do give advice, it should be gender-choice neutral, applying to gay and straight relationships equally. We might offer our thoughts on how to navigate feelings of attraction. Or how to deal with the challenges of relationships so that nobody gets mistreated. Or, if necessary, how to get out of relationships that are hurtful and harmful. They’re part of life too.
Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer
The City Congregation for Humanist Judaism
New York, NY
I polled my ALEPH colleagues on this question, and Susan Saxe, our chief operating officer, responded, “I would start with reassurance that sexuality is a gift from a loving G!d and explain that sexuality can feel fixed and certain or be fluid over a lifetime. Whether my child was straight, gay or bisexual, I would just want happy, healthy relationships for him or her. I would express my hope that sexuality be a blessing and gateway to deep connection with a loving partner. I’d suggest it’s ideal to postpone sexual expression until one is mature enough to act for shmirat ha-guf, safeguarding one’s physical and emotional well-being in a caring and committed relationship. If my child were old enough and in a relationship, I would say, ‘mazel tov’ and ask how soon his or her friend could come over for Shabbat dinner.”
I thoroughly affirm Susan’s thoughts. I would add that while some well-intentioned people may quote two verses of Leviticus to “prove’” that loving same-sex relationships are wrong, I believe they are reading those verses out of cultural/historical context, and I do not believe that they prohibit ongoing loving same-sex relationships. I would add that the pshat [literal meaning] of the Torah teaches that the original Adam or earth being was created both male and female, and Midrash reinforces this. Since our soul reverberates with this original Adam Kadmon, or primordial man, the potential to have loving feelings for people of either gender is innate. It is part of being created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of G!d.
Rabbi Debra Kolodny
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Silver Spring, MD
“Mazel tov,” I’d begin. “Mom and I bless you to find true love some day and will embrace any partner you choose. May you remain unhurt by the narrow prejudices that still abound. Always remember that you and your LGBT sisters and brothers are created in God’s image, equal to all. Celebrate who you are and the clarity you’ve attained about your Divine self. Chizki v’imtzi, be strong and courageous. We love you.”