Every Yom Kippur, gay Jews who attend services are faced with a dilemma. In the afternoon service the portion from Leviticus delineating the sexual prohibitions is read in most traditional synagogues. The whole of chapter 18 is read. It is a list of sexual violations from incest, to adultery, from sex with a menstruant woman, to bestiality and of course, sex between men. And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman, it is an abomination. How are we supposed to respond to this public humiliation?

For nearly two thousand years gay Jews, and particularly gay men, have had to listen to their lives debased on the holiest day of the year, their sexual relations demonized with the word toeva, abomination. It’s no wonder that many liberal synagogues have rejected this tradition of reading Leviticus 18 and have replaced it various other readings.

However, despite the difficulty, there is good reason for communities to sustain the traditional reading. Repressing difficult texts is a lot like repressing feelings; they inevitably resurface and often in much more destructive ways. It seems better to me that we read Leviticus 18 and deal with it than deny or ignore it. First, it seems right that Yom Kippur should include a public reminder of how destructive sexual abuse can be. Toward that end, the first part of the prayer addresses those who are the victims of sexual transgression.

Second, reading Leviticus 18:22 in shul on Yom Kippur makes gay people present in a powerful, if challenging way. With the proper acknowledgement, the reading can become a call to greater empathy, understanding. We can use it to bring to communal memory the countless people throughout the ages, who, on the most holy day of the year, had no voice in the face the most devastating misrepresentation of their hearts. And lastly, it can serve as an impetus for learning and reinterpretation of the biblical and rabbinic texts that should no longer be a source of self-loathing or exclusion.

Toward these ends I wrote this prayer along with my friend Danny Wohl to accompany the afternoon Torah service on Yom Kippur. It is printed below for communities to use and where that is not possible, for individuals to use privately.

With wishes for a Yom Kippur that helps us all to overcome the obstacles in our way toward greater authenticity, generosity of spirit and aliveness and may Jewish communities everywhere come soon to embrace their gay and lesbian sons and daughters.

Prayer to accompany the Torah reading of Leviticus 18
on Yom Kippur Afternoon

By Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Danny Wohl

Click Here for the Hebrew Text

Master of the Universe
On this Yom Kippur,
As the noonday sun descends,
We open up your sacred scroll,
And read with awe its words of wisdom.
Troubled, we share our meditations with You.

In the beginning You created us in your image,
Breathed into a pure body opposing desires,
The human was created, lonely and alone.
When You repaired the flaw, transformed it by love
Your creations rejoiced, their longings fulfilled.
Flesh of Flesh, bone of bone,
One made two and two made one.

But You have also kindled the storms of our passion,
How, brazen and reckless, we slake our thirst.
We are overwhelmed by a sea of desire.
Only the bonds of covenant restrain the torrent,
Setting boundaries that cannot be breached.You call us to read on this sacred day
The verses that ban the uncovering of nakedness.
The sins committed in the embrace of families
That trample innocence and humiliate with touch,
The degrading coercions that cry out unheard,
The breach of trust and the betrayal of loved ones
Fill the land with violence from within.

Shield of Abraham and Defender of Sarah,
Grant safety and security to those who have suffered abuse.
Send them peace of mind and soothe their spirits
As they turn to you for healing on this Day of Awe.

Master of the Universe, to Whom all secrets are known,
As the reading closes and "abhorence" is spoken
Women and men, in every congregation
Hear the words "Thou shalt not lie" and weep
In the back rows of synagogues,
Outcast and broken.

On this Day of Judgment, please God remember
The myriad souls, who from the beginning
Found in their hearts a fierce inclination,
A mighty love, toward members of their own sex.

Remember O Lord their paralyzing fear.
The unspeakable longing, the shaming embrace,
Accusing them with the full force of Law Of perversions that could only be remedied by death.

Remember throughout history the thousands upon thousands,
Who consumed by self-hatred and the scorn of others,
Were cast out as outrage, or suffered unseen.
Not one dared imagine that they were not cursed
But blessed by the One, Who revels in difference.

And I further observed the tears of the oppressed
With none to comfort them.
And I saw the power of their oppressors
With none to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)

Master of the universe, Creator of humankind
Are the oppressors of your children,
The verses themselves or those who interpret them?
What tragedies do we inflict when we drive away
Beloved daughters, beloved sons?

Our scholars once knew how to look in the book
To create new worlds in both awe and in love.
Open their eyes to the marvels and wonders,
The ways to expand and deepen your Torah
and draw down among us your spirit from above.

Where there is no comfort for the maligned and oppressed,
Then be Thou their comfort, their strength and fortress.
Bless us with peace in the midst of our differences.
Grant understanding and courage to our Sages,
Wipe away shame from the hearts of your children
And give hope to all for both wholeness and love.
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