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A Message from Rabbi Barry Leff

Dear member of the Shaare Zion Beth-El community:

The first major question of halacha, Jewish law, that was posed to me after my arrival in Montreal was whether our clergy could perform same sex weddings. It’s a question that I was told comes up occasionally, and our clergy team wanted guidance on whether it would be acceptable. The topic has come up for discussion in the past, although a clear halachic ruling had not been issued.

I’m writing to inform you that after consultation with the Religious Affairs Committee and the Board of Directors, we have decided to allow same sex marriages at Shaare Zion Beth-El, and further, that we want to promote ourselves as a diverse and inclusive community, a welcoming home for all Jews regardless of gender identification or sexual orientation.

In the short time that I have been here in Montreal, I have seen that Shaare Zion Beth-El is a community that values Jewish tradition, and it is also a community that values inclusivity and being welcoming to all Jews and others interested in Judaism.

These values are often in tension with each other, and one area where we have seen that tension is in the treatment of homosexuality. For most of Jewish history, all forms of same sex relations were forbidden by either the rabbis or the Torah. Anyone who wasn’t heterosexual was told they were a sinner, and they were to a greater or lesser degree either shunned or treated as second class citizens. For a while in the 1990s there was a “don’t ask don’t tell” approach in the Conservative Movement, which was a half measure that didn’t really satisfy anyone.

Halacha, Jewish law, has evolved in this area as well. 20 years ago I wasn’t sure where I stood on this issue halachically, until I saw the movie “Trembling Before
G-d,” a 2001 documentary about gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews and the challenges they face in reconciling their sexuality with their faith. After seeing this film and learning more about the issue, I became an advocate for equal Jewish rights for gays and lesbians, and I participated in some of the debates on the subject that led to the 2006 approval of a teshuvah (Jewish legal opinion) by the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, “Homosexuality, Human Dignity, and Halakhah: a Combined Responsum for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards,” authored by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins, and Avram Reisner. 

With the approval of that paper, the Conservative Movement officially sanctioned ordaining gay and lesbian clergy, and it gave rabbis official approval to solemnize same sex weddings, although it should be noted that at the same meeting a paper was approved that said these things should not be done - it is up to the individual rabbi to choose what is right for their congregation.

The clergy team, the Religious Affairs Committee, and the Board of Directors were unanimous in supporting the decision to authorize Shaare Zion Beth-El clergy to officiate at same sex weddings in the synagogue as long as both participants are Jewish, so effective immediately this is our new policy.

In order to help the community understand why this is such an important issue, we will be hosting a screening of the film “Trembling Before G-d” on December 7, with an opportunity for questions and discussion after the film. Watch your email for details.

If you are interested in reading the Conservative Movement’s responsum authorizing this, you can read it at this link: CLICK HERE

There have been additional papers issued since then dealing with questions of different ways to structure the ceremonies for same sex couples, I’m happy to provide links on request.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly. 

Rabbi Barry Leff
rabbi@szbe.org
514-481-7727 ext 228

Thu, 2 February 2023 11 Shevat 5783