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As a Reform Jew, I use text and tradition as guide, not as governor.

I have long been convined that how we view spirituality is dependent upon how we view ourselves. Our self-definitions, conscious or not, are the prisms through which we see the world and our place in it. The relative weight we give to our own attributes in turn influences the perspective of our theology. For instance, I write as a human being, a man, a Jew, an ordained Reform rabbi and a person who is gay, among many other defining characteristics. All of those points serve to inform my perspective.

I feel the strongest general connection with all people because I believe, with my tradition, that we are all created in the image of the Divine. As a rabbi, I use my specific tradition that holds that all people are created as inherently good and that God does not create in vain.

Therefore, I believe that I am good in God's creation, good with all my potential for making right and wrong choices. Since I believe that my sexuality is a fundamental essence of my created being, the fact that I am a gay man is one of many good things about me.

I believe, along with most of Judaism, that all human beings have the potential to strive toward holiness. In fact, I believe that striving to be one of our primary obligations as human beings and, especially, as Jews. It is that commitment to choose paths to holiness that guides my spiritual journey. Of course, the journey is never straightforward nor unencumbered by difficult choices and other obstacles.

As someone who is dedicated to a faith that bases itself upon text, I must at least consult that text as I journey. However, I emphasize consultation, for I am neither a fundamentalist nor a literalist. I am a committed Reform Jew, someone who uses text and tradition as guide, not as governor. And so I turn to the text of my tradition, to the Bible itself, and there I am confronted with the verse flung at all gay and lesbian people, Leviticus 18:22: "You will not have intercourse with a man as you would with a woman. This is a hateful thing." As a student of biblical exegesis and history, I can no sooner look solely at a single verse than at a single clause in a long and full contract. For me, Torah is the contract by which I choose to live my life as a Jew. As a Reform Jew, I am committed to the spirit of the law, not its letter.

Verse 22 is part of Chapter 18, a veritable laundry list of forbidden relationships. It is the context of the chapter that intrigues me most. Its first few verses set the scene: Whatever the Egyptians do and whatever the Canaanites do, don't do yourselves. The chapter is addressed to Israelites who are being commanded to separate themselves from the cultures around them so that they might forge their own identity. That separateness was the only basis for a national identity available to them. One of the primary goals of Leviticus, indeed of the entire Torah, is to establish the holiness of the Israelite people. That holiness could be accomplished by making them unlike any other peoples around them. From those self-imposed differences they would create themselves as the people of Israel.

In the late 20th century, we have many other ways of making clear our identity as Jews, the long-term descendants of those ancient Israelites whose religion and cultic practices bear little resemblance to ours. The Torah also teaches that we are to take disobedient children by the hand, lead them into the town center, denounce them before the elders and stone them to death. I am unaware of such a practice ever being carried out and would be surprised to learn of any contemporary Jewish authority who would condone it. So why all the ado over Leviticus 18:22?

It is much more important for me as a Jew and as a rabbi, whose responsibility it is to model appropriate ethical and moral Jewish behavior, to teach that loving, adult relationships in which each partner is respected as a child of God and loved as an image of God are healthy and good. And as a keeper of the chain of two millennia of rabbinic leadership, I am committed and dedicated to lifting up those relationships in the eyes of God and the community. That means sanctifying marriages and unions between two adults. When I officiate at a homosexual union, I may change certain words to fit the particular requirements of the principals, but I hold that union to be just as holy as any heterosexual marriage. Both unions carry within them the sacred concept of kiddushin, sanctification.

Indeed, I hold the search for sanctification to be central to every human person's life. If my sexuality, practiced in a healthy, loving and positive manner, can further that search, then it deserves a prominent place in my spirituality and my religious practice and outlook.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Gay Men and Lesbians Describe Spiritual Journeys
Author:Blumenthal, Marc S.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 2, 1994
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