Judaism & AIDS - A position paper

by Barry Drogin

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I believe the Conservarive movement should make the following statements about AIDS:

1. The movement does not condone the sharing of hypodermic needles in recreational drug use.

2. The movement encourages loving, monogamous, mutually-supportive relationships, and does not condone random, frequent sexual encounters.

3. The movement has always believed strongly that God's will in contemporary events is not known to humankind, and so condones those who interpret disease and death as moral judgements or punishments.

4. The movement is not opposed to birth control, nor is it opposed to the use of devices and substances which, in addition to having contraceptive properties, help prevent the spread of sexual diseases.

5. The movement believes strongly in the sanctity of all human life, and strongly encourages increased efforts in the search for a cure for AIDS, and in the care of all infected with the retrovirus.

I believe the Conservative movement should make the following statements about homosexuality:

1. The movement has always believed strongly that God's interpretation (condemnation, forgiveness, tolerance, punishment) of any specific individual's actions is not known to humankind, but that God's will in setting guidelines for individuals to strive for is revealed in the Torah.

2. Jewish authorities long ago relinquished their role in the punishment of offenders of Jewish law. Historically, the concept of "eye for an eye" and capital punishment were long ago transmuted by the rabbis into financial punishments, and then ceded to the secular state.

3. For many reasons, the movement believes strongly in the sanctity of all human life, and in the creation of new life. The movement encourages adult members to enter into loving, monogamous, mutually-supportive relationships, and encourages marriage and procreation.

4. The movement recognizes the existence of individual choice and responsibility in matters of family planning and sexual conduct within the marital home, and does not presume to advise its members on what choices to make or actions to take in any but the most general ways. As such, the movement does not oppose the use of birth control, nor does it presume to oppose any particular sexual acts between a husband and wife. The movement is strongly opposed to adultery and incest.

5. In its specific condemnation of homosexual acts as an "abomination," and its specific command to the Jewish people to "be fruitful and multiply," the Torah puts the movement in a difficult and delicate bind vis a vis its contemporary position towards homosexuality.

6. The movement is not interested in sitting in moral judgement of individuals who do not procreate. Contemporary individuals are not guaranteed procreation by God; many are, through birth, accident or age, unable to impregnate or become pregnant. As the movement no longer believes in the tradition of arranged marriages, many, by not finding the right partner, live single lives in which they never have the opportunity to procreate. Although the Torah gives spouses the right to divorce if a marriage is childless, the movement today does not specifically encourage the dissolution of a marriage on those grounds. Nor is the movement opposed to having its rabbis perform the marriage ceremony if it is known that one or both of the partners cannot procreate.

7. In the context of the previous positions, it becomes difficult for the movement to justify any independent halachic reasons for why homosexuality is to be condemned as an "abomination." That a homosexual act is not procreative is not, by itself, sufficient grounds for its condemnation. Nor does the movement see masturbation, oral sex and anal sex as, inherently, immoral acts, as such acts are not prohibited between a man and woman.

8. The Torah does not always explicitly give reasons for its prohibitions, and, over the generations, rabbis have often sought underlying principles that explain such matters as kashrut and circumcision. The conservative movement, in particular, has always tried to fully explore the halachic motivations for various laws and prohibitions, and, though such steps are not taken lightly, has been willing to reverse previous tradition for halachically justified reasons.

9. It is possible that the religion itself, in its explicit statements against homosexuality over the ages, has encouraged a cultural environment that has blinded society to its need for compassion, tolerance and understanding, and has, in consequence, inadvertantly pushed homosexual individuals into choosing beliefs and lifestyles that the religion then further condemns as blasphemous. Thus, supporting the Torah's prohibition of homosexual behavior acts to provoke halachically improper behavior and actions by heterosexuals, and alienates and discourages homosexuals from embracing other unrelated halachically appropriate behavior.

10. For all these reasons, it is recommended that the Conservative movement reverse the prohibition of homosexual behavior, not in any way oppose the ordination of homosexual rabbis and cantors, not oppose the presence of openly gay or lesbian members in its congregations, encourage the development of a homosexual marriage ceremony, and not oppose homosexual parenting.

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Last Updated: May 22, 2010