LGBT clergy in Judaism

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The first openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clergy in Judaism were ordained as rabbis and/or cantors in the second half of the 20th century.


Lionel Blue, who was ordained as a rabbi in 1960, was the first British rabbi to publicly declare himself a homosexual.

The ordination of openly LGBT people in Judaism started in 1984 with Reconstructionist Judaism, when the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the sole Reconstructionist seminary, voted to accept and ordain rabbis without regard to their sexual orientation.[1][2] In 1985 the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College ordained Deborah Brin as the first openly lesbian or gay rabbi in Judaism.[3]

In 1988 Stacy Offner became the first openly lesbian rabbi hired by a mainstream Jewish congregation—Shir Tikvah Congregation of Minneapolis, a Reform Jewish congregation.[4][5]

In the late 1980s the primary seminary of the Reform movement, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, changed its admission requirements to allow openly lesbian and gay people to join the student body. In 1990, the Union for Reform Judaism announced a national policy declaring lesbian and gay Jews to be full and equal members of the religious community. Its principal body, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the largest and oldest rabbinical organization in North America, officially endorsed a report of its own Ad Hoc Committee on Homosexuality and the Rabbinate.[6] This position paper urged that "all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen."[6] The committee endorsed the view that "all Jews are religiously equal regardless of their sexual orientation."[6]

In 1999 Steven Greenberg publicly came out as gay in an article in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. As he has a rabbinic ordination from the Orthodox rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University (RIETS), he is generally described as the first openly gay Orthodox Jewish rabbi.[7] However, some Orthodox Jews, including many rabbis, dispute his being an Orthodox rabbi.[8]

In 2003 Reuben Zellman became the first openly transgender person accepted to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion,[9] where he was ordained in 2010.[10][11] Elliot Kukla, who came out as transgender six months before his ordination in 2006, was the first openly transgender person to be ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.[9]

Also in 2006, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the body for Conservative Judaism, adopted two majority opinions, one allowing the ordination of LGBT clergy, as well as the blessing of same-sex unions, and lifting prohibitions on most (but not all) same-sex conduct (specifically not same-sex anal sex) and the other majority opinion retaining traditional opinions. The two primary seminaries for Conservative Judaism, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in response started allowing openly-LGBT students. Also in 2006, Chaya Gusfield and Rabbi Lori Klein became the two first openly lesbian rabbis ordained by the Jewish Renewal movement. They were both ordained at the same time in January 2006.[12]

In 2007 Rabbi Toba Spitzer became the first openly lesbian or gay person chosen to head a rabbinical association in the United States when she was elected president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association at the group's annual convention, held in Scottsdale, Arizona.[13]

Also in 2007, Jalda Rebling, born in Amsterdam and now living in Germany, became the first openly lesbian cantor ordained by the Jewish Renewal movement.[14]

In April 2009, Rabbi Ron Yosef became the first Israeli orthodox rabbi to come out, by appearing in Uvda ("Fact"), Israel's leading investigative television program.[15] Yosef remains in his position as a pulpit Rabbi in Netanya.[16] Yosef received death threats in the year leading up to the 2009 Tel Aviv gay centre shooting.[17] Yosef said that he hopes that his coming out and his visibility as a homosexual rabbi in the orthodox community will be equivalent to participating in the pride parade, which he and the organization he founded (Hod) oppose.

Also in 2009 Juval Porat, who is openly gay, graduated from Abraham Geiger College and thus became the first person to be trained as a cantor in Germany since the Holocaust.[18][19] In 2010 he became the cantor for Temple Beth Chayim Chadashim, a Los Angeles Reform synagogue.[19]

In May 2010, Anna Maranta became the first lesbian rabbi to be privately ordained in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She serves The Glebe Minyan, a post-denominational Jewish Renewal community.[20]

In May 2011, Rachel Isaacs became the first openly lesbian rabbi ordained by the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary ("JTS"), which occurred in May 2011.[21] She transferred to JTS from the Reform movement's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in her third year of rabbinical school.[22]

Also in 2011, the bisexual rights activist Debra Kolodny was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Renewal movement and hired as the rabbi for congregation P'nai Or of Portland, Oregon.[23][24][not in citation given]

Emily Aviva Kapor, who had been ordained privately by a Conservadox rabbi in 2005, began living as a woman in 2012, thus becoming the first openly transgender female rabbi.[25]

In 2013, Rabbi Deborah Waxman was elected as the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.[26][27] As the President, she is believed to be the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary.[26][28]

Also in 2013, Rabbi Jason Klein became the first openly gay man chosen to head a national rabbinical association of one of the major Jewish denominations in the United States when he was elected president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association at the group's annual convention, held in New Orleans.[29]

In 2014, Mikie Goldstein became the first openly gay man to be ordained as a Conservative Jewish rabbi.[30] Later that year he became the Israeli Conservative movement's first openly gay congregational rabbi with his installation as spiritual leader of its synagogue in Rehovot (Congregation Adat Shalom-Emanuel).[31] He was born in Britain and studied for the rabbinate in New York.[30]

Also in 2014, Nehirim's first retreat for LGBT rabbis, rabbinic pastors, cantors, and students was held in San Francisco.[32][33]

In March 2015, Rabbi Denise Eger became the first openly gay president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is the largest and oldest rabbinical organization in North America.[34][35]

Together, Reconstructionist Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism make up 75% of Jewish Americans who belong to a synagogue.[36] The remainder of synagogue-belonging Jews belong to either Orthodox Judaism, at 21%, who do not ordain openly LGBT Jews, and a remaining 4% belonging to either an unaffiliated synagogue or another Jewish denomination that may or may not ordain openly LGBT Jews.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Rebecca Alpert; Sue Levi Elwell; Shirley Idelson, eds. (2001). Lesbian Rabbis: The First Generation. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0813529165. 


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  16. ^ Nissan Strauchler (February 16, 2010). "Gay with perfect faith". Ynetnews. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
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  18. ^ Toby Axelrod (June 17, 2009). "Reform rabbis to be ordained in Berlin". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  19. ^ a b Landsberg, Mitchell (June 26, 2010). "L.A. synagogue hires first cantor ordained in Germany since WWII". Los Angeles Times. 
  20. ^ "Glebe Minyan Synagogue". Facebook. Retrieved August 23, 2015. Anna hosts Seudah Shlishit study sessions on the 3rd Shabbat of each month. Study the weekly Torah portion over coffee, tea, and treats with her, followed by a potluck dinner and havdallah. 
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  24. ^ "Debra Kolodny". the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender religious archives network. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
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  32. ^ Caitlin Marceau (December 10, 2014). "Nehirim Puts On First Ever Retreat for LGBT Rabbis, Cantors & Students in San Francisco". Shalom Life. 
  33. ^ Drew Himmelstein (December 18, 2014). "At San Francisco retreat, LGBT clergy survey progress from closets to bimah". j. Retrieved August 23, 2015. 
  34. ^ Tess Cutler (March 4, 2015). "Rabbi Denise Eger seeks to open doors wider to all Jews". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. 
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  36. ^ National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) 2000-2001, United Jewish Communities, February 2004[dead link]