On the face of it, Judaism, homosexuality and parenting would not seem to be happy bedfellows. For Toronto’s Orthodox Jewish parents the 613 commandments in The Torah – are not-optional. One verse, in particular seems to make it quite clear that homosexuality is forbidden.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
– Leviticus 18:22.
In Toronto there are at least five branches of Judaism, ranging from Liberal Judaism through Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox up to the Ultra Orthodox communities.
Even within each of those branches synagogues and rabbis take different views on homosexual parenting. And for many LGBT Jewish parents it can be a very difficult position to be in. Samuel Bushy, (41), is a practicing rabbi in an ordinarily predominantly heterosexual Reform synagogue in Toronto. He and his husband Andrew, (46) were the first Jewish couple to enter a civil partnership and adopt their son Randolph, (7).
Samuel explains that whilst Orthodox Judaism is based on a very close reading of the text, reform Judaism is quite different. ‘Reform Judaism is putting modernity first and trying to live a modern life but with Jewish relevance, and making informed decisions. Not being bound by that traditional framework, but being informed by it.’
Rabbi Bushy had a commitment ceremony at a Reform synagogue, and is looking forward to the changes in his life that will allow him be a good parent to his son. Andrew adds – “While Reform Judaism as a whole has decided that commitment ceremonies (akin to marriage) are permissible – and indeed supported – within their interpretation of Judaism, it has still been left for individual synagogues to decide if they wish to do them.”
But let’s go back to Orthodox Judaism – can an Orthodox Jew be gay and a parent? David answers the question this way – ‘Most Jewish parents still suffer from being in the closet – paralyzed by the fear of rejection and emotionally stunted by years of internalized self hatred. Even today in most Toronto Orthodox communities ‘homosexuality is thought of as a liberal ideology to be resisted, a dangerous character flaw requiring correction, or a disease requiring a cure.’
Rabbi Bushy thinks it’s very important for LGBT Jewish parents to find the right Jewish community in which to raise their family. ‘My comment to anyone who’s questioning where does their family fit within their faith community, is this: “They fit in, it just depends what part of that faith community they want their family to be involved with. I come from a very Orthodox part of the Toronto Jewish community, and that really was not the place for my family. It wasn’t a safe space.’
There are bigots out there, to be sure, and there are a lot of people who don’t understand what it means to be LGBT, Jewish and a parent. This is true both within religion and in wider society. But many don’t want to have to choose between their religion, their sexuality, or their being parents – and a LGBT Jewish parent need not be a contradiction in terms.