Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Reform Judaism

Background

The largest Jewish denomination in the United States, the Reform Movement is grounded in the desire to integrate ancient Jewish teachings with a constantly evolving society and culture.

According to the Union for Reform Judaism,

“The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.”

While synagogues operate as autonomous communities, the Reform Movement follows policies set by the Union of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and draws on the affiliated resources of such organizations as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism or Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity. (See Resources below.)

LGBTQ Equality

On Inclusion

As early as 1977, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution that called for “legislation which decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults, and prohibits discrimination against them as persons.” They further resolved to “undertake programs in cooperation with the total Jewish community to implement the above stand.”

Similarly, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a resolution in 1977 stating that “homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection under the law” and affirming their opposition to “discriminating against homosexuals in areas of opportunity, including employment and housing.” In the decades following the adoption of these two resolutions, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have passed over a dozen resolutions on this subject, covering a range of issues from same-sex marriage to the inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life. In addition, the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, a joint instrumentality of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, passed a resolution in 2003 on the inclusion and acceptance of the transgender and bisexual communities and an additional resolution in 2014 on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

Today, the web pages of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism state,

“Each of us, created in God’s image, has a unique talent, with which we can contribute to the high moral purpose of tikkun olam, the repair of our world. Excluding anyone from our community lessens our chance of achieving this goal of a more perfect world.”

LGBTQ individuals will continue to find a range of experiences in Reform communities. The vast majority are fully welcoming, inclusive and affirming, while many others are committed to becoming so. The majority of congregations include explicit policies on non-discrimination regarding sexual orientation and gender identity with regard to membership and family life.

Reform Judaism is welcoming of transgender people, allows for the ordination of transgender rabbis and encourages its communities to become fully inclusive of transgender individuals. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which advocates for the Movement’s social justice and legislative priorities in Washington, D.C., advocates for the full inclusion and equality of transgender individuals under the law. Reform Movements camps and the Reform Movement youth group, the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), have taken steps over the past decade to become more inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. In 2015, the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a historic resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People affirming “the full equality, inclusion and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions.”

On Marriage Equality

In 1996 and 1997, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism, respectively, adopted resolutions in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples. In 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis gave its full support to Reform rabbis who choose to officiate same-sex marriages. The resolution recognizes, “that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual,” but also acknowledges, “the diversity of opinions within our ranks on this issue.” The Conference thus gives its support to both those “who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-gender couples” and to “those who do not.”

On Ordination

LGBTQ rabbis and cantors are ordained in the Reform Movement, and are accepted as students at Reform seminaries. The history of inclusion dates to 1990, when the Central Conference of American Rabbis endorsed a report on “Homosexuality and the Rabbinate,” that included the authors’ urging that, “all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen.” Women have been ordained in the Reform Movement since 1972, and resolutions calling for their ordination date to 1922.

On Employment

The Reform Movement firmly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which offers protections for LGBTQ workers. That spirit of support stretches back to 1977, when the Union of American Hebrew Congregations—now the Union for Reform Judaism—resolved that “homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection under the law,” and noted their opposition to “discrimination against homosexuals in areas of opportunity, including employment and housing.” In recent years, the Religious Action Center has led the mobilization of the faith community in support of ENDA.

Next Steps

The Reform Movement’s groundbreaking resolutions on inclusion represent the evolving understanding of what it means to be LGBTQ. While the language of some of the Movement’s earlier resolutions may be outdated, more recent resolutions reflect the evolution of LGBTQ-related language over the past several decades. Overall, the value of full equality for LGBTQ individuals has and continues to inform the Reform Movement.

While the policies and practices of the Reform Movement aim for full inclusion, there is still work to be done.. Some congregations are still working to create communities where LGBTQ individuals and their families are not just accepted but fully integrated in the community. Within the Reform Movement, the Religious Action Center and the Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity at Hebrew Union College (see Resources below) provide vital consultation and support services in these endeavors. Keshet, a national grassroots organization working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life, has also worked with various Reform congregations and institutions looking to increase their inclusiveness of LGBTQ Jews.

For personal guidance on participating fully in a Reform congregation, email religion@hrc.org to reserve a copy of HRC’s upcoming guide to “Coming Home” in Judaism.

Resources for LGBTQ Reform Jews

Reform-specific Resources

  • Institute for Judaism, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, a unique entity within the Jewish community with its explicit mission of preparing Jewish leadership with the capacity, compassion and skills to change congregational attitudes, policies, and, indeed, Jewish society so as to include each and every Jew, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, an organization educating and mobilizing the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel and more.

Pluralistic Resources

  • Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality and inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in Jewish life.

  • Nehirim, is a national community of l LGBTQ Jews, families, and allies, committed to a more just and inclusive world.

Contact Information

Union for Reform Judaism
633 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Website: www.urj.org

Central Conference of American Rabbis
355 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Website: www.ccarnet.org

Last revised: 11/19/2015