I will reveal something in this response that only a few people know.
The military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was based on an article called "Homosexuality and Halakhah" that appeared in The Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society in the mid-late 1980's.
The article took the position that in Jewish law there is no such individual as a homosexual (there is no term in Jewish legal literature for "homosexual"). The only thing Judaism has is a Biblical prohibition against homosexual activity. What follows is that an individual who never engages in such activity but only has desires for same gender sex bears no opprobrium in Jewish law and carries no special designation. Further, someone who privately acts on these desires should be made welcome in a synagogue just as many people who do not fullfill all the laws are made comfortable, as long as they do not publically advocate for or display that violation. The article goes on in this way, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military used it as the basis of the idea that all individuals may serve as long as they do not proclaim themselves publicly as to what they did or thought about in private.
As such the military's current policy in this regard is very much in line with Jewish thought.
The Israeli military follows Israeli law not Halakha or Jewish law, and the two legal systems are not the same.
Oh, by the way, the author of the article used by the Joint Cheifs and the author of this response just might be the same person.
Answered by: Rabbi --- Not Active with JVO Suspended
The U.S. military's policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" might have actually been the best policy at the time. However, the level of public inclusion for the GLBT community in our country has changed since Don't Ask Don't Tell was instituted under President Clinton. Like other groups that have been treated unfairly in our country (Blacks, women, the handicapped, etc.), over time the public has changed its treatment and its laws.
Don't Ask Don't Tell was a "safe" way for the military to acknowledge that there were gays and lesbians in its ranks, but not to make too much "noise" about the situation. Today, in 2010, our nation is much more accepting of the GLBT community and I believe the military will follow suit.
From a Jewish perspective as well, GLBT inclusion has taken great strides in the past two decades. As a value, it is imperative that the military update its policy to allow gays and lesbians to be as honest with their comrades as they are with themselves.
Policies change over time. Our society, like our religion, is not stagnate -- it is ever evolving. When I studied at the Conservative Movement's academic institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians were not allowed to matriculate there. If a student came out as gay, they were asked to leave the school. I guess you could say that JTS operated like the U.S. military -- Don't Ask Don't Tell. However, a ruling in December 2006 changed the Seminary's position and granted admission to avowed gays and lesbians.
The times change. Our values change. Rules change.
What is the Jewish view on "don't ask, don't tell" and gays serving openly in the U.S. military? Does it matter that gays serve openly in the Israeli military?
The Reform Movement has a long history of support for civil rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. This includes the right of our LGBT citizens to serve in the military. The Central Conference of American Rabbis addressed this issue specifically in a resolution (http://data.ccarnet.org/cgi-bin/resodisp.pl?file=military&year=2006) passed in 2006 in support of Jewish chaplains and military personnel. In this context, the resolution stated:
“ …….Our concern for the religious needs of Jewish members of the U.S. Armed Forces extends to those who are gay or lesbian. Our Reform Movement has staunchly opposed discrimination against gays and lesbians, and we have never supported the U.S. Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Indeed, excluding chaplains who may be gay or lesbian may violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as it restricts faith groups such as ours, which openly ordain gay and lesbian clergy, from commissioning chaplains from among the full ranks of their clergy……”
Among the action items in the resolution was included this section:
“ THEREFORE, the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to:…..
….4. Continue to advocate for the end of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Armed Forces, including but not limited to gay and lesbian Rabbis and Cantors who may serve as chaplains. “
As Congress has been moving toward repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center issued the following statement:
“Reform Movement Applauds Steps Toward "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Repeal
Pelavin: “We must no longer allow prejudice to deprive our nation of the skills and commitment of talented men and women.”
Contact: Kate Bigam or Rebecca Katz
202.387.2800 | email@example.com
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 28, 2010 — In response to both the U.S. House House of Representatives’ vote and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s decision to move forward with repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, Mark Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center, issued the following statement:
We welcome last night’s long-overdue votes in both the Senate Armed Services committee and the House of Representatives to overturn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” following a Pentagon review of the policy. Yesterday’s action, undertaken with the support of the White House and the Pentagon, reflects the urgency and seriousness of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the detrimental impact it has on our soldiers and our nation’s security. The 16-year-old policy, which was originally presented as a “compromise” that would respect servicemembers’ privacy and meet our military’s needs, has instead forced gay and lesbian servicemembers to live their lives in secret, always at risk of losing their ability to serve our country.
As Jews, we are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim, in the Divine image. Regardless of context, discrimination against any person is inconsistent with this fundamental belief, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us. The Reform Movement has long been outspokenly supportive of efforts to end discrimination against gays in the military; for several years, the RAC housed the Campaign for Military Service, a major organization dedicated to these efforts.
Regardless of sexual orientation, those Americans who risk their lives to serve our country and defend America’s freedom deserve our utmost gratitude and respect. Yesterday’s House action is a step toward creating a more just and compassionate military; we must no longer allow prejudice to deprive our nation of the skills and commitment of talented men and women.”
While I have seen opinion pieces in the mainstream press that cite the practice of the Israeli army as evidence that having LGBT soldiers serve openly does not impede morale, I have not seen that cited in Reform Jewish sources as a reason to support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Rather, the more compelling reason to support our LGBT brothers and sisters is simply that every human being is created in the image of God and, as such, is deserving of all the respect, dignity, and human rights as every other human being, including the right to serve our country.
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