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Gay Synagogues’ Uncertain Future

As mainstream acceptance grows—along with membership—gay congregations face unexpected questions

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Beth Chayim Chadashim’s new green synagogue building, 2011. (Kenna Love)
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At the same time, a demographic shift began. By the 1990s, more and more nuclear families were becoming part of the fabric of the LGBT synagogue. For the first time, integrating children into synagogue life became an issue in environments that had been formed by adults. What Kleinbaum notes about CBST is true across the board: LGBT congregations “started as adult-oriented communities.” In this, they broke from the model of other liberal temples and synagogues in America, which were established to serve families with young children right from the start.

According to Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the number of LGBT people affiliating will only grow when they have more children, explaining, “The people who are most involved are the ones raising Jewish children, because at that point in their lives they have to reflect upon what it means to be Jewish, and they need the help of other Jews to socialize their children into Jewish life.”

That day may come, but for now, most LGBT Jews don’t have children. Those who choose to participate in synagogue life do so for any number of other reasons. “There are people,” said Keshet’s Klein, “who wanted to go to a ‘regular’ shul. Or wanted a rabbi. Or wanted services every week. Or wanted a particular service or a shul with its own building. Or a host of other reasons that people will choose one shul over another.”


CBST's new building
The building that will house CBST’s new home at 130 W. 30th St.

LGBT congregations have proven themselves to be an important part of the landscape of organized Judaism. In welcoming members’ straight families and allies, they continue to teach mainstream synagogues how to become more inclusive. They have led the way in creating prayers and ceremonies that are both steeped in tradition and speak to the needs of the modern world. They dedicated themselves to social action long before it became a catchword in the broader Jewish world.

But what of the future? As liberal synagogues, both LGBT and mainstream, struggle to attract and retain members, will they band together to change the way organized Jewish life functions? Will mainstream synagogues catch up and render LGBT-identified synagogues irrelevant?

Cohen thinks so, especially because there is a significant minority of LGBT “younger adults, who are post-sexual orientation about identity.” Nehirim’s Michaelson agrees: “Generally, millennials are a generation of people not interested in self-segregation. Just being gay is boring. To choose an LGBT-specific community, there has to be another compelling reason, something more than mere identity.”

That trend will no doubt continue, but it may not presage the end of the LGBT synagogue movement. Judaism, after all, has never been uniform. It has long accommodated differences, whether between Sephardi and Ashkenazi, Orthodox and liberal, LGBT and mainstream. Keshet’s Klein predicts, “In 40 years, LGBT shuls will be alive and well and will continue the current trend of being ever more diverse and ever more sensitive to inclusion while still being particularly attuned to the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.”


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Rabbi AlanHenkin says:

One small clarification to an otherwise terrific article: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ rabbi, to whom Sass refers, was Erwin Herman, who courageously championed the chartering of BCC in the face of ferocious opposition. His son Jeff came out of the closet and eventually died from complications of AIDS in 1992. In memory of Jeff, Erv and his wife Aggie created the Jeff Herman Virtual Resource Center for Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. says:

Funny… An LGBT shul is fine…. But a Messianic Shul is heresy!? How does that work?

oaklandj says:

One is Jewish, and the other is Christian. That’s why.

Not heresy, but a church.

An interesting question this article hints at – is there a uniquely LGBT perspective on Judaism, in addition to simply being welcoming of LGBT individuals and families? I believe there is – an understanding of the need to engage with the text, an empathy for the other, a commitment to the need to be “out” in all the ways one might be, a deep commitment to social justice, a genuine intention to let our children be exactly who they are – but that it is not necessary to be LGBT to embrace that perspective. says:

church=gathering=assembly=synagogue=same says:

Christ-ian = Moshiach-ian = Jewish and Maimonides
states that one who does not believe in Moshiach, or does not await
his coming, denies the validity of the Torah and of our teacher

oaklandj says:

I’m not going to get into an argument about Jewish theology with a Christian on a Jewish site. Sorry.

Sh3LLz2 says:

The Jews have been disobeying God since they left Egypt. No surprise here even though the Torah says all of these people should be (or wouldve been) stoned. Thats why they have been abandoned as Gods people.

oaklandj says:

Three issues: God, gays, and Israel, attract Christians to Tablet (and other online Jewish sites) like white on rice…

why dont you THINK before asking? well,my son,lgbt are sinning jews,so they may pray. messianic as you said ,is heresy,there is no synagogue for christian prayer.

elie says:

you can gather in a parc or on the beach,for you it’s all the same.

perot says:

God bless all Jews! Gay, straight or otherwise.

That being said, I’m sad that in this day and age any Jew should chose to separate from the greater community..or cause another to need to separate.

We are yisroel.

The article misses several important elements to the acceptance and support of LGBT Jews to prove that Abraham’s Tent is open on all side. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles recognizes that young adult LGBT Jews deserved a pathway into the community and has supported the mission of JQ International ( to this end. Founded in 2005, JQ partners with area Jewish organizations, including congregations, to present holiday celebrations and other programs (educational, social action, etc.) of interest to this otherwise “ad hoc” segment of the population. This spring, JQ and the JFed are co-spoonsoring a BIrthright – Taglit trip to Israel for Jewish LGBT and their Allies. says:

I am a male to female transsexual and Jewishly, a “Traditional Egalitarian Conservative.” I accept that being Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or Reform os right for other Jews, but for me, personally, I cannot accept another choice. Unfortunately, the only LGBT synagogues are either Reform or Reconstructionist. I must be where I am mot comfortable. I belong to and have belong to synagogues that are closer to what I believe: “Traditional Egalitarian Conservative.” says:

A Jewish criminal is still counted in the minyon.

Gregg says:

I’m not sure where Jay Michaelson got that figure of 12% of LGBT Jews being synagogue members. In an article published a few years ago in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (Vol. 84, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2009), a figure of 16% was cited (vs. 39% for non-LGBT Jews). The same article noted that at least 7% of American Jews identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (the study didn’t have data on transgender Jews).

02Dave12345 says:

Sounds like some good changes overall.

If a straight person can imagine living in a world where going to work is a mostly LGBT environment, going to the shopping mall it’s the same, almost any restaurant, mostly LGBT people sitting around you, waiting on you. Maybe you can imagine why a mostly LGBT synagogue would be attractive to queer Jews. As much as people are trying these days, we’re still made to feel different much of the time.

elie says:

who cares?

elie says:

you’ve got the point!—is a minyan of criminals a minyan?

oaklandj says:

Are there no trans-accepting Conservative shuls near you? I’m not Conservative myself, but I was under the impression that there are many Conservative congregations that accept trans members.

rebmark says:

I am glad to have had my small part in helping this change come about. Thank you to my various friends who pointed the article (and photo) out to me.

Temple de Hirsch-Sinai in Seattle has always been accepting of my husband and I. There were no issues with our conversion. During Rosh ha-Shanah last year, Rabbi Meyer used his sermon to advocate strongly for voting yes on gay marriage, and the first day it was legal, he performed our wedding. We’re both involved in leadership positions. I know Tikvah Hadashah exists in Seattle, but I’ve just never felt the need to join a specifically LGBT congregation.

Daniel Cheshire says:

Hey, have you heard? All religions are doomed. Atheism is the fastest growing religious belief in the world. The latest statistics, (repeated by the Catholic Church recently), show that in 20 years by 2033, there will likely only be 50% as many religious followers as today. And in 40 years, (2053), there are likely to only be as few as 10% as the number of today. The Vatican made an announcement last month that by 2050, there could be no more Catholic Church. We can only hope. All gods are false and all religions are cults. Science, logic, common sense and international cooperation will be the only savior for mankind. The day we move forward without religious mythology as truth is the moment we will truly be a civilized society.

oaklandj says:

Maybe you can post that on a Catholic site. You don’t understand Judaism if you’re posting it here.

GameTime says:

One thing about gay people is they don’t WANT to be like you or me or anybody else. They have to be different and special and unique. They think their gayness entitles them to it.

GameTime says:

Hey if there were a 1000 shuls near them they would still create their own place. It’s just an excuse to not blend in.

oaklandj says:

With all due respect, you’re missing the point: *why* would an LGBT Jew choose a LGBT-specific synagogue rather than “blend in”?

elie says:

your rabbi is a real bastard!

elie says:

i’m glad to find a man living mentally in 19th century!
anyway,we jews,its not by our number that we exist,but by our personal qualities and our fidelity!

Jack Hillelsohn says:

With all due respect, you are missing the point. A queer person (to use the umbrella term for all who are not strictly hetero-oriented) wants a synagogue to feel that is a home. Many schuls can and have become be welcoming, they can be inclusive, but a Queer synagogue is a HOME for people like me, who want to pray in using gender neutral siddur and environment that is truly non=judgemental and open to all. That is whjy I would choose a Queer schul because I don’t want to and shouldn’t have to “blend-in”. says:

I belonged to two and belong now to one trans accepting Conservative synagogues. The two are past tense because I have moved. says:

Unfortunately, you are both missing the point. There are advantages to both. says:

Yes. What can ten Jewish ganoofs (thieves) do that nine tzadickim can’t? Publicly praise Hashem.

oaklandj says:

Jack: I’m assuming you’re responding to GameTime, not me. You and I seem to be in agreement.

oaklandj says:

So the only thing missing in the one you belong to now is…?

oaklandj says:

All gays think the exact same way? Stop stereotyping.

I believe it is a wonderful sign of the ever-evolving communities and world we live in that more and more LGBT Jews are choosing to and feel comfortable being members of mainstream congregations in every city and suburb throughout the US. At the same time, I entirely recognize the desire and need for LGBT Jews to find their community within community, and finding the LGBT Jewish community at a LGBT synagogue which may recognize special needs and interests of that community more readily is entirely understandable and applauded. In mainstream congregations, I often have experienced LGBT members forming their own chavurot, be they small or large– once again building community within community and no different than any other of the many chavurot that exist, bringing together people of certain demographics, etc. says:

Duchan (priestly blessings) on holy days

Kohen HaGadol says:

Very well put!

Stephen Sass says:

For the record, two events in Beth Chayim Chadashim’s early history as the world’s first LGBT synagogue were unfortunately inadvertently conflated in the article: the initial meeting in 1972 between BCC’s Jerry Small, one of the congregation’s founders, with the UAHC’s Rabbi Arnold Kaiman, who was soon succeeded by Rabbi Erwin L. Herman; and BCC’s 1973 groundbreaking application for membership as a UAHC-affiliated congregation, which was indeed championed, as Rabbi Henkin notes, by Rabbi Herman, zichrono livracha, who was a lifelong advocate, with his wife Agnes, for BCC and for the inclusion in Jewish life of LGBT individuals and families.
As I wrote in the history of BCC published on the occasion of its 30th anniversary: “The ad hoc committee heard a report of Jerry Small’s meeting with Rabbi Arnold Kaiman of the UAHC. Small called Kaiman after learning that the Reform movement of Judaism was the only denomination that might provide assistance to the group. Small reported that he went to the meeting with Rabbi Kaiman expecting to put up a fight. Instead, Rabbi Kaiman’s only response was, ‘How can we help you?’…Soon, Rabbi Erwin L. Herman, then director of UAHC’s Pacific Southwest Council and national director of regional activities was enthusiastically assisting the fledgling congregation, helping develop the lay-led services and adult education classes, obtaining speakers, and lending a Torah and other ritual objects. ‘Rabbi Herman became our champion…he was our advisor, our friend and mentor. I can’t begin to thank him for all of his work on our behalf,’ wrote Lorena Wellington, secretary of the congregation’s board of directors.”
BCC’s 1974 admission to the UAHC, initially welcomed by Rabbi Kaiman and shepherded by Rabbi Herman “through the complex maze of surprise, resistance, ignorance, prejudice, love and goodwill” as noted in a contemporaneous account, marked the first time a synagogue with an outreach to gay men and lesbians was accepted by one of the Jewish congregational movements. It was also the first gay and lesbian congregation of any faith group accepted by a mainstream religious denomination.

I am not Jewish, but isn’t a gay synagogue a contradiction in terms? Don’t they accept the Old Testament with its story of Sodom and Gomorrah? How about sodomy being called an abomination in the O.T.? I am puzzled.

It may be: on the other hand, it might not be. Who knows?

Adultery is a far worse sin then homosexuality in the Torah. Look and see how many condemnations there are against adultery.

As for homosexuality, when done as a form of idolatry , then of course it is banned.

IMO I am for live and let live as far as LBGT congregations go. Being Orthodox makes it a bit hard for to embrace them, but it is not my right to judge them and as Jews they are my people too.

Shiju says:

I wonder if the God of Bible did wrong by destroying Sodom. If he was right, Sodom will be repeated.

Seems similar to what happened to the negro baseball teams after Jackie Robinson.

Crossroads says:

You cannot pretend to worship the G_d of the Old Testament, or the New, while practicing homosexuality……..

……..1 Corinthians 6:8-11……

8 No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Tablet decided GLBT synagogues will soon be gone and then says CBST just bought its own space for the first time. Guess no one told Rabbi Kleinbaum that she’ll be out of a job soon.

Here in Dallas, Congregation Beth El Binah is celebrating its 20 anniversary of its affiliation with URJ. We’re doing it with more money in the bank than ever, higher attendance than ever, more programs and classes than ever and a new 2-year contract with our rabbi. We’re partnering with Resource Center Dallas to build the new Gay and Lesbian Community Center to replace the one we’ve called home for 22 years. We partner with Black Tie Dinner each year to raise money for us, a couple of churches, and 15 other AIDS and gay groups in Dallas. Just last night we talked with someone from Cathedral of Hope, the largest GLBT church in the world, to do some joint Hebrew and Jewish education classes. Our rabbi this week led an interfaith anti-Bush library service.

But you’re right. We’re irrelevant and will probably be gone soon.

Mark Slitt says:

Not all LGBT people feel comfortable in a mainstream synagogue. For that matter, neither do many straight people. That’s why safe, welcoming, accepting, mainly-LGBT congregations like Beth El Binah in Dallas (which I led for four years as president in the 90s) will always be relevant. It was the work of my life and I refuse to let articles such as this marginalize it. Kudos to the accepting mainstream congregations – it sure took you long enough to accept us – but please, we still have a role to play.

There are so many other reasons we’re still around that aren’t LGBT. We’re the downtown synagogue. The other Reform synagogues are all in North Dallas or the suburbs. We’re the small synagogue. One of the North Dallas synagogues is among the largest in the country and the other one is just huge. We do programming of interest to our members – gay and straight. We welcome people with disabilities. Those members haven’t felt welcome at the mega-synagogues. So many other reasons for us to continue as well. .


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Gay Synagogues’ Uncertain Future

As mainstream acceptance grows—along with membership—gay congregations face unexpected questions

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