Rabbi Avi Gisar: I Will Allow a Lesbian Family to Live in Ofra 

By: Netael Bendel


Rabbanit Esti Rozenberg, dean of the Migdal Oz Academy, said, “[we need] to do everything [possible] to keep the same sex couples in the religious community”.

“I will give homosexuals an aliyah to the Torah, I will allow the lesbian family to live in Ofra…” said Rabbi Avi Gisar, the Rabbi of Ofra, at the conference titled  “A family pieced together – the Jewish family in the modern world,” promoted by the  religious lesbian organization “Bat Kol” in honor of  “Religious Acceptance Day” at the Hartman Institute.  At that conference,  Rabbanit Esti Rozenberg, the dean of the Migdal Oz Academy, said, “It is clear to me that I am ready to do, as a religious individual, everything to make sure the same sex community stays in our religious community”.

A panel at the  conference, organized by Bat Kol , the religious lesbian organization, demonstrated a surprising amount of restraint while observing two sensible religiously observant women making statements about same sex couples.

Rabbi Avi Gisar, the Rabbi of Ofra and chairman of the National Religious Board of Education, said at the conference that he would allow the lesbian couple to live in the settlement. “I am a man of Halacha, I cannot vouch for myself, but they say I am an Orthodox Rabbi,…” Rabbi Gisar opened his speech, “…we have a change in our understanding of a collective Jewish culture and our global expansion.”  Rabbi Gisar listed a few of the changes and continued his speech explaining his fundamental approach to the participants;  “We are living in a very interesting world which continues to develop its culture, and Halacha is a partner to many new paths which have been paved, including the question of fertility and parenthood, and many many other questions on this subject.  The personal relation is a relationship to give worth and value to every respectable person, and my basic approach is – I very much do not like the position of the Catholic priest who is interested only in the sins of his congregants and who thinks that their confessions should be of interest to him (the priest); and that his job description,  is to “rebuke or to punish or to threaten””.

“The job description of a Rabbi in my opinion is to elevate, enrich, bring his congregant closer to God,  it is a job of partnership, partnering [with the congregant] in the work of G-d, and I am not interested in the private affairs of men.  A man’s honor (respect)  and his freedom of rights are one of the large foundation of ( Jewish ) values, I respect that.  My personal tendency is to allow every man to live his life, he does not come to ask me, and if he does, I will encourage this, and this will remain personal”, Rabbi Gisar explained.

Before his remark regarding  the acceptance of a lesbian couple to the settlement, The Rabbi continued and explained his position with Halacha and the “Musar” (tradition), “I have not expressed a disagreement between Halacha and “Musar” (tradition), this is because I believe that the Halacha and the “Musar” (tradition) should be parallel one to the other, and if we spoke about personal values and loving your neighbor as yourself, and the paths between friendships, this is part of Halacha, on the contrary, Halacha is very traditional and it needs to identify the tradition with Halachic traditions and vice-versa, and I think that my Halachic need is to be close, attentive and a partner in meditation and consideration as the seekers find in a letter. Together with this, my tradition and my Halachic values also place me within barriers, and my barriers are in accordance with those of both Halacha and “Musar” (tradition); my Halachic values are my traditions. It is not what I say from the point of view of Halacha, rather what you tell yourself from the point of view of Halacha.”

Rabbi Gisar continued his speech and explained his point of view with examples in comparison  to homosexuality, “Do I not accept into my community those who violate the Sabbath? I accept.  Do I not host those who are violating the Sabbath?  We are constantly discovering issues regarding our personal values with our friends and members of our community, and with this, I do not go up to the synagogue and say ‘So-and-so has come to the synagogue on the Sabbath, so-and-so is to be blessed’.  If a couple who violates the Sabbath would request that I would give them permission to violate the Sabbath, I would not go to their wedding”.   When asked of Rabbi Gisar, he replied: “I will give a homosexual an aliyah to the Torah, a lesbian family is able to live in Ofra”.

In a similar vain, Rabbanit Esti Rozenberg, a student of Zionistic Torah scholars, and the daughter of HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein (Dean of the Yeshiva “Har Etzion”) said in her enlightened opening statement that she did not base her theory on the subject of Gay/Lesbian couples on a  Halachic point of view, but rather from a moral point of view.   “The traditional family is a pair, two parents who raise children, male and female. All of a  sudden I ask myself what I am going to doing with this issue of same sex couples – etc.”, interjected the Rabbanit Rozenberg to those on the panel, “I truly want to voice two opinions,  two characters which echo one another.  Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as we know said, it will never happen without trying; from one side I want to know what is right and what is halachic, and from the other side to respect both.”

“I came here, and I am thankful for the chance to speak about this issue, with this conference which connects people who are going through these issues.  In the end we like or do not like people who are going through this.  To respect both sides is a very strong, basic value of Judaism, and in the end a strong ideology is breaking down in front of our eyes.  The thing that is clearest to me is that I am ready to do, with religious value, everything possible so the same sex couple population will stay within the religious community.  I want there to be an option to continue raising children with Torah values, to marriage “chupah”, and good deeds, and I want everyone in the community who come here to continue to do the work of G-d, may He be praised, and will continue to be a part of the religious community, and the only other alternative is five times more dangerous.  I am ready to do whatever it takes in order that the religious community will accept within its parameters different understandings”.

The Rabbanit Rozenberg clarified a few things by saying, “I want to distinguish between two things: the family foundation, which I think is not the traditional family model, I think the main preference is that a family will be composed of a father and mother, but there is a new reality.   I think that patience is key, in all practicality I am ready to concede a lot, to widen the Halachic boundaries within my congregation, I am ready to demand this change, to be patient and to explain it to my daughter.”

One last addition  Rabbanit Rozenberg  explained to the same-sex couples is that they must understand that the religious community is not able to conform to every new idea which it comes across.  “I also think that the congregation which wants me to accept them also needs to accept me; to accept something which the religious community does not generally accept, and to find places where, with patience, will be joined together; a place where there will be an understanding that there are some who will find certain things difficult to accept.  Both sides are compromising on something and must try their hardest to make it work and to be respectful of one  another.  There must be love and flexibility.  I challenge the community of Alon Shvut to start working together and to allow a woman to say the D’var Torah in  a synagogue, but I know that I should not propose that a woman receive an aliyah to the Torah.  I need to challenge my community, and I know what the boundaries are.  There needs to be patience and flexibility from both sides, and sometimes it will hurt me and sometimes it will hurt you. And if both the congregations are aware and know this, then they would be more flexible.”

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