Dear Rabbi Gil Steinlauf:
You sure made a splash yesterday when, as the senior rabbi of Adas Israel (the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington DC) you announced that you are divorcing your wife and coming out as gay.
In a letter to your congregation, you asked for its “continued trust in me to guide you as your spiritual leader as I truly am.”
Such assertions are common by LGBT people — that being gay is “who they are.” But it’s an unfortunate and very narrow construction of someone’s identity. Rabbi Steinlauf, “who you truly are” indeed involves your libido, sexual orientation, and desired family format.
But you are also your faith, your marriage (your wife is also a rabbi), your parenthood (you have three children), your politics (you’re a Zionist and a proponent of social justice), your community, your status as a role model, your profession (calling?), and your job. To decide that one important but ultimately secondary aspect of your identity is your very essence — to which everyone in your family, congregation, and community must adapt — is awfully selfish.
Worse, Rabbi, is your attempt to justify your decision with reference to our sacred texts. Your letter cites the great Talmudic personality Abaye saying a scholar whose inside does not match his outside is an abomination. Does anyone seriously believe that our sages of blessed memory would think a rabbi who opts to stay closeted is MORE abominable than one who leaves his wife to pursue intimate relationships with other men?
Steps like yours no doubt feel like the right thing to do for gay men in loveless marriages. But you’re not just any gay man. You’re one of the most important Jewish leaders in your city. Part of your job is to help model a loving Jewish family.
Leave aside homosexuality. What does your announcement say to the many men in your synagogue who are more sexually attracted to younger women than to their wives? I doubt you’d approve of a congregant breaking up his family to chase after his 28-year-old secretary.
Oh, but you say being attracted to men is “who you are.” Well, for a lot of heterosexual males, being attracted to younger women is “who they are” too, but we don’t give them dispensation to seek — casualties be damned — self-actualization.
I’m not telling you this as an Orthodox Jew to a Conservative one — or as a celibate gay man to one who wants to explore same-sex relationships. I speak as a coreligionist who is concerned about the impact your decision will inevitably have on the people around you.
Yes, you came out yesterday. That doesn’t mean you can’t “go back in” today. If you don’t, I recommend that Adas Israel start looking for a new senior rabbi.
David Benkof is a freelance writer living in St. Louis. Follow him on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.