In a teshuva issued by the Conservative Movement entitled Rituals and Documents of Marriage and Divorce for Same-Sex Couples by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner, it is claimed in a few places that the prohibition on intimate homosexual relations are on a rabbinic level. A few quotes from the teshuva state:

We acknowledged in our responsum that same-sex intimate relationships are comprehensively banned by classical rabbinic law

(emphasis theirs)


We concluded that for observant gay and lesbian Jews who would otherwise be condemned to a life of celibacy or secrecy, their human dignity requires suspension of the rabbinic level prohibitions so that they may experience intimacy and create families recognized by the Jewish community.

(emphasis theirs)

How do these rabbis arrive at the conclusion that homosexual relations are forbidden only on a rabbinic level? How do they explain the verse in Vayikra 18:22?

וְאֶת זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא:‏

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination. (JPS)

  • The verses in Leviticus 18 and 20 only prohibit sexual intercourse, but there is much more to an intimate relationship than sex. The prohibition of men being in a non-sexual relationship is rabbinic.
    – Shimon bM
    Sep 3, 2013 at 5:13
  • 1
    @ShimonbM Right, but the second quote clearly seems to be making the claim that homosexual intercourse is prohibited on a rabbinic level. Note that it mentions people "who would otherwise be condemned to a life of celebacy..."
    – Daniel
    Sep 3, 2013 at 5:15
  • I do not know, but I suspect they may have had in mind the word's original meaning of abstaining from marriage, from the Latin caelibatus.
    – Shimon bM
    Sep 3, 2013 at 7:33
  • 3
    but then does secrecy mean 'secretly not abstaining from marriage'?
    – Annelise
    Sep 3, 2013 at 14:20
  • 2
    @Daniel Did you try reading the responsum?
    – Double AA
    Sep 3, 2013 at 15:35

1 Answer 1


If you read the original responsum of the committee (here), you will find that they choose to rule that all prohibitions other than homosexual male anal intercourse (such as the prohibitions of yihud and negiah) are all rabbinic and are superseded by the concept of kvod habriot. (How they deal with the issue of השחתת זרע לבטלה is less clear, which is likely why it was relegated to an extended footnote, #47.)

  • I find your language interesting. They "choose to rule"? Do other poskim also choose to rule, or do they just rule?
    – Shimon bM
    Sep 4, 2013 at 0:55
  • 7
    @ShimonbM "Choose" has many different senses. In some senses every posek chooses. In some senses no posek chooses. In a certain sense, most Orthodox poskim don't choose to paskin like the Rambam over the Ramban regarding the prohibition of negia by relying on the Shulchan Aruch and the weight of the later rabbinic rulings in accordance with it; at least not in the same sense that the responsum discussed here chose how to rule regarding that machloket.
    – Double AA
    Sep 4, 2013 at 2:14

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