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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rabbi addresses gay rights, right wing

Lesbian rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum blamed conservative ideologues for stalling gay rights in a speech Wednesday sponsored by the Jewish studies department.

Titled "Moral Values?: The Challenge the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transsexual Jewish Community Poses to the Radical Right Wing," the lecture was sponsored through the Mary and William Barnet II 1934 family fund, which brings lecturers to speak on topics that influence the Jewish community.

Since 1992, Kleinbaum has been the senior rabbi of New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torahk, the world's largest and second-oldest lesbian and gay synagogue since 1992.

Kleinbaum began her speech by holding up the front page of an issue of The New York Times, which included a photograph and article featuring six major leaders of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, who gathered in Jerusalem to protest plans for a gay pride festival.

"When I first picked up the paper, I thought, if you would know anything about religion then you would know that these six men do not speak to each other," Kleinbaum said. "Somehow their hatred and opposition to gay people brought them together."

Kleinbaum argued that gay rights centered on the answer to the question of who gets to say what is religious and what's moral.

"They [the major religious leaders] believe that the world shares their views and as the heads they are to reinforce them," Kleinbaum said.

According to Kleinbaum, the radical religious right wing does not hesitate to lay blame on the gay community -- even for natural disasters. Jerry Falwell blamed Hurricane Katrina on a gay pride parade that was supposed to take place in New Orleans that weekend and said that God was preventing it from happening.

The standing of gays today is comparable to that of blacks in the 1960s, Kleinbaum said, citing the example of Mississippi blacks who were subject to Jim Crow laws while blacks that lived in New York were not.

"I am not talking about trying to change people's religious point of view. I do believe that people can have different beliefs," Kleinbaum said. "What is not acceptable is the religious point of view to be codified into United States law"

Kleinbaum said the government favors particular religions over others, using the example of the Catholic Church, which forbids divorce but lacks the power to decide on civil marriage licenses.

"What role does the state have in saying that two people of the same gender cannot get married but two people who have been divorced can?" Kleinbaum said. "The role of reactionary religion in different shapes and different flavors has been the single biggest obstacle to the full liberation of humans."

Kleinbaum spoke at Michael Bronski's "Gender and Judaism" class before giving her speech.

Kleinbaum tearfully concluded her speech with a reference to slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Moses didn't make it to the promised land. Neither did King, and we probably won't either. Nevertheless, a life worth living is working to that course," she said.