Rabbi’s Marriage Equality Support Provokes Walk-outs At California Synagogue

RabbiWhile conservative religious bigots have already voiced their opposition to the recent pro-equality Supreme Court decisions, it remains to be seen how moderate and progressive religious organizations will handle the new reality of gay visibility.

When David Wolpe, rabbi of the well-known Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, announced in a letter to his synagogue that gay marriages would be performed in the temple as a result of the Prop 8 decision, a sizeable opposition emerged from members of his Conservative Jewish congregation. The Sinai Temple, famous for its wealth and its large population of Persians who fled Iran after the fall of the shah, has splintered in response to the rabbi's decision.

From The New York Times:

Celebrating same-sex marriages is hardly a new stand for Conservative Jewish congregations. But the decision in this distinctive synagogue has set off a storm of protest in recent days, particularly from Persian Jews, reflecting not only the unusual makeup of the congregation but also the generational and cultural divisions among some Jews over how to respond to changing civil views of homosexuality.

"To officiate a union that is expressly not for the same godly purpose of procreation and to call such a relationship 'sanctified' is unacceptable to a sound mind," M. Michael Naim, an architect, said in an open letter to other Iranian members of the congregation. "Homosexuality is explicitly condemned in Scripture and has been categorically and passionately rejected by all classical Jewish legal and ethical thinkers as a cardinal vice in the same category as incest, murder and idolatry."

Rabbi Wolpe said that based on letters he had received, and comments voiced to him as he walked the aisles of the sprawling, sunny sanctuary on Wilshire Boulevard during Saturday morning service, close to half of the congregation of 2,000 families, which is about half Persian, was unhappy with the new policy.

As many as 10 families have already announced their intention to leave the congregation. Wolpe, however, remains unfazed by any potential backlash. He sees the decision as one of fairness and in line with the best tradition of the Conservative movement, which views the Torah as a living document that allows room for new understandings and approaches.

"As we have modernized the role of women and many other practices, the demand on the part of our brothers and sisters who are gay to be able to live in a sanctified relationship is a call to our conscience and our responsibility as Jews."

Wolpe later added, "I've been wanting to do this for a long time"



  1. Steve says

    You can’t really compare Jewish naming conventions to Christian ones by the way. Conservative Jews are mostly mainstream. The extremists are the Orthodox ones. Reform Jews are very, very liberal, while Reform Christians are Calvinists: the most immoral and inhuman form of Christian theology.

  2. Just_a_guy says

    This move makes Iranian-Americans look bad. And as much as most who remain in Iran are not Jewish, this move by American Persians reflects poorly on their countrymen in Iran. C’mon, Persian-folk: Did you lie to me?!! Every time that I’ve discussed gay rights in Iran with an American with a Persian background, I’ve been told “but the people aren’t like that; it’s just the oppressive government.” Over and over again. And then again–they hade believing the Persians are modern, kind people. And as much as they weren’t leaping for the local gay L.A. candidate I was pitching for office, I liked them. I sometimes felt like I was with family when I was with them.

    But now this. What the…
    But now this.

  3. Merv says

    Not surprising. The Judeo-Christo-Islamic religion always has and always will hate gay people.

  4. says

    “as many as 10 families”


    kudos to the Rabbi. Jews, more than any other voting demographic, overwhelmingly opposed Prop 8.

    those walking out can let the door hit ’em on the @ss. those who stay, rock ON!

  5. says

    I’m always glad when somebody stands up for equal rights and fair play. In this case it seems extra courage was involved.

    The rabbi will never have to regret choosing kindness and compassion.

  6. Pete N SFO says

    I’ve worked with plenty of Persians/Iranians.

    All the guys would be greeted w/ kisses on both cheeks, but never me… lol Still, they had no problem working w/ gays.

    I love that the Rabbi is so matter-of-fact about it. The recent decisions are going to go a long way in allowing people to now do what they wanted to all along.

  7. Jerry says

    We are reformed Jewish and usually its the orthodox who are embarrassing to us. However, the Persian Jews in LA are notoriously entitled and difficult. Odds are that the rabbi is not crying over this.

  8. e.c. says

    I’m sure Wolpe was prepared for a certain amount of backlash over this, but he’s smart and principled so I doubt he’ll back down.

    (And the influx of Persian Jews has caused more than a few families to leave Sinai over the years too.)

  9. barryearle says

    When I was living in LA and studying for a Masters Degree in conflict resolution, the thesis for my degree involved the conflict around the question of marriage equality. Its central project was a workshop that asked the question: Should same gender families be included or excluded from your congregation? The workshop would take the attendees through a process to see if using certain conflict resolution principles could create movement toward inclusion or would they maintain their pre-determined positions.

    I wanted to conduct it in a local conservative synagogue since that movement was debating internally about doing commitment ceremonies for same gender couples. It seemed like a perfect time for this workshop in that environment. Their central officiating body ultimately decided that each synagogue should make that decision for itself. Not a very brave stand but at least some positive movement. In comparison, the reform Jewish movement had been on board since the late 1980s. As the NY Times article says, one such conservative synagogue in LA did move in that direction with little to no controversy from its similar Persian members. And so the step now toward marriage is not a problem.

    However, when I was looking for a congregation around 2004 for my thesis project not one conservative synagogue stepped forward to offer its membership for my workshop. Most conservative rabbis did not feel they had any gay or lesbian members to which I replied, “Are you sure? Would they be comfortable telling you?” And Rabbi Wolpe informed me that, like the patriarch of a family, it was his role to first educate his congregation about the Torah and homosexuality.

    What became clear as I talked to several rabbis is that they see their role as being the father and leader and their congregants are their children and followers. So I’m not surprised that Rabbi Wolpe is having trouble with his “children.” To me it is a very condescending attitude, particularly on this issue. And maybe it involves a little bit of fear of having to address a difficult subject and the potential loss of their position and their congregants.

  10. Thomasina says

    “As many as 10 families” in a congregation of 2,000 families? Wow, that is not a lot.

  11. Graham says

    @Steve: It’s true, you can’t compare Conservative Jews to conservative (small “c”) Christians. A correction, though — It’s not Reform Christians, it’s Reformed Christians. Yes, they do trace their theological lineage to Calvin, but a.) the Calvin of history is not the Calvin of your stereotype and b.) Reformed Christianity in the US includes such welcoming and inclusive churches as the United Church of Christ, which first started ordaining gays and lesbians way back in 1979. There are many conservative Reformed Churches and there are many progressive ones, too.

    Your basic point about not confusing the terminology describing Jews and Christians is correct, though. It’s your details that were a little fishy.

  12. Bill says

    The irony here is that the Persian/Iranian Jews left Iran after the Islamic revolution to escape theocracy’s bigotry and discrimination against a minority.

  13. A.E. says

    Where are they going to go? Stephen S. Wise Temple? The son of the head rabbi there is gay.

  14. Bob says

    It’s likely mostly Iranians. The culture is very macho and very much about putting on a show. They are not bad people, but are contentious, compared to WASPS, and tend to be hard to satisfy.
    That temple is near UCLA, where Westwood is now “little Teheran”.