Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gay Marriages Cleave a Temple of Iranian Jews

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Gay Marriages Cleave a Temple of Iranian Jews

Article excerpt

The decision has set off a storm of protests in recent days, reflecting not only the unusual makeup of the congregation but also the generational and cultural divisions over how to respond to changing attitudes.

Sinai Temple is a Conservative Jewish congregation perched on a hill in Westwood, famous for its wealth, its teeming population of Persians, many of whom fled Iran after the fall of the shah, and a well-known rabbi who has at times pushed his congregation on ideologically adventurous paths.

So it was that three weeks before the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California, the rabbi, David Wolpe, announced in a letter to the synagogue that gay marriages would be performed in this 107-year-old congregation, as soon as the court ruling he anticipated was handed down.

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 protests 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."

Mr. Naim said he was leaving the congregation. Rabbi Wolpe said that 10 families had told him so far that they intended to either leave the synagogue or withdraw their children from its school, to protest a policy they denounced as a violation of Jewish teachings and the traditions they had brought here when they fled the Iranian revolution of 1979.

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 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.

"The Persian community is pretty heavily weighted against the idea of same-sex marriage," Rabbi Wolpe said. "And there are some non-Persians who also oppose it, and have made their convictions clear to me."

"I've been wanting to do this for a long time," he said. "I was doing it on my internal timetable in the synagogue, which was to try to bring people along slowly because I knew this would be very difficult for many people. I think it's the most controversial thing I've ever done or will do."

The decision by Rabbi Wolpe, 54, who has been at this temple for 15 years and is one of the country's best-known and most outspoken rabbis, was very much in accordance with the practice of other Conservative congregations.

Conservative Judaism is perched in the center between the more liberal Reform and Reconstructionist movements, which have long accepted gay clergy, and the Orthodox, which rejects it.

Some Conservative congregations have openly gay rabbis and cantors. But the announcement and its aftermath served as a reminder of one of the things that distinguish Sinai Temple and nearby Beverly Hills: a heavy and at times insular presence of Iranians, many of them fiercely protective of their past and religious beliefs.

At Saturday services last week, the roll call of deceased members read off during the memorial conclusion of the service, in preparation for the chanting of the mourner's Kaddish, was rich with Iranian names, a notable addition to the usual roster of names like Abramowitz and Schwartz. …

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