In a poignant letter to his congregants, Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., announced Monday that he is gay and that he and his wife of 20 years, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, are divorcing.
While members of the congregation are still digesting the news, many have already expressed their support. “I am unbelievably overwhelmed by the endless stream” of positive messages, said Steinlauf who has been a rabbi at Adas Israel since 2008.
In an email blast to Adas Israel’s 1,350 households on Monday, Steinlauf wrote that “I have come to understand that I am gay.” He explained that he had “struggled in my childhood and adolescence with a difference I recognized in myself.” But he grew up “in a different era, when the attitudes and counsel of adult professionals and peers encouraged me to deny this uncertain aspect of myself,” said the 45 year old.
For much of his life, Steinlauf considered his possible homosexuality “a problem, something to get over, to outgrow.” But three years ago, “I had just reached a point in my life where I was able to connect the dots of my life.” Since then, there has been much “healing, fear and pain,” Steinlauf said, adding that his wife has stood by his side through it all. “We are each other’s best friends, even through this,” he said.
Until recently, he had hoped to remain married, but “this summer, I finally reached the place where I had some real clarity” and realized the best way to be the best person he could for his wife and three teenage children was to “let go of the marriage. I didn’t want to become somebody who lives a lie. I owe this to my family, the congregation – to live with integrity,” he said.
Many in his D.C. congregation apparently appreciate that.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the Adas community. I think it’s an opportunity for Gil. This is who he is. I think he is a great rabbi, and this will make him better. He will be fully himself,” said Stuart Kurlander, a respected leader of the D.C. LGBT community, a member of Adas Israel and a part owner of Washington Jewish Week.
“Frankly I am pleased, but not surprised whatsoever, at the support Gil is receiving,” said Kurlander, who also praised Batya Steinlauf for her “tremendous support” for her husband.
Joel Fischman, a member of the synagogue’s board of directors and its chair of the social action council, said that as soon as he found out, he sent a message to Steinlauf “expressing my wife’s and my full measure of devotion and support.” He called Steinlauf “an inspiration.”
Fischman said he predicts the Steinlaufs will be treated the same as they always have by most, if not all, all of Adas’ members.
“We have a huge demographic spread, and as you know, generations think differently” on this issue, said Fischman, who is in his 70s. He added that the rabbi “will certainly have the support of all the clergy. He has the support of the congregational leadership.” Leah Chanin, a member of the board
of trustees, praised Steinlauf for being “very courageous for sharing the information with the congregation.” However, she said, “I really feel that all the rest is the business of his family” and need not be discussed further.
Steinlauf agrees. His upcoming sermons, he said, will focus on Sukkot, not his sexuality. He would like his congregants to know, “I was a rabbi before yesterday, and I am a rabbi today. My job is to teach Torah. My job is to help others along their Jewish path.”
Therefore, Steinlauf hopes, his coming out to his congregation soon will be “a nonstory.”
Almost two years ago, Steinlauf published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal about his experiences officiating at the first same-sex wedding in the 145-year history of Adas Israel.
In the article, Steinlauf wrote, “I reject the idea that the Bible declares that the only sacred love that can exist is the love between a man and a woman. Love is queer – it can never be limited to our categorization of roles and gender. Love is commitment, presence, and kindness so awesome and mysterious that nothing in our power can contain it.”
Steinlauf also turned to ancient tradition when he first “met and fell in love with Batya, a wonderful woman who loved and accepted me exactly as I am,” he wrote in the email to the congregation.
“Together, we have shared a love so deep and real, and together we have built a loving home with our children – founded principally on the values and joys of Jewish life and tradition.”
He proudly labeled his progeny “extraordinary, loving children,” adding that “while this is certainly not easy for them, they understand.”
Synagogue President Arnie Podgorsky believes the congregation also will understand. “For my part, I commend Rabbi Steinlauf for his courage in sharing his news with our community in such an honest way. I offer him my full support and that of the Adas Israel lay leadership,” he wrote in an email to congregants that accompanied Steinlauf’s message.
“Together with the other officers of Adas Israel, I stand with Rabbi Steinlauf. Our synagogue is strong, large and inclusive – a big tent with room and respect for all. Rabbi Steinlauf, along with the rest of the clergy, will continue to advance new paths to Torah, making Judaism and its tools for a beautiful life more accessible for more Jews. We will continue our diverse approaches to worship, from the traditional to the innovative. At the same time, we understand that Rabbi Steinlauf will be undergoing a challenging personal transition in the coming months, and we extend to him patience and a generous spirit,” Podgorsky wrote.
Stressed Podgorsky: “It is important to recognize that this development resolves a decades-long personal struggle in Rabbi Steinlauf’s life and reflects the still loving and supportive relationships among Gil and Batya and their children. I have great respect for their ability to face changing circumstances in their lives with honesty and integrity. We can all learn from their example.”
The Conservative movement voted to allow the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies in December 2006. The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) began admitting openly gay students to The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music in 2007.
According to Beatrice Mora, JTS’s communications coordinator, “JTS actually took the lead in creating an inclusive hiring statement that is used by the [Rabbinical Assembly] and [United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism] to guide communities to consider applicants exclusively on the merits of their spiritual and intellectual gifts.”
Added Mora: “We are of course supportive of Rabbi Steinlauf and applaud the sensitive and forthright way that he, his family, and his congregation have handled this transition.”
Below is the text of the email Steinlauf sent to the congregation:
I am writing to share with you that after twenty years of marriage, my wife Batya and I have decided to divorce. We have arrived at this heartbreaking decision because I have come to understand that I am gay. These are great upheavals in my personal life, as in Batya’s and that of our children. But it is plain to all of us that because of my position as Rabbi of Adas Israel, this private matter may also have a public aspect. We recognize that you may well need a period of reflection to absorb this sudden news. I am most grateful for the support Adas’ lay leaders and clergy have provided my family and me in the short time since I brought this matter to their attention. That support makes it possible for us to prepare for this new chapter in our lives, and for me in my ongoing service as Rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation.
While I struggled in my childhood and adolescence with a difference I recognized in myself, that feeling of difference did not then define my identity, much less the spouse I would seek. I sought to marry a woman because of a belief that this was the right thing for me. This conviction was reinforced by having grown up in a different era, when the attitudes and counsel of adult professionals and peers encouraged me to deny this uncertain aspect of myself. I met and fell in love with Batya, a wonderful woman who loved and accepted me exactly as I am. Together, we have shared a love so deep and real, and together we have built a loving home with our children—founded principally on the values and joys of Jewish life and tradition. But my inner struggle never did go away. Indeed, Batya herself has supported me through this very personal inner struggle that she knew to be the source of great pain and confusion in my life over decades.
A text I’ve sat with for years is from the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 72b) and states, “Rabbah said, any scholar whose inside does not match his outside is no scholar. Abaye, and some say Ravah bar Ulah, said [one whose inside does not match his outside] is called an abomination.” Ultimately, the dissonance between my inside and my outside became undeniable, then unwise, and finally intolerable. With much pain and tears, together with my beloved wife, I have come to understand that I could walk my path with the greatest strength, with the greatest peace in my heart, with the greatest healing and wholeness, when I finally acknowledged that I am a gay man. Sadly, for us this means that Batya and I can no longer remain married, despite our fidelity throughout our marriage and our abiding friendship and love. As our divorce is not born of rancor, we pray that together with our children we will remain bound by a brit mishpachah, a covenant of family.
I hope and pray, too, that I will be the best father, family member, rabbi, friend, and human being I can be, now that I have resolved a decades-long struggle. The truth is that like anyone else, I have no choice but to live with the reality, or personal Torah, of my life. I ask for your continued trust in me to guide you as your spiritual leader as I truly am. I also ask for your love and kindness toward Batya and our children as they seek to live their lives with dignity, as they journey the challenging road ahead.
I feel immensely proud that for many generations our congregation has set standards of vision and leadership in the American Jewish community and am sincerely grateful for the privilege of serving Adas Israel. Now, with deepened humility, I look forward to continuing the delicate task of marking and celebrating our shared human journeys in joy and in holiness.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf
This article was updated on Oct. 8.
While I regret all the pain Rabbi Steinlauf’s family is going through at this time, I think it’s wonderful that 2014 a Rabbi can courageously acknowledge his sexual orientation is the “standard” without fearing that his job and career are over. Kudos Rabbi Seinlauf; yasher koach to the Adas Israel family for standing by their spiritual leader.
I admire Rabbi Steinlauf’s courage, and I’m glad for the love and the compassion he is receiving from everyone around him. With such support, the pain and the confusion he has suffered, will become a thing of the past…and he will be reborn.
Regardless of what you think of homosexuality and Judaism, Rabbi Steinlauf is no hero. http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/letter-to-the-senior-rabbi-who-came-out/
sorry, but i’m a 60 year old adas bar mitzvah who took what rabinowitz and weiss taught and trusted them.
politically correct baloney, can’t imagine anyone understanding how this lifestyle, this lying and this “rabbi’s new clothes” would be approved by any god fearing jew.
keep playing along and smiling… don’t ask yourself about right and wrong and be “accepting”… you’ll see where it gets you.
I have no problem with a gay rabbi. I do have a problem with someone breaking up his family with 3 minor children. Everyone praising the rabbi for his courage should ask, where was the courage to try to keep the marriage intact until his children are older?
Shame on some of these writers. This level of bigotry has no place in the Jewish community. To be informed in 2014 one must know that it is G-d and science that have decided each person’s characteristics and all are created in the image. Even as a straight ally (who had friends privately come out to her in the 1970’s) I have also evolved , improving the way I perceive these issues. With two other friends/rabbis coming out in later life, leaving heterosexual spouses and with acceptance of beloved children. ..I hope for the day when all of G-d’s children may live in freedom, world-wide, in full expression of one’s personal talents
Kol hakavod to .both rabbis for the menschlichkeit, courage and lovingkindness shown and we all wish them and their children health, good works and still more support and acceptance in the new year.
And may we, the Jewish community continue in our work for a more just and perfect world.
Kay Flick Elfant
Feel sorry for his kids and also for the woman who married a gay man. Hope he was honest with her before they married.