Daniel Atwood, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, was ordained in Jerusalem after being denied from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.
By Sam Sokol, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Featured photo by Sam Sokol
A gay rabbinical student denied ordination by a liberal seminary in New York was welcomed into the rabbinate in Jerusalem, breaking a longstanding taboo against homosexuality in the Orthodox community.
Daniel Landes, a prominent American-Israeli rabbi, granted semichah, Hebrew for ordination, to Daniel Atwood alongside a mixed group of men and women at the Jerusalem Theater on Sunday evening during a ceremony attended by more than 200 guests.
On April 4, Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Shira Hanau reported that https://thejewishnews.com/2018/02/15/landing-a-leader/Atwood was denied ordination from the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. The current YCT president declined to comment on the issue, and Atwood continued to pursue ordination.
While Chovevei Torah initially welcomed Atwood with full knowledge of his orientation, the Yeshiva’s dean told JTA that a recent, unspecified event caused a reevaluation of the decision to grant him ordination. Six months ago, Atwood and his partner got engaged on the stage of a concert in New York City.
“I always knew that being in the position that I am in would be a difficult process,” he wrote in a statement to The Jewish Week. “I was always willing to navigate those challenges and work with YCT throughout this process. And I have always been fully committed to living my life according to Orthodox halacha [Jewish law]. At the same time, I refuse to live anything but a dignified life, something I was always transparent about, including not being closeted or secret about my Torah, my identity, my beliefs, or my relationship.”
In 2016, Landes ordained eight Orthodox women as rabbis in a ceremony. The ordination program is part of Yashrut, an organization he heads that aims to build “civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance.”
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who was president of YCT at the time of Atwood’s acceptance into the school, is currently the spiritual leader of Kehillat Etz Chayim in suburban Detroit. He is also the founder of the Center for Civil Discourse.
“I wish Rabbi Atwood the very best and much success in his mission of spreading Torah and connecting many people to Judaism,” Lopatin says.
Atwood — a 27-year- old graduate of Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution — smiled throughout the ceremony, dancing with Landes and his fellow ordainees.
“I feel very excited to be receiving semicha and very grateful to Rabbi Landes and Yashrut for taking me on,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that his joy was tempered by “a little sadness to not be with the cohort and teachers that I learned with for many years at YCT.”
Asked how he felt to be a representative of the LGBT community within American Orthodoxy, Atwood replied that he felt “that responsibility very strongly” and that while he had not set out to be a symbol, he hoped that he could become “a rabbinic presence for LGBT [Jews] and Jews of all sorts, whatever their orientation, who feel left out.”
Lopatin expressed his belief that Atwood being ordained is a step in the right direction.
“Rabbi Atwood being ordained by Rav Daniel Landes, who is a serous Orthodox Talmid Chacham and leader, is certainly a positive step for Torah, Judaism and for all Jews,” he says.
Michael Pearce contributed to this story