Gay Reconstructionist rabbi lectures on sexual ethics

Rabbi David Dunn Bauer speaks July 7 in Winnipeg at the 21st World Conference of GLBT Jews. [Myron Love photo]

WINNIPEG — Rabbi David Dunn Bauer came to the rabbinate somewhat later in life.

Rabbi Bauer, who was ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2003, spent the first 20 years of his adult life working internationally directing theatre and opera. From 2000 to 2010, he served as spiritual leader of congregations in Great Barrington and Amherst, Mass.

He’s currently a queer spiritual counselor based in San Francisco and serves as the Bay Area director of programming for Nehirim, a national U.S. group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews.

As well as leading services at the 21st World Conference of GLBT Jews, held July 5 to 7 in Winnipeg – it was the first time a Canadian city has hosted the event for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews – Rabbi Bauer led two workshops, the first on July 6 on  “Jews and Gender Non-Conformity in Cinema” and the second on July 7 focusing on comparing traditional Jewish sexual ethics with gay sexual ethics.

Keynote speakers at the conference were transgender memoirist and poet Joy Ladin, and Jay Michaelson, the founder of Nehirim and the author of five books, most recently God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality.

In his July 7 talk, Rabbi Bauer defined sexual ethics as a community’s “self-imposed taboos.”

Orthodox Judaism, he pointed out, emphasizes modesty. “It is not considered proper among Orthodox Jews to see other men naked,” he said, also citing the rules in the Torah about not uncovering nakedness.

Orthodox Judaism, he continued, also teaches that we have an obligation to please our partners sexually and that the primary purpose of intercourse is for procreation.

The basic rule for gay sexual relations, he noted, is to do no harm. In other words, members of the gay community have to be always aware of the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases and take the appropriate protective measures.

Also important in sexual relations in the gay community is mutual consent and good communication between partners.

“Jewish sexual ethics are defined by tradition,” he noted. “Gay sexual ethics are determined more on a personal level.”

Rabbi Bauer also spoke about the position of power among men vis-a-vis women in a traditional Jewish relationship, a situation that may or may not be part of a gay couple’s relationship. 

Bauer finished his presentation by giving audience members two gay relationship scenarios and encouraging them to discuss the proper ethical responses in each.

He concluded by observing that gay Jews are willing to address ethical issues that straight Jews may be reluctant to talk about.

“We have wisdom that we can impart to youth groups, congregations and others, and we should,” he said.

The next print edition of The CJN is Aug. 1.