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Sin?
Jun 1, 2001

Dear Rabbi I don't know what your denomination of Judaism believes about pre-marital sex and homosexuality, but what do you think about the fact that what puts someone at risk for HIV is also a sin.

Response from Rabbi Sacks-Rosen

Judaism asks us to embrace all people and care for them. All judgments are God's to make, not ours. Rather, when one has an infection we are to do all in our power to ensure proper medical attention and to ensure that the person feels our support, love and concern in palpable ways. Anything less is not worthy of a loving, caring God who has made each of us in God's very own Divine Image.

You are certainly correct that knowledge about transmission of HIV is available. Many, however, have not received this information. Judaism understands that knowledge is power and that knowledge leads to action. Therefore, Judaism would demand that people of faith ensure that good information and materials regarding safe sex practices are made readily available in various formats so that all people of all languages, cultures and ages will be able to make more informed choices.

As for Judaism's notion of sin, the Hebrew word "chet" has the connotation of "missing the mark." As all of us journey through life we find that we may be off of our path, diverted from our goals or short of actualizing our potential for any variety of reasons. Judaism offers of 40-day period each year, starting one month before the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShanah) and ending with our Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in our that we might do our personal assessment before God, and achieve teshuvah, a "return," to getting on our appropriate path. Indeed, to pray in Judaism is rendered by the Hebrew word, "l'hit-pallel," which means "to assess oneself." In Judaism, each person does his or her own assessment--with God's help and with the loving encouragement of one's family, friends and community.

If person "A" is assessing person "B"'s behavior as sinful, that tells us much more about person "A" then about person "B", namely that person "A" needs our encouragement and support to engage in their need for reflection, as we all do. Thank God, God in Judaism is not punitive or mean-spirited, but "ever-present, gracious, compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, treasuring up love for a thousand generations, forgiving our path diversions and pardoning the penitent." (These attributes of God were derived from Exodus 34 and play a prominent role in Jewish liturgy and Jewish liturgical thinking)



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