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Thousands Raised for Gay Rabbinical Student Denied Ordination

Gay Rabbinical Student

The student, who has been out for several years, was only recently told he would not be ordained. 

When a rabbinical student at a New York seminary was recently told that he will not be ordained as a rabbi because he is gay, a Jewish LGBTQ organization set up a fundraiser to help send him to Israel, where he can be ordained. And the fundraiser pulled in $3,000 in its first hour, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a news service.

A student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, Daniel Atwood, 27, came out during his first year at the school, but he was only recently informed that he would not be allowed to graduate. Leaders of the school would only say that the decision to deny his ordination was due to an incident that occurred about six months ago, which happens to be around the time Atwood and his partner, Judah Gavant, became engaged on the stage of a Jewish concert in New York City in October.

"Four years ago I came out as gay during my first year at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, and it was decided that I would receive semicha as their first openly gay student," Atwood said in a statement upon being told he would not be ordained.

"After four years of study and my completing almost all of the program's requirements, YCT decided not to give me semicha, news delivered to me only a few weeks ago, three months before my graduation, without any prior conversation on the matter," he said.

Semicha, sometimes spelled Semikha, is a term for ordination. YCT is affiliated with the Orthodox branch of Judaism, which generally frowns on homosexuality, but the school is one of the more liberal ones within the Orthodox movement.

When the news came out that Atwood was barred from ordination, the organization Jewish Queer Youth launched the fundraiser.

"Daniel deserves a Semikha celebration, like the rest of his YCT classmates, to which he can invite his family and friends," read the Facebook description for the fundraiser. "Funds raised in this campaign will help pay for a dignified Semikha ceremony that reflects Daniel's hard work, dedication, and commitment to our community."

"I think we have the most amazing community of people who are just so supportive of each other," said Rachael Fried, JQY's deputy executive director. "We have this unconditional love from this chosen family, and even if people don't know Daniel, there is this support system we have in this Jewish queer community that is unlike any I've seen anywhere else."

Rabbi Dov Linzer, president of the school, sent an email to The Jewish Week saying the school accepted students regardless of sexual orientation, but not all students admitted would graduate.

"We accept all students regardless of sexual orientation, provided that they are fully committed to Orthodox halachic observance," he wrote. "There have been students in the past that did not receive semicha, each one for reasons specific to his case. Out of respect for all our students, the yeshiva does not discuss particular students and why any student may or may not be receiving semicha."

He would not address the specifics of Atwood's case, but he did note, "The yeshiva could have handled the process of informing Daniel, and coming to a timely decision, in a much better manner, and we are sorry for the hurt that was caused as a result."

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