How Can You Be an Orthodox Jew Considering Its Position on Homosexuality?

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Dear Allison,

My life used to be on a trajectory very similar to the one yours took. I was raised as a Conservative Jew and, as a teenager, was enchanted by the spiritual and intellectual depth of Orthodox Judaism. My would-be journey was abruptly cut short, though, when I realized that I was gay, and that if I lived in an Orthodox community I would be forced to live as half a person — alone without the love or intimacy of long-term commitment that is as essential to the soul as food and water are to the body. I chose love and intimacy in the secular world over spiritual death in the Orthodox world.

I am obviously not alone. Countless gay Jews have abandoned Orthodox Judaism because of its attitude towards homosexuality. And who can blame them? Would you remain Orthodox if the Torah prescribed you loneliness and celibacy? Would you remain in your community if it blessed and celebrated commitments between gay Jews while forbidding your love for your husband? When will the Orthodox world offer a sincerely empathetic response to the suffering of its gay members (not one that denies their existence or condemns them to misery)?

For me and every other gay person I know, these questions are inextricable from our (frequently negative) opinions of Orthodox Judaism.

Respectfully yours,
K.L.

Dear K.L.

Thank you for sharing your very personal story. You’ve asked many questions, but I think that the first issue that needs to be dealt with is how one reconciles the Torah’s view of homosexuality with being an open-minded person living in the twenty-first century. It’s something that I’ve wanted to address on this site for a while, so I appreciate that you’ve given me the opportunity to do so.

Since I’m going to be speaking about a subject which I’ve never personally experienced, I want to preface my response with the words of our sages, who remind us, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.” (Pirkei Avos)

That being said, the best response I have to God creating a person with a sexual and emotional desires that He forbids her to fulfill (in any way) is to remember that we live in a world where bad things happen to good people. Now why bad things happen to good people is a discussion in and of itself, and people spend entire lifetimes grappling with this difficult issue. (I will write more about this in a future post as there’s only so much I can cover in one entry.)

Not only that, being created with a sexual/emotional desire that one can never fulfill creates two challenges – first, the living without and longing for that which you can never have, and second, the need to exhibit a tremendous amount of self-control.

Unfortunately, when it comes to people living without and longing for that which they can never have, this pain is not reserved only for people experiencing same-sex attraction who want to live in accordance with Jewish law. There are countless couples out there who experience infertility and spend years undergoing treatments, only to learn that giving birth to a child will never be possible. Every baby they see, every child running to his mother’s arms, is a terrible reminder of the reality that can never be theirs. (I don’t want to turn this into a contest of whose pain is greater – the infertile woman who longs for a child, or the halacha-abiding homosexual who will never experience the love or intimacy of long-term commitment – I just want to make the point that unfortunately there are many types of situations that cause people to live with deep pain due to something essential that they’re missing.)

In terms of the challenge of controlling oneself sexually, or remaining celibate, as you put it, the Torah recognizes how difficult a feat this is. As we learn from the story of Joseph (the one with the coat of many colors), when his boss’s wife, eishes Potiphar, tries to seduce him one day – an act, that had he given in to could have landed him into a heap of trouble - Joseph is only able to overcome the temptation when he sees a vision of his father’s face. Remembering his father gives him the burst of strength he needs in order to resist, and from that day on, after overcoming a sexual temptation just one time, he is called Yosef haTzadik (Joseph, the righteous one) ever more.

And even so, the Torah expects many people (including, but not only homosexuals), to exhibit incredible amounts of self-control over their sexual desires. There are countless singles in the Orthodox world who date for years and years – some for decades and decades – all while never so much as touching a member of the opposite sex due to the laws of shomer negiah. Of course, unlike with homosexuals, these singles do have the possibility of eventually finding someone and getting married (which means that they can live with hope), but as the years go on and the prospects get slimmer and slimmer, many of them lose hope and give up.

Now, unlike with the case of the infertile couples who are powerless over their situation, some of these Orthodox singles, if they went out into the secular world, would be able to be find love or at least intimacy. Do some of them slip up from time to time or eventually throw in the towel and leave the fold completely? I’m sure some do. Can we blame them (or gay Jews), as you asked, for wanting to experience love  and intimacy if they do so at the price of keeping halacha? Like I said at the beginning, we’re not supposed to judge another until we’ve been in his place. We certainly can’t condone doing things against the Torah, but that doesn’t mean that it’s our place to judge people in that situation either.

Would I, you asked, remain Orthodox if the Torah prescribed me loneliness and celibacy?  Would I remain in this community if it blessed and celebrated commitments between gay Jews while forbidding my love for my husband? These are all fair questions, but it’s a bit hard for me to imagine severing a relationship with a man that I married almost ten years ago and had three kids with, so I’ll answer a different, but similar question.

What if I had realized that I was gay, like you did, as a teenager, after I discovered the beauty and wisdom of Torah Judaism? What would I have done then? Well, it’s obviously hard for me to know for certain since I’ve never been tested that way, but what I think I would have done, or at least hope I would have done, would be to stick with Torah Judaism nonetheless.

When I came to observant Judaism, I had a very nice life already. I had a close family, good friends, and lived a very comfortable upper-middle class life. I had basically everything one is supposed to have in order to be happy – and I was happy. I just knew that nothing I had was going to last. I understood, even as a child, that everything in life comes and goes until eventually life itself goes, and I wanted something more permanent to hold onto. Some bigger purpose for everything existing in the first place. I found that within a Torah observant lifestyle.

Not only did I find meaning in this way of life, as I started learning more about the illogical history of the Jewish people, the odds we’ve overcome and saw how Torah wisdom was incomparable to anything else I had ever experienced, I felt intellectually compelled to abide by Jewish law.

So if I would have chosen love and intimacy in the secular world over an Orthodox life (in this fake scenario we’re discussing), I would have had my emotional and physical needs met, but my spirituality (and intellectual honesty) would have suffered. Having lived through years of panic attacks and insomnia (when my spirituality was suffering, in the pre-Torah days) I can tell you that it’s not something that I would have wanted to return to.

So how would I have coped day-to-day? For one thing, I probably would have tried sexual re-orientation therapy. I’m aware that that is an EXTREMELY unpopular thing to say nowadays – even mentioning those words will set many people off. I’m not advocating this approach for others – a choice like this must ONLY come from the individual. I’m simply explaining what I might have tried, because here’s the thing: from the outside looking in – having never personally experienced sexual  re-orientation therapy – I can only rely on what others who have experienced it have said. And from what I’ve seen, there are extremely diverging opinions. I’ve watched interviews and read testimonials of people who claimed that it was effective and that they were much happier because of it. I’ve heard people explain that it didn’t work for them, but didn’t claim that it was harmful – just ineffective. And unfortunately, I’ve read some horrific articles which talked about scary, crazy, abusive stuff that has gone on in some cases. I’d obviously only work with the programs that had people reporting good results. I likely would have tried it in hopes of being one of the ones who came out with a good result.

If it didn’t work for me, I would probably have tried my best to live single and celibate. I’m certain that such a life would have been a challenging one in many ways, probably torturous at times. I’m sure I would have had my moments where I felt resentful towards God and struggled in my relationship with Him, but struggling with God is in our national genes. From the moment Jacob wrestled with the angel in the book of Genesis and had his name changed toYisrael, meaning “he who struggles with God,” the complexity of our relationship with the Almighty was set. I guess the bottom line is, whether I would have had my good days with God or my bad days, I believe that I would have wanted a life that included God no matter what.

In terms of “when the Orthodox world will offer a sincerely empathetic response to the suffering of its gay members” I agree that there needs to be more empathy and more awareness for the struggles of homosexuals, but honestly, there needs to be more empathy for the struggle of all people (older singles, infertile couples, etc.) who have a situation that’s outside of the Orthodox norm.

Although improvements are still needed, I believe that there is more awareness and empathy now than ever before,  and I hope with letters such as yours as well as other gay Jews telling their stories, that sensitivity and understanding will continue to increase and judgementalism will decrease.

However, that does not mean that Jewish law can change. Upholding Torah law and its values is the most basic tenet that Orthodox Jews live by. What I realized years ago, after I made the transition from Conservative Judaism to Orthodoxy, was that within the non-Orthodox movements, when it comes to the commandments that are harder for people to follow, the attitude seems to be that man is good enough the way he is and it’s the Torah that needs changing. With Orthodoxy, it’s the exact opposite. We say the Torah is good enough as is, (perfect, in fact) and it’s man that must change.

Now when you mention that the Orthodox community needs to come to a point where they don’t “deny the existence of gays,” I assume you mean that you hope there’ll be a day when gay couples can be openly gay and welcomed in Orthodox shuls.

I don’t think this will ever happen and I don’t think this should ever happen, but not because I want to “condemn gays to misery” but rather because being part of the Orthodox community means striving towards keeping the Torah in its entirety. Torah observance doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal and no one, in reality, is keeping every single law; but the attitude of a Torah committed Jew is to be working on it all. That means that what ever part of a person’s life is at odds with halacha (and we all have something) it should be kept as a private struggle and not highlighted.

So if someone is still driving on the Sabbath and wants to be a part of an Orthodox synagogue, he’s not going to park in the synagogue parking lot. He’ll park nearby and walk the last little bit. That’s an acknowledgement that driving on Shabbos is not considered ideal. Likewise, a person struggling with the laws of kosher would never bring a cheeseburger to services even if she’s still eating them sometimes in her home because doing so just wouldn’t be appropriate in a place where striving for complete Torah observance is expected.

Now I understand that one’s sexuality is a lot more of a central issue to a person than a love of cheeseburgers or what day of the week he uses a car, and I don’t want to minimize what a struggle this is since I get that being told to keep a major part of your life private sounds a lot like a rejection of who you are.

I guess the question that every gay Jew has to ask herself  is: is she a homosexual who happens to be Jewish or is she a Jew who happens to have same sex attraction? Such a decision is a very personal one and can only be decided by each individual, but from the outside looking in, it seems to me that if one defined herself as a Jew first who happened to have been born with same sex attraction than those feelings would be less tied into her identity.

At the end of the day this is a very difficult issue with no easy answers. Because you directed questions at me, I conjectured about what I think I would have done in your situation, but lets not kid ourselves, it was nothing more than conjecture, I have no idea how I’d really respond in such a situation any more than I could tell you if I could survive the Holocaust and retain my faith and observance.

I tried to answer your letter with compassion as well as honesty, and though I stand firm about not going against what the Torah says, please know that I and many other open-minded Orthodox Jews do not sit in judgement for the decisions you’ve made. And I hope that, if you ever feel like increasing your Jewish observance again, you will be able to find a balance that you can live with and feel content with.

Wishing you only good things,

Allison

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Comments

  1. This is a beautiful post. I think you answered her questions with both honesty and sensitivity, which is something that’s difficult to achieve with such difficult topics. Although I am straight, I am struggling with the decision to pursue Torah Judaism, and I am grateful for this post which accentuates the point that everyone struggles with his or her relationship with G-d, and that I should embrace that struggle rather than feel like it’s something I need to fight against, or feel inadequate because of. Thank you.

  2. I think you meant childless mother instead of motherless child. Tough topic!

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your attention to detail, Karen! You’re right that I didn’t mean motherless child, but now I realize that I shouldn’t have meant childless mother since that doesn’t actually make sense! I’ll change it to infertile woman longing for a child.

  3. swissyankee says:

    I can’t imagine a more perfect response to this difficult question. You answered her with sensitivity, clarity and intellect. Too bad she made her life altering decision to leave the fold before you had a chance to reach her. Keep up your amazing work!!

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your kind words, swissyankee, but even the most sensitively, logically written response doesn’t take away the struggle this woman would have to face if she ever decided to return; so while I wanted to let her know that many of us really do care, the myriad other challenges still remain. And in terms of her “leaving the fold” before I wrote my letter, the fold has a revolving door, and anyone at any time can choose to come back in any capacity.

  4. balebusta says:

    I have to say, although it’s obvious you tried to handle this question tactfully, you really missed the mark. As a therapist I would never encourage anyone to try sexual re-orientation therapy. This is a despicable practice with no medical or scientific basis and only causes more harm than good. The Torah does not say it’s a sin to be gay, only to act on it and I believe only speaks to male relationships — so to be technical, I “think” being a lesbian is not actually prohibited in the Torah. That being said, it would be nice if modern day Orthodoxy could accept that being gay is biological, and not a choice and that everyone deserves a chance at a partnership. Have you ever watched “Trembling Before Gd”? Most of the gay couples featured are far more observant than I am.

    • Allison Allison says:

      I’m sorry you think I missed the mark, balebusta. Sexual re-orientation therapy was only one of many things I mentioned and certainly not the focus of the message. Also, if you’ll re-read my response, you’ll notice that I wasn’t encouraging the question asker to do anything, I was simply answering how I think I would handle such a situation if I had been born into it since she asked me. Also, I’m sure you have your reasons for feeling so negatively about sexual re-orientation therapy – I imagine you’ve come accross a number of people who it was detrimental for – but surely you can’t speak for every person who’s ever tried it. As I clearly stated in my post, I don’t know if it works for some people, all people, or no people.

      You’re correct that the Torah does not say that it’s a sin to have SSA as the prohibition is only in the action. You’re also correct that the Torah only speaks about male homosexual sex, but lesbian sex is prohibited rabbinically, so while it does not have the *same* level of severity as a Torah law, it’s still a real law. It would be equivilent to eating chicken parmesean, as mixing chicken and dairy are only rabbinically prohibited. Eating chicken parm does not have the same severity as eating a cheeseburger, but it’s not kosher either.

      In terms of modern day Orthodoxy accepting that being gay is biological, the root of the desire is not the concern of Orthodoxy because as you said yourself, the desire is not a problem, only the action is. The only question that Orthodoxy is concerned with is is it possible to overcome a natural inclination (no matter what its root cause) and sexual desires certainly *can* be overcome, especially if one takes pains to avoid compromising situations in the first place.

      As I mentioned in my response, countless straight Orthodox singles face the same day to day challenges of keeping themselves out of situations where they could slip up. And some do slip up and some leave the fold altogether because it’s more than they can handle. So while no one would deny that it’s a tremendous struggle to control oneself sexually, it certainly is possible, at least some of the time.

      The only thing I think all Torah Jews need to concern themselves with when it comes to other people struggling is to remember that it’s not their struggle and it’s not their place to judge as they have no idea what each individual is up against.

      In terms of “everyone deserves a chance at partnership,” I’m going to have to disagree with you on that one too from a Torah perspective. There’s no such idea of “deserving” within Judaism. As a human being with emotions, of course I believe that it would be wonderful if everyone had two loving parents, a roof over their head, a life partner to share their lives with, but when we look at the world, we see so many people are missing so many of these essential things. So even if we solved the “gay problem” by just throwing our hands up and saying the Torah certainly can’t expect this of people since everyone deserves chance at partnership, we’re still left with so many other unhappy people who are unhappy for so many other reasons.

      A person could conclude that such suffering is a sign that there’s no God, that God doesn’t care or is cruel, but the Jewish approach, which covers the homosexual issue too is that by defintion God’s ways are beyond our comprehension. It may be unsatisfying to admit that we’ll never fully get why life is the way it is, but that is the traditional Jewish approach. You’re obviously welcome to come to your own understanding of how the universe operates, but the best thing observant Jews can offer people with homosexual desires is sensivity and non-judgementalism. We can never adopt an attitude that someone “deserves” something that the Torah prohibits.

      • Frum Femme says:

        I always get concerned when people throw “biological” around. If my child is biologically pre-disposed to alcoholism, I would not celebrate the fact, nor take them out to a bar. A child of, Gd forbid, rape is biological, but noone suggests that the act is OK.

        I have seen many rabbis recognize that genetics may determine orientation, but as Allison so adroitly points out, that does ot mean in accord with Torah.

        Neverthless, I am fervently in favor of accepting people where they are at in their path and generally less judging. That does not mean accepting a status quo or not offering chances to grow!

  5. D :) vv says:

    Allison– I just wanted to commend you on such a sensitive response on a particularly difficult topic– especially since you managed to do it without being apologetic– that’s a very difficult feat and you did it tremendously well.

  6. I applaud you for taking on such a difficult yet very deserving question. Your response is clearly sensitive and honest. It may not resolve the feelings of the letter writer, but your sincerity is brutally honest and palpable. Yasher koach!

  7. As a reform Jew in Dallas I really enjoy your blog. This post was one of your best. Your thoughtfulness and talent in getting your points across to the reader are exceptional. You add greatly to my Jewish experience!

  8. I once saw a Catholic priest address the question of homosexuality in an equally loving way.

    He said “it looks like both you and I have been called to celibacy.”

    So often, people behave like intimate activity is an inalienable right, no matter what their faith commands or morality dictates or the needs of society or the millions and millions of examples of the harm that is done by intimate activity outside of a marriage committment tell us.

    It’s as though s–ual recreation is the be all and end all of a human’s existence!

    How important that you remind us all that gay people are not the only people on Earth who have permanent trials to endure!

    You’ve given me something to think about.

    • Gerald Fnord says:

      Firstly, I haven’t encountered people’s saying that ‘intimate activity is a inalienable right’; everyone acceptably moral (even if it’s not your morality) limits it to sexually matured (or well on their way there, if both of them) persons capable of giving consent—this is significant, as much of our contact with the Classical world, which typically had strong prohibitions against same-sex behaviour between two adult, free, men but accepted non-’passive’ sex with slaves of either gender, and particularly pædophilia, has coloured our impression of all same-sex sexual intimacy between men. (Sex between women, and usually that between adult slaves, was nowhere prohibited then, because things people who don’t count much don’t count, much as black-on-black crime is never a priority, just as immigrant-on-immigrant crime rarely is, hence the Black Hand, Murder Inc., the triads in America….). Similarly, noöne suggests (say) a State-supported scheme matching prostitutes to the unattractive.

      Secondly, and more importantly, there is a long distance between holding that people have a right to pursue this particular form of happiness to the extent that they can and it does not _directly_ and causally harm others, and saying that it were the ‘end-all and be-all’. (I include ‘directly and causally’ because in the absence of direct and causal connexion, just about any harm can be claimed, up to and including earthquakes and hurricanos.) I have often encountered persons with strongly circumscribed sexual lives, whether by choice or ideology or circumstance, who assume that live for the rest of us were a nigh-unending and indiscriminate orgy. (Nothing excites the licentious imagination quite so well as repression.) This is akin to believing that life for all Jews who don’t keep kosher is an unending feast of shrimp and bacon, which both over-estimates the tastiness of those viands and is just not true*.

      Some sex of which you disapprove may be the raison d’être for some few, and very important for many more, but arguing against a straw-man only makes one’s positions look weak.

      *outside of parts of Park Slope and Raleigh-Durham

  9. Allison,

    Both you and the woman who asked the question missed a very important point. There is a difference between what is allowed halackically (by Jewish Law) and homophobia in the Orthodox community.HaShem is not a bigot and does not tell Orthodox Jews, “Don’t invite the lesbian couple for Shabbos lunch. Don’t talk to them at shul during kiddush.” That is all on the members of the community.

    First of all, any issur (sin) that two women may or may not be doing together is merely speculation and lashon hara/motezei shem ra (gossip) on the community’s part. If you know of two women who live together and may or may not be raising children together, but who otherwise are equally frum (Orthodox) as you are. You do not know if they committing issurim (sins) because they probably know more about the subject than you do and may be avoiding any acts that assur.

    If we see someone who we know if frum (Orthodox) we are not allowed to assume that commit averiot (sins) unless we have evidence to the contrary. Just the fact that two women live together and are frum is not evidence of a lack of emunah (faith) nor that they are committing averiot (sins) behind closed doors.

    Secondly, the homophobia of the Orthodox community. If you see a person drive to shul, park his car a block away and walk the rest of the way, that is MORE evidence that he commits averiot (sins) then the 2 women who live together, share a home together and are raising a child together. However, which of these two groups is going to get the Shabbos invitations? That is right the one you KNOW is breaking Shabbos and hiev mitah (Biblically deserving of the death penalty) because people in the Orthodox community are more comfortable with breaking Shabbos than they are with what they assume to be going on behind closed doors. That one is totally on the Orthodox community.

    K.L.,

    It is possible to gay and frum. I am. My partner and I have been together for 12 years and have a child. Our daughter attends a pluralistic Orthodox Day School and has attended 2 different Orthodox day camps. She is well liked at school and has no problems there. We are members of an Orthodox synagogue and while some people will not invite us to their home for Shabbos meals other people do. Interestingly enough all of the people who will not invite us to their homes, do in fact talk to us at kiddush. Are things perfect, no. But they are good enough and they are changing, very slowly, but they are changing.

    When my partner and I first got together people used to refer to us as “vegetarian cannibals” and “Orthodox car thieves”. No one does that anymore. There are a number of resources out there for Orthodox lesbians as well.

    Don’t give up on God because some of His people do not know how to treat you. God is NOT a homophobe and you are b’tzelem Elokim (made in God’s image).

    Leah

  10. I just want to pipe up and say, believe it or not there are many lesbian Orthodox women out there who live halachically observant lives with or without female partners. I am one of them. My partner and I have a beautiful and fulfilling relationship, we go to Orthodox shuls where the majority of people are accepting or at least tolerant (and a good number are very warm and welcoming and have expressed their support for us). We will be sending our children to Orthodox schools. We have friends who are Chasidic, Modern Orthodox, and Yeshivish. We have a shomer shabbat and shomer kashrut home. We live a life of Torah, halacha, and chesed. And yes, we are in a loving and supportive relationship as well. There are a growing number of gay and lesbian Jews who refuse to be forced to choose a secular life (which is how it often feels for those of us who cannot live a celibate life) and instead find ways to live happily as Orthodox gay and lesbian Jews, whether we have kids or partners or not. Discouraging Jews from doing mitzvahs is a sin, and any Orthodox shul that throws out gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews (or anyone who is striving to become more observant) … as has happened to friends of mine… should be ashamed of itself. Instead, just as everyone knows there are always going to be some otherwise Orthodox people who don’t keep taharat hamishpacha, women who don’t cover their hair, men who go into bars to watch a football game on shabbos, people who eat dairy in treyf restaurants… They should know there are also those who are gay, and the best choice they could make is to welcome us and all Jews and support us keeping halacha to the best of our abilities. This is one thing Chabad does well that most of Orthodoxy does not.

    I find that now that I have accepted myself and have a committed partnership I am that much more able to spend time and attention towards hachnassat orchim, learning Torah, acts of chesed, and all the other parts of being a Torah Jew. I am a better Jew and can offer more to the world. People like me exist. There are even organizations for women like us to help support us staying religious without trying to change what we all know cannot be changed no matter how much abusive “reparation” therapy you go through. I have friends who’ve been through it and it didn’t just “not work”… it was truly destructive, soul-destroying and abusive. As well as not based on science whatsoever. Fortunately there are alternatives for those of us that this therapy doesn’t work for, or who don’t wish to harm ourselves in that way. One of them is being a halachically observant gay person – I know gay men in relationships who do not violate mishkav zachor. I know lesbian women who are in relationships that their rabbis have admitted are halachically okay. All of us are G-d fearing Jews with tremendous ahavas yisroel and a role to play in bringing Moshiach.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thank you for your comments, Leah and Fruma. I think you both bring up similar points so I’ll address them together. Let me start off by saying that I think it’s very commendable that you are keeping as much halacha as you feel you are able to since many people (in your situation, and even in other situations) view Torah observance as an all or nothing deal. Of course every mitzvah counts, of course every mitzvah brings us closer to Moshiach. I also believe that we must be compassionate to all people and stress the mitzvah of “love your neighbor as yourself.”

      That being said, I have to admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea of there being openly gay couples in the Orthodox community. Please note two things: Number one, I don’t say this because I’m looking down on you – as I said in my post, I honestly don’t know how I would respond if I were in your situation, so I can’t sit in judgement of the choices you’ve made. And number two, I hope that what I say doesn’t dissuade you in your Jewish committment in any way. I gave you both a platform to voice your opinions on this issue, but now I feel compelled to give mine.

      You both mention in your comments that it’s possible to be in a homosexual relationship that is halachically permitted. While I am by no means an expert on this subject, after looking at Rabbi Gil Student’s (a centrist Orthodox rabbi) blog who quotes many mainstream Orthodox rabbis and sources, Hirhuirm, http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2010/01/homosexuality-in-halakhah-xiv.html, I found a post that basically says that any thing as minimal as an affectionate touch between two lesbians and two gays is prohibited.

      You also both noted that people who drive on Shabbos or don’t cover their hair are more accepted in the Orthodox community than openly gay couples and I agree with you on this one. So what’s the difference? Of course homophobia is part of the cause in some cases, and I agree that baseless hatred of any kind is against Judaism and must not be permitted. I do however think that there are some other things at play here.

      If a man isn’t fully shomer Shabbos or if a woman doesn’t always cover her hair, these are aveiros that are external to the person’s identity. At any point the man could become Shabbos observant and at any point the woman could start covering her hair. In the case with the openly gay couple, especially those raising kids together, it seems that to me that the homosexuality defines them and the message is, “this is who we are and we’re not planning on changing.” Of course in a free country such an attitude is anyone’s right to have, but within Torah Judaism, I think the parts of ourselves that are at odds with halacha should be things we struggle to change. A person could spend his life struggling with few successes, but in my understanding of traditional Judaism, we’re supposed to be trying, and not just throw up our hands and say “this isn’t possible.”

      Therefore, while it might be extremely difficult to abstain from prohibited behavior all the time, I think it would be more inline with traditional Jewish thought to introduce one’s gay partner as one’s roomate or one’s friend and hopefully members of the community will give them the benefit of the doubt and not assume that anything against halacha is going on.

      One final point in terms of people being more accepting of someone who’s not shomer Shabbos than someone who’s openly in a gay relationship is that while it’s true that certain transgressions have become more accepted in the Orthodox community, sexual indescretions (across the board) are still kept quite private as I believe they should be.

  11. Ruchi Koval says:

    Thorough, intelligently crafted, humble, and sensitive. Thank you.

    • agreed. People have turned sexuality into an issue of identity, instead of a characteristic. I think the original post is beautifully crafted (and i’m christian and find the same thing applies with the bible. christians who don’t want to follow the rules governing our sexuality simply say ‘the bible is outdated’ or ‘the world has changed’. the word of God is everlasting, it changes not. its people who need to conform to God) and i’m going to share it with my christian friends.

  12. Ben-David says:

    Great post – it’s unfortunate that the one commenter who identified as a therapist is so ignorant of reparative/reorientation therapy.

    Despite the politically-correct prejudice at several medical organizations, there is clear evidence that these therapies work – with similar outcomes and rates of success to therapies for other compulsive/addictive behaviors such as alcoholism or anorexia.

    I think you have zeroed in on a major problem with this issue – the casting of sexual orientation as a defining identity rather than a personal condition or characteristic.

  13. Allison Allison says:

    As I mentioned in the post, Ben David, I personally can’t speak about the efficacy of this therapy. If people have been abused in certain instances then that’s obviously a horrible thing. I do think one should be allowed to discuss its existence as there seem to be people who have benefited from it. I think the fairest approach is to handle it like I tried to without coming to any conclusions and leaving it up to anyone who’s curious to learn more to research it himself.

  14. I have really appreciated your discussion of this challenging issue. I
    think there is an important point that you brought out in your
    response to Fruma and Leah that warrants further inspection.

    You wrote that: “If a man isn’t fully shomer shabbos or if a woman
    doesn’t always cover her hair, these are aveiros that are external to
    the person’s identity. At any point the man could become Shabbos
    observant and at any point the woman could start covering her hair.”
    You contrast this to a gay person who ostensibly cannot change because
    being a homosexual is essential to their identity. You further
    intimate that a homosexual should work to “change” their sexual
    orientation or at least not act upon their attraction to members of
    the same sex.

    This claim, that gay people can change their identity, seems to me to
    be essential for Orthodox Jews. The Orthodox belief in reward and
    punishment rests upon the idea that people are free agents. They can
    choose to do what they want to do and can therefore be punished by God
    for their choices. Similarly, they can change through the process of
    teshuva (repentance) and remedy the mistakes that they have made. The
    idea that God fairly rewards and punishes is listed by Maimonides as
    one of the 13 principles of faith. And the vast majority of
    traditional Jewish philosophers claim that humans must have free will.

    Homosexuals pose a challenge to the classical Jewish conception of
    reward and punishment because they are judged for actions they are not
    free to choose. They are attracted to people of the same sex and held
    responsible for acting on this attraction despite the fact that no
    amount of teshuva will change the way they feel. Why would God endow a
    percentage of humans with an innate trait, same sex attraction, that
    God has deemed sinful to act upon? Why would a just God punish those
    who are predisposed to sin by prohibiting them from forming the
    sanctioned relationships heterosexual Jews can form?

    It seems the Orthodox answer to this problem is to say that
    homosexuals can change or that they should try to change. Reparitive
    therapy is frequently suggested by Orthodox rabbis and families.
    However, scientific consensus might eventually be that homosexuals
    cannot change and are innately gay. (For a review of legitimate
    research on this topic see: “Changing sexual orientation: A consumers’
    report”. Shidlo, Ariel and Schroeder, M. in Professional Psychology:
    Research and Practice. Vol 33(3), Jun 2002, 249-259.) If sexual
    orientation is scientifically demonstrated to be immutable, wouldn’t
    Orthodox Jews have to change their overall belief system? If
    homosexuality is innate, the idea that God punishes fairly is deeply
    challenged. Why would God judge something God himself has predisposed
    someone to want as sinful or “an abomination”? I think there is a
    theological problem Orthodox Jews must grapple with here. I think the
    assertion that homosexuals can change (in the face of increasing
    scientific evidence to the contrary) is a means of avoiding this
    deeper problem. So, how can Orthodox Judaism reconcile the idea that
    God punishes justly if homosexuality is innate? I’d love to hear your
    thoughts, particularly given your philosophical training, about this
    aspect of KL’s well posed question.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ava. I think you might have misunderstood the point I was trying to make to Leah and Fruma. I don’t know if sexual re-orientation is possible. I don’t think I could ever know for sure unless I was gay and tried it for myself. I’ve heard arguments on both sides, so I’m not here to give a final answer on the subject and I don’t think re-orienting one’s sexual attraction is actually required by the Torah. What’s required by the Torah is to abstain from certain acts. As I mentioned in my original answer, Jewish law requires straight singles to control their sexual desires just as much as it requires gay people to.

      While living a celibate life is certainly a challenging feat, I don’t think it’s an impossible one. Also, I don’t think God expects perfection of people – God expects effort and striving, so if a person is on track for a while and slips up from time to time, does teshuva and gets back on track (whether it’s a straight single or a gay person) I think that’s part of living a life striving towards Torah observance.

      The point I was trying to make about contrasting someone who doesn’t observe Shabbos or cover her hair with someone who is openly gay and is raising a family with a partner is that when a person decides to announce to the world that he or she is gay and creates a home life around that sexual orientation, the person has decided to stop striving in that area. It doesn’t mean that he or she can’t keep other commandments or that those other commandments don’t bring him or her merit, but in the area of sexuality, the openly gay Jew basically says, “I’ve given up when it comes to this mitzvah.” With the person who breaks Shabbos or doesn’t cover her hair, any day he or she could wake up and say, “Today I will starting observing this mitzvah.” When a gay Jew has made the homosexuality part of his or her identity, home life, and epsecially if he or she has brought children into the mix, the likelihood of waking up one day and saying “I’m going to try and restrain myself from acting upon my sexual desires,” becomes much more unlikely.

      A person is obviously free to live his or her life the way she sees fit, and as I’ve said repeatedly, this is not something I’ve had to face so I can’t judge what each individual decides to do. However, I believe that being part of an Orthodox community means believing that the Torah is from God and that God got it right the first time, no matter how difficult living up to Torah ideals might be on a day to day level. So whatever the latest studies show about how hard (or impossible) it might be to re-orient a sexual attraction becomes irrelevent.

      All a Torah Jew is interested in is if a sexual desire can go unanswered with proper self control. This can certainly be done at least some of the time and regarding reward and punishment, a person who spends his life striving to refrain from certain actions that the Torah forbids would certainly receive an abundant reward as our sages tell us in Pirkei Avos, “According to the struggle is the reward.”

  15. Wow, I just want to thank you for writing such a well thought out and complete answer. I also really enjoyed reading your responses to the comments. Even after working in outreach for people with many years of experience, I’ve never heard such a thorough response; thank you!

  16. I know that there is at least one therapist in NYC that works with Orthodox men who belive that they are homosexual. Some are single and some are married. Those that are married work to live happily married lives with family akin to your description. When I asked how they keep peace within themselves, I was told that even though they might want strawberry icecream, it is not like they do not like chocolate-chip-mint. Those that marry have made some peace living the life of choice – I wish them peace. There is a group that practice orthodox judaism, some black-hat, who through therapy work to find that peace too – I wish them peace too. It must be painful at times. It is consoling that there is a place for them to turn for counsel and support.

  17. Thank you for a wonderfully thoughtful article article. It is seldom I see Orthodox Jewish people consider the impact of homosexuality on those who suffer as a result of it.

    I do want to add to the debate, rather than detract from your thoughtful comments.

    I would like your readership to take one moment to consider what it must be like to know you can never find love, have a boyfriend or even date ever for the whole of your life.

    I have a few homosexual Jewish friends who struggle with this issue, and I don’t really think it is taken seriously enough by people who could really lighten the burden and help them be more observant.

    To me, the key difference between the examples you’ve used in your article and being homosexual must be how we destroy the hopes and dreams of homosexual people by showing no form of ahavas Israel to those who battle with it. The reality is that while a childless mother or a lonely heterosexual can always hope to find those things through IVF, adoption or a shiddach respectively, gay people are absolutely denied dating or a relationship for all of their lives. It’s an absolute that only seems to apply to this negative mitzvah and no others.

    For example, those who drive on Shabbat or don’t keep kosher can find Orthodox communities who will love and accept them despite their failings. The list of unkept mitzvot is endless but each and every one seems to be okay except maybe murder and sexual impropriety.

    Gay people, however, are spurned even if they keep every mitzvah but one!

    For some reason our ability to love our fellow Jew is uniformly stripped when we discover they’re gay and in a relationship.

    As a society Orthodoxy needs to realize that these people, more than ever, deserve our support and love. Their loneliness can never be addressed when we spurn them, particularly if they choose to stay out of relationship because they put Hashem first. It is easy to hide behind the pretext that it is a test for them, but it’s much better and harder to visit them, invite the lonely person over for Shabbos dinner and do all we can to help them live an enriching life without judging them.

    I’m convinced that no gay person woke up one day praying to be gay, and as such as Jews we should be supporting them. They struggle terribly with sexuality as they grow up and it takes incredible courage to be open about their problem in an Orthodox society. Their hopes and dreams are denied them by the Torah because as people (they are people first, not only gay) they also want someone their to hug them when they get home, to help them up when they stumble and fall and just for adult company. All people want to be in love. Physiologically it is well-proven that those in relationships live longer, healthier lives and psychologically they fare much better. I don’t think Hashem makes mistakes and so as these people are born this way and discover their SSA we need to realize they have a valuable place in the World. Even if we can’t condone what they do, even implicity, we are still obligated to open our hearts to them and consider the impact they face in their lives should they put Hashem first and be frum. There is no on/off switch I’ve seen in my friends. They struggle with this, and some wish it was different but it does not just go away through therapy and medication.

    Although I’m observant and will not question the Torah, or condone anything other than keeping mitzvot, I think we as a society do a very bad job of supporting people who are a minority in our already minority group. We effectively cast them aside and they become the “Jews” in Jewish Society, just like Israel is cast as the “Jew” amongst nations.

    I think we can only cast ourselves as observant and Orthodox when we keep all the mitzvot to the best of our ability and treat those who don’t keep all of them equally, rather than just spurning homosexuals and enforcing rules upon them while the next guy in shul keeps popping out to light a cigarette on Shabbos.

    I adore my gay friends, one of which is one of my closest friends. I’m a single parent, supporting two children with no real need to find a relationship right now and these people mean the world to me. I suffer loneliness too. Let them into your lives. Their insights are so rewarding and I couldn’t imagine just judging them on the 4% that is usually indicated as being gender awareness and sexuality in psychology.

    In being decent and loving people we can help so many. By judging harshly and singling out specific mitzvot for extra attention we’re not being good, observant people at all.

  18. I will try hard not to be judgmental, although this topic can be a tough one to maneuver.
    I think you touched upon an important aspect of homosexuality today that makes it more difficult on any homosexual. Today’s society seems to be pushing for homosexuals to feel free to be open and explicit in their feelings. Society pushes hard to make them feel they should come out of the closet and celebrate their sexual preferences. Their is nothing to be embarrassed about.
    Every human being has an evil inclination. Some towards homosexuality, others towards stealing, womanizing, gambling, drinking, killing. Some for gossip, others for eating treif. There is not a mitzvah out there or a prohibition that one human being does not have a serious problem with.
    Orthodox Judaism tries it’s best to accept all of them with the right to remind them that it is wrong. As the example you gave about someone driving on Shabbat to synagogue but parking a few blocks away. If they parked in the parking lot, you can be sure that they would hear from some or many of the congregants
    and/or the Rabbi. Just as they would be reprimanded for bringing in a ham sandwich to the kitchen area.
    Homosexuals today do not want to hide their “weakness”. They want everyone in the orthodox world to accept them as they are. And this attitude is not only ridiculous, it is wrong.
    Hiding ones sexual preference may be the hardest thing in the world to do, breaking that weakness may seem impossible, but there are no mistakes in the Universe God created.
    Sexual immorality has been the downfall of many a culture and people. As a parent, I’d prefer one with homosexual tendencies over a child born a “vegetable”. As a human being, I can’t say or judge what is worse. But in Judaism, the goal should never be to accept one’s flaws, but rather to help them perfect themselves. Perfecting in this case means not giving in to that temptation. There are lots of orthodox Jews who cannot stop themselves from stealing. Some steal small amounts, other billions. Some steal from the government, others from their neighbors. Some steal from their parents, some from their synagogue. But none will ever admit it publicly. They know it is wrong, so they hide it as best they can.
    When the Orthodox homosexual community takes this same approach, there will be many more hands out there to welcome you. The attitude today is more like the Jew who walks into the shul with the ham sandwich and announces publicly that it is a ham sandwich and then has the audacity to complain that the congregants want nothing to do with her.

  19. I want you to know something KL.I am gay just like you are,however I was able to find that special someone and have no problem. I have someone I know who is also gay and has been living with a woman for quite a few years now and they are both very happy. You should stay open minded and keep certain options open. I think there is a way if you REALLY work on it, to get married to a good woman and be happy.
    Perhaps you can find yourself a good Rabbi that you can talk to. Control your life, don’t let life control you. Best of luck to you my brother.

  20. Thank you to the person above who gave recognition to Chabad for the way they treat people. I know the halakha surrounding this issue, I know that different people in the frum world interpret it in different ways and argue over it ad nauseam. I personally am going to just acknowledge that I am an imperfect person, as we all are. I leave the judging to Hashem. I’m going to be me and be honest about who I am and love myself just as I am, despite whatever things there are about me that I can or cannot change that might weird people out, and that’s what I’d want all of us to do. I’m not gay, but there are things about me, things beyond my ability to change, that people treat me like an outsider for, and I’m not going to apologize for those things for a second. I’m going to be honest and live my life out loud because, as the saying goes, I know I’m someone special cuz G-d don’t make no junk! Matthew Shepard, the young man who was beaten and then tied up to a fence and left to die in the cold Wyoming night, just because he was gay, said that he wasn’t openly gay, but honestly gay. I’d rather gay people be in my shul, and in my LIFE, and be HONEST about themselves than be in the closet and hide who G-d made them to be. Whether or not they’re having sex that is forbidden by Hashem ultimately is between them and Hashem, not them and me. I’m following the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s lead. If you’re a Jew, you can come over for Shabbos anytime. Period. Even those therapists I was criticizing earlier! Yes, I mean that, as much as they upset me!! Everyone should follow the Rebbe’s lead if we ever want the Moshiach to come in our lifetime or the lifetime of the next generation. Please G-d, let’s get over ourselves and be more loving! If we don’t welcome people in and love and accept them “flaws and all” (for lack of a better expression — I do not believe being gay is a flaw!), we’re going to have even more youth killing themselves because their peers bully them for being gay or violate their privacy and post things online that nobody should be seeing.

    By the way, none of this is an attack addressed at anyone here, especially Allison — I really love what you do on this site, and I think your response here was very thoughtful and kindly worded. I love that you even took this topic on. I’m just saying what I’m saying because the pain and torture that they gay community worldwide, not even just amongst our people, is so upsetting to me. The recent news about gay youth committing suicide, and the self-destructive behavior I’ve seen many of my gay clients engage in because they’re discriminated against and ostracized by society, have broken my heart and made me cry far too much, and I had to speak up.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gavriela. I appreciate that you were not trying to attack anyone (especially me!) and while you’re entitled to your opinion, I have to respectfully disagree with the idea of “loving myself just as I am.” I think that while you’re right – we’re all imperfect, and should certainly love ourselves – there shouldn’t be a “just as I am” because that implies complacency in my mind and I think the Torah and God wants us to always be improving ourselves.

      In terms of the halacha being interpreted differently by different people, I’m personally unaware of anyone Orthodox who believes that acting on same sex attraction to any extent is permissible within Jewish law.

  21. Oy! The tzoros of sex!
    To a young person, perhaps there is no greater pleasure, one which when denied (because of sexual orientation, physical problems or psychological issues) seems an unfair punishment.

    The laws of family purity teach us that for half a month a heterosexual couple’s relationship may NOT be based on sex. Whether this is the best time in a married couple’s life often depends on whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, healthy or infirm. But in a good relationship, it is a GOOD time, in many cases it is the BEST time.

    Companionship, without sex, is a GOOD thing. Committed companionship is a BETTER thing. An intellectually compelling relationship augmented by caring and compassion may well be the BEST thing, although the young and virile may not yet appreciate it.

    This being said, there are gay Jews who are male and those who are female (and there are straight women who just don’t like sex). While there is a prohibition against gay sex, there is no reason why a gay man must deny himself the joys of companionship that comes with being with an interesting and caring woman, and once reconciled to the joys of caring companionship that doesn’t include sex, a wonderful and richly fulfilling life can still be created.

    Alas, this cannot compensate for what may be considered an unfair deprivation, but it can open the door to other riches.

  22. I am a Conservative Convert at the beginning of my Orthodox conversion. I attended a Conservative Shul that has a few homosexual couples in it. The first family to invite me to Shabbat dinner was a family with an adult married homosexual male couple in it. The dinner was at the matriarch’s home. The son took very good care of his mother. He even arranged for in home care when he couldn’t be around. This was so refreshing to me because most of the Jewish people in her age group are thrown into Seven Acres, A Jewish Assisted Living and Nursing home in my neighborhood, and hardly acknowledged again. This saddens me. I know this because I visit different guest that are members of the Shul from time to time.

    While watching the man I wondered, “What if she had turned her back on him because of his sexual orientation?” “Where would she be now?” “What kind of man would he be?”

    I don’t think that she encouraged her sons lifestyle, but she didn’t treat him “less than” because of it. It was the first of only a few Shabbat dinners that I have been invited too in the 2+ years that I have attended that Shul. I assume since I am so obviously different from the rest of my congregation (a person of color) that she felt kindness in her heart and reached out to me.

    The most interesting part of the experience is that other Jews have “come out” to me. I happen to be one of those people that complete strangers tell their deepest secrets too. Lucky me!

    Would I invite a homosexual couple to my Shabbat Dinner? Yes I would.
    If asked, if I agree with the lifestyle would I say yes? No I wouldn’t.

  23. One might add as another example of lifetime deprivation the very unhappily married Jewish couple with children. Such couples exist, and, I dare say, not in insignificant numbers. Is it easier to spend a lifetime longing for the companionship of someone of the same sex, or rather to spend a lifetime lacking that same companionship – despite the physical presence of one’s spouse? Both fates strike me as very highly difficult.

    I would never deny that the position of a homosexual in Judaism deeply painful. I am not sure that it is uniquely painful, however.

  24. What if one of your children turned out to be gay? Would you spend the rest of their life refusing to support their right to have a healthy adult relationship with someone they can actually fall in love with?

    I have seen parents who do this, and it ALWAYS, unequivocally, damages or destroys the relationship between the child and their parents or their community. Have you seen your best friend sobbing because her parents said that her being gay was “like she was dead”?

    As a heterosexual person, you have an enormous amount of privilege, which is obvious from this post. Do you think people WANT to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? Obviously people are born that way – who would choose an identity that would result in persecution, pain, and ignorance from those around them?

    “Sexual re-orientation therapy,” as you call it, is barbaric, traumatizing, and lacks any scientific basis. Do you really think that locking young boys in a room and shocking their genitals with electrodes in an accepting way to treat fellow human beings? Would you allow someone to do that to your son? I suggest that you actually read up on aversion therapy and the “ex-gay” movement to educate yourself about what a hoax it is.

    I really wish Orthodox Jews would actually educate themselves about what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The film “Trembling Before G-d” is a good starting point for Orthodox people who want something that addresses the religious elements.

    As a Jew who doesn’t hide behind “religion” to justify my prejudice, I wish others would stop doing so. I don’t care how you phrase it, refusing to extend simple acceptance to gay couples in your community is discrimination, bigotry, inhospitable, and intolerance – all of which are much more sinful than simply loving someone of the same gender.

  25. Thanks for your comment, A jew. I see that this issue is very emotionally charged for you, therefore I’m going to change the scenario of your question slightly.

    What if one of my children turned out to be an older single? Meaning, what if one of my children, God forbid, spent years and years dating, but was unable to find the right person to marry?

    According to Jewish law, we’re not supposed to even hold hands with a member of the opposite sex until we marry them, so imagine how an older Orthodox single is forced to remain celibate for years and years, in some cases decades and decades.

    But what if my child fell in love with someone who didn’t want to get married? What if that person made my child happy, offered him or her companionship, the abilitiy to be in a healthy sexual relationship?

    Would I support such a thing? No I wouldn’t, but not because I wouldn’t be incredibly pained by the loneliness and the celibacy that my child would have to suffer through without that relationship. Watching someone you love suffer is obviously heart wrenching.

    I wouldn’t support it because I believe that we have a greater purpose in this world than simply “being happy.” Of course it is a million times better when we are able live according to our values AND have all the things that make life happy to live, but if it came down to having to choose one or the other, I would hope that my child would choose a Torah way of life despite the fact that doing so would get in the way of this worldly pleasures.

    Would I call my child “dead” if she or he did not choose a Torah lifestyle? Of course not. I would try not to judge my child’s decision, as I would have no way of understanding what living alone for so long would be like, but at the same time, I would be disappointed.

    I don’t take these scenarious lightly, but I assure you that my convictions have nothing to do with prejudice towards same sex attraction.

    My convictions are about striving to live up to every aspect of the Torah and attempting to pass those values on to my children.

  26. Allison!

    How are you?
    I must say I find your videos and your site to be very refreshing and wonderful. I will say that I am not a Jew. I am not even a Christian at that, though I do follow a path of my own choosing and recognize the existence of God. I also am bisexual, with a preference for men.

    I will say that I find it insulting that someone like me is labeled “open-minded” and if someone were to read your reply to the person, you may be labeled as “close-minded.” Following one’s religion and abiding by the rules is never close-minded. Its being OBEDIENT to a higher power. I recognize that, but most people do not. As a bisexual male, I have limits, and morals, and I do not condone some of the behaviors within my own community so I am seen as prudish and stuck up at times.

    On both ends of the spectrum, there is judgement that is not fair. I will let you know that I did NOT read this article, in search of something you would say that would go against my own beliefs so that I would feel secure in condemning you in a manner. A lot of “open-minded” people actively search for markers of “close-mindedness” from the targets of their rage, and fire off as soon as they come across something that does not agree with what they believe in. I do not agree with religions zealots who target “sinner” and I also do not agree with “open-minded” people taking liberty to criticize religious people because of their beliefs; out of some need to bully someone into submission. Members of oppressed societies have a habit of taking liberties and belittling the “oppressors” for the hell of it and for no reason more. (such as certain members of the black community defaming whites, and demonizing them just because of past slavery. I am black as well, and I see this infrequently and it bothers me.) That being said, those scorned by religion and made to feel inferior because of lifestyle choices, often turn bitter and filled with hatred and target anything that reminds them of organized religion, which is VERY unfair.

    I read this article because I have always wanted to know the true opinion of an Orthodox Jew on this subject, actually.

    I will say that your response was BEAUTIFUL. Of course, I feel that homosexuality is not wrong, but I am also not a Jew and I do not follow the Torah. I think people are missing the point, that for one to be a member of a certain religion, and for them to embrace it with all of their being, they CANNOT pick and choose what they want to follow. As a human being, we are all entitled to the respect and kindness of our fellow man, despite our race, religion, or creed. This is all that is required. One does not have to agree or even accept the lifestyles of the fellow man; and one is never wrong for choosing to stick with their own beliefs. BUT respect and kindness to the next man should always be practiced. I know a lot of Jews, and have a lot of Jewish friends. I find beauty in the Jewish religion as a whole, and I do know that I will never be able to follow the religion completely because I am not willing to abide completely by the Torah, but I still respect it. I have been shown NOTHING but kindness and acceptance from Jews — I think more so than from other religions. I work in a gay-oriented establishment, and we have a Jewish doctor who works closely with HIV-affected (and mostly homosexual) patients. I never see judgement or anything coming from her. I think with such a history that Jews have, respect and kindness to the next man is more so important than coming from others (though this may just be my experience, but what a beautiful experience it is!)

    What I want to say to you is that you are truly a fair-minded person, and your stance on this is completely neutral. I have so much MORE respect for you because you are not willing to alter your own beliefs, and second the Torah just to accommodate the next man’s beliefs. Your response was graceful, thoughtful, and well-written. You gave advice to the best of your abilities, and you offered options. You never once said “this was wrong, do this” but you just gave the Torah’s stance on homosexuality, and the requirements of an Orthodox Jew. Religion ceases to be a religion of rules and codes can be broken and altered to suit everyone’s needs. You gave the person as many options as possible:

    1. Abide by the Torah, and be celibate. being gay isn’t what the Torah is against — what it is against is the sexual act.

    2. Abide by the Torah, and learn to embrace the opposite sex, if possible, and form a relationship with a member of the opposite sex to experience sex, and love/marriage, and intimacy within the guidelines of the Torah; so that loneliness and isolation is avoided

    3. Give up on the Torah, and follow another path that better accommodates and accepts homosexuality.

    For you to give the person the option of being actively homosexual and Orthodox would be for you to contradict your own beliefs and go against the Torah; which you have taken a vow to abide…so I understand FULLY why this was not one of your solutions, and in my opinion, you are justified in this.

    People seem to forget that!

    You could only give advice from within the barriers of the Orthodox religion! Again, you did this wonderfully.

    It is not my place to question the Torah. It is viewed as perfect and without need to change, so man is, indeed, what needs to change NOT the Torah; that is, if someone wants to be a Jew/Orthodox.

    I applaud you. This was well written.

  27. My rabbi was on a Hillel panel with an orthodox rabbi who was asked about homosexuality.

    He replied,’I have two men in my congregation who I know live together. They pray three times a day, come to services, give charity and study Torah. When they leave Friday services I know they go home together, where they celebrate Shabbos. There are three others who wish me a good Shabbos but when they think they are out of sight light up a cigarette, get into their cars and drive to the baseball game. They are married with children. Which men are better Jews?’

    • Thanks for your comment, Keren. I agree that a Jew is made up of all his mitzvos and it’s not up for us to decide “who’s better.” We each have our own strengths, we each have our own struggles. The Torah, ideal though, is to be striving for complete observance whether you have a desire to break Shabbos or a desire to perform a different aveira (sin).

  28. Fruma (a different one) says:

    Even though I am not gay, as a frum woman, I personally found Allison’s response a little condescending and insensitive to the plight that gay Jews may feel and it just reinforces some of the negative stereotypes of how we should react to them. The posuq says we should never judge someone until we are in their shoes. This means also we should never even try too, because it’s impossible. I don’t think we should even attempt to answer K.L’s questions. Open minded, close minded, politically incorrect, not politically incorrect. Who cares. We should just be able to emphasis with the pain and struggles a gay Jew (or any gay person for that matter) may face. We don’t need to give any judgement or verdict. If I ran a shule, I personally wouldn’t have any problem welcoming a gay couple, as what they do in private is not my business and it shouldn’t be. No need to take the moralistic high ground. Speak to some very learned Rabbi’s and they won’t try give a straight answer to D.L’s questions. Too many shades of grey.

    • Allison Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Fruma, but I only answered K.L’s question because she directly asked me. I agree that we’re not supposed to judge someone until we’re in their shoes – I began my response with that point. And even as I explained why I hoped I’d choose to live a certain way, I was clear about the fact that I would never know unless I was tested. In terms of allowing an openly gay couple in your shul – I have to disagree with this idea. Not because I want to God forbid hurt someone or exclude anyone, but because by definition an Orthodox community is one that strives to live by all Jewish law. Of course we all fall short from time to time, but we don’t publicize our shortcomings. So if a person has a relationship on the side, then that’s not my or yours or anyone else’s business and I wouldn’t begrudge them or an older single for not living up to a difficult test. My problem with the openly gay lifestyle for an observant Jew is that it’s throwing in the towel. There are intermarried couples that attend Orthodox shuls, but I think the idea is that the union could one day become halachic through a conversion. There is room for growth. Unfortunately, tragically – this is not the case for a homosexual couple.

  29. Fruma (a different one) says:

    Hi Allision,

    Thank you for your response. I honestly don’t know enough about this topic. But I don’t think it so clear cut.

    Firstly, what does ‘openly’ gay mean? If it means two people who have told friends about their sexual orientation and who live together – are they considered ‘openly’ gay? In this case they are not promoting any physical act or encouraging others to follow their lead but they are just acknowledging their orientation (and not causing even more damage by never acknowledging how they really feel and then going on to marry someone heterosexual as a closeted gay which ends up as a big disaster for everyone)…

    Furthermore, they are not living a highly promiscious life, mocking religion and openly flaunting their sexuality like in the mardi gras. I don’t see why such a couple would be unwelcomable in the shule. The bottom line is what the halacha says when it comes to defining Orthodox Judaism and there is no halacha, as far as I am aware, against them coming into shule.

    Furthermore to be honest, although lesbian activity is not encouraged, there is no explicit Torah injunction against this. If you argue there are Rabbinical injunctions to this, well then you can argue there are Rabbinical injunctions against touching the opposite sex before marriage or during niddah, but many shules welcome couples who do so.

    In fact there are very harsh penalties for intercourse when a woman is niddah and many people are openly not following taharas hamishpacha – should they also be excluded from Shule?

    In fact by pushing away a struggling young Orthodox homosexual for example, it can mean pushing them further into a secular homosexual lifestyle that really may be incompatible with a Torah approach. Judaism and life in general, really is not an all for nothing. Life is a process and also to say that there is no room for growth for a homosexual couple is incorrect. They may change, just like an intermarried couple may change. Or they may not. But that is not our concern.

    Whether or not, you or I, or anyone else for that matter, agrees with their behaviour – that is not relevant and as we have both agreed, we cannot ever judge another person. There are people who attend shule who openly commit many acts against the Torah outside of shule, just like a gay couple might be doing (after all they are not doing any forbidden acts in the shule itself), whose actions have the same or even worse a penalty in Torah. Like openly breaking Shabbat. Eating non-kosher. Having an affair with a married woman that everyone knows about. Mishchav Zera. Watching pornography. Taking revenge. Speaking Loshon Hora. Cheating in business, etc, etc.

    Just because a heterosexual may feel an aversion to a gay act, does not mean they have the liberty of excluding someone who is known to be gay or ostracizing them. We have to build bridges of compassion and understanding unless they are engaging in very dangerous behaviour that is seriously harming themselves or others, than a strong stance can be taken.

    • Allison Allison says:

      I’m not suggesting that a person with same sex attraction marries a person of the opposite sex. I’m not even suggesting that the person with same sex attraction never tell any close friends that s/he HAS SSA. And I’m not even suggesting that a person can’t be part of an Orthodox community if he or she sometimes stumbles (in a private way) when it comes to halacha. People who are not shomer Shabbos don’t drive their cars *to* shul – they drive them nearby and walk the rest of the way. People who are not fully kosher don’t bring their tref food *to* shul – they would never dream of doing that. I don’t think that women who don’t use the mikvah are going around announcing their lack of mikvah use, and basically every area that a person might be falling short in regarding halacha could be something that they improve on with more learning and exposure. And a person with SSA, who’s trying to live by halacha should be welcomed into an Orthodox community like every other person who is part of that community and is trying to constantly grow. My issue with the live-in relationship situation is a throwing in the towel type of attitude. It’s not that “I couldn’t control myself one evening and I broke a halacha,” it’s rather “I don’t even attempt to keep this halacha – it’s not part of my lifestyle.”

  30. Hi Allison,

    I just came across you website today and this post in particular (I saw you advertised in the Webyeshiva.org newsletter as an upcoming shiur) I just want to through another wrench into this discussion which neither you nor anyone else seems to mention or even think about.

    No one in this discussion seems to question that the notion of “sexual orientation” (whether “being gay” “being straight” or “being bisexual”) is an innate reality to human identity or just one recently imposed upon people by our over-sexed society. People never used to think about sex in this way and in fact they were much better off because of it. No where is this more evidenced than in the fact that just a mere generation ago “being gay” just meant being happy and carefree and “being straight” meant having an upright character. Even the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality have only recently been used in the context in which they are used today.

    I personally believe that “straight people, gay people, bi-sexual people” don’t really exist. PEOPLE exist who have various levels and types of attractions which they choose to act on or not. We, as a society, have jumped from saying “I have these feelings and drives (whatever they be) to “I AM these feelings or drives”.

    This is also the root cause behind the tragic modern phenomenon of young people committing suicide or at-risk behaviors over this issue. The common belief is that these acts are committed because of homophobia and that “gay-pride” is the solution. However, if this were the case we would also see other more maligned social and ethnic groups committing suicide in mass numbers where this is not the case. People don’t kill themselves because other people hate them, they kill themselves because they hate themselves or don’t identify with themselves. Rather than tell a kid struggling with unwanted sexual thoughts: “Yeah people get unwanted sexual thoughts all the time but that doesn’t change who you are as a person whether you decide to act on them or not” we tell him “I’m sorry but you just have to accept the fact that you are gay and you have to live your life accordingly.” That’s like telling a married man who has has attractions to women who are not his wife (which accounts for about 99% of married men) “I’m sorry sir, I agree with you that you that these are unwanted thoughts, but you just have to accept the thought that you are an adulterer at heart and it’s time to ditch the wife and start chasing women”

    In no way am I denying that people experience very powerful sexual thoughts, whether innate or otherwise. What I extremely criticize is the idea that we should be identifying ourselves with sexual thoughts in anyway whatsoever. We should be identify ourselves by the things that really matter in life: Our hopes, dreams, goals, shared heritage and not sex.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. I’m not advocating a paradigm shift but rather a paradigm return. Hopefully at least some people in society will agree so we can prevent more suicides before it’s too late. Thanks if you choose to post this.

    Sincerely,

    Ari

  31. Kent-Krystofyr Paulson-Madsen says:

    I have one simple comment. As an observant (as much as is possible in the Canadian West devoid of any real Jewish cultural life or community) Jew who is presumed gay but celibate by choice and preference I would like to add something to this “discussion” for thought. As Orthodox and many other Jews (and Christians) believe Torah to be perfect, many others respectfully view scripture somewhat differently. Those of us who wish to try to live by the laws and follow Halakah as best we are able know it is impossible to do everything perfectly all the time while not consciously “picking and choosing” those laws we break inadvertently. Many things are a matter of perspective. If we accept that homosexuality is a natural human condition, how we are born and not a choice or simply a “lifestyle” then might we also say that it existed either before the giving of The Torah to Moses or is at least as old as humanity itself? Might we also understand that as with many parts of the entire there are many reasons for various laws some of which are more or less relevant today than they were when revealed millennia ago? We are rarely concerned with certain laws regarding the holding of slaves today except perhaps in discussion of historical documents. Could it be, as some scholars and anthropologists suggest that purity laws and laws against certain acts (prohibition of acts that do not lead to procreation) may have more to do with the preservation of Israel and a people (tribe) than constituting an actual abhorrent or offensive act to G-d? Regardless of the reasons for the laws they are there it has always been my strong belief no law was made to incite hate or intolerance but to provoke obedience, thought and order upon a rather rowdy lot of people disinclined to discipline in need of guidance, strong leadership and incentive to behave. I do not feel it is for us to treat each other badly and judge but for us to examine ourselves and for G-d to judge us at the end of our days based on our deeds and how we have treated each other and respected His Commandments. I welcome your comments and thoughts in dialogue.

    Sincere Regards,

    Krystofyr

  32. I think it would be cruel to encourage someone to spend a life denying their homosexual desires. I am not saying that your post does this, but others have implied that it does.
    I also think that any doctrine that claims homosexuality is a sin, even if it carries the disclaimer that humans are not worthy judges of one another, is homophobic, and therefor will inevitably inspire hatred.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alex. I have to disagree. I think any doctrine that claims it’s a sin to not perform a commandment *any* commandment *could* lead to hatred. We are told that if a Jew transgresses the Sabbath, the punishment is the death penalty. That is PRETTY darn harsh. So there are unfortunately zealots in the Jewish people who through rocks at Sabbath transgressors. There are SURELY missing the mark when they do that, but it is what can possibly happen when there are commandments that people don’t keep.

      I believe that commandments require a religious person to do two things a) keep the commandment and b) be a good enough person to not judge or condemn those who don’t do the same.

  33. I appreciate your empathy here, though you are being judgemental whether you wanted to or not.

    Most importantly, re-orientation therapy has been statistically linked to vastly higher suicide rates for LGBT teens, and as a public figure to propose it as an good option (obviously without researching it) is highly irresponsible – Google it.

    Secondly, the “hypothetical” situation is incredibly insulting. You are, in essence, hypothesizing that you would have “done it better” by staying Orthodox, and you really have absolutely no idea what you would have done, regardless of what you would like to think about your own dedication in “hypothetical land.” Look at how many LGBT people stay Orthodox if you want to see what you would have actually done. How many gay people are there in your Orthodox synagogue?

    Thirdly, the Jewish first / homosexual first is also insulting, as you are again insinuating (regardless of your intent) that someone who leaves because the Orthodox community discriminates against them is not choosing their faith first. Again you are judging, whether you intend to or not.

    I encourage you to actually reach out and talk to LGBT people who have left the Orthodox community and hear their stories, and then write a post about what you think. Otherwise your words are empty and only add additional insult to those of us who clearly see your lack of connection to anyone who is gay.

    I am guessing you will not let this be posted, but I hope you think about the feedback.

    • Hi Ezra, thanks for your comment – and yes, I’m posting this. I didn’t know about the higher suicide rate for LGBT teens who do re-orientation therapy. Thank you for letting me know, that is troubling and I want to look into it more. I wasn’t telling other people what to do – I was hypothesizing what I might do. I know you found the theoretical exercise I went through to be insulting, but I only did it because the question asker specifically asked me to do just that, and I noted numerous times that I don’t *actually* know what I would have done nor can I judge someone until I do have to face what they face.

      In terms of how many LGBT people stay Orthodox or in some cases, become Orthodox – a fair number actually! There are organizations out there giving people in this exact situation support. I have spoken to people who have left because of their homosexuality and people who can increased their observance despite their homosexuality and, believe me – I *completely* get why a person would leave. It is a LOT to give up to live as a frum Jew if you have same sex attraction.

      I recently gave a class on this topic and I noted something else about this challenging mitzvah. It’s like “Mission Impossible” – it’s your mission should *you* choose to accept it. Neither I, nor can anyone else, accept this mitzvah on another person. It is only up to the person as to whether or not s/he wants to take this on and if s/he believes in God, then it’s between him/her and God. It’s my job as the person watching on the sidelines to work on my compassion and non-judgment. THAT is what this mitzvah calls on all of the heterosexuals in the world to do. To practice loving-kindess despite seeing others not living up to the Torah’s ideals. Unfortunately, there are many people failing in this regard and I believe those who do will be held accountable.

  34. I am a gay (and for that matter, transgender) Jew.
    I say this not as some confrontational thing, or because i’m proud, but to show you that just as you have been so careful not to judge the LGBT community, there are members of the LGBT community who don’t judge your response (or Orthodox views regarding homosexuality).
    I’m conservative, and like to consider myself on a journey that will hopefully one day lead to Orthodox life. However I understand that by becoming shomer mitzvot there are a number of things I will have to accept. Things that may be problematic for me and those I identify with. Things that will be painful, and difficult, and may go against my very conscience and what I had always believed was right. But I think to suggest that those things are anything other that clear cut Torah prohibitions is blasphemous, and so I understand that by becoming a Torah Jew I can’t just pick and choose.
    I also find it most unfortunate when people in my community leave their religious roots because of a couple problematic issues.
    I hope this made sense, and I just wanted to sincerely thank you again for this response which I found honest, empathetic, and well worded.

  35. David Goncalves says:

    This was an incredibly sensitive and articulate essay.

    Almost every major religion has vocal (and violent) members that feel it is their duty to police and enforce the holiness of others, but all that noise and horror does not mean that every devout person is that way. I think you demonstrated that quite clearly.

    Many people have trouble understanding how a devout person can reconcile seeming contradictions in scripture. This confusion is of course impossible to adequately dismiss with any single ready-mad explanation. However, this is not a paradox limited solely to the strict interpretation of scriptures. I feel it is quite obvious that every human being is eventually (and often) confronted with conflict within his or her own belief system. It is easy to gloss over these private, internal contradictions and flip-flop from one side to the other as a matter of convenience, without ever needing to struggle over it. On the contrary, having to answer for variance within immutable scripture almost forces the thoughtful adherent to consciously address and reconcile the seeming contradictions.

    I think one cannot ever be faulted for erring on the side of lovingkindness. Furthermore it takes a degree of enlightenment to realize that adherence to faith and striving for holiness is a personal commitment, one that cannot be forced upon another, but only held up as a model.

    Blessings to you.

  36. Hilana Smith says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. As someone who has newly been exposed to this topic of discussion, it troubled me, as it seemed that the only solution was either to compromise the Torah or compromise the person. However your piece reassured me with the assertion that both the laws of the Torah and the dignity of the person can be upheld. I am inspired by your solid grounding in your beliefs in conjunction with your respect and compassion for others’ situations.

  37. G. (a Jewish woman) says:

    Hi, I am a Jewish woman in her mid-twenties who has struggled with the possibility of being lesbian for a number of years now; I’m still not 100% sure. What I’m sure of is that I’m not the only person who has read through the entirety of the comments on here. It’s an incredibly complicated topic, and I wanted to see everyone’s viewpoint. Allison, while you say many thought-provoking and sensitive things, I would pose a question to you about one thing in particular. Your justification for treating an otherwise observant lesbian couple differently from a husband and wife who drive to shul, wear less-than-modest clothing, and take cigarette breaks during services is not one I’ve heard before, and I’d like to address it directly. You contend that the difference is one of attitude, namely that the latter couple can “change at any moment” but the former couple is much less likely to ever make a switch to Orthodox observance. Is this not a judgment in and of itself, one that we’re not really entitled to make?

    Why is it any more or less likely that any individual, with his or her own personality and experiences and tendencies, would begin observing Shabbos when they have never done so before as opposed to begin backing off from a gay relationship as they have never done before? I will admit I am someone who waffles back and forth quite frequently on Shabbos observance. As I’ve told people, I have had my Orthodox weeks and my secular weeks, or even periods of many months. It’s a major lifestyle change to observe Shabbos, and I’m not sure I will ever get to the point where I’m doing it reliably. Regardless, it’s almost as if you’re implying that the very act of a gay or lesbian relationship is somehow innately worse than the act of desecrating Shabbos, to the point where it can be used as a justification for ruling out possible invitations to dinner. You seem to refute this very point above, though! Please explain to me why you think we, as human beings, are allowed to make this judgment about other people’s inner motivations. I would honestly like to know your opinion.

    - G.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, G. What I meant by that comment was that for Jews who are not observing Shabbos, or dressing tznius, for them to change their ways wouldn’t require breaking up their family. I try as MUCH as I possibly can to not be judgmental towards the struggle that gay and lesbian couples have, but the difference with them – especially if there were kids involved – would mean tearing a couple or a family apart and that’s obviously a lot more complicated and sad.

      Of course it would be possible, but much less likely – especially if the community was accepting of them as a couple already. The other thing is that we generally don’t publicize the aveiros we commit – especially those in the sexual realm. So if a single person is hooking up on the side, he’s not going to start talking about it over kiddush. If a married couple slipped up one month and had sex before the wife went to the mikvah, they will keep that indiscretion private. In my mind, if there were a couple of “roommates” who didn’t talk about what did or didn’t go on in their home, I’d be much more comfortable with that situation fitting into an Orthodox community. It’s not my place to judge them. It’s between them and Hashem.

      I believe the Orthodox community in general needs to work on showing tremendous amounts of compassion and non-judgmentalism towards the people who are in this situation but at the same time adhering to a community standard where we don’t publicize our aveiros (especially those in the sexual realm). I admit that it’s not a perfect solution in any way shape or form but it is the best that I’ve been able to come up with. (And I’m so sorry for your struggle and hope that Hashem gives you strength in whatever happens in life.)

  38. Rise Of Slimer says:

    How come the Torah a two men having consensual sex is a transgression worthy of death but a man raping a woman only warrants a fine paid to her father and that attacker marrying her? Doesn’t the Torah also say it’s only rape if a woman screams out or else she must have wanted it? Never mind that sexual assault victims often have a shut down response and are often too scared to scream or fight back. If the woman wasn’t a virgin, to hell with her, she’s already damaged goods. Raping a woman is treated as a property crime (against a woman’s male kin!) but a Jew should rather die than be willingly be sexually intimate with someone of the same sex. Why should any sensible person follow such a value system?

    Ari: LGBT people have been committing suicide well before the pride movement began due to the shame and ridicule they’ve faced. People just didn’t talk about it due to the stigma of both homosexuality and suicide. It’s also a documented fact that queer youth who have full support from their families and communities are far less likely to harm themselves, wind up homeless or become addicted to drugs.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      “Rise of Slimer”:

      There are many assumptions being made here, based on the brevity of the text, which does not reflect the full scope of the matter. I’ll give you an analogous secular example:

      “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

      Now that seems pretty straightforward but we all know, based on historic and current debates on gun control, that there’s far more to the matter than that. Similarly, one cannot know the full scope of these issues from a mere bullet point in the Torah! If we could, there wouldn’t be 63 tractates of Mishna, 37 tractates of Talmud, and four volumes of Shulchan Aruch!

      The major difference between the two cases is the question of inherent permissibility. Homosexual relations are inherently prohibited by the Torah. The death penalty is potential in ANY case of inherently-prohibited sexual relations, even heterosexual ones. If a man has an affair with a married woman, the fact that it’s consensual is no defense! Similarly, a brother and a sister, a man with his mother-in-law, etc. If the union is inherently prohibited, that’s the penalty, consensual or not.

      (An important note on the death penalty: there are so many conditions required to execute someone that it was rarely implemented. For example, a person needed to be warned that he was about to commit a capital crime, then he had to willfully violate it anyway in the sight of two witnesses. The court process was also weighted in favor of the possibility of acquittal – for example, a judge who voted guilty could change his mind but not one who voted innocent. The death penalty was so rarely implemented that the Talmud tells us that if two people were executed in a 70-year period, it was considered a bloody court. The Torah’s threat of execution is more a statement of something’s severity than an actual legal likelihood.)

      As far as the raped girl in Deuteronomy chapter 22, there are a number of things going on of which one should be aware:

      1. There is no death penalty because the relationship is not *inherently* prohibited – unlike a man and his mother, this couple is fit to be married. The union is *contextually* prohibited because he committed rape, but execution is not the penalty for contextually-prohibited relations. (Another example of a contextually-forbidden relationship: a man and his wife during her period. Obviously, they may have relations in other contexts.)

      2. The reason the fine goes to the father in this scenario is because the girl in question is a minor. (This particular law only applies for a very brief window between the ages of 12 and 12 1/2.) If the girl is an adult, the damages would be paid to her. (This is also the case with minors in civil law.)

      3. The law under discussion is the difference in the value of the girl’s dowry, which the rapist has to pay. If the girl is a non-virgin, the act is still prohibited and the violator still has fines to pay, just not the difference in her dowry, which is unaffected. That’s the only reason virginity is important in this case, not because one may rape non-virgins with impunity.

      4. In the case of a betrothed girl (betrothal actually being the first stage of marriage and not just “engagement”), the Torah enjoins us to determine whether the act was consensual or not. (The difference is whether it’s rape or adultery.) Whether it occurred in the fields or in the city (so that someone could have heard her calls for help) is a parameter, not the full scope of the matter.

      The fact that these cases are bullet points and not fully-detailed scenarios should not surprise us. The Torah is typically brief in such matters. We are told to refrain from labor on Shabbos and not to commit murder but the fact that plowing is a form labor or that killing in self-defense is not murder are not spelled out in the text. Similarly, the information given in these cases only reflects the tip of the iceberg. Lack of context in the big picture of Jewish law and poor translations have given many people some serious misimpressions as to what is actually going on in these case.

      Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
      JITC Educational Correspondent

  39. confused says:

    i’m not well-versed in halacha, but hopefully you can shed some light on a few contradictions, and forgive me if i cite you or the law incorrectly…

    1. you argue that people who drive half way on shabbat or break the kosher laws should be accepted to your shul because that is a problem that they can work on and eventually fix without too much struggle or without shaking things up too much. as opposed to being in a gay/lesbian living situation which does not seem as easy to overcome.

    is that really the basis of whether a member of the jewish people should be accepted in shul? oh, you can change your ways easily, so welcome in. but you on the other hand, may have to suffer more hardship in changing your ways, so we’re not interested in accepting you into shul, a great place for any jew to start changing his/her ways. shouldn’t we be working harder and extending our hands further to those who need greater support as they face greater adversity?

    i’m not saying i buy into all of this either, i’m just using your premise. the other justification over the difference that you gave is that somehow choosing to live with a same sex partner is flaunting a sin as opposed to any other breaking of a commandment. is letting someone know your sexual orientation any different than letting someone know you don’t always keep kosher when you’re out of the house? and if you found out that someone told someone else that they didn’t always keep kosher outside the house, would you not allow them in your shul? i wouldn’t mistake honesty for boastful pride. i just think it’s something that people are not fully comfortable with.

    2. if someone was out of the closet in terms of their sexual orientation, yet never had any sexual relations with anyone, and wanted to suck it up and have a heterosexual marriage and family, are there people in the orthodox community that would want to marry this person, knowing that such an individual would be miserable? if not, then where else can they turn but to leave the community? why is the orthodox community okay with that? isn’t one of the mitzvot to reproduce and have a family, yet the close-mindedness of their own community prevents them from doing that?

    There seems to be much greater emphasis placed on the negative commandments that you break, rather than the positive ones you never fulfill. Why? From my experience, it is the positive mitzvot that can go the farthest in repairing the world. And we must always do our part to make sure any person, man or woman, gay or straight, sinner or tzadik, has the opportunity to fulfill as many mitzvot as possible and make a difference in our world.

    i appreciate your views and courage to talk about such a controversial topic, as i believe conversation is the only way to make things better.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      thanks for your questions, confused.

      1) the thing about driving a block from shul and walking the rest of the way or not dressing modestly during the week, but dressing modestly in shul is that you’re not bringing your shortcomings into shul. if you want into shul as an out gay couple, there’s no leaving it behind. there’s an idea that living as a halachic community, we try our best to live up to halachic standards. if a gay or lesbian couple came to shul as “friends” or “roommates” and never spoke about what goes on in their bedroom, i’d have no problem with that. it’s not my business what happens in other people’s bedrooms. when there are kids involved, it obviously gets more complicated. i don’t think a kid should have to have two stories about his family situation – what he knows to be true and what they tell the outside world. so that makes a couple with a kid even more challenging in this scenario.

      2) the other issue, which is probably bigger in my mind is flaunting *sexual* improprieties. while we might know someone isn’t keeping fully kosher or fully shabbos, people don’t discuss if they’re single and hooking up on the side. if a married couple was into swinging they would never talk about it or make it known publicly. there’s an idea that for sexual iniquities we simply don’t make the information public for modesty reasons. i’ve had friends, in confidence, talk to me about issues with the mikvah, or trouble not touching their boyfriend, but those things are never made public. i believe that the same could hold true with same sex attraction. discussing it with friends in a private way, but not making it everyone’s business.

      3) i would never tell anyone with same sex attraction to just marry a person their not attracted to. there is a rabbi that came up with a match making service for lesbian and gays who want a traditional family life to meet each other. they go into it knowing they’re both gay but because they want to have a family unit they get married. it’s obviously a very unorthodox situation. i have no idea if it’s working for anyone who’s tried it. there are heterosexual marriages which loveless or sexless but the parents stay together for the kids or to have a family unit. so not all heterosexual marriages are ideal either.

      for the record, i don’t say any of this lightly. this is a tremendously painful issue. on one hand, i believe in compassion and being non-judgmental. on the other hand, if we’re going to maintain a modest, halachic community, if we just start not caring about one of the 613 commandments we have lost something. people speak lashon hara (gossip) which is a huge problem. and even though many people participate in this sin, there are “lashon hare” campaigns which go on in shuls and schools urging people to think before they speak. we acknowledge it’s happening (again, not a sexual sin) but make public efforts to not do it. would we do the same for prohibited sexual acts? the “remember to not commit forbidden sexual acts” campaign? that wouldn’t go over so well!

      i could ask God why He did this? make people have a desire they can’t fulfill, and I can also can him why the Holocaust happened, why babies die….so many things in this world don’t seem fair. i’m not saying my solutions are perfect but they’re the best i can come up with.

  40. I am writing as a Christian, but the issue is a common one, and I think you handled it very well. Nevertheless, I would like to make one point. Your post could have been entitled: “How Can You Be an Orthodox Jew Considering Its Position on [Whatever]?” The only reason to follow a religion is that you have good reason to believe it is the truth. I presume you consider Jewish Orthodoxy to be pbjectively true, just as I consider Christianity to be objectively true. (Do you?) If so, you must stick to it no matter what, because forsaking the truth is the road to perdition. However, a true religion doesn’t become untrue simply because one or many of its tenets are difficult or make you uncomfortable.

  41. Open Mind says:

    While I appreciate your attempt to be open minded and sensitive in this topic, there are a few observations I’d like to add to the discussion.

    For most of history, we have thought gender to be binary. However, given that there are 1) men who are innately effeminate and women who are innately masculine, (who could be anywhere from heterosexual to homosexual, but would otherwise need to “perform” to conform to traditional gender norms), 2) people who are transgender (as in they truly feel tortured living as their assigned sex to the point that they are willing to amputate parts of their bodies), 3) people who are born intersex (which could range from chromosome/genitals that do not match up, to those born with ambiguous or both “male” and “female” genitals), is it not reasonable to presume that gender should not be seen as a dichotomy, but rather a spectrum of different identities? What conditions must be met, what characteristics are “good” enough to determine whether someone is or isn’t male or female? Are transgender and intesex folks also asked to conform to a particular gender (and if so, which?), and/or forbidden to have any romantic or intimate relationship of any kind due to their gender ambiguity?

    [I realize that of the above examples, 1) is the most common (and most likely will be asked to conform to gender ideals), but what do we do about men who are innately feminine or women who are innately masculine - do we ask them to "learn" to "perform" as their defined gender is expected to, effectively asking them to never be their true, authentic self? Numbers 2) and 3) amounts to less than 1% of the world population, but they are really people who exist, who possess innate qualities that they did not choose, and who have feelings, needs, and spiritual desires as well. Many of them are unable to reconcile their faith with the fact that their act of simply "being" is abominable. Many are driven to suicide, as it is preferred to enduring a life which they can not. To deny the existence of these people, or to simply ask them to somehow fit into one box or another is cruel and hurtful.]

    Further, this discussion is currently held under the assumption that in terms sexuality is another dichotomy: either heterosexual or homosexual (and possibly bisexual – but for religious people they may be classified as straight). What if a tomboyish woman fell in love with a man who appears to be feminine? What if one fell in love with someone thinking she was a girl, but some time into the relationship found out she had had sexual reassignment surgery at a young age? What if one married someone thinking they were a man, but later realized that they had XX chromosomes, or further, if he had not only testes but also ovaries? How do we categorize these sexual persuasions or identities within the sexuality binary? Could we not also see sexuality as a spectrum as well?

    In terms of morality, neither existing outside of gender or sexuality norms is done with the intention to harm others. In fact, there is little reasonable proof to support any assertion that it would be harmful to others. Folks who exist outside of what we expect to be the “norm” certainly do not “choose” to be so. Why would anyone “choose” to be something that would cause them to be mocked, bullied, alienated, and ostracized within their religious community and society at large?

    Just as there is no dichotomy of “good vs bad” , “right vs wrong”, “black vs white”, many natural, immutable conditions exist on some kind of spectrum. Do we really want to completely dismiss all who do not fall within either idealized category? If orthodoxy is defined by reconciling observance of Jewish law with the secular modern world, then we must consider many of these in-betweens that were not considered in the past.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      I just want to dispel your misconception. Traditional Jewish texts do not assume a dichotomy of genders. Yes, the overwhelming number of people in the world are either male or female, but the Talmud and the Mishnah are replete with references to the androgonos and the tumtum. An androgonos (from the Greek word “androgynous”) is a hermaphrodite, i.e., a person with the physical sexual characteristics of both genders. A tumtum is what Lemony Snicket would call “a person of indeterminate gender.” In addition to these, there’s also the ailonis (a woman with male characteristics) and the saris (a man with female characteristics; “saris” is often used to refer to one who was made a eunuch but that is not its primary meaning).

      The ramifications of these categories (who keeps which mitzvos, etc.) is far beyond our ability to discuss here, as well as off the topic of homosexuality. I just wanted to inform you that Jewish law is far more nuanced in this area than you give it credit for!

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      P.S. – regarding those of other “genders” who keep the Torah, Isaiah chapter 56 says:

      “Thus says G-d regarding the saris who keeps My Shabbos, chooses to do things that please Me, and holds fast to My covenant; I will give them in My house and within My walls a monument and a memorial even better than sons and daughters. I will give them an everlasting memorial that will never be cut off.”

  42. Alana Suskin says:

    There's another layer, here though – Americans see all homosexuality as one class – the Torah actually doesn't. Moreover, Torah sees homosexuality not as a person/way of being, but as an action. There's actually no prohibition on lesbian sex (in fact, Rambam goes so far as to say that it is a father or husband's role to forbid his daughter or wife from associating with women known to mesolelet bo, because if he doesn't then she's not violating anything but laws of -er – lewdness. He goes on to say that only if he has warned her, then he can flog her for disobeying him – otherwise, there's no punishment and he can't do anything about it).

    Similarly, there's no prohibition on *being* a male homosexual. What there's a prohibition on is hachnasat atarah. There's an extended discussion of this in the talmud bavli (scattered over several different sugiyot) which begins with a discussion of whether a woman who engages in certain sexual behaviors is invalidated to marry a cohen, and they conclude that the only thing that invalidates her is hachnasat atarah, thus leading them ultimately to say also that this is the case with male homosexual behavior – it is that one specific act which is forbidden (and they also mention that we don't suspect Jewish men of such a thing, even if they sleep in the same bed together). This makes American Jewish (stringent) halachic attitudes a little more clear that a significant amount of what we're talking about is actually cultural assimilation. In particular, the idea that homosexuality is a sin that is worse than any other sin – that's definitely something that was absorbed from the culture around us.

  43. Alana Suskin says:

    I will say also, though, that I think you've responded very sensitively to the people posting here – so kudos.

  44. First of let me state that I am in the process of converting to an Orthodox Jew.

    I usually do not post to Jewish threads due to feeling inadequate but this one I feel compelled to speak up!

    In response to those of you who are considering yourself a gay Jew. I do not understand your struggle and feel compassion for the struggle you have to endure. I just don’t agree with your thoughts that it should be accepted by the Orthodox community. Why?

    Yes there are a few post that state it is better to complete commandments that you can as suppose to not completing any at all. So you mean to tell me that you feel the rules or commandments should be bent for those of you that feel you were created the way you are (attracted to the same sex) and should be accepted because you were created by Hashem that way?

    Ok so then do you feel that rules or law should be bent for a convert that has tasted lobster tails, pork and cheeseburgers? I mean that is the way that Hashem made us but we still want to be a Jew and the laws are the laws in order to be a jew you have to accept the whole Torah not the part that works for me since I was not made an Orthodox Jew that has no desire for something forbidden that they have never tasted or experienced.

    Ok, I get the point that may be different due to the fact that you want companionship, love and a family so you feel that you should be able to share life with someone that you are attracted to and want to share this life with? Then lets look at it from this point of view. What about an adult that is only attracted to a minor?

    Example: A 40+ year old man that is only attracted to a 6 year old boy/girl and enjoys their companionship? Are we suppose to bend the rules for them? I mean they were created by Hashem that way? They deserve companionship, happiness and to be with what they are attracted to right? NO!! It is not accepted in the Torah, the Orthodox community or any community whether it be jewish or gentile.

    So we have established it is also a forbidden relationship in the Torah that should not be bent. No laws are suppose to be catered to the individual what so ever. You were made that way for a reason. To provide you with a choice to either choose your happiness/desires or the covenant with the Most High that you were either born into or accepted. Either way there is a struggle to make a choice.. The choice to fear, love and follow the ways and laws of your creator whom gave you life or choose to put your desires first by being intimate with someone that can one day choose to walk away from you, break your heart because ultimately they are human and are subject to faults.

    Every individual is going to run across a law that they do not understand or may understand just not agree with. The fact remains is that it is a law that G-d decided and we either comply or don’t. If you choose not to comply then it is up to you but why question a human as to why it is not accepted? Take that up with Hashem your creator.

    I would most certainly not want a human of any race to succumb to their sexual preference or desires be it a child or of the same gender. It is forbidden and that is it. I don’t understand what is like to be attracted to the same sex or to a minor (something I am forbidden to be with), but then again that was not the struggle G-d gave me. I have struggles non the less. Point is I choose to accept the whole Torah as it is and not question it.

    I do not expect my journey to be easy and I was never promised it would be easy. The best way to look at it is what is hard to do must be followed by a greater reward. What could be more rewarding then to suffer a little/a lot to gain a closeness with the one that loved me enough to give me life…?

    Again no judgement just another point of view. I pray that anyone that has this struggle or any struggle can overcome it to the best of their ability. Where you fall short pray for help. Hashem craves our prayers just as you crave your desires. Thing is he has the ability to help you through and ultimately wants to help you. You just have to choose him.

    Ahavah

  45. Being honest says:

    Hi Allison, thank you for taking on this difficult topic. I’m a 25 year old modern orthodox guy that is completely closeted. I actually paid for 3 sessions of conversion therapy when I was 21, but I personally found it to be bs. I haven’t really ever acted upon my feelings for other men, except twice when I was in a foreign city and anonymous.

    I’ve been shidduch dating for the past 3 years. For the past 2 months I have been dating someone and am really happy about where things are heading with her. That being said we are shomer negiah and I think I am straight-acting enough that she has no clue. Though I mostly have good days where I’m happy, I also occasionally have some really bad days. Sometimes I just feel like I am orchestrating this mass deception. I would like to mention something to her, in fact in therapy they said to talk about it with a prospective wife, but I’m too afraid that she will dump me if I tell her the truth.

    The bottom line is I feel I need to marry to lead a Torah lifestyle and I do not know if I need to share every one of my personal desires with her. I cannot promise with 100% certainty that I will never slip or cheat, but I think I will make a nice husband regardless. More importantly we will lead a nice Torah lifestyle and be an active part of a Jewish community. (I cannot actually imagine ever “coming out” as I can never imagine myself being gay in the orthodox world. And leading a secular lifestyle seems devoid of spiritual depth, plus I would be ostracized by my family & friends and Hashem!)

    I guess the question is do I risk everything and say something to her or is it more important for me to just make sure I “get the girl” and get married?

    • you cannot marry someone on false premises – it’s not only your own life you are wasting (which is cruel enough), but theirs as well. this prospective bride could have a life with someone who really wants her – and so could you.

      i am greatly disturbed by this topic and many of the ‘answers’ contained within it. so far homosexuality has been compared to eating cheeseburgers, a parallel has been drawn in one of the responses with paedophilia, and people have been told it’s ok to be be who they are, as long as they either don’t act on it – or even worse, keep it hidden and are hypocritical about it…

      that people should not discuss sex and sexuality and keep everything hidden is a very dangerous route to go down – and that’s the only relevant and salient point that paedophilia should’ve touched on in this topic – a world of hidden sexuality and don’t ask don’t tell/we don’t want to know/keep it to yourself please, is a terrible message to give out to ANY child. abuse flourishes under such a cloak.

      conversion therapy (a.k.a. snake oil) is sick really. allison seems to like turning questions around, so let me do this for her – do you honestly think a therapist would be able to convert you to homosexuality? clearly not – it doesn’t work that way. you are who you are. and if your religion cannot accept it, find a strand of it – or another religion, or none, which does. ‘being honest’ – secularism isn’t devoid of goodness or morality. it is neither good nor moral to make someone feel as desperate as you – and if your chosen religion has done that to you, it may be time to look elsewhere.

      bringing up straight couples cursed by infertility leads me to my last point. yes it’s traumatic as allison so rightly points out. so how would she square being gay AND longing for children – the two often go hand in hand. so those gay people/couples faced with this longing are the ones in the same boat as their straight peers – THAT is the direct equivalent – not them being gay but ”oh look over here, this straight couple can’t have a baby, so you’re not the only one who can’t have everything”.

      i hope this is printed, both as a reply to being honest, to allison, and to some of the other posters. because i believe i have said what should be said without being offensive.

      • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

        Thanks for your comment, Tanya. I agree that you can’t marry someone under false premises. That’s not a way to start any type of relationship. There is an unusual story of a Mormon man who told his girlfriend he was gay and they were best friends and decided to get married anyway and while their life is surely complicated, they seem to be quite happy. This probably wouldn’t work for most people but it’s pretty fascinating http://www.vh1.com/video/misc/912764/meet-daryl-and-lolisa.jhtml#id=1708060

        In terms of homosexuality being compared to eating cheeseburgers, cheeseburgers came up a lot in the comment section! I personally wasn’t comparing the desire for a cheeseburger to the desire for sex, simply noting that even those who don’t eat kosher don’t bring cheeseburgers into their synagogues.

        I also *don’t* believe that sexuality should never be discussed. I DO however believe that ALL people’s sexuality is a private matter and should be discussed only with close friends and mentors but is not something that should be for public consumption. People need guidance when it comes to sexuality and it should never be a matter of shame. At the same time, because of its sacredness – it’s not something the whole world should get access to, according to Jewish thought.

        In terms of conversion therapy – I CLEARLY stated that I don’t know if it works. You and I have both heard the horror stories, but what do you say about people like this guy? http://nypost.com/2013/07/22/a-low-attack-on-same-sex-therapy/ Just like people used to not trust that gay people ACTUALLY felt the way they did (that they were doing it for attention or to “act out,” I fear that for the gay people like this man who claim that these therapies have worked for him we’re not giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s telling the truth.

        Maybe he is lying, but my policy is to trust people unless they’ve given me a reason not to trust them. In terms of turning the question on me – could therapy make me gay? The truth is that I think that sexuality is a lot more fluid that most people consider it to be. In ancient Greece it was a thing for men take young boys as lovers. That wasn’t just what the gays did – that was what ALL men did in those times. But all that aside – I’m not TELLING anyone what THEY should do. I’m simply talking about what I would do if what I believed to be my purpose in life forbade me to act on certain feelings I had.

        I never said secularism was inherently immoral. I was raised secular. I was a good person, had a great life. I just realized when I was 8 years old that my life was adding up to a grave. And that no matter how much I accomplished or how happy I was, nothing I was doing was adding up to more than 6 feet under. And I searched for something transcendent and came to Torah Judaism.

        No one wants to make anyone feel desperate, God forbid. I feel that the test of homosexuality that the straight people are given is how compassionate and nonjudgmental we can be. That is OUR job. It’s messy. It’s complicated. There are no easy answers. But the purpose of this wasn’t to tell other people what they should do but rather explain how truly living up to Torah means believing in compassion AND in the fact that it’s unchanging.

        Lastly, there are plenty of straight singles who a) long to be in a loving, committed relationship and b) long for children. I don’t want to get into a “who has it worst” contest. There is pain. Deep, deep pain. And we should all try our best to help whoever’s suffering in anyway we can.

        • dear allison, thank you for your speedy response,

          i really don’t know what to think of the conversion therapy example that worked – save to say that i agree with you that sexuality is much more fluid in all sorts of directions than we are encouraged to think in western culture. i think it’s really quite rare that someone is at the far end of one spectrum and has NEVER found a member of the same/other sex sexually attractive. although i do believe that my brother for instance, is firmly at the gay end and genuinely hasn’t ever found a woman attractive. what i still say is, it does seem largely if not entirely damaging, those seeking it are already people who aren’t able to feel fluid, and those providing it have a fixed agenda with an outcome of win/fail – which is not ‘therapy’.

          someone i met through my brother – a pakistani muslim guy who wanted to ‘try’ to find me attractive. instead of allowing him to use me as an experiment, i invited him to my flat and allowed him the sanctuary within my four walls to be honest, to cry, to express himself and what he wanted for himself. i also gave him very similar advice to you – you cannot demand that your parents will have no problem with this, but even if they cut you off, it still doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong decision – and strikingly similar again, i googled with him for muslim sites matching up gay men and women for marriage where both parties know, and merely want a friendship and the accepted structure to raise children.

          he was 21 – just – and had already had two or three sessions of conversion therapy. i said to him ”do you really think you can wake up next to someone you just aren’t attracted to for perhaps 70 years or more – more than 3 times as long as you’ve lived so far”. that was when he really started to cry and said no, he’d rather kill himself. we resolved that he was young enough and educated enough to put his parents off the marriage questions for at least a decade, without having to tell them exactly why. and by then they might have come to realize anyway. again i gave similar advice to you – even at that point, you still don’t need to confirm their suspicions.

          that was about two years ago. he’s very happy now and working hard through a medical degree. he has a boyfriend, he goes to a mosque, his parents haven’t had their fears confirmed, nor do they need to, and he knows he has choices – including an honest marriage to someone in the same boat who can be an understanding friend/co parent if that’s what he wants to do. i think the knowledge that there were gay women of his religion out there too and that it was a viable avenue was a breakthrough in him feeling more at ease.

          i should say, i was less disturbed by your compassionate response, than by some of the answers given by other posters. and i wanted to directly address ‘being honest’. i’m glad you agree that he absolutely cannot marry this woman on false pretenses, in the hope that he will be a ‘good husband’ who expects to ‘slip up’ from time to time. of course many people slip up in a marriage, or have open marriages – but the latter doesn’t seem to be his aim as a religious man, and the other party must know – you can’t go into it without telling them and unless you are truly in love to begin with.

          i am very broadly secular. the closest i have to religion is a lapsed catholic grandmother, and a grandfather who was raised culturally jewish but not religious. i respect your need to feel part of something larger – in very dark moments i often do go privately to a catholic church, despite disagreeing with their teachings on nearly everything from homosexuality to abortion. i lost one of my children and my ex husband in an accident so i do understand very deep pain, but without being flippant, i have no fear of the grave for myself because i will be cremated and released into the air, and everything you leave behind, from your children to your friends, to people you have touched and strangers you have been kind to, who have perhaps felt more able to go forward and be kind to someone else themselves is all still out there in a host of positive energy. burial as a concept absolutely terrifies me, and if i was culturally bound to it, then i absolutely would feel dread.

          thank you once again for a speedy and direct response,

          tanya

          • an addition to this if i may,

            it bothers me that the article itself refers to ‘confines’ as in ”the confines of my life with a woman” – that is a telling word – you should not feel confined by a romantic relationship, and i’d say if you do, then it’s not right for you. it’s slipped into his thoughts and feelings on the subject, and is so natural that in a tightly edited piece, it wasn’t changed and nobody even felt the need to.

            i work in pr, so i understand how important it is to be able to demonstrate a success story. my understanding of this guy is that he now works in and/or promotes the service he used – that’s just business practice meeting public relations. and he does say he still experiences his natural drive. i personally would be horrified if my husband needed therapy to be able to stomach the thought of me.

            fluid is as fluid does. i think we agree that bisexuality is much more common than we are all given to think. but you can still be bisexual and in an exclusive relationship where your feelings for the person come naturally to you. one thing i have noticed to be true is that anti gay (i’m certainly not suggesting you are) people speak about gay sex far more than gay people do.

            i’m not american so i’m not sure who the owners of the new york post are, but as far as i know it’s a murdoch newspaper – along the lines of ‘the sun’ and the ‘news of the world’ in the uk – the latter closed down for mass phone hacking (including of murder victims), bribery, and various other activities – the editors are on trial right now, in a very highly publicized legal case. so i simply can’t accept a murdoch publication as a legitimate source – they push for a horrible agenda which anathema to everything decent…

            ‘the sun’ itself is still published – and is noticeable for the page 3 feature of a naked woman each day. usually sprawled in a come hither position, lips apart, fondling her own breasts. the ‘news’ contained within is spun so heavily and slanted in such a right wing direction you don’t really need to read it – you already know what it says. it’s barely worthy of being called journalism.

            i’ve just checked, and it seems the new york post not only is owned by the same, but is modeled on the sister papers in the uk. i would say be wary of using it to learn anything, or thinking it is anything other than deeply biased towards an immoral standpoint. i think your first suggestion of linking up with like minded lesbians who want to continue their religious traditions within a religiously acceptable marriage, with a friend who knows everything, is indeed a much more viable option than any other scenario, for those who feel unable or inhibited for whatever reason to follow their heart…

            particularly a scenario where you are either paying money for questionable therapy, or having it provided for free by an individual or organization with an agenda. after all, not for nothing is there a stereotype that the european upper classes get married, provide the ‘heir and the spare’, and once that’s done, do what they like with who they like without getting divorced. it’s a generations old ‘solution’. i just find it sad that in 2014 we still see gay people as something to be fixed or fitted in, while the rest of us sail through the default setting.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            Hi Tanya. So in terms of the “example” that worked, the truth is that there are actually countless stories of people who claim it worked – here’s another interview on Joy Behar http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhm0JOYExHw (she is VERY Liberal and honestly doesn’t seem to want to let this guy tell his story completely – she keeps saying “pray the gay away” and he keeps insisting that he needed to work on the missing male role model in his life). I have done a decent amount of digging around online to hear more people like this speak out because I find it a little scary that this other side doesn’t get a chance to speak. It’s kind of how I feel about how Orthodox Jews are portrayed in the media – only the worst stories are told, never the happy ones. Again – maybe this guy on Joy’s show and every other former gay person is lying to themselves and us. However, like I said, my policy is to trust people unless they give me a reason not to trust them. (I don’t, however, believe that this therapy could work for all people. From what I’ve seen, the common thing the ones who say it worked for had in common is that there were relationship issues with their parents. If someone is gay but had a happy childhood, it seems like there is not just a way to flip a switch and change orientation.)

            In terms of the Muslim guy – I don’t believe a parent should ever cut off his child! I have values and ideals that I try to live by, and I hope my children will try to live by but when they fall short – b/c we all fall short – they will always be my babies. This site you speak of to set up two knowing partners to live as friends and have a family – I heard someone in Israel did the same thing. It’s not easy at all! This is an issue that tears me up every time I think about it b/c there are no simple solutions and all I can do is not judge and feel for the people going through it. But the reason I brought up the therapy is that b/c if it does work for at least SOME people and they can find happiness like that – then why is no one allowed to even mention it?

            In terms of your losses – I am so sorry to hear this. I cannot imagine what you went through/go through. My fear of the grave is not the ground or the dirt – it’s of this world itself ending and if nothing is beyond this world then even the people I touch will too be gone one day – then there is nothing that lasts. I HAVE to believe that there’s more. That there’s a greater purpose. That everything happens for a reason. Or else this is just a cruel, cruel world.

            For the people who are flippant about those who are gay – just because a person observes the Sabbath and eats kosher doesn’t mean he’s truly embodied all Torah values. To truly do that we must feel for other people and so that is the balance I attempt to live by.

  46. I think there are probably some logical reasons why the Torah forbade homosexuality for men:

    1) It can lead to the transmission of disease.
    2) It may “distract” a man from starting a family and having children.
    3) It can be abused as a form of dominance and control for constructing social and political heirachies amongst men.

    More generally the Torah forbids the “wasting of seed”. I’m not a man, so I don’t really know how men feel about their semen and how often one needs to ejaculate “medical reasons”. All Torah observant Jewish men – single, gay, married or otherwise must struggle with this commandment. A homosexual encounter is just one of many ways in which a man could potentially waste his seed.

    Why must a man avoid wasting his seed? I believe this is an almost philosophical question. It is his life force. Wasting one’s seed is a metaphor for wasting one’s life. A woman is rendered ritually impure each time she menstruates because she “wasted an egg”. She can be purified by submersion in the Mikveh.

    Neither homosexuality or masturbation is explicitely prohibited for women in the Torah. They are however forbidden by Rabbinic ordinance.

    I don’t have any solutions, but one does not need to be “out” about one’s sexuality. If permitted marital relations are considered to be a private affair, all the more so for non-permitted relations. Nobody has the right to inquire into your sexual orientation or masturbation practice just as nobody has the right to ask what your favourite sexual position is with your legally married spouse. If you seem to be unusually close to your “best friend” then this is none of anybody’s business. It is strictly between you and Hashem.

  47. well that’s ok – we just disagree on whether it’s appropriate – i absolutely don’t. but hopefully we’ve given the other something to think about. i certainly wouldn’t shout anyone down or attempt to close them down for a) judging that they had a problem in the first place (although i firmly don’t believe it is a problem, apart from for those who make it one – which is very often not the problem of the person), and b) trying to resolve their problem in whatever way they can.

    the guy i referenced hasn’t been cut off from his parents – it was his fear that they might cut him off if they knew he was gay. and it was his fear because they are religious and there is a valid fear that religious parents could and do cut their kids off – could be any religion. i made the point that you do – it is unlikely that when push comes to shove a parent will cut their own baby dead. but some do – and it does seem more likely if the parent is strongly religious or has other inflexible worldviews. as far as i’m aware, homosexuality in any context – and sex itself in way – were not things which were discussed at all in his household. but he had picked up on some underlying distaste, or at least compared his situation to households which were more open and felt that the reason such things weren’t raised was because they were in some way distasteful.

    i realise your fear is of death itself. mine is very specifically about being locked into the ground to rot, which is why i emphasized that. but on the afterlife itself, i take the view that whatever happens is whatever happens and is beyond my knowledge. i too like to hope that i will see loved ones again. but all we can do in the here and now is to put good things into the world, which is not that bad and contains many beautiful things and experiences – for every bad thing there is a good thing, for every largely bad person trying to cause hurt, there is a largely good person trying to do kind things.

  48. This was a great response to a very difficult topic not just in the Orthodox Jewish faith, but also other faiths. The Catholic Church has received criticism as of late due to similar issues and I know a response from a bishop was announced but people weren’t buying it. I think it’s hard for people to accept the idea of a faith not changing a long-standing theological stance in order to be more “welcoming.” They see it as a part of themselves getting rejected, but there’s a difference between rejecting the person and rejecting the potential actions (or behavior acted upon) from the person. I don’t think people themselves are being rejected, but we are all expected to abide by a higher standard of behavior.

  49. Alex Bee says:

    Hi,
    Just wanted to ask…..are you saying/do you believe that being gay is"a bad thing"?

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