Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Gay and Orthodox at Yeshiva University

posted by Brad Hirschfield

What does it mean to live as a gay man in the Orthodox community? Four such stories were shared the night before in a forum sponsored by Yeshiva University’s “Tolerance Club” and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. An unofficial transcript of the event can be found by clicking on the Curious Jew blog.
The event, which drew almost 1,000 people, modeled a kind of compassionate listening and human decency which neither trumped nor trivialized the deeply conflicting views about gayness held by people in the audience. Instead, it proved that we all have the ability to listen and feel beyond the borders of any particular doctrinal conclusion, and that when we do so, we never jeopardize our commitments to those doctrines, we simply connect more deeply and more lovingly to those around us. And that, can never be a bad thing.
Whatever one thinks about being gay, about being gay and Orthodox, about homosexuality and halakha, I urge you to think about that claim, to read the transcript, and invite yourself to allow the powerful stories of four individuals to serve as a model for building spiritual community in the midst of conclicting opinions about very serious issues, whatever they may be.



  • Robert

    As the date and time stamp for this comment might hint, I’m not a Jew. However, I did follow the link and find read the comments on what the blogger found acceptable (people) and not (breaking eternal law) perfectly reasonable. My fundamental departure from the view there is not over whether homosexual conduct is condoned in tradition. It obviously is not. My question is, so the Almighty doesn’t exist that He needs you or me to enforce His eternal law? Words down from Sinai, and then he goes and plays golf or something?
    That’s my underlying concern with much of Judaism, the religion of my grandparents. It seems to presuppose God is dead, all we have is a lot of rules and endless, albeit entirely rational interpretation thereof.
    You might say, who are you that you think God should come to your personal Sinai and give you a new set of rules. But I do.

  • Harriet B

    If homosexuality is such a big sin, why did God make homosexual people?

  • Worthington

    “If homosexuality is such a big sin, why did God make homosexual people?”
    You’ll find your answer when you find out why we have the blind, the deaf, the profoundly mentally handicapped.

  • Emily with the Kippah

    Homosexuality isn’t a handicap. It’s just a variant of sexual maturity in which a sexually mature human being finds other sexually mature human beings of the same biological sex attractive. Since there are many human beings who embody this form of sexuality, many form long-term coupled partnerships borne out of mutual friendship, love, respect, and attraction. Many people are not strictly attracted to the same OR the opposite sex; this is called bisexuality.

  • Dennis

    If consenting adults engage in sexual behavior in private that harms no one, then it is simply not an ethical or moral issue. In an overpopulated world, we certainly do not need more children. The condemnation of gay love in The Book of Leviticas continues to harm millions of gay human beings, as it has throughout the centuries. That is the abomination! I am for the separation of church and hate! Empathy and compassion are the core teachings of most respectable religions. This wisdom trumps tradition and ideology. Humans wrote their sacred scriptures and invented their gods and then pretend that they did not. Such dishonesty!

  • YaelPW

    I do not know why homosexulaity ws deeemd an abomination in Biblical times but I can venture a few guesses.
    The fact remains that for believing observant Jews it still remans listed in the books as a deadly sin/transgression.
    I haev a hard time with the fact that we pick and choose which laws we wish to observe or not, at our convenience.
    But since I too am not a perfect Jew & certainly not a perfect person I cannot judge “sins” that hae no apparant harm to society at large.
    I prefer to believe that each person must answer for his or her actions to one authority only, the rest of us need to be tolerant of one another and as kind as we can be, becuase really that’s what it’s all about – Hesed.

  • David N. Friedman

    But Emily– all of us can find a member of the same sex sexually attractive. All of us can find lashon hara interesting or appealing. All of us can find eating shellfish tasty or taking an advantage by stealing when no one is looking or seems to be harmed.
    Judging those who commit homosexual acts is similar to refraining from judgment to those who violate the Sabbath or any specific law. It is quite another step to contravene the law and declare that those acts are no longer valid. Smokers, drinkers, Shabbos violators, those who commit lashon hara–those actions are all to be judged harshly. But people are not defined by their actions and deviant sexual activity does not define any individual. “Homosexual and Orthodox”–again, change it to anything else and it simply does not work–“Shabbos breaker and Orthodox”–I refrain from my sexual impulses all the time–sin is an action not an identity group. People can spend their whole life in same-sex attraction and live as a single person or as a married person. We err in our celebrated “understanding” and our willingness to tell people with these attractions that they need to liberate themselves and act on that attraction. If they love the attraction and wish to live their life that way–it is no different than any other Jew who lives outside of the law. We all fall short–the mistake comes in seeking a halachic green light for our misbehavior.

  • Emily with the Kippah

    Seriously? “Everyone” can find someone of the same sex sexually attractive? Wrong. Only people who are same-sex attracted find people of the same sex attractive. Perhaps YOU find someone of the same sex sexually attractive, but only about 4% of human beings can also claim this trait. I guess you’re projecting onto humanity what you personally feel inside. And I hope you can someday resolve this.
    Now, I did not say anything about Halakha. Other commenters DID, but I did not – but I’ll comment about it anyway. Obviously, stealing is an ethical and moral wrong because it hurts someone; consenting adults in a relationship do not. Additionally, the trouble with claiming that homosexuality is like any other Torah violation is that the other violations have built-in balance. You can do on other days what you can’t on Shabbat. You can’t eat shellfish, but you can eat “crab-stick” which is made from kosher fish. Married couples cannot have sex during niddah, but they can have sex at many other times. And single (heterosexual) people can get married and have sex then.
    Homosexuals are solely attracted to those of the same sex. They are not attracted to anyone of the opposite sex. So, according to Orthodox Judaism, they must then live the ascetic life, denying their sexuality, and never truly fulfilling a complete romantic love with another human being, and being rejected by God and their own tribe. Maybe a bisexual person (you?) can’t relate to this – but an exclusively heterosexual person can: All they have to do is imagine they can never ever be with a person of the opposite sex but instead the same sex.
    Of course, it is perhaps very fortunate that many queer Jews who were once frum are leaving Judaism, because obviously there is no room for them to live as completed, fulfilled human beings, able to embrace one of the most basic parts of their humanity. No wonder so many of them commit suicide. After you are rejected in completion by those in Heaven AND on Earth, it’s no surprise one would give up on both.
    Now, this is all I’m going to say on the topic, since obviously neither one of us will ever change the other’s heart OR mind, though I’m sure both of us will go to the grave convinced we have the “T”ruth.

  • Your Name

    You religious people crack me us! So if I see someone acting the fool and I think that I would clearly be doing society a service by disposing of this issue, I cannot because there is a God’s law and the moral law says I cannot kill. BTW someone else was acting on just this thought and everyone thought he was a monster. This is not a stretch – someone in this thread already said it – you cannot choose which laws you choose to obey. If I decide that I am only attracted to animals, I cannot marry them or have relationships with them, because that is also considered wrong. No matter how I feel – again, you cannot choose which laws you choose to obey. Actually you can choose – because everyone will have to give account to a higher power for the choices we make. So choose now, but don’t make an issue about it is someone else decides that because you are going against the law you are doing wrong. Sin is sin, and if someone hates you for it they too are sinning, so keep it real, will you please.

  • Howard Stevens

    The torah specifically forbids gay sex. End of story. It can’t be rationalized. Too bad if you feel otherwise. Don’t sleep with your sister. Don’t marry a non jewish girl. Don’t eat cheeseburgers.
    If you have have feeling for men just don’t act those feelings. It seems pretty simple to me.

  • David N. Friedman

    Emily–we SHOULD speak about this *because* we believe each of of is in the right. (BTW–do you wear a kippuh–and why?) YOu need to understand that sexuality is extremely elastic. The very fact many of us feel so convinced of our sexual preference is because we have been brought up in a society where these pressures and those of family are very strong. So if you do not accept the premise–test it! In ancient Greece, family life was very weak and the social pressure to have monogamous marriage was low. The societal ideal was gay sex–therefore gay sex was the norm and the preferred form of sexual experience. 4% in ancient Greece–huh? Perhaps 74%. If you were a 15 year old boy–your parents wanted you to have gay sex with some 50 year old man–so this was the outcome. In closed knot Jewish circles–the pressures are overwhelming to be in normative marriage so this is the overwhelming outcome. If you are male and in jail for a long time–you will have a lot of sex with a lot of men. If you are a sexually adventurous woman and you live in a major metropolitan area in today’s world–the chances of you experimenting with lesbian conduct are very strong. If someone is a lesbian–it has little do do with the fact that this woman has an innate uncontrollable attraction exclusively to another woman–there is no survey that has ever indicated such a thing. Women in modern decadent culture not in need of the financial support of a man will much more easily enter into same sex relationships. Women or men in Arab countries (for example)will poll way under 1% as gay. Men and Women in Europe will poll way above the 2-3% norm.
    In short (and we could keep talking about this ad infinitum)–it really depends of the circumstances and it is not a 2-4% always there no matter what matter percentage of gay people. A specific woman could in the right theoretical set of circumstances–seduce a woman who sees herself NORMALLY attracted primarily to men. It all depends on a given set of circumstances. A man who finds himself attracted to women–stripped of a moral compass, a parental influence, a different set of societal expectations, etc–could be easily attracted to another man.
    This is why anthropologists see humans as naturally bisexual.

  • Sharian

    A few years ago I saw a documentary on this very subject, “Trembling Before G-d” I recommend it to all.

  • David N. Friedman

    I must add comment to the allegation that there are homosexuals who are Jewish and feel like committing suicide. I feel nothing but empathy towards those with all kinds of psychological problems. People need help and help should be given.
    There are people, many times more those who are gay and Jewish, who have other addictions–drinking or gambling, etc. These people, more frequently men–fully and soberly understand that they will lose everything, their wives, their job, their kids–if they don’t stop and yet they cannot. Some of these people tragically commit suicide. Some have sexual addictions or gambling problems that take over their lives. It is horrible.
    But we should not alter Judaism’s stand concerning alcohol consumption or gambling or sexuality because some people might take their own lives because of the restriction.
    BTW–I liked Chana’s long posting link on this thread.
    The mischief here is that normalizing homosexual relations is not simply compassion for gays–alas, there is no question about our compassion for homosexuals. Gay advocacy harms marriage and it communicates that there is no standard for sexual conduct–that heterosexual marriage is no better than gay relationships. It denies that there is meaning to gender–significance to male and female.
    People might try to do the best they can but people who are serious about suicide are not simply in conflict with Jewish law–they are in conflict about the attractions they are having. They have same-sex attraction and they are not happy about it. They need help and I wish the gay community would stand up and admit that it is all well and good for people who are not comfortable with these feelings to seek psychological counseling similar to what alcoholics and gamblers can obtain. It is difficult therapy and it fails much of the time–so? Then they need more therapy.
    To come forward and say we must have gay marriage and celebrate gay relationships as equal to our own to prevent some guy somewhere from committing suicide is emotional blackmail and not a strong argument. It condemns people to a lifestyle some may not prefer and it forces the majority to alter its ideals on the mantel of a political position.

  • solomon ben yehuda

    our torah forbids gay marrige- read the torah- understand that wearing kippah is to remind the jew that respect of the divine spirit above us and all around us- and that those nonjews are reminded what we stand for – it does make a differance – as we should also not judge the gay or lesbian – that is between them and G-D

  • Your Name

    People should recall that the Torah
    forbids Homosexual Activity. There is no
    specific prohibition for one to be “attracted”
    to the same gender as long as he does not act
    upon this attraction.
    There is no doubt that such a person feels conflict
    and difficulty and we should be HELPING this
    person who is making a valiant attempt to follow
    the Halacha with great personal struggle.
    Note that this does NOT legitimize homosexual activity.
    I challenge those who are quick to condemn to TRY
    to realize the difficulty an Orthodox Jew with a Homosexual
    “orientation” faces. For example, there is a major question
    if such a person is able to marry and have a normal [physical]
    relationship with a woman.
    This matter is made even MORE difficult by the attitude of the
    APA which tends to CONDEMN attempts by a therapist to “fix”
    a homosexual’s “orientation”. That is, if a therapist tries to
    help a Homosexual “change” to a Heterosexual, that therapist can be
    sanctioned! According to the APA, the therapist is supposed to “help”
    the Homosexual be HAPPY and ACCEPTING of his “orientation”!
    I believe that instead of condemning the attempts of the
    Orthodox Jews to reach out to Homosexuals, those on this list who
    have been so critical should — instead — be critical of those who
    wish to prevent therapists from helping Homosexuals.
    I would also suggest that those who are so critical of those with
    Homosexual orientation speak to a therapist such as David Pelcovitz
    (a truly wonderful person) who can discuss the pain that these people
    actually feel. He emphasizes that these people did NOT (in his opinion)
    CHOOSE this orientation. Rather, they “have” it — and endure much suffering
    as a result.
    By the way, I have used the “male” orientation here when discussing
    the Homosexual since the Torah’s prohibition on HOmosexual Activity
    refers specifically to MALE Homosexual Activity.

  • Zvi I Weiss

    Non of what I posted earlier (which appears as “your name”)
    should be taken to mean that I support or sympathize with “Gay Marriage” or the like. There is a Torah prohibition here that is extremely grave. Regardless of the society around us, we have our own rules and they do not “change with the fashion”.

  • Larry

    Although I come from an orthodox background, I am more tolerant of the gay situation due to my medical and scientific background. I realize the imperfections of the natural world. Obviously, G-d makes for this situation for a reason. The hereditary components are carried in our genes at a frequency to see it with relatively frequency in the human population. However, have you ever seen other animals performing these same patterns of behaviour? Probably yes, but they can not have offspring, which diminishes the frequency just like in the human population. Of course, we are not animals but human behaviour sometimes permits for the animal response in action in many ways. Humans carry other genes with frequency that are not helpful to survival, eg. diabetes and other genetic traits, whether they are phenotypic and expressed in the population. Research shows how gays have chemical\ hormonal mediators with preferences for smell and sight that leads them differently in their sexual orientations.
    My feelings are also expressed well in the Torah and whether you are gay or not, there are over 600 commandments one can follow beyond having offspring.
    Remember, gays are born with this sexual variation of thi genetic expression and they should be respected and understood. Naatural selection in nature also follows that this behaviour is not going to allow repopulation of the species

  • Dennis

    What better reason can there be for the STRICT SEPARATION of church and state than the centuries of harm done to gay people because of religious oppression, ideology and dogma? Gays are not the problem, religious bigotry is. Wake up to the real world! Try compassion.

  • Mayer

    Larry, it has never been proven that homosexuality has anything to do with one’s genes. Current psychology says same-ex attraction have much to do with traumas experienced which causes a man either to disassociate himself from his own masculinity or to be repulsed by females.
    Someone who is gay should not consider himself unable to change because of a genetically-created disposition, rather he should seek the help of therapists who can aid him to heal his past traumas. I refer anyone interested to the JONAH website for gay Jewish men. (R’ Aharon Feldman recently published a book entitled The Eye Of The Storm which, among other raging issues, deals with an Orthodox perspective on homosexuality) I also refer anyone seeking help to give a look inti the EMDR method.
    I concur that anyone who is attracted to members of the same sex should be treated with utmost dignity, compassion and understanding.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment David

    Regarding Mayer’s comment:

    “Current psychology says same-sex attraction have much to do with traumas experienced which causes a man either to disassociate himself from his own masculinity or to be repulsed by females.”

    BULLSHIT!!

    All I have to say is (paraphrasing Mayer) is that if someone is Orthodox they should not consider himself/herself unable to change religions because of some disposition ie the trauma of being indoctrinated with this make believe nonsense as a young child. Rather he/she should seek the help of therapists who can aid him to heal his past traumas.

    I concur that anyone who has religious fantasies/imaginary friends, should be treated with utmost dignity, compassion and understanding. With proper therapy YOU CAN GET OVER IT. I know I have!
    Later!!

    Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/windowsanddoors/2009/12/gay-and-orthodox-at-yeshiva-un.html#ixzz1PVq0UhNY

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