Today most Orthodox rabbis would concur with that view. Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, is among them. "The whole approach to demanding to be accommodated is profoundly non-Orthodox," says Shafran, whose New York-based organization promotes the Orthodox world view. "I have a hard time dealing with someone who says, 'I'm gay and I want to be accepted.' Adulterers are not demanding adulterers' minyans. We can't elevate sinning to a lifestyle. The more it's mainstream...the more people will choose it and accept it as an option."

Official Orthodoxy makes no distinction between the sex act, which the Torah flatly prohibits, and homosexuality as a sexual identity. "Homosexuality is not a state of being in traditional Judaism; it's an act," Freundel says. "Desires are...not relevant."

Individual rabbis have counseled gay men and women on how to cope with their desires--mainly by advising them to suppress their homosexual tendencies or to get help. There is an informal "don't ask, don't tell" policy operating in the more liberal Orthodox synagogues, allowing gays to receive aliyot and to daven from the pulpit. "If someone comes to my shul, I don't ask those kinds of questions," says Freundel. "If someone told me in confidence [that they were gay], it wouldn't have an impact on their standing in the shul."

But few Orthodox rabbis have ever stood up and publicly addressed the issue or provided any halachic (Jewish legal) parameters beyond the standard "It is an abomination." No rabbi wants to be seen as possibly condoning an act that has been outlawed by God in the Torah.

The marginalization of gays exists to a much lesser degree in Judaism's other denominations. As far back as 1977, Reform rabbis passed a resolution "encourag[ing] legislation which decriminalizes homosexual acts between consenting adults and prohibits discrimination against them as persons." Fourteen years later, the Conservative movement followed suit with similar resolutions. Reform rabbis endorsed same-sex civil marriages in 1996, and the movement recently voted to allow rabbis to conduct same-sex marriages and to permit ordination for gay men and women. Reconstructionists admit homosexuals into their rabbinic and cantorial schools as well. While the Conservative movement does not condone same-sex marriages or ordain gay men or women as rabbis, "Congregations are encouraged to welcome and reach out to gay members," according to Marianna Matt Newirth, assistant director of media relations at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Conversion to Heterosexuality

Freundel, in an article entitled "Judaism and Homosexuality" (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society) writes that the traditional Jewish community should motivate homosexuals to change their orientation. But he stresses that gay individuals should be kept within the Torah community. Freundel advocates kiruv (outreach) for homosexual Jews, much as some might advocate outreach to an intermarried couple. "We must create a situation which offers a positive alternative to the gay synagogue and to the even worse choices of complete abandonment and assimilation," he writes.

Some go beyond outreach to outright conversion. Nefesh: The International Association of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals, a Brooklyn-based organization, advocates conversion therapy for Orthodox homosexuals. Nefesh members argue that gay men can be treated for homosexuality and converted back to heterosexuality. The New Jersey-based Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality, founded a year ago, also advocates reaching out to Orthodox homosexuals to help them become heterosexuals. This Jewish push toward conversion mirrors a national push: The National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality says three out of every ten homosexuals are successfully converted.

But those who advocate this approach do so in spite of a 1997 American Psychological Association finding that reparative therapy to convert homosexuals is scientifically ineffective--and possibly harmful. The gay Orthodox individuals interviewed for this article attested to that finding.

Consider "Shalom," a gay Jewish physician in his early 40s who was in conversion therapy for 11 years. Shalom was raised in an Orthodox home and realized he was attracted to men in his high school yeshiva. A rabbi told him to get therapy to help him change--to purge the gayness from his system. He tried behavioral therapy, wearing a rubber band around his wrist and flicking it every time he felt attracted to a man. He went to Israel, where a rabbi told him to eat dates and recite a psalm every day. When that failed, he entered Aesthetic Realism, a New York-based group that works with gay people to change their sexual orientation.

At the same time, Shalom dated women. The right one, he believed, could help him change. On one of those dates, Shalom flew to New York from the West Coast. After the date, he broke down in the cab and began crying. "I felt emotionally raped," he says. "I couldn't keep acting. I decided to accept it. At 31, I came out to myself."

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