Monday, July 26, 2010

About the Statement

I was recently made aware of a statement that was put out last Thursday by a large number of Orthodox Rabbis entitled, “A Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community.”

If you have not read the statement, I recommend reading it, because it was very interesting. My thoughts on it are that it was clearly very well thought out and it says exactly what needed to be said. I think a statement about homosexuals in the Orthodox community needed to emphasize two things: 1. Halacha, that acting on homosexual attraction is wrong, and 2. Acceptance- that we need to accept individuals who have a same-sex orientation who are not openly violating Halacha. I think the statement emphasized both of those points very well.

What surprised me the most about the statement was actually the 5th point, which stated straight out that often therapy is not affective in changing a person’s sexual orientation and that therapy should not necessarily be encouraged. I thought that was a brave statement, considering that in the past most Orthodox authorities have followed the view that homosexuality is a Yetzer Harah and one can fight it and change it. I actually thought that myself, until I watched the eye-opening movie Trembling Before G-d, a documentary about homosexuality in the Orthodox community. The documentary really changed how I viewed the issue, and I realized that most frum gay people do not want to be gay, and would try to change it if they could, and many have tried.

The point that I liked/agreed with the most was point #10, which stated that Judaism is not “all or nothing” and that everyone has different challenges. No one is perfect, everyone has a Yetzer Harah, and even if someone does something wrong, that doesn’t mean to give up Torah entirely. This is also the reason I like the blog Another Frum Gay Jew, because the blogger who writes the blog accepts the fact that he is gay, while at the same time keeping his commitment to Halacha. It was interesting to read his view on the statement that came out, since my first thought when I read the statement was, “I wonder what frum gay Jews think of this statement.” I was glad to see that he supported it, since some people thought that it wasn’t sufficient. I would be curious to hear opinions of people against it, since I haven’t heard any yet, and I’m sure there is bound to be someone who objects to some part of it.

I think that all we can ask of gay Jews is the same thing we ask of all Jews, to keep Mitzvot as best as they can and to not violate Halacha, even if it’s a struggle and really hard. I believe that Hashem gives everyone their own set of Nisyonot/tests as part of their mission and purpose in this world, and that Hashem doesn't give anyone a challenge that they are incapable of dealing with. The video Trembling Before G-d, which I watched at a class in Stern College, really awakened me to the pain and struggles of those frum Jews with a same-sex attraction. I think when we see older singles who haven’t been able to find their spouse, we are sad for them because they haven’t found true love, someone to have a romantic relationship with, which is the ultimate of relationships. Just imagine being told from the beginning that all chances of having that relationship are gone. That’s what being gay and frum means. Your sexual orientation means that you will never have a romantic relationship with the opposite gender, and Halacha tells you that you are forbidden to have a complete romantic relationship with someone from the same gender. So you’re stuck. That is the most painful thing in my mind, and that is what I felt ever since I saw that video.

The reason this new statement is so necessary and so great is that frum gay Jews have enough of a struggle as it is. We need to do everything we can to support them and at least allow them to be a part of our community. They have three choices: 1. Go off the Derech and forget Torah Judaism, 2. Fight being gay and try therapy to change something that in most cases (not all, but most) cannot be changed or 3. To accept themselves and still keep Halacha, to struggle every single day with feelings that contradict everything they believe, while holding on to their faith. To those who choose that last option, I say, Wow. That is not an easy path. It requires so much strength and courage. We need to support such individuals, and that’s what this statement says.


  1. I agree with most of what you say - but what I can't understand is that if someone is frum with homosexual tendencies, why anyone else has to know about it.

    Everyone has their own personal demons - some small, some Godzillas. For instance, drug and porn addicts don't publicize their struggles. If he needs the assistance of a rabbi or close friend for support, that's one thing. Today's world prides itself on honesty; honesty went from being straight in business to TMI.

    What goes on behind someone else's closed doors is none of my concern. It's between him and God.

    In any case, it cannot be that there are higher rates of homosexuality nowadays then there was in the past; that would mean something far sinister is going on. So why the discussion?

    In the end, if someone identifies himself as "frum" and "gay," that is an oxymoron. "Gay" is accepting the lifestyle and coming out of the closet, and by using it as a label, is gives more mamashus to his desires; if he is following all the halachos, there is no need to tack on the "gay" label. He is simply "frum."

  2. Bookworm- you bring up some great questions!! I think that sexuality is strongly tied to identity. It is my impression, though I have never seen anyone say this straight out, that part of the struggle of having same-sex attractions is that it is a part of you and you feel like you are hiding or lying to the world if you don't express that.

    Secondly, in terms of "why anyone else has to know about it," how else does a person explain to their family that they don't want to get married? People constantly approach them with shidduch suggestions and what are they supposed to do if they don't want to get married?

    To me "frum" and "gay" is not necessarily an oxymoron. "Gay" simply refers to an individual with a same-sex attraction and does not mean the person acted on it.

    Also, drug addicts DO publicize their struggles. Alcoholics anonymous? Maybe it sounds anonymous, but it is admitting an addiction in front of a whole group of people.

    In terms of whether there are higher rates of homosexuality nowadays. First of all, maybe there are, who knows? Every generation has it's own struggles. There is an increase in the number of people who are monotheistic today, for example, than there were in the times of the Gemara. But let's say that rates are not higher. Marriage in general is very different nowadays then it used to be. People used marry people their parents chose and to suffer awful marriages because divorce was so taboo. It used to be that domestic violence was not spoken about- that doesn't mean it didn't happen. The same way that people are more OK with seeking help for domestic violence and are speaking out about it now, I think the fact that people are speaking out about homosexuality more today is a reflection of our generation of dealing with problems and not just shoving them under the rug.

  3. SternGrad,

    (Just started following this blog...enjoying it so far.)

    I agree with the entire statement, up to this part of #11:

    "But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting."

    Many orthodox schools have certain standards that parents of students must follow in order to send their children to that school. Some schools won't accept a child if his parents own a TV. Why should this be any different?

    I find it hard to believe that a gay couple that has adopted a child has a strong desire to remain full members of an orthodox community and fully committed to halacha.

    In addition, other parents may not want their children knowing about such issues at such a young age as well.

    So no, that part of the statement I cannot accept.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  4. hcohen- thanks for reading and thanks for commenting! Glad to hear you're enjoying.

    I believe all Jewish children should have the right to a Jewish education. If a Torah education is dependent on what a person's parents do, then we are pushing people away from Torah.

    I think it's wrong for a school to not accept a child if his/her parents own a TV. I understand where the approach comes from, and I understand the school wanting to set a certain standard for its students. Why should a child be punished because of his/her parents?

    I agree that a gay couple who adopted a child are not committed to Halacha since they are living together and that is wrong. But is it all or nothing? Should we tell people to give up all of Torah simply because they are unable to keep one mitzvah?

    Additionally, how would we approach a child whose mother is Jewish but father is not? Or let's say the parents aren't religious, but for some reason want to send their kid to a religious school? Do schools allow on "kiruv" kids? Should we deprive all of these children the chance to connect to Hashem and learn Torah? Should we force them to turn to Conservative and Reform schools for their Jewish Education?

    Is it a tough situation? Yes. Is it one that we have to figure out how to deal with without pushing people away from Orthodoxy? Yes.

  5. Schools' acceptance of students is a whole new discussion; in my parents' day, schools were not so particular and everyone was let in (I don't think they had adopted children of gay couples back then - which is a whole other can of worms considering the adopted child's parentage).

    The Jewish community has a number of quirks. Jews can steal and serve time yet are not shunned; that sin is one of the big 10, while homosexuality is a "new" and frightening topic.

    I do not think a Jew who has stolen and has caused a chillul Hashem should be accepted back into the fold, let alone have fundraisers held for them.

    AA meetings involve, what? Ten members, without last names? It's a private support group. As for family, then it would be known only to the family. That is, if his parents could handle it.

    If a guy having such struggles is constantly being redt girls, there are ways of wriggling out of it ("Oh, I'm 'busy' at the moment") without saying - "Well, I like the dudes."

    I don't base the entirety of my identity on my desire for a husband. I am frum, in my desire to practice all of the halachos properly, nor do I feel the need to advertise my personal struggles - I don't call myself "a frum Jew who speaks loshon hara too often and has kavana issues."

    Divorce was an option provided by the Torah. Domestic violence is forbidden. Two men playing house - yeah, a no no. They can't expect or demand acceptance.

    Life was different once - husbands and wives led separate lives, for the most part. Plus, aren't all marriages bashert, as you have mentioned in previous posts, even if parents set it up? Maybe a number of couples back then wanted divorce, but I doubt the majority, while I would suggest that there are too many divorces nowadays. The stigma has lessened, and while some are necessary, I think many could be avoided.

    Tznius, in my view, is not about necklines and hems. It's about personal dignity, about the ability to think before speech, and self control. One can be in a burqa and still be untzniusdik. There is a place for such discussions, but for whom they concern. Not the entire unsuspecting public.

  6. Bookworm- To respond to "I don't base the entirety of my identity on my desire for a husband"- I didn't say that sexuality was a person's entire identity, but it is part of a person's identity.

    I don't understand why those with same-sex attractions feel the need to make it public, but it seems to me that they feel this need to "come out of the closet." I don't know why that is, I think there is a psychological component.

    I agree that "They can't expect or demand acceptance" applies to any Jew who does an Avera in a public way -they cannot expect to be accepted. But if a person has not committed an Avera or done anything against Halacha and has only expressed that he/she has certain desires, then I think we should accept them. Why they feel the need to make their desires known, I don't know, I really think it's a psychological thing.

    Also, I haven't really heard of any frum gay Jew who announced it to the world (aside from the YU Panel, which is a different discussion all together). For the most part a person just tells family and close friends and word gets out. I think the statement was saying that once it is known that a person is homosexual, we should accept them, provided that they haven't obviously violated halacha.

  7. In the end, the only one who would know if they had violated halacha is himself. I don't know what goes on behind closed doors; I don't want to know.

    This "coming out of the closet" mishagaas is a new thing, which is if one is homosexual, he must tell the world and live that life and demand acceptance as he is. If he doesn't come out of the closet, he denies who he is.

    By us, there is no need - I'm not going to permit psychology as an excuse - to tell anyone besides the near and dear. If he's keeping halacha, that's all well and good. If I have impermissible desires like a ham and cheese sandwich, I'm not telling anyone.

    Domestic violence came to the front because it needed to be addressed to be stopped. I'm not sure if publicity here would achieve the same ends.

    Considering the percentage of Jews in the world, and the percentage of homosexual individuals, which would have to be equal-ish between males and females (of which females are not the focus of our discussion) then subtract the individuals for whom therapy was successful, how many people are we talking about here?

    Hopefully, not many.

  8. Yeah, Bookworm, your points sound similar to the usual "Why does there need to be Gay Pride? Why do THEY need to put that in MY face?" Well, Bookworm, the answer to those questions, and yours is simple; Every day is straight pride day in mainstream society. Everywhere there are products specifically designed for you, the straight person! Oh look, another bromance where an awkward sheepish guy pines for a girl way out of his league, designed for awkward sheepish straight men everywhere! Oh look, a rom-com where the strong determined young woman finds the guy of her dreams! Look over, there a guy and a girl holding hands as they walk down the street. Look, a whole bunch of straight couples doing the same thing.

    Now where do I, a gay man, fit into this picture? Where are my desires represented? Am I supposed to be attracted to the girl in the bromance? Obviously, I'm not, but it's assumed that I would be, I'm supposed to be, is the assumption. Am I supposed to identify with the woman in the rom-com, finding her man? I could be, but no, I'm a man, and as is such I don't.

    So just like you can enjoy all those things per their intended marketing, just like you play your part as a heterosexual with no hassles, I, as a gay man, want to do the same thing. Except that since it's naturally assumed that I would be into women, I have to assert my identity and say no, I'm gay, I don't fit into these expectations and I want to be truthful about that, just like you can effortlessly be. So rather than merely wriggling my way around life, lying here, avoiding there, I want to live it honestly and fully, with no shame, just like everyone should be able to live it, but can't because people recommend they don't.


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