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JUDAISM AND HOMOSEXUALITY:

ORTHODOX JUDAISM

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Orthodox Judaism:

Orthodox Jews total about one million in the United States. They can roughly be divided into three groups: Modern Orthodox Judaism, Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and Hasidic Judaism. They strictly follow the 613 injunctions in the Mosaic Code. They assert that only traditional methods of studying Jewish religious texts is valid; they reject modern forms of historical scholarship. 

They generally regard homosexual behavior as "an abomination," totally forbidden by the Torah. However, simply having a sexual orientation does not violate Jewish law, if one remains celibate. Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel, in Washington, DC explains: "Homosexuality is not a state of being in traditional Judaism; it's an act. Desires are...not relevant." 1

Some gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews interpret the prohibitions in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 literally, as specifically prohibiting only anal sex between two men. Thus, they feel free to "...kiss, hug, and caress, may touch in ways that lead to orgasm (such as mutual masturbation), and may also have oral sex." 2

Beliefs among Orthodox Rabbis vary:

bulletRabbi Barry Freundel stated: "The Orthodox gay movement is organizing … around something that is unacceptable. It's like saying we're a group of Orthodox Sabbath violators or Orthodox ham eaters." 1
bulletRabbi Avi Shafran, spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, wrote: "The whole approach to demanding to be accommodated is profoundly non-Orthodox....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." 1
bulletRabbi Steven Greenberg is an Orthodox rabbi who works at the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL). Before coming out as a gay man, he said: "I wasted 20 years of my life on self-hatred, guilt, and fear. He believes that: "Ideally, one should get married and have children. But in the event that one can't, the punishment of celibacy is unthinkable. It's just not realistic and not human." Many Orthodox rabbis have publicly denounced Greenberg, questioning his Orthodox credentials. Rabbi Avi Shafran is reported as saying: "He wants to have his cake and eat it too. He is lying to the public by saying, 'I have an Orthodox mindset'." 1
bulletSandi Simcha DuBowski's documentary film: "Trembling Before G-d" (2001) contained many quotations from Orthodox Jewish sources:
bulletRabbi Shlomo Riskin:  To'evah, "interestingly enough, the Talmud explains as to'eh atah bah -- you're making a mistake through this thing.  You're making a mistake because it does not lead to the kind of normative family life which the Torah sees as being the fundamental building structure of a good and holy society."
bulletShlomo Ashkinazy, Orthodox Gay Psychotherapist: "A tie'vah is an urge. It's an illogical urge. That all of sex is a tie'vah, it doesn't have rhyme or reason to it. What a gay person does or what a straight person does, or wants to do, it isn't logical, it's something brought down from above."
bulletRabbi Yosef Langer:  "If you're only inclined to have relationships with men and nothing else works for you, then yes, you have to be celibate."
bulletRabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo:  "It is not possible for the Torah to come and ask a person to do something that he is not able to do.  Theoretically speaking, it would be better for the homosexual to live a life of celibacy. I just would argue one thing -- it's completely impossible. It doesn't work. The human force of sexuality is so big that it can't be done."
bulletRabbi Shlomo Riskin:  "...I really believe that more and more orthodox Rabbis who have come into contact with people who are gay as the situation has become more open. Like everything else, when you don't know you tend to demonize and almost dehumanize. When you know, you've met the individual, you've seen the sincerity of his prayer, you can no longer demonize and dehumanize. You have to just love and help, and that's what I think -- in the final analysis, that's what Judaism is all about." 3
bulletRabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, having watched the film, wrote: "For someone who is Gay and yet loves the richness of an otherwise Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, there are basically 3 responses."
bullet"This person can subdue their homosexuality which they usually believe is given to them by God and live an Orthodox Jewish life."
bullet"Or they can leave the Orthodox lifestyle entirely. But to do that is often exceedingly difficult, because as this gay rabbi said to me, 'I am not defined by sexual identity'."
bullet"And so the third possible option is to live a life, like we all do, on different levels, full of conflict and internal pain. And then it becomes our responsibility to rise as a community to a level which this film showed that our wider community is not yet at-to be able to say, your actions violate our laws, and yet we will not ostracize you, we will love you the same we love all of our brothers and sisters." 1

The International Association of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals, and Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality advocate conversion therapy (a.k.a. reparative therapy) to convert Orthodox homosexuals to heterosexuality. However, the American Psychological Association and other professional groups have stated that reparative therapy to convert homosexuals is scientifically ineffective—and possibly harmful. It appears that the success rate at converting an adult's sexual orientation is a small fraction of 1%.

Author Naomi Grossman wrote: "While there are no statistics available on the community's suicide rate, every gay Orthodox person interviewed for this article told me she or he knew of at least one Orthodox homosexual who had attempted or committed suicide. Experts say the suicide rate among gay Orthodox Jews is likely to be even higher than for the gay community at large, owing to the more restrictive and tight-knit atmosphere of Orthodox communities." 1

A number of support groups for Orthodox Jews have sprung up, primarily on the East and West coast of the U.S. 4,5,6

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References:

  1. "Trembling before G-d," at: http://members.aol.com/gayjews/tbg.html
  2. Robert Kaiser, "Judaism and Homosexuality," 1999-APR-4, at: http://www.universalway.org/Foreign/judaism-homo.html 
  3. "Q & A about being Gay and Frum," at: http://members.aol.com/GayJews/FAQ.html 
  4. The Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva and Day School Alumni Association at: http://www.GLYDSA.com
  5. A "Community of Frum Gay Jews," at: http://www.OrthoGays.com
  6. "Bet Tikvah offers support to Jewish gays and lesbians," at: http://www.post-gazette.com/magazine/19980812gay1.asp "Bet Tikvah" means "House of Hope."

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Site navigation: Home > Conflict > Homosexuality Religion > Gays > here

or: Home > World religionsJudaism > Gays > here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-OCT-25
Latest update: 2003-AUG-4
Author: B.A. Robinson

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