A colleague recently shared the following video with me.

https://youtu.be/xrFyW9MITxs

This is a video of young Orthodox men and women who self identify as homosexual. I found the clip, by and large, to be evocative and poignant. These are people who I identified and empathized with. The communities, schools, and types of families discussed were my own; they could have been me, my neighbors, or even my children.

At the same time, I found some items stated and implied on this video to be disconcerting. After watching it a second time, I remain perplexed and confused and wish to publically share my reactions.

Please note that while I do not professionally treat this population, I have perused a large part of the professional literature. My religious perspective is derived from classical Jewish texts. I have also gained much from the writings of Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisroel (Baltimore). Rabbi Feldman recently met with a group of Orthodox mental health professionals to discuss this topic as well as other issues. See here for my notes on this talk (approved by Rabbi Feldman).  

I have divided my comments into two general areas : compassion vs. humiliation, and homosexuality and Judaism.   

Compassion vs. Humiliation. One of the speakers described being referred to throughout his childhood in derogatory terms (e.g., faggot). Another related an experience where his brother told him to take off his kippa. Halachic/Orthodox Judaism forbids any sort of this type of gay bashing and humiliation. This is a violation of countless prohibitions such as Onaas Devorim and Malbin Pnei Chaveiro B’rabim. Sadly, contemporary practice of Judaism doesn’t always reflect the Torah’s instructions, but let it be stated that this type of humiliation is abominable and forbidden.

Related to this point, from a Torah perspective, there is a distinction between those who struggle with same sex attraction (SSA) and those who act on these feelings. There is absolutely no prohibition against SSA. This struggle is a reality for many, including some in our community. In addition to their being no prohibition against SSA, there are grounds to say that we must be even more sensitive and compassionate towards those who struggle with it. In the article linked above, Rabbi Feldman stated the following:

"Those who struggle with same sex attraction are engaged in a very difficult struggle and we must demonstrate our utmost compassion towards them. They are tortured. They live in a same gender society full of nisyonos (challenges) at every twist and turn. Someone told me that he can’t learn with a chavrusa because he becomes aroused. This is torture which calls for our utmost compassion”.

Homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism:  It is not fully clear to me what the speakers on this video are asking for, but my impression was that they have decided to lead full homosexual open lives, including raising families, and they are asking for the Orthodox community to accept this.  Consider the following two excerpts (and there are several others that are similar) from the video, the first from a young man, the second from a young woman.

"My primary goal in life is to have a Jewish family. I would sacrifice everything to have that goal. I have no interest in leaving. This is very important to me. All I want is my family around my Shabbos table. And if I can do that with a women that would be great, but I don’t think that you want me to marry your daughter. So that is going to have be with a guy. I want a partner and I want a children and I want everything that you all want and have wanted and what you want for your children".

"I recognize that our community has such a strong emphasis on marriage and children and I totally understand the fear of parents when a kid comes out to them is that they either see their child leaving the community or they see the child being alone in the community. But I think it’s important to know that there is a way for your gay child to live a Torah life where they are working on their Chumash homework with their children and sending their children to yeshiva, that they are the ba’al koreh in Shul (if they are men, obviously) that all of that is something that they can have and it can be a part of their lives in a way that parents envisioned".

 

Related to their request, I wish to make the following observations.

  1. I don’t believe that it is appropriate for any human being to judge them for this choice. This we leave to God. Similar to holocaust survivors or trauma victims, we can presumable apply the Mishnas’ instructions (Avos 2:5) Al tadin es chaverecha ad shetagia limkomo (do not judge your friend, until you are in his place). Those of us who have not experienced their struggles may view their behavior as wrong, but are not in a position to condemn them for choices they make (I speak here as a lay person, not having researched the full halachic sources on this point).
  2. Halachic Judaism doesn’t exclude sinners. On some level, we are all sinners and we are all welcome (see item 3 below. I am not sure if this is an exception).
  3. There is a distinction between committing an aveira and recognizing it as such vs. being open and proud of committing the Aveira. Here too, I quote Rav Feldman from my notes linked above:

" In the Israel Day parade there is a gay contingent. Now, if there was a contingent publicly identifying as Michalilei Shabosos, wouldn’t we protest against this? Yes, people slip and commit aveyros, but to publicize that one is an over aveyros and to display pride in it is a chilul Hashem. Someone who publicly discusses being an over aveyra makes a Chilul Hashem for it makes the aveyra lighter in other people’s eyes. The Posuk says “Ashrei nesui pesha”—we don’t discuss aveyros publicly. But a group that says we are struggling to and refrain from being oiver issurim, that is the biggest kiddush Hashem!"

       4.  Related to the above distinction, there is something that the people in the video are asking that may be irreconcilable with                  halachic Judaism. What the people featured on the video seemed to be asking, was not just to be accepted and respected as                  people, even as gay people, but to have homosexuality as a lifestyle accepted by the general frum community. We as a                          community can respect their commitment to all the mitzvos they do keep, but to ask the community to respect violations of                    Halacha is to ask the community to stop viewing Halacha as definitive.

 

I totally understand that this may come across as exclusionary and cruel. However, Orthodox (halachic) Judaism by definition always demanded fidelity even at the expense of our individuality, financial growth, and freedom. Is this different from many of our grandparents who couldn’t hold down a job because they refused to work on Shabbos?  Is this not similar to many of our ancestors who gave up their lives not to convert to other religions?   Was this considered cruelty? Should halacha have changed?

 I would like to conclude by apologizing to anyone who have found my words offensive. This was certainly not my intent. I recognize that this topic of reconciling homosexuality and religion is emotionally charged and I welcome feedback both below and backchannel (cneuhoffphd@gmail.com).