Saturday, December 17, 2011

On a LIGHTer note . . .

Gingerbread lattes in visually seductive red cups, Michael BublĂ© crooning renditions of classic holiday songs and the joy on the faces of cheerful gentiles . . . it’s all enough to sweep even the most observant Jew into the “tis the seasons” and eggnog induced stupors.  I’ve fallen prey to the seductive commercialization of the holidays more than once.  The idea of a warm hearth and brightly decorated home usually trigger my nesting emotions.  (I promise, I’m going somewhere with this). 
As a university freshman I briefly dated a nice young Jewish man a year my senior.  Though our relationship was destined to fail, he loathed orthodoxy, this dalliance with romance—my first—was great.  I found expression for emotions I had never before been able to release.  Particularly vivid from our time together is when I took my then boyfriend to my German club’s holiday Kaffeeklatsch.  Proudly I introduced him to my professor as “mein Freund.”  “Ein Freund,” my professor corrected me.  The possessive “mein” made my statement mean he was boyfriend as opposed to simply a friend.  I knew what I had said, so I smiled and gently reiterated my statement.   I think she was slightly shocked, but she accepted it and the festivities continued.  That relationship ended a short while later on a particularly warm December 25. 
I’m embarrassed to say that the very next year I fell prey to the very same mistletoe infused emotions.  This time I went a bit further and attempted to date a non-Jew.  I both smile and cringe when I recall that our first date was spent building a gingerbread house.  He was sweet, charming, looked adorable with a Santa hat on and wished me a Merry Christmas.  Talk about destined to fail. 
It’s these experiences and others that make me appreciate the lessons of Chanukah. Falling into the trap of hedonism and the simple of thrills of secular life is so easy.  Admittedly, standing behind our windows, kindling our Chanukiot  and knowing that, even though Chanukah  may not permeate every aspect of society like Christmas does, we stand on a greater path is sometimes a challenge.  Sometimes we just need to pull ourselves out of the holiday haze and remember the sacrifice of the Maccabees and what it stands for.  I only really learned to appreciate Chanukah because of the relationships I attempted.  I succumbed to the holiday spirit and found that nothing lay there for me.  I came to understand that those eight little lights (and countless sufganiyot) represent a purpose and a meaning that has survived millennia, despite the prosecutions and unyielding temptations. 
I still smile at the sight of a wreath hanging on a door and the Starbucks red cups make me giddy, but I now know that my future resides in something greater. 
The first night of Chanukah is Tuesday, 20 Dec.  Light with pride. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Some much needed Mussar

I had earnestly hoped that that when I had the time to post it would be a Dvar Torah filled with inspiration and warmth.  Thanks to a bit of commotion in the Jewish world (and a bout of insomnia) I’m again writing before I intended on not exactly on the topic of my choice. 
A few weeks ago R’ Steven Greenberg, author of Wrestling with G-d and Man, director of Trembling Before G-d and self-proclaimed gay Orthodox rabbi officiated at a gay orthodox wedding.  In the aftermath of this occasion a group of 100 orthodox rabbis from across America organized the signing of a latter condemning the ceremony. Source .   R’ Greenberg, in response, claimed that the ceremony was not a wedding and was not intended to be one because it lacked KiddushinSource .  Yet actions speak louder than words and the circumstances fo the ceremony place it within the context of a wedding.  The ceremony contained a chuppah, both men exchanged rings, smashed glasses and wore kittles . . . looks a lot like a wedding to me. Source .
I’m not against gay marriage—I plan on getting married myself.  I’m against people trying to find loopholes in halacha and wordsmithing their way out of a difficult situation.  I also believe that other strains of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist) are free to do what they want with gay weddings.   Source.   I, however, do not subscribe to that interpretation of Judaism and don’t think anyone would try and label it as “orthodox.”
The next even of significance was the presentation of letter—shall we say a contra-Statement of Principles—that held nothing back as it blasted Jewish gays in demanding that they undergo reparative therapy and seek Teshuva for their misdeeds.  Source (you can ignore the op-ed and read the actual letter at the bottom).  This made my blood boil  for a number of reasons:
1)       Its suggestions are ignorant and scientifically rejected
2)       It seems to have been in the works for well over a year but cowardly kept separate until enough signatures were gathered (note the date on R’ Kamenetsky’s signed copy as well as the request that the contens be kept secret until enough signatories were amassed). 
3)       One of the primary supporters—R’  Shmuel Kamenetsky—is a man I was raised to revere and this causes me to question his status as a Gadol HaDor.
(UPDATE, 1/5/12 the complete list of signatories can be found here)
After all this I stumbled upon yet another article, this one from a rabbi at Brown University I had previously not heard of.  source .  While I don’t agree with all of what he writes, his main point is striking and I place 100% of my support behind it: Orthodoxy is shattered.   As the bearers of Hashems eternal truth in this world we—via our rabbinical leadership--  are failing in our mission as we hide behind letters, allowing ourselves to flee from confrontation as we fail to establish a uniform response to the issues that plague our society—or in many cases, any response at all.   I weep for the days of the Sandhedrin or the Shoftim.   Even if those scholars of old would chastise me, or worse, for my sexuality, I long for the days when G-d’s will permeated every aspect of Jewish life as it found embodiment on the lips of men and women wiser and more spiritually connected that I can ever hope to be.  Orthodoxy has failed.  We have succumbed to the divisive effects of Galut and are a flock of lost sheep.  
I believe you can be orthodox and gay.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay and a rabbi.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay, a rabbi and celebrate the companionship of a same-sex couple.  I don’t believe that the tradition of orthodoxy was meant to be bastardized by and vast number of rabbis who would seek to use the Torah to promote their own points of view that they dare not challenge. 
A man whose wisdom and guidance I cherish and view as a return to the tradition that is all-but-lost recently told me that, to him, the sexuality of the man davening next to him is irrelevant.  I hope we can all relate to the message in his poignant and simple truth.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psychology Today

In my last post I mentioned that I wouldn't be writing for the rest of November, and that was the plan.  Plans change.  Furthermore, I rarely promote things on this blog and when I do it is with good reason.
I recently received an e-mail from a very nice woman researching the psychological interactions of coming-out, family and religion (that is my description, I'm including her terminology below).  She asked me to participate in her study and/or to pass on her information to other possible candidates.  I agreed to participate and delayed deciding about promoting the study until after I experienced it first hand.  Having now taken part in the study, I wholeheartedly endorse participation.  

To quote Principal Investigator (the woman conducting the research), Ms. Chana Etengoff, she:
"is currently recruiting participants for a study focusing on gay individuals’ (ages 18-35) and their key religious family members’ thoughts regarding religion and sexual identity. Participants will be asked to answer questions that address this experience at both the family systems and individual level.
This semi-structured interview is comprised of 17 questions and it is estimated that the interview will be completed in a half of an hour to 45 minutes. In addition, three vignettes (stories) will be presented for response regarding socio-religious obstacles regarding being religious and having a gay family member. The estimated time of completion for this portion of the study is 30 minutes to one hour."

Two notes:  1) From my understanding, the research is primarily focusing on men.    2) Its not required for participation, but it is a plus if you have a family member who would also be willing to participate. 

If you are interested in participating, e-mail Ms. Etengoff at .  
Feel free to e-mail me about my experience in the study if you have any questions or hesitations about participating.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Key

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I don’t have time for a lengthy post. However, November marks the 1 year anniversary of this project and I feel that I must leave you with some thoughts.

As a teenager coming out and braving an unknown world I thought I was in love.   His name is Scott, he isn’t Jewish and until today he remains one of the most influential people I have ever interacted with.   I haven’t spoken to him in over half a decade.   We only met in person once after communicating online for a while (this occurred during the pre-Gchat days of myspace and AOL instant messaging).  What made our evening, which was not a date, so powerful was how calm and reassured he made me feel. 

I was a scared, hormonal teenager with an uncertain future.  I alienated my Jewish friends, was on bad terms with my parents and did not have anyone to counsel me or offer me guidance or advice.  He did all that.  We met in a coffee shop, chatted for a while and then went to a concert.  We spoke about my depression, religion and art.  Scott told me that with a positive attitude I could do anything.   I believed him and to this day his words of wisdom guide me through the most challenging of days.  At the end of the evening he gave me a ride home and I have not seen him since. 

This brings me to the following point: how can you support a friend, or a practical stranger, who is struggling with their sexuality?  By being yourself.  By recognizing their challenge and meeting it with a calm, unfaltering sense of warmth that does not place them into the category of “other.”  With a positive attitude you can do anything.   If you allow that positivity to permeate the conversation you have with your friend you will reassure them as I was reassured.

Happy Anniversary.

*minor grammatical edit at 16:30 on 17-11-11.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rest in Peace

During the autumn of 2010 the world witnessed a stream of isolated but tragic events: the suicides of gay youth around North America.  These teenagers, truly children, took their own lives because they could no longer deal with the difficulties that came as a consequence of their sexuality, their homosexuality.  
Initiatives and movements sprung up to offer support to gay youth and decry the events.  The “It Gets Better” YouTube video series remains the most famous among them.  For a short while we, the gay community and its allies, dared to believe that our collective support conveyed the message that life would indeed get better for gay teens facing taunts or ridicule from their peers or inner struggles. 

We were wrong

On September 18th, 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14 year old from Buffalo, NY took his own life.

On October 14th, 2011, Jamie Hubley, a 15 year old from Ottawa, Canada followed suit, also taking his own life. 

Both of these young men were active bloggers who just wanted to be accepted for who they were.  The death of both these boys is the direct result of the intolerance, the bigotry, that permeates our supposedly liberal society. 
I’m sad and angry.  These deaths should not have occurred. 
The reason these tragedies strike so close to home is because not all that long ago,* a long time before YouTube and the “It Gets Better” movement, I too contemplated “escaping” the life that seemed to present me with nothing but hardship.  Obviously, I chose a different path, but that doesn’t stop the memories from haunting me to this very day.  I spent some time today reflecting on what stopped me from committing suicide.  At first, I couldn’t find an answer.  Upon further contemplation I realized that I was lucky.  In my teenage years I happened upon a few token individuals who either listened to my cries or simply lived and led by example. Though no one  could guarantee that everything would be okay or removed the pain I felt, they let me know that the choice was mine and that in time I could build the life I wanted and deserved.  I wish these boys could have had the same luck. 
Please, preach acceptance and love.  Reach out to your friends, or your friends kids, or a random stranger you encounter who seems to be struggling because of their sexuality and let them know that you will do your best to help them with whatever you are able.  Let them know they are loved.  Let’s rally together to ensure that the deaths stop here and now. 
It is customary in the Jewish tradition to perform certain Mitzvot, good deeds, in honor of the deceased so that their souls are elevated to higher levels of Heaven.  One such custom is to donate charity.  Please join me in donating a few bills to a local charity in memory of these two young men. 

*By “not all that long ago” I mean nearly a decade ago. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Not far from the apple tree . . .

On Rosh HaShana we read the story of Akeidat Yizhak – the Binding of Isaac.  This title begs the following question: If this was a test for this father, Abraham, why is called “the Binding of Isaac”? The storybook version of this biblical episode would have us believe that when the two men reached the top of the mountain where Abraham intended to fulfill G-d’s command and sacrifice Isaac, Abraham simply bound his son and prepared to complete this seemingly impossible task.  This over simplified version of the tale omits one crucial aspect.  Our rabbis teach us that, as he lay down to meet his maker, Isaac begged his father to be tied down.  Isaac did not intend running from his fate, he was 100% committed to the endeavor, but he feared that his body would unintentionally flinch during the ceremony and if any part of his body was blemished the sacrifice would be rendered impure.  Thus, as much as this was a test for the father, it was Isaac’s binding – his choice to remain devout to his faith – that was also being tested.  We each face our own challenges in life, and I firmly believe that the bond between parents and children is especially strong when it comes to tests of faith.  
When I first began coming to terms with my sexuality, one of my primary concerns was the result my coming-out would have on my parents’ stature in our community.  I feared that my parents would face criticism and would be judged harshly and I wanted no harm to befall them.  They say that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that’s true.  I know that my strict adherence to my faith is because of the lessons I learned in my parents’ home.  I learned to love G-d, the Torah and the Jewish community as a whole, even when I do not understand or disagree with some aspect contained within any of those three.  Eventually I came to realize that, so long as I adhere to the principles set out for me by my parents, I will not disappoint them and they will not be ashamed, regardless of what anyone else may think or say.  
Over the past few weeks I’ve been grappling with the issue I presented in my last post.  Frum gay Jews comprising on aspects of their faith or observance because of their search for a significant other.  Now, for the purposes of full disclosure, there was a time when I myself believed that I could date someone less observant (or even non-Jewish) and that I would still be able to build a nice, Jewish home.  I abandoned that thought process when I returned to the moral compass set out for me by parents.  I set myself straight – pun intended – when I realized that conceding aspects of my identity and my observance was no way to build a future. 
 The dual test of Isaac and Abraham serves as a model for the  relationship between parents and gay frum children.  The struggle of being gay and frum is not an individual struggle.  The test this presents affects both the gay individual as well as his or her parents.  While our parents must accept us for who we are and trust us to make wise decisions, we should reciprocate by guiding our lives in a manner consistent with the morals they set out for us. 

Gmar Chatimah Tovah.  I wish you all a happy and health New Year and hope you will be inscribed only in the book of blessing and good fortune. 

P.S. Parents: If you are  interested in joining Tmicha, the online support community for parents of orthodox gay children, e-mail 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kidas Moshe ViYisroel

I have written on this topic in the past, but it bears reconsideration. 
Between 1996 and 2001, 47% of Jewish marriages were intermarriages.  These numbers are especially true amongst individuals with weaker ties to Judaism. Source 1.
 As my readers know, I see the observance of Judaism as a practice dictating every aspect of life.  This is especially true when it comes to marriage.   In the first years after I came out, I dated men who were not Jewish.  I ceased doing so when, one cold December 25th, a man I briefly dated greeted me with a “Merry Christmas.”   I realized then that, no matter how emotionally tied I might become to a non-Jew, bringing a non-Jewish husband home with me would be impractical.  Consider, by example, the fact that, under a strict interpretation of Halacha, I would be unable to share most wines with him.  Would I ask him to observe Shabbat for me? Kosher? Would I ask my friends and family to trust me that I kept my home to a strict standard or kashrut if he ate non-kosher out of the house or did not keep Shabbat? Why should I be the party in the relationship that asked the other to make such life altering concessions? Since then, I have extended this same logic to dating only Jews who are, at a minimum, orthodox-leaning.  I dated men who are less observant that I am, some for extended periods of time.  Each of these dalliances ended because, while I’m willing to compromise on many issues, I don’t feel right considering my religious observance something to be negotiated.  Should I be more progressive in my dating?  I don’t think so.  This question has been contentious between me and some of my closest friends who, over the past few months, have increasingly pressured me to lower my standards and date people who are non-Frum. 
It bothers me that some of my friends see homosexuality as an excuse to date outside of the faith or outside communities of observance.  It would be a rare circumstance indeed that the same advice or pressure would be bestowed upon a Frum straight man or woman.  Why should sexuality change that? For the larger half of a decade I have vigorously defended the truth that being gay changes little in the daily practicalities of observance.   Wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to suddenly concede this point? 
I want to know what all of you think about this.  Whether you agree or disagree with me, why do you do so? If you are the family or friend of a gay Jew, how would you feel if she or she brought someone who isn’t religious home? What if that individual wasn’t Jewish? 

Source 1:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Guest Post: Human Nature

A friend of mine recently relayed a story to me, one that he had not previously told anyone else. I asked him to share it on this blog. He agreed and, after some editing on my part, which still does not mean its perfect, we are graced with the post  below. Enjoy!

Thanks, Benjy, for letting me write this.  I hope you all appreciate what I have to say.

Traveling from his apartment in Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion airport, I marveled at the signs of a city coming to life as my Sheirut passed through numerois neighborhoods, picking up passengers as it went. The airport-taxi slowly filled up. As we, the embarked, entered the neighborhood of Har Nof one seat, next to an aging, modern looking, man, remained open. The Sheirut pulled up to a curb and a woman, an obviously religious woman, boarded.  If you've ever been on a Sheirut you know that, between the baggage and their size, personal space is somewhat . . . limited. I could sense the discomfort of the woman at being seated so close to a man.   After considering the situation for a minute, I summoned up my courage and, in the most authorotative manner I could muster, I rearranged some of the seating in the Sheirut so that no one's sense of propriety would be harmed.

Until telling this story to Benjy I had never mentioned it to anyone. But that's because of what happened next. The man sitting nexxt to me, also frum and not the same man as earlier, leaned over and told me that he thought I was a Zaddik-- a rightous individual.  At that moment my only thought, as I nodded my head and looked down at my knees, was "would he still think that if he knew that I'm gay?"

Obviously, we all do kind deeds and we also all do or say things that we shouldn't.  Yet, I often find myself troubled by the fact that people will change their minds about another individual based solely on aspect of the person's personality.  The single fact that I'm gay can turn the nicest most admirable person into a raging zealot.  Call it bigotry, call it small mindedness, but it is the world we live in.

Neither my actions in the Sheirut, not my sexuality, define the entirety of my being.  It is my sincere hope for the future that people will learn to judge one another by their whole person, not only the fragments visible on the surface.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


In April I saw an interesting series of question sent out via the JQYouth e-mail list-serve. I did not notice any responses to the message at the time but made the conscious decision of responding by ways of a blog past once we reached July (the reason for this decision will be clarified below).
In the post-YU Panel-and-Statement-of-Principles Jewish world:
1.       “What reactions {have] you[ ] seen, both positive and negative, since the panel in your synagogue, around your circle of friends, family members, and daily life?”
2.       “[D]id th[e] intended dialogue occur? “
3.       Has there been any impact on the international or local (referencing NYC) scale?

This month marks the one year since the Statement of Principles was first published. In this time, the list of signatories has been updated and edited on multiple occasions. The list of individuals lending their support to the Statement include respected rabbis and professionals such as Rabbi Shlomo  Riskin and the Rabbis Angel. While impressive, I do not think that approaching the Statement as a starting ground is proper.
While the Statement marked a beginning, it is not to be viewed as the dawn of an era of communal discussion or change. Discourse on the status of gays, lesbians and, to some extent, bisexuals in the Jewish community stems back at least two or three decades (really it goes back even farther). During most of this time, however, the conversations were limited and the problem was seen as one to be dealt with by the rabbinical elite. Since the turn of the millennium, this view slowly changed. What was once cautiously swept under the rug and recognized only in silence or among the closest of confidants began to slip into common discourse. The film Trembling Before G-d, the books by Rabbis Rapoport and Greenberg and the founding of JQYouth as well as JONAH unknowingly set the stage for the YU Panel and the Statement to occur. Thus, the Panel and the Statement should not be viewed as the cause from that reactions should be evaluated, but rather as the culmination of ceaseless efforts to insert the problems that gay Jews face into the homes and everyday lives of Orthodox Jews. With that sentence I may seem to be contradicting myself, but this is not the case. Only one year since the Statement’s issuance, we have not yet had enough time to gauge its impact and can, at this point, only see it for what it followed, not what it began.
With that in mind, I would respond to the author of the questions as follows: The Statement and the Panel are the intended reactions to many years of tireless effort to give the dilemmas of Gay Orthodox Jews a human face. They were the intended dialogue. While it is hoped that both mark not only the end of one period but the start of another, it is too early to claim definitive results, positive or negative. We are in the midst of a new history being written, one that is still too fresh to be read or understood.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Critique is Chic

The sun is shining. The air is warm. This is the seasons for baseball and, soon, the end of the school year and . . . pride parades. As a proud gay Jew, I do. not. like. pride parades.
I see pride in one’s sexuality as comparable to having pride because of having one hand as dominant or having a specific hair colour. We all have a sexuality and we all have a dominant hand. Being proud of being born normal is nothing all that special. I do think that gay men and women should be proud when they overcome ignorance and bigotry, but that is not the message conveyed by these parades. In their current embodiment, pride parades do more harm than good to the fight for gay equality— especially the political battle for civil rights.
The scantily clad men and women, the blatant displays of promiscuity and the drag queens/kings (by the way, not all gay) do not evidence a community with enough self respect to qualify for these rights. These attempts at “pride” speak more of a community of immature men and women eager to flaunt their hedonistic tendencies more than they exemplify a group of functioning adults ready and able to contribute to society as a whole.
As a gay Orthodox Jew, I present myself to the world in a Tzanua, modest, manner. I do not flaunt my sexuality because doing so would suggest that I am nothing more than my basic sexual instincts and desires. To qualify that statement: this does not mean that I am opposed to the occasional public display of affection or that I think there are no situations where opening discussing issues that face gay people is appropriate. The former speaks to an emotional connection and the latter is a necessary educational tool. However, I firmly disagree with the “I’m here, I’m queer” mentality. This attitude works to further the depiction of the gay man or woman as “the other” rather than promote an inclusive Kehila, community. I see the proper code of conduct as “I’m here, I so happen to be queer.”
Rather than highlighting the things about us that make us different to thrust them in other peoples’ faces, we should stress our commonalities. Doing so would have the effect of removing the negative stigmas attached to being gay as well as the label of “the other” that is still firmly affixed to the gay identity. We must show the ignorant people around us that to us, just like to them, our sexuality is a mere fragment of the totality of our personalities. Making that change in the world would be an accomplishment worth being proud of and worth celebrating.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Good Questions, Bad Answers

Every so often I peruse the web to try and find interesting articles, websites or youtube clips that touch upon the same issues I discuss here. I recently stumbled upon a YouTube clip that troubled me greatly. On YouTube I found a response to the It Gets Better video created by a number of members of JQYouth. The video contains a caricatured version of a gay orthodox Jew (henceforth “GOJ’s”)who is answering questions about how gay Jews can live observant lives on a practical level. The purpose of this video is to promote the ideas that gay Jews: cannot live happy lives within a Halachic framework; are gay because of a traumatic event in childhood rather than being born with their sexuality; can change by the use of reparative therapy. The questions presented are valid, but the answers lack authenticity and the analogy used by the video’s author to prove that gay men can “change” is flawed. This post is dedicated to providing real answers to the issues in the video.
1)       What does it mean to be a GOJ?
a.       Just as the levels of practice and observance within orthodox Jewry are diverse, so too are the levels of practice and observance among GOJ’s. At its most simple level, being a GOJ means attempting to live one’s life within a Halachic framework while recognizing that one is homosexual. It is the ability to realize that G-d created man in many different forms and that He presented each of us with individualized challenges. Being a GOJ does not necessarily mean that one is “out and proud,” nor does it require prohibited sexual interaction with others of the same gender.
2)      What side of the Mechitzah does a GOJ sit on? Aren’t the genders separated because sexual attraction will distract from davening?
a.       GOJ’s sit on the same side of the Mechitzah as the rest of their gender. I have not yet heard a rabbi propose that gay Jews should sit anywhere else. It is possible that GOJ’s will have a harder time focusing their kavanah,  but the reader will realize two things:  being gay does not mean being attracted to every one of the same sex; we all face struggles in focusing our kavanah, a personal struggle is not a reason to subject someone to public humiliation (which forcing someone to the other side of the Mechitzah would do), this is an opportunity for the GOJ to strengthen his/her kavanah and work on strengthening his/her prayers.
3)      What mikvah, ritual “bath,” does a GOJ use, the mens or the womens?
a.       Just like the Mechitzah, GOJ’s use the Mikvah prescribed to their gender. Again, this may present the Mikvah goer with a unique challenge but remember: being a GOJ does not mean being attracted to every one of the same sex and attending the Mikvah is meant to be a spiritual journey, an immersion to cleanse one of the sins of their body. This requires focus and intent for all people. Personally, because I know that my kavanah is not perfect and because I do not want to risk making anyone else uncomfortable, I go to the mikvah at an hour when it is sure to be empty. When that is not possible, I spend time beforehand concentrating on my spiritual purpose and go to the mikvah on what I hope is an elevated spiritual level . . . and I make sure to avert my gaze.
4)      How does life for a GOJ get better? Can they have sex with someone of the same gender or must they remain celibate?
a.       There are some Rabbanim who do support that GOJ’s remain celibate. However, there are others who support GOJ ‘s in seeking a loving relationship. No one promotes a violation of Halacha, but emotional connections are not prohibited in the Torah. So, how does it “get better”?  For that, I suggest you read this post at . The blog’s author was featured in the video and addresses this same question. I think that it “gets better” in the sense that you can reach a level of psychological stability. You can progress in your life knowing who you are and not needing to lie or hide your true self.  In regards to sex, that is a very complicated subject. The answer depends on the individual’s hashkafic approach within orthodoxy, but some contact may be permissible.
5)      The video’s author claims that being gay is caused by abuse during childhood and that, just like an overweight individual does not have a predisposition to being overweight but can learn to control their weight, so too a GOJ can, and should, do the same and “change.”
a.       The idea behind programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig is not to change your urges, but to learn to control them. In that sense, GOJ’s can learn to control their sexual urges. This will not change their sexual orientation, but will be a conscious decision not to act on those urges. For some GOJ’s, this is the right choice. However, at no point will this turn them straight and I urge all GOJ’s still struggling with their sexuality to realize this. This is a valid path for GOJ’s to choose, but I would not recommend that someone attempting to practice such control marry or enter a relationship with a member of the opposite gender unless this truth is first put on the table.
I found the video’s author to be disrespectful towards the bullying that does occur in all societies. when watching some of his other videos, some personal information came to light: He “suffers” from same-sex attraction; has tried to change (and believes he is succeeding); and thinks western culture is trying to force him to accept a part of himself that he despises.
I pity him.
He is obviously not in the best place emotionally and I hope that he can find inner peace. I also hope he stops posting videos that are so negative, but he has as much a right as I have to publish things to the internet so in the meantime I will just hope I can be more persuasive.
P.S. I’m the link to the video:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Marriage: Secular, Religious & Fraudulent.

A few weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Holder, in the name of the Obama administration, determined that §3 of DOMA (defining marriage—for federal purposes—as between a man and a woman) violates the 5th Amendment (guaranteeing citizens equal status in the eyes of the law). He continued to explain that, because of the nature of the group affected—gays—the law needed to be reviewed with “heightened scrutiny.” On this standard of review, there needs to be an important government interest being furthered by this law. Holder stated that, because the administration deemed there to be no such interest, the Department of Justice would no longer defend the law in court (though the other departments of the executive branch will continue to enforce the act).
What are the actual effects of this decision? One friend of mine, an attorney, found this to be the most powerful progression towards gay rights that we’ve seen so far. I don’t really see that. This certainly sends a strong message to the legislature, Supreme Court and American people that Obama wants to see DOMA repealed. But Congress will go on to defend the act and the pending cases will hopefully find their way to the Supreme Court. This is progress, and will hopefully have some influence on courts’ decisions, but doesn’t really do too much for us right now. Basically, I’m still planning of moving to a state where gay marriage is legal.
The right to marry is very important to me. Though I did not always feel this way, I cannot imagine a future without a husband, someone with whom I will build a life and a family. DOMA was passed with the intent of promoting the religious idea that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. As a secular law, I expect this to be changed. That being said, I do not expect a change in Halacha to permit gay marriage, only secular marriage.
A few months ago, I attended a panel discussion regarding the respective attitudes of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism towards gay marriage. The divisions were pretty clear: the Orthodox rabbi saw no room for such a union within society; the Conservative rabbi was more open, expressing willingness to marry two Jews regardless of their sex; the Reform rabbi was willing to marry anyone, including intermarriages. I respect each of these opinions as they each correspond to the respective sect’s interpretation of the Torah. I agree with the Orthodox stance that, from a religious point of view, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. Specifically, between a heterosexual man and a heterosexual woman. However, the religious attitude should not encroach on my right to marry as a citizen in a secular state. I also disagree with the contention that, because this is the theological definition of marriage, homosexual men and women should be forced into unions that meet this definition. If you are reading this blog, you have probably seen a number of other authors discussing the same point recently.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently published an article about an attempt by some right-wing Israelis to wed gay men to lesbian women so that the couples would be able to procreate (through medical intervention) and lead “normal” lives. Some of the couples married through this initiative are divorcing one another. One of the “successes” described their relationship as platonic, compared it to a business relationship and said they chose this path because of their commitment not to violate Halachic prohibitions of gay sex and their desire to raise children.
The rabbi spearheading this movement recognizes that some of the individuals he marries do slip up and have relations with members of the same sex. He doesn’t, however, “see this as a betrayal. Generally, it's between them and their Creator." He is also quoted as saying that “a family isn't just sex and love. It's an instrumental partnership, though not just a technical one."
As a young man to whom a similar route was suggested, I am shocked and disturbed that there is now an organized front enabling these unions.  What I see when I read articles like this is a misconception that I had emphasized before: automatically correlating a same-sex relationship with a sin. This is not always the case. Moreover, we are willing to recognize that the act of one who transgresses Halacha is “between them and their Creator.”  I respect and condone the religious desire to help one shy away from sinning, which, I believe, is the intent of this rabbi. I disagree with his chosen approach. First of all, the individuals “slip up.” He recognizes this. Second of all, in his zealous attempt to purge society of one sin, he is filling it with another. Midvar Sheker Tirchak- Stay away from false words. These marriages are lies and promote a culture of dishonesty. Marriages such as these send a message to gay men and women around the world that the only way to live a religious life is to deny their true emotions enter in a heterosexual marriage. This is the very same course of action the rabbis and lay leaders around the US and the world decried in the Statement of Principles last year (¶12).
Furthermore, same-sex relationships are now capable of meeting the “instrumentality” aspect of a marriage.  The view that marriages are only recognizable if they can satisfy the requirement of procreation no longer preempts same sex unions. Thanks to technology, adoption and the foster care system, there is a growing number of religious same sex Jews who are raising children together. While these sham marriages are capable of producing children, they are lacking in the sex and love elements of a union and fail to meet the standard of marriage proposed by their advocates.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Esther: Queen of the Masquerade

The story and miracle of Purim focus on Esther’s ability to keep her Jewish identity secret. As the niece of one of Jewry’s most respected leaders this cannot have been a simple task. Her identity was surely known to many, yet no one exposed Esther as a Jew. The Talmud (Megilla, Daf 13a) tells us that Achashverosh sent gifts across his empire in the hopes of discovering her origins. Those who knew of Esther’s identity must have, on some level, appreciated the significance of her decision to keep it a secret. And Esther, surrounded by all the luxuries of the known world, lived in the fear of exposure.
She bid her time and, when the moment was right, approached Achashverosh with the truth, saving Jews across the Persian Empire from certain death.
Gay frum Jews are not something new. What is new is that now, in the 21st century, we are beginning to make others aware of our existence. Most recently, a young woman at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women wrote about her experiences in the closet (the entire article can be found here). Though YU has, over the past couple of years, served as an outlet for discussing homosexuality within Orthodox Jewry, this was the first time a lesbian spoke out. Her contribution is important because, by bringing the often overlook existence of lesbian frum Jews to the limelight and expanding the dialogue to reveal yet another layer of truth, her article offers more validity to our struggle.
I often find myself wondering “Why now? What is it about this point in Jewish history that makes this the right time for us to awaken Judaism to our existence?” Obviously, we gay frum Jews can only come out now because of the social progress made across the western world. Still, I think there must be both a purpose and a lesson to be learnt by Jews around the world in the fact that we are coming out. The veil Esther kept over her identity allowed her to save the Jews, what reason can G-d have for allowing all of this to transpire now?
I acknowledge that we can never truly know G-d’s master plan, but is there harm I curiosity?
I have some thoughts, but I would like to  challenge my readers to contemplate this question.

On a side note, I think this is the perfect opportunity to reiterate a point I have made in the past: If you are gay and struggling with that fact, revealing your true identity—coming out of the closet—should only be done when you are ready. Do not let people pressure you into making a rushed decision. This doesn’t mean postpone it forever, I don’t think that decision would be mentally sound, but take the steps necessary at your own speed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Can I swab your cheek?"

The past few weeks have provided me with ample material on which to opine. I am going to reserve the conversation on the Obama administration’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) as well as the recent article by a lesbian at Stern for a later date.
Those readers affiliated with a Jewish organization will, I am sure, have at times come across a booth asking them for a donation for something that is seemingly odd: their saliva. “Gift of Life” is an organization that, in partnership with the National Bone Marrow Registry in the United States, seeks to catalogue the DNA of individuals across the country. This is done so that, when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and in need of a bone marrow transplant, a simple computer search can be conducted to find a genetic match. Through my various roles as a Jewish activist I have asked perhaps hundreds of people to swab their cheeks for this cause.
I myself have never been swabbed.
What possible reason could I have for abstaining from partaking? The reason is simple: while I can easily swab my cheek and add my DNA to the database, there is a good chance that I would not be able to donate my marrow—in fact that it would be rejected—if it was needed. Let me share a story to provide some background.
As a college freshman, I eagerly spent my first Halloween in the secular world waiting in line . . . to donate my blood to the American Red Cross. Upon entered the donor waiting area I was given a medical history form to complete and a sheet with a list of candidates whose donation would be excluded. On the list of rejected donors, amongst drug users and “working girls,” was any male who has had sex with another male since 1977. I spoke with the administrators at the site and they determined that I could not donate blood. My social security no. was entered into the database of prohibited donors. I was warned that, should I try and enter a donation site and enter my personal information, I will be removed from the premises. Not a good experience. Side note: I am NOT conceding to having violated Halacha. I vehemently deny that allegation.
The Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) and the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) regulate blood and organ donation. To be frank, gay men are excluded from donating. This exclusion stems from the HIV/AIDS epidemic that first took the world by storm in the late 70s and early 80s. The fear of this disease has, rightfully so, altered health policies around the world. While the FDA, as far as I am aware, does not permit the donation of blood from any male meeting these criteria since 1977, the CDC’s regulation are slightly looser. The CDC prohibits donations from men who have had sex with men within 5 years of donating an organ. However, in life threatening situations when there are no other viable options, the donee may be made aware of the risks that would accompany the donation and select whether to accept the organ and the risks to which they may be exposed .
I have not swabbed my cheek because there might come a time when I will be a match and I will be forced to label myself as “high-risk” of transmitting HIV to an individual. I will either be rejected outright or an ill individual and his/her family will be forced to scrutinize me and decided if they want to risk accepting an infection that I would, G-d willing, not even have.  Side note: Donors are often anonymous, but I assume that, at the very least, the donee would be given my history and basic information to assist them in evaluating the risks.
The policies requiring this disclosure, while based in an understandable fear, are ill formed. The promiscuous stereotype applied to gay men, the foundation of these rules, may have some basis in fact, but it is no more true than the rampant promiscuity and exposure to HIV and other STDs that exists in the general heterosexual  community. Among the most common carriers of HIV/AIDS are black women. I am not advocating for their inclusion onto this list. I concede that some of the activities undertaken on the list do represent unwise choices that, if persistent, create a higher risk for disease. However, in this day and age, when an HIV test takes less than 20 minutes to process and is considered fool proof (granted, the testee must not have engaged in any of these activities within 3 months prior to the test), the continued enforcement of these regulations is ludicrous.
Were the policy to be altered so that blood samples/tests determined the risk of a donor’s exposure to HIV on an individual basis that disregards stereotypes, I would register with “Gift of Life.” Until that day comes, I refuse to place a family in the position of deciding whether to save a loved one’s life while “exposing” them to HIV. And I refuse to face rejection of my marrow (or other bodily organ) because of an outdated policy that promotes the view of my body as one large vial of disease.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In the Hands of Fate

When I first acknowledged the fact that I am gay I was crushed by the realization that the tradition, symbolism and joy of the Chuppah would no longer be available to me. For a long time I thought I was destined to be alone, to live a life of shame and celibacy. After some time I recognized that being frum and being gay did not require emotional and physical solitude. I began to date, to try and find that one guy with whom I would spend the rest of my life.
The dating period In the Orthodox community in which I was raised is, more often than not, very short. An extreme example of this is a friend of mine that got engaged after one week of dating. The more common time frame would be two, maybe three, months of dating.
One of the character traits my friends look for when dating is that their significant other be Hashkafically similar (have the same view on issues of Jewish law and practice). This makes sense. How can you possibly marry someone with whom you disagree on fundamental matters?
When I first began dating I had my priorities out of order. I was trying to find someone with whom I could settle down, regardless of their Hashkafic outlook. In fact, I dated more gentiles and non-observant Jews than I did men that were on the same page as me. None of those relationships worked out. It took me…well, it took me too long, but I finally understood that I needed to find someone with the same basic approach to Judaism and life. And then I didn’t think that such a person existed. Until I met my ex. He showed me that there were other gay frum men looking to lead a life of Torah observance and love one another as truly and deeply as possible. It didn’t work out between us, but I left that relationship with the knowledge that my ideal mate is out there somewhere.
Still, I struggle. There aren’t many Jewish men who are Torah observant and out of the closet. I’ve found myself prioritizing aspects of Judaism and defining my own Hashkafic worldview. This way I know where I stand in Jewish observance. I also know in what areas I would feel comfortable becoming stricter—and if need be, laxer—in my observance.
There is someone out there for all of us, even the gay frum Jews. I know that. I believe in that. And it is this knowledge and belief that boosts my confidence over living as a gay frum Jew.I may not ever have a Chuppah or a marriage in the most traditional manner, but I will have love and a beautiful Jewish home.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robert’s Rules

Having participated in the leadership of numerous organizations, I have always found Robert’s Rules (Parliamentary Procedure) to be useful in maintaining decorum. These rules were developed in the mid-19th century by a military officer who sought to offer a system of order to be used by organizations. I suggest you purchase the book if you seek out more information.
I’m trying to have some fun with this blog and will therefore use structure offered by Bobbie’s Rules (as I fondly refer to them) in this post. I also think it will help emphasize a point I would like to make. This is my blog so I’m by default on the speakers list.
I recently attended a lecture on the topic of Judaism and homosexuality (what else is new?). I agreed with much of what the presenter said, but not everything. Here I am explaining my views and the rationale behind them.
I always argue for acceptance of homosexuality within a Halachic framework. This would, in a Robert’s Rules debate, beg the following motion:
“I move to divide the question.”
The debate centering on the acceptance of homosexuality within Judaism must be divided into two issues. The first is acceptance of gay and lesbian community members (with no distinction to be made between singles and couples). The second regards the actual act of anal sex prohibited in the Torah. I am purposefully not equating this with differentiating between the sin and the sinner because this assumes that the gay community members are sinning. The line to be drawn is between a homosexual orientation and one specific act.
The first issue is not actually a Halachic question. As Jews we are commanded to love our fellow human beings regardless of any aspect of their personality with which we disagree. Halacha offers no opportunity for the exclusion of an individual because of whom an individual loves. There is no tradition in Judaism that prohibits love and affection between members of the same sex.
Halacha does prohibit specific sexual acts, among these anal sex between two men. I cannot claim that I have an answer to how/if this Halacha should be applied to gay men. In fact, I am very torn. Traditionally the Torah has been read to prohibit anal sex between any two men. End of story.  I have heard a number of arguments (including at the recent lecture) proposing a limitation of the prohibition so that it would only apply to rape; men with both heterosexual & homosexual tendencies; cultic situations and others. These arguments are based on the context and terminology of the prohibiting verse (Leviticus 18:22 “Though shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is an abomination.”). An example of one such argument is that when the term Toevah – abomination—is used in the Torah it most often refers to Idolatrous acts (those performed due to belief in other gods). According to this view, two men engaging in anal sex that is not directed towards the worship of a false god would be permitted.*Note Ultimately, we are left with a question regarding the extent to that this prohibition is to be applied.
I see no space for debate in regards to the first issue. Gay men and women must be accepted as full members of Orthodox society. I am not a Halachic Posek (jurist) and will not offer a solution to the second issue, but I do have some thoughts on the topic.
I recently suggested, to a rabbi, the idea that the prohibited act of anal sex be viewed in a light similar to Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity; requiring limitations of relations between a man and a woman during the woman’s period). Judaism permits the union between a man and a woman and does not further inquire into the purity of their sexual relations. We are prohibited from assuming that anyone is sinning and in this case do not assume that the couple has violated these laws. These matters are between them and G-d. I argued for homosexual anal sex to be viewed in the same light. I proposed that a gay union be respected and that we offer no assumptions as to violations of the Halacha. The rabbi hearing my claim rejected it flat out. Simply put, he preferred to insert an assumption of violation into any relationship between two men. I disagree with him completely. Such an assumption is prohibited by the Jewish tenet of Dan Likav Zechus—giving every man the benefit of doubt . Furthermore, if we assume that heterosexual couples are capable of practicing restraint from sexual activity for nearly half a month, why do we not assume that a homosexual couple can practice restraint from one sexual act?
I am confused regarding the prohibition of anal sex because of the numerous voices on the subject and because I have yet to hear any rabbi address all the arguments surrounding the issue. If there is any issue to be debated it is this one. BUT, I think that everyone take their mind out of the bedrooms of others and examine their own lives before they cast stones.
Between the two questions posed to Orthodox Judaism, the first should be a non-issue and the second is a private matter best left to private discussions between a rabbi and his congregants.

*Note: I have not conducted my own survey of the use of Toevah—abomination—in the Torah nor am I endorsing this view.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Watch this.

I find the video below to speak volumes. I'll be publishing a new post soon In the interlude I recommend you consider the message this man is relaying.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unwelcome Exposures

My original intention for this post was to write about the unique challenge of dating as a gay-Orthodox Jew (something that stemmed from a conversation I had with my father in the aftermath of my last post). Plans change. Tonight I had a conversation with someone very dear to me, Shane. This post will be about the subject matter we discussed.
A few short days ago one of my best friends, Devorah, told me that a friend of hers (an acquaintance of mine), Becky, had asked if I was aware that Shane is gay. I relayed this story to Shane, who had not come-out to Becky. Indeed, I knew of his sexuality. Not only have I been aware of Shane’s sexuality for a long time, he is my ex-boyfriend and someone who’s friendship I value dearly.
Shane and I both believe in something that is best termed “exclusive-coming-out.” We are aware of our sexuality, we live our lives as gay-Orthodox Jews, but we do not feel the need to share this fact with the entire world. We tell our families and others with whom we are close. This decision, one we had both come to before we were introduced, is based on concepts of Tzniut (modesty)—the lack of appropriateness in inviting others into our intimate lives— and the reality that many people in the Orthodox world are not prepared to accept our true identity. In some situations, announcing the truth could harm us in positions we hold. Our sexuality is the business only of those whom we decide to inform.
Shane was shocked when I told him of the inquiry. He had not told Becky and knew not from where she had heard. More disturbing was the fact that she felt this was a topic about which she could gossip. I do not suppose that Becky intended Shane harm. To her the conversation was probably no more than social. What she did not realize was that had her words fallen on the wrong ears Shane could face some very real, very harmful repercussions.
I have had similar incidents happen to me. Some time ago I was outed by someone I do not know to a family member of mine. Another time a friend inadvertently outed me in a conversation that followed her laughing at the suggestion of my being set up with a girl.
You may pose the following question: How if I, or Shane, intend to live my life as a gay-Orthodox Jew and perhaps one day settle down, do I intend to maintain an exclusive roster of individuals privy to my sexuality? Would this not become public knowledge? I speak for myself when I say that I am under no false impressions that there will come a point at which I will be able to exercise no control over who knows and who does not know of my sexuality. On some level I have already reached that point. This reality does not award people the right gossip about my private life and struggle. In fact, such a conversation is Loshon Hara.
Even if you, the reader, are accepting of the fact that a Jew can be both gay and Orthodox, sharing this information regarding an individual without the certain knowledge that this individual is completely out-of-the-closet is inappropriate, hurtful, potentially dangerous to this person in many ways and against Halacha.
Did Becky mean harm by her words? Probably not. Did harm occur in this instance? In some ways no, but in many ways yes.  Having yourself unwillingly outed is an intense emotional shock because of the violation and invasion of privacy that accompanies such a disclosure. The best way I can describe the situation is by calling it an emotional rape.
I urge you all to think long and hard before you discuss the private lives of others.