Monday, January 24, 2011


This past weekend, I had the unbelievable pleasure of attending the first every LGBT Orthodox Shabbaton, known as Eshel. This shabbaton featured discussion of sexuality and religion, what it means to be LGBT and Jewish, and how to build and develop a community. It was really one of the best weekends of my life. As Shabbat ended, I had the pleasure of giving a Torah thought from that week's portion, and the blessings of Havdallah. I wanted to share with you (a summary of) my words:

This week is Parshat Yitro, which contains the 10 commandments. While so many look at this as a burden of our religion, I look at it as the essence of our people. There’s the moral code- how to treat one’s parents, neighbors, what one can or cannot do in regards to others as well as a spiritual code- how to keep Shabbat, and honor God. It's not one or the other, but both.

Next, the Haftarah refers to Isaiah’s vision of God and sent by Him on a mission. Isaiah feels he’s from a nation of sin and not worthy to be talking to God, at which point an angel touches his lips with coal to purify him of sin. But what sin was he guilty of that he committed with his lips? The commentators explain that the sin of Isaiah was calling God’s nation impure. He had no right to say he was from an impure nation and God cleansed him of that sin before sending him on any mission.

Growing up a gay Orthodox Jew is not easy for anyone. I just wanted to be accepted. And why? Because too many people decided it was their place to decide what does or does not constitute a sinner, like Isaiah erred. I made up my mind in senior year of high school to give it all up, and leave Judaism forever; it was the only option. But after a year and a half of studying in Israel while ignoring my sexuality, I understood how to develop my relationship with God without worrying about one aspect of who I was. In addition, I learned that there are so many interpretations and understandings of the Torah, that no one person could ever tell what exactly the precise understanding of the text is. No one could ever claim that we are a nation of sinners, because no one could ever know that- except God.

When I came out two and a half years ago, I knew my sexuality was a bigger part of me than I had ever realized. However, I also realized that this balancing act of sexuality and religion was not unfamiliar. It was just like trying to figure out how to approach God but still fit in with the rest of the world. Life is a balancing act, especially as a Jew. We have an obligation to the Torah and we also have an obligation to every one around us. Does this mean that one thing should override another? No. Never. Our time on Earth is not just about our relationship with God, or just about our relationship with man- it’s about both. It’s about the balancing act of how we can do the best we can in this religion.

No one else in the world has the right to tell us who we are or how we should behave. All we know how to do is our best; is balance this complicated Torah with our complexities as human beings. Isaiah was wrong for judging God’s people, as so many like to tell us that it’s not possible to be religious and gay- but as God taught Isaiah- they have no right to tell us what is or is not possible, it's simply up to us to do the best balancing act that we can.


  1. wow !!! good for u that u went and could be with people who embraced their sexuality and Judiasim as well at this retreat !!!
    Hope their are more planned for the future....

  2. So if someone really feels he absolutely must engage in anal sex, his decision is a valid one?

  3. Anon 6:10- valid according to whom? Every person has the right to do whatever they please- and ultimately God will be the one who decides if what they is or is not okay - not people.
    And yes, they can still be Orthodox and do that behind closed doors. That is their right and no one knows what anyone else is doing in their bedroom. The same way we don't know what heterosexual couples and families do not keep laws of Niddah- it's assumed everyone keeps Halakha,and they are al accepted into the community.

  4. Sounds like a slippery slope if people, gay or straight, would feel that there is no such thing as a wrong choice. Where would one draw the line, then, between being Orthodox or non-Orthodox?

  5. How can you still say they'd be Orthodox if they're doing something chayav misah, one of the arayos, a yaharog v'al yavor. God has already decided such behavior is not okay, He told us that in the Torah. As far as heterosexual couples not keeping the laws of niddah, we don't know otherwise and it remains a private matter. The same can't be said about a gay couple in which the very relationship is itself prohibited. Even if a gay couple refrains from anal intercourse, zera l'vatala in other forms is a severe transgression. The nature of the relationship is itself one of the arayos and we don't celebrate stopping short of intercourse in this relationship any more than we do with all the other forms of arayos.

  6. I don't normally post on people's blogs when I don't personally know them, but some of these comments really warrant a response. Why is it that when someone is gay there is a swiftness with with people decide they are unfit to be considered orthodox? I have known plenty of people who made huge public Torah transgressions, and guess what? Nobody ever questioned their orthodoxy at all. The reason is homophobia, simple as that.

    As far as a gay couple and their adherence to Torah - "we don't know otherwise and it remains a private matter" too

  7. @ anonymous 7:28,

    Ok, everybody has heard about the verse re. mishkav zachar. But let's not take it at face value. Can we be so sure that that prohibition was meant to include all forms of the act, no matter what context? (f.ex., humiliation, rape, casual sex, a committed relationship) Many serious Torah scholars these days think the answer is NO. And, if that's the case, couldn't we reinterpret the halacha in the light of other Torah teachings, as we've done historically in many cases to find ways around the literal reading of the Torah?

    Anyway, regarding what people do or don't do in the bedroom, that IS a private matter (fortunately). It would be best if we didn't care, but at least we shouldn't assume anything. Whatever they do, is it right, is it wrong? That's between them and God, there's no point us trying to guess and judge.

  8. Obviously what happens in someone's bedroom is a private matter, but just as a heterosexual couple not in compliance with the laws of niddah should realize their choice to ignore Torah law to be a moral flaw, so too, should a homosexual couple that are sexually active, recognize that their choice is a Torah mandated moral flaw. Just because it happens doesn't make it right. One should be remorseful for the choices they make that are not in accordance with the Halacha and do their best to uphold the high standards of a halachic lifestyle, and do all they can to insure that they are able to return to the standards set for us by the Torah. To claim that it is unrealistic or impossible for one to live in such a way, whatever their personal desires may be, is a sheer misunderstanding of the very premise of halacha and the Torah. As well, while one may live in the orthodox world and not uphold all the commandments of the Torah in private, whether they be niddah or homosexuality to stealing or kashrus, to claim to be living a Torah lifestyle, whether you want to define that as being "orthodox" or not, while engaging in activities that fall short of what the Torah requires from us is disingenuous. We have to realize that everyone sins, some are more severe than others, but these sins can never become socially acceptable behaviors, despite how much we may not understand them, and we all must do our best to maintain the life the Torah envisions for us. It is not our place to judge others for their life choices, we all have flaws that we need to work on and it is not our role to tell any other Jew how they should or should not be living their life.

  9. ely! i want to hear more about the shabbaton- what was it like? what was the vibe going on there?

  10. Telling gay people that they have two options, either marry a woman (to whom they're not attracted) or be celibate - THAT sounds to me like "a sheer misunderstanding of the very premise of Halacha and Torah".
    At the very least, please recognize that we're talking about a ritual (bein adam lamakom), not moral, prohibition.

    Yes Ely, tell us more about the shabbaton.

  11. I am to understand that there are other outlets for a homosexual couple besides for the direct torah prohibition, which, while not ideal, are the lesser of two evils (and its just an idiom so dont freak out im not calling anyone or anything evil)

    But i think the comments here are just rehashing the same argument over and over again. Ely maybe you can explain further what is what like that such an event has even happened, when, maybe 5-10 years ago no one would have though it possible. Also what was the crowd like, where there a lot of people there who are orthodox or were most of the participants people who have already left the community for various reasons

  12. Ely,
    In your response to Anon 6:10 you said "Every person has the right to do whatever they please...And yes, they can still be Orthodox and do that behind closed doors. That is their right..."
    You are right in respect that what a person does in private will probably have no ill effect on his acceptance in his community, but what does this mean for the individual himself? Is it okay to lie to oneself? To be gay is one thing, but to live a lifestyle justified by the fact that "no one knows what anyone else is doing in their bedroom" is just wrong! One can not call himself a vegan if he eats meat, similarly one cannot look in the mirror and call themselves orthodox after violated sins such as this! To everyone on the outside nothing will change but how can one lie like that - especially to oneself?

    You are right though, there probably are many Jews out there who are not truly orthodox in the truest sense, but at least I don't find people at large using this kind of justification!

    I look forward to your response.

  13. Ely, are you categorizing yourself as an "ones?"
    And therefore you could do whatever you chose because, your in the abnormal situation?

    You're right, what goes on behind closed doors, goes on, and no body may know about it. But, at least have some regret or remorse. Don't pass it off as mutar lchatchila.

  14. With all due respect to the governor, Jews have 613 mitzvot to keep. SIX HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN. I know people who are incredibly cavalier when they say "he's someone who keeps 613 mitzvot" but who really does all of them? do you know people who throw stones at adulterers? or people who really do not spend a single second of the day NOT learning torah...obviously these are silly examples, but the point is made...we don't call someone who isn't perfect in their practice some kind of lesser jew, yet there is a double standard for gay jews simply because homosexuality has become a political issue.

    LGBT jews have the right to interpret the torah however they feel is truest, just like anyone else. stop jumping down their throat; who they love is none of anyone's business. and while we're on the subject of love, when did people loving one another become a bad thing? there are enough unhappy relationships in the world. we should celebrate the ones that work.

    love you, ely.

  15. sorry. when i say they, i obviously mean we.

  16. Not keeping or transgressing the Sabbath or Shabbat is also punishable by death. (Chayav Missoh), and of course most Jews do transgress it. There are countless severe transgressions like speaking evil, or gossip (Lashon Harah) which is likened to murder and stealing, since it ruins people and steals their chance of ever realizing their potential and place in a rightful society. Also not paying a person on time is a severe torah transgression.

    Sexuality is as ancient as the stars. And as unchangeable as ash.
    No mstter how hard and miserable one makes oneself life attmepting to change that elusive sexual orientation, once faces dismal failure at the very thought. That being said, the torah prohibits this relationship just as it prohibits many many things we are all so very guilty of. And ultimately it is to teach us something very deep and very beautiful and mysterious about the nature of the uni-verse and its marvelous poetry and science.

    There are instances where homosexuality served a tremendous and godly purpose. Yet it is true that Jews were forbidden to engage in it. Potiphar was said to be a homosexual. (Thats why his wife hated him and wanted to seduce Joseph.) This attraction [potiphar had for Joseph actually brought Joseph into the light from just being a hebrew slave into the upper classes. Eventuallly of course Joseph would descend again to jail (for refusing potiphars wife) and ultimately also refusing Potiphar himself. It was a big hollywood mix-up. But eventually Joseph would ascend again and become a prince over Egypt, a kind of symbol of Messiacnic redemption. (Moshiach Ben Yosef) who sufferred greatly for the sins of humanity to only at the end redeem them all as Joseph says to his righteous fearful brothers who plotted his death, "This is all G-d's doing"...

    And indeed it is. We must find light within our own down fall, becuase G-d truly is the source of all of our actions and even sins, and only He really knows what He is doing.

    Yes, we can choose to change. And take on a very difficult life.
    But balance and sanity and true love and selflessness is what we must ultimately truly seek, as well as a real and vibrant humility.

    Everything is a gift.
    And spiritual growth is one of our many rewards.


  17. Dear Ely: Learn more Torah. Have a neutral talk with a FRUM psychologist about your sexuality. Try hard to listen to the other perspective before you make up your mind that homosexuality has to fit within your life as a Jew.

    Love, your brother from another mother.


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