Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Challenge Everything

This post is dedicated to Eric James Borges, 19, and Phillip Parker, 14, the two most recent victims of bullying and anti-gay sentiment.

Being gay makes a person question everything. A lot of people assume that when one comes out of the closet, they automatically go “off the Derech”, or lose their religiosity/ most of the Jewish practices they had previously kept. While I may not have left the community, anyone who knows me, or anyone who has read the Blog for the past two and a half years, knows that I have changed, and yes, have become what many would call “less” religious.

Why is there this perceived trend? Not because it’s not true- it really is true that most people will leave their Orthodox communities and change many of their beliefs and practices once they come out of the closet. I used to think this was because they felt rejected from orthodoxy. And while this does have something to do with it, I want to posit something a bit deeper. Being gay, acknowledging that there is a part of you, created by God or developed as you grew up, that inherently desires you to act against religion makes you question why and how this is possible. One is forced to acknowledge the possibility that the Torah, at the very least, has been misinterpreted over the past few thousand years, or maybe even be wrong, and that makes you change your thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.

How can a person be gay and religious? How can God create someone gay, or develop a gay identity within a person and then tell them that they cannot act on it? This question rocks so much of the foundation of everything the Orthodox community raised me to believe. For that reason many of my gay friends and I will all question things about religion that we hadn’t before acknowledging our sexuality.  I question how accurate the Rabbis were in their interpretations and what biases were brought into the Talmud and codified law. Many others in today’s world think and question the same way, but for myself, and maybe for other gay people as well, it’s the underpinning of being gay that drives these questions. These questions that make a person rethink every law, not just the law and interpretation of homosexuality. For anyone that's ever experienced the dissonance with the Torah- that a part of their being and who they are is delegitimized by the Torah, they understand what I'm talking about.

And if they haven't experienced such a challenge, they cannot possibly understand what those who have go through. As I have written about many times before- it is not any one person's place to judge another person's thoughts or behaviors about religion, especially when they are not in that person’s exact shoes.


  1. Ely,
    While I cannot empathize with your challenge and I am sure it is difficult nonetheless I feel compelled to comment and say EVERYONE has difficulties and challenges against things that are prohibited and are contrary to the values of Torah and Judaism. However, G-d, does not challenge those who cannot overcome those challenges. While it saddens me to hear about this bullying because it is naive and pathetic to punish individuals for something which they are born with. From a halachic perspective there is no bias in interpretation the pasuk is very clear in its attitudes towards homosexuality in its action there is nothing wrong with being/feeling this way the action is clearly asur and it is important to misdirect others into thinking it to be some naivette bias based on antiquated ideology. Facts here remain facts, there is no allowance for action for those who have now come out and its not a matter of "less" religious or "more" religious; it is simply a matter of following the law that has been part of our heritage for the last 3500 years.

    1. It bothers me that our Torah - the basis of our religion, belief, and lifestyle - advocates for the same penalty toward homosexuality as advocated by Iran today. Death.

      If going "off the Derech" or becoming "less religious" means having to rethink our ancient tradition or as you called it, "antiquated ideology," then I'm all for it.

      "Oseh Shalom Bimromav, Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu, V'all KOL Yisrael" - this includes Jews of all types, sinners and saints, gay and straight.

    2. First off, the Torah came first so whether or not Iran advocates for it is irrelevant.
      Two, you can be all for it but Judaism and Torah does not work that way and if one believes this there is no concept of rethinking laws that were given from G-d.
      Three, that sounds wonderful in essence but the Torah also says V'nichrasa hanefesh hahi me'ameha, which allows for certain individuals to be cut out upon certain violations.
      Lastly, once again I reiterate the act of being homosexual is the only prohibition that exists not the mentality behind it.

  2. I'm not gay, but this question has always bothered me. I've asked it to rabbis and have often received the following response: G-d only gives us challenges we can pass. Just as G-d gives people temptations such as adulterous desires, cravings for treif food and the urge to masturbate, he gives some people temptations to be with members of the same sex. On that note, G-d does not forbid things in the Torah that people would not think to do. He would not have forbidden homosexuality if homosexual urges did not exist.
    I don't know if that answer does it for you because I know sexuality is a very complex part of someone's identity. I responded to my teachers that forbidding someone to eat a certain food and sleep with someone else's wife still provides room for that person to eat OTHER food and sleep with a DIFFERENT woman, while forbidding a homosexual man to sleep with any man completely inhibits his freedom to experience any sexual pleasure at ALL. So I definitely understand if that answer does not work for you. I just thought I'd share it as an idea.
    If you ever do find an answer, post it because it is a question with which I continue to struggle and it poses a significant challenge to my observance.
    Best of luck!

    1. This is something that unsettles me as well. How can there be no halachikally permissible option for some people? And then it leads to feelings of guilt because it is permissible for women. So why not for men?
      I have always learned "lo bashamayim he." The Torah doesn't remain in heaven- it was handed down to the inhabitants of planet Earth. We have the power to change the Torah. (Not we as individuals, but we as a society, with Rabanim.)
      One example would be prozbul. For those unfamiliar with it, every seven years, at the beginning of a shmita year, all debts are forgiven. Such a halacha caused people not to lend out money to those in need when the time came close to shmita - they didn't want to lose that money!
      Sanhedrin discovered a loophole of sorts and changed the halacha. And now your debts remain, even when shmita has come and gone.

      Why can't the rabonim do something about this halacha as well? I don't know... maybe have the man donate sperm and be yoitze the mitzva of peru u'rivu, which would take one level off of the prohibition. I am certain that there is a way that the halacha can be overridden. But unlike prozbul, this deals with the human emotions and needs of a minority. It doesn't deal with money. So maybe it's not deemed worthy enough to look into. :(

    2. Yes, "Lo Bashamayim hee", and also -- we are instructed to reinterpret the Torah text in every generation. There is a reason that the oral law was not supposed to be written and calcified into an inflexible dogma.

      We've done away with things like polygamy, which was the norm in Biblical times. Why can't we take a second look at homosexuality? Isn't there a fresh way we can see it?

      I'm not gay (or more specifically - lesbian), but this issue is on my mind a lot. It just seems cruel to deny someone their right to express their sexuality. And at the same time, I struggle with the idea of "normalizing" it with legal gay marriage, etc. It's not as simple in my mind as a regular human rights issue, and I'm not sure why. This topic is huge to me, and certainly worthy of much open discussion.

  3. How do you know being gay is an identity?

    Maybe you developed an attraction for men in the same way some men develop an attraction for children? Can it be that pedophilia is an identity? If you wouldn't say it there why would you say it here?

    It sounds like you may be framing the question wrong.

    1. Yosef...
      I know this because I am gay. I know how it feels for it to be part of me. Pedophilia doesn't warrant an acknowledgment here- the two are completely different. There is something wrong with an attraction towards an innocent, emotionally undeveloped and unaware, physically undeveloped, CHILD.
      There is nothing wrong with two consenting adults loving each other, what difference does it make if they both happen to be the same gender? I know that my attraction towards men isn't an "inappropriately developed attraction" because it's part of me, and the fact that I am able to be in love and find happiness tells me that. 2 sentences in the Torah do not change that.

    2. I am not suggesting that Pedophilia and homosexuality are the same in terms of who the attraction is for.

      Think about it.

      You are saying that "There is something wrong with an attraction towards an innocent, emotionally undeveloped and unaware, physically undeveloped, CHILD."

      But that means you are conceding its innate nature.

      All you are saying is that the pedofile should not act upon his desires not that it is not part of his being.

      The pedofile, like yourself, also feels its part of his nature.

      The question is if it really is a part of his being.

      Don't you think it may be?

      (Of course you think he shouldn't act on it - that's not really the point.)

    3. Yosef, you think about it. If a person has sex with the opposite sex, they are heterosexual. If they have same sex relations, they are homosexual (obviously not that simple, but this is just for arguments sake...), if they have sex or attraction towards children, they are pedophiles. This is how it's defined. Being gay is part of my being, and yes, I think being a pedophile is part of some other people's being.
      The point is that there are good "identities" and bad "identities". Pedophilia has been identified by society as a bad one, while homosexuality as a good one. While religious values may view as a bad identity, as a homosexual I tend towards the social understanding of nothing being wrong with the identity of homosexual.

    4. OK so you are saying that pedophilia is inborn.

      Would you also say that beastiality is also inborn.

      Some have an atraction to certain animal species.

      Could that also be inborn?

      I'm not making any comparisons just trying to understand your position.

    5. I never said identity meant inborn. that was your distinction. I think a person has many different identities, most of which they were not born with.
      For the "born this way" debate, understand that I don't know what a person is born with and what's developed, all I know is that I can't change who I am. And I can't speak for pedophiles, or people with an attraction towards animals/ beasts.

    6. If so, that you you are not speaking about inborn vs not inborn, then you can't make such an absolute statement that it is impossible for you to change.

      It is well known in the fields of psycology that clients often FEEL that their situation is intractable and unsolvable.

      I think that it must be extremely difficult and maybe for some people outside help won't work just as it may not work for everyone by issues of obesity, alcoholism, drug addictions and abuse issues.

      A recent research study showed success rates in the area of sexual orientation that were comparable to success rates found in a similar study on treatment for depression (2007 Jones and Yarhouse.)

      So at least in a theoretical sense what you are saying is not accurate notwithstanding how you feel on a personal level right now.

    7. Yosef, first of all- until you are in my shoes, you have no right to tell me what statements I can and cannot make.

      Secondly, I have a BA in psychology and about to recieve my MSW, what does you "success rate" mean? Changing? Don't quote one study about sexual orientation when I can quote over twenty studies rejecting "change" therapies and enumerating the damages that they all-too-often cause. The APA actually encourages psychologists to avoid change therapies or telling their clients that it is possible to change orientation.

      I never try to speak for every gay person, I speak for myself when I say I cannot change, and I know that for a fact.

    8. Why do I have to be in your shoes?
      Do I need to be in the shoes of a fightened child to tell him there are no monsters because they feel scared?

      I'm NOT telling you what you can or can't say.

      I AM questioning the veracity of your statements.

      Don't be so sensitive to questions.

      The success rate is 1/3, 1/3, 1/3;
      1/3 completely leave same-sex-attraction behind, 1/3 reduce it, 1/3 are not helped. This is similar to the success rate for depression.

      A recent research study revealed success rates in the area of sexual orientation that were comparable to success rates found in a similar study on treatment for depression (2007 Jones and Yarhouse.)

      The fact is that there is always a scale of success and failure for this, alcoholism, overeating or any other issue.

      Maybe you are of the 1/3 that is not helped for whatever reason.

      Take a look at these videos:

    9. The APA's statement on Jones and Yarhouse (2007)--
      While it acknowledged their sincere observations about clients’ conservative religious values, this week’s APA report criticized Jones & Yarhouse on page 90:

      "A published study that appeared in the grey literature in 2007 (Jones & Yarhouse, 2007) has been described by SOCE advocates and its authors as having successfully addressed many of the methodological problems that affect other recent studies, specifically the lack of prospective research. The study is a convenience sample of self-referred populations from religious self-help groups. The authors claim to have found a positive effect for some study respondents in different goals such as decreasing same-sex sexual attractions, increasing other-sex attractions, and maintaining celibacy. However, upon close examination, the methodological problems described in Chapter 3 (our critique of recent studies) are characteristic of this work, most notably the absence of a control or comparison group and the threats to internal, external, construct, and statistical validity. Best-practice analytical techniques were not performed in the study, and there are significant deficiencies in the analysis of longitudinal data, use of statistical measures, and choice of assessment measures. The authors’ claim of finding change in sexual orientation is unpersuasive due to their study’ methodological problems."

      And look for the hundreds of other studies that have findings directly opposite everything Jones and Yarhouse found in 07.

    10. In short, the study was funded and conducted with religious ex-gay missionaries and leaders, a self report of "I have changed" is not reliable evidence, especially from a religious community, for this study to be taken seriously by the psychological community.

    11. OK what about this study:

      Robert L. Spitzer (2003) Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation?
      200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation
      Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003, pp. 403-417

      You may know that Dr. Spitzer was head of the APA and had been behind the 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM II.

      His own study convinced him that he was mistaken.

    12. Two important point about the last message:

      1. This was NOT funded and conducted with religious ex-gay missionaries and leaders.

      2. Self-reporting IS used in many studies. Anything dealing with results where there is no testable means of determining results uses self-reporting.

      Studies studying the effects of drugs on mood, depression. Or whether certain therapies help concentration - all those studies rely on self-reporting.

      Here you can read about it.


      "self-report continues to be one of the most widely used measurement strategies in psychology despite..."



      There is a reason self-reporting is accepted into peer-reviewed journals.

      Researchers and journals are not as dumb as you try to make them out to be.

    13. I'm not trying to make anyone out to be anything. I''m simply responding with what I have read about these studies. I know what a self report study is, and that they are widely used, but this situation was a very unique one.
      -The study was conducted by two supporters of ex-gay ministries.
      -Jones and Yarhouse originally sought 300 participants, but after more than a year of seeking to round up volunteers, they had to settle on only 98 participants.
      -During the course of the study, 25 dropped out, and one participant’s answers were too incomplete to be used.
      -Of the remaining 72 only 11 reported “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment.” (direct quote). Some of these 11 remained primarily homosexual in attraction or, at best, bisexual, but were satisfied that they were just slightly more attracted to the opposite sex, or slightly less attracted to the same sex.
      -After the study ended, but before the book was finished, one of the 11 wrote to the authors to say that he lied — he really wanted to change, had really hoped he had changed, and answered that he had changed. But he concluded that he hadn’t, came out, and is now living as an openly gay man.
      -Dozens of participants experienced no lessening of same-sex attraction and no increase in opposite-sex attraction, but were classified as “success” stories by Jones and Yarhouse simply because they maintained celibacy — something many conservative gay people already do.
      -The study purposely declined to interview any ex-gay survivors: people who claim to have been injured by ex-gay programs and who have formed support groups such as Beyond Ex-Gay. Despite — or because of — this omission, the authors of this study make the unfounded claim that there is little or no evidence of harm resulting from unproven, unsupervised, unlicensed, and amateur ex-gay counseling tactics.

      Next, Spitzer-
      1) Many of the therapists were behaving unethically. For example 1/4 of those who had been through the treatments had been pressured into joining, almost none of those who felt it wasn't working were given advice on alternative counseling, and most were misled about the position of the APAs and about the supposed success rates of 'ex-gay' treatments. See Responses of US professional bodies to 'ex-gay' treatments.

      2) Most patients go through an initial 'honeymoon' with the 'ex-gay' movement, followed later by disillusion.

      3) Because of the hostility and lack of support by most 'ex-gay' therapists to 'failures', most patients continued to lie to their therapists about their progress. This is almost certainly the reason why Exodus and Narth therapists continue to claim 30-50% success rates, when outsiders find much less.

      4) Based on self-reporting by the patients to Schroeder and Shidlo, 14% did manage long-term to either greatly reduce or completely stop homosexual practices. Of these, 5% were 'struggling'. Another 5% reported being reasonably happy (almost all of this group were celibate).

      5) Only 4% (i.e. 8 patients) reported a shift in sexual orientation from 5 or more to 3 or less on a 1-7 scale of hetero/homosexual balance. Of these - the only ones who could perhaps be classified as 'ex-gays' - 7 out of 8 put down as occupation that they were 'ex-gay' counselors. The eighth person refused a follow-up interview. Obviously there is a serious conflict of interest/secondary gain issue among this group.

      Finally, I know for my sake and the sake of my friends that have been through reparative therapies, that there is little to no evidence of success. Why is it that there are so many gay men openly declaring how reparative therapy hurt them, but so few announcing how they've been helped. I've seen the youtube videos, but then I've met those who have been divorced and now estranged from their children, or who have attempted suicide because of these therapies.
      To continue this conversation, please contact me privately.

  4. I'm so glad you're moving in that direction! I don't even know you and I literally did a fist pump when I read this post.

    The existence of gay people is just one of many truths about the world that rock the foundations of Orthodox Judaism. I've always been mystified by gay people who remain believers.

    1. It rocks the foundations only for those who want to find a reason to rock the foundation. Orthodox Judaism never denies the existence of such an affinity it just prohibits acting on it just as it prohibits heterosexual people from acting on their affinities until they are married. Orthodoxy is a system built to encompass all affinities and challenges presented to the Jewish people.

    2. Oh, but believer, it prohibits heterosexual acts until marriage, when there is an outlet for the basic human sex drive. Where is that outlet for the homosexual? There is none written or discussed in the texts...
      I promise you i never "sought" to rock the foundation. I tried for a very long time to keep the Orthodoxy stable and more religious than not. But I was challenged with this struggle, and this is how I'm getting through it.

    3. Ely, in no way did my comment have any application to you. I am sure you are doing the best you can and are not looking to rock the foundations of the Orthodox system. Unfortunately, you are right there is no outlet but in the master plan of life only G-d, in his ultimate wisdom can understand why individuals are challenged in these ways.

    4. Unfortunately, there are cases in halachic Judaism where there is no sexual outlet for the individual. Homosexuality is one example, and mamzerus is another example. Obviously, the existence of the mamzer phenomenon did not rock the foundations of Orthodox Judaism, and neither does this. This is not a new issue.

  5. BTW there are facebook groups now for people who are OTD.

  6. Something i was just pondering. not wanting to have a hand in pushing ely closer to what seems to be inevitable already as was the point of this post but a thought nonetheless.

    When does the word "frum" come off the name of the blog?

    (or like the verse in Leviticus it too is open to interpretation and will remain on indefinitely...)

    1. I might be missing something, but there is no word "frum" in the name of this blog!!

    2. I might be missing something, but there is no word "frum" in the name of this blog!!

  7. I'm frum and have been living a half dead life since forever due to the damn same sex attraction I suffer.
    It's a living nightmare. I was given this test, and like other tests, I hope to pass it.
    My life is meaningless and unfulfilled. I await olam haba with much anticipation.

  8. Ely, no matter how difficult it appears to be to reconcile a homosexual orientation and Orthodox Judaism, you are as precious to G-d as any other Jew. Your obligation, like that of any other Jew, is found in the Kriyas Shema that we all say every day - to love Hashem will all your heart, all your soul and all your means. If you focus on that essence, you may be assured that your love will be reciprocated. To the readers of this blog: Remember, we are all human beings with human foibles - and that includes every one of us without exception. If we must judge, let us point fingers at ourselves and not at the pure soul of a fellow Jew.

  9. One more point.

    About those who urge you to "change" or that tell you that how can the Torah prohibit something impossible for a person to comply with:

    Well, it all depends. The Torah requires and prohibits many things even on penalty of death, yet certain categories of Jews (who lack "Daas")are exempt from all, and I repeat "all," Mitzvos. How did Chazal know that these persons are exempt? What is the source for this general exemption? You will not find the source anywhere, yet it is a fundamental concept based on Chazal's understanding of what the Torah requires and what Mitzvos are.


It Gets Better- Gay Orthodox Jews