Orthodox Gays struggling to establish community in Israel

The biggest challenge in my mind to the Frum Gay community which is just in its beginnings is trying to introduce itself into mainstream orthodoxy, this is toughest because you can never hope or imagine to change the halacha, because unlike many halachic rulings derived from the Torah by rabbis, gay sex is written blatantly in the Torah and has no need or even possibility for reinterpretation. It’s sad but true, you cannot redefine the halacha against having sex with another man, but that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost, that doesn’t mean that we as frum Jews cannot open our homes, our shuls and our hearts to people who have been born with something that defines their lives as Jews and as people.

I thought about this as I listened to one of the speakers at the Mission Minyan this past shabbos, he was one of the founders of an orthodox pride minyan (couldn’t find a website) in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I wondered as I am sure many others had wondered, how someone could continue to be frum and want to remain apart of a community that hated them with such a passion because they were open violators of a biblical transgression and because it was deemed sick, deviant and disgusting by most within orthodoxy? It seemed that one had to be on a pretty high madriega to want to remain a Torah Jew when the Torah demanded that they be killed. It is an odd conundrum and something which I myself can only understand to a point.

There are many folks who openly violate the Torah yet remain as frum Jews, they fully believe in the divinity of the Torah and understand that they are not perfect yet strive to be so, but if the violation is the very essence of who you are, that is a whole new ballgame. It is also a sin that is between man and man, and man and God (that’s a lot of and’s)

Frum, Gay and Israeli was the title of the speech and I was had found out about it from Jens List, the local Bay Area source for Jewish events, apartment listings and other randomness like tweeting for your mishpacha. Someone agreed to host me with the stipulation that I come on time to shul, I agreed although coming on time to shabbos shachris is not forte.

The speakers were from Havruta and Bat Kol (I interviewed an orthodox lesbian from Bat Kol) two Israeli organizations dedicated to helping religious gays and lesbians deal with the obvious and not so obvious issues that confront them when coming out of the closet, staying in or debating on what to do about thei life altering event.

I think one of the best points that they tried to say over and over was that you can be frum and gay. They weren’t going into details about hilchos-gay sex; they were saying that if you are gay, there is no need to throw your entire religious identity away. I say this all the time and unfortunately, many kids go off the derech because a lot of orthodoxy is this all or nothing kind of religion.

I spoke to a right wing modern orthodox Rabbi recently about his thoughts on accepting gays at his shul, he said that they are treated as anyone else, but calling them up to the torah or serving the non-mevushal wine makes things complicated, but the same goes for people are openly breaking shabbos, it’s the same level really. Of course, if someone is gay but not in a relationship we can give them the benefit of the doubt that are not sexually active. It’s complex, but just the mere fact that someone who is on the right of modern orthodox is willing to accept these people into his shul, is groundbreaking. Proclamations and just opening up dialogue is pretty cool, the fact that there are frum blogs that show their support is a big deal as well.

I think one of the biggest issues with pride minyan is the fact that it’s not really orthodox, regardless of the fact they call it so. When confronted with the issues of people who don’t identify with either sex or are transgender, they decided to have a mixed section in back of the bimah with men and women separated in the front, there are halachic discussions in the gemara about transgender and androgynous folks – but having a mixed section goes against mainstream orthodoxy. Someone asked the lady who was there if she uses her parents names (many religious LGBT folks are disowned by their parents) when being called up to the Torah, I was praying that her response would be that, they are an orthodox shul and women aren’t called to the torah, but this wasn’t the case and she responded that when she was called to the torah she did use her parents name, but this took some time.

One of the conflicts within the gay orthodox community is whether or not to try and make inroads to orthodoxy or have their own community, they have decided to do both – good move. If you have a gay orthodox community you will never be mainstream and only curious weird frum folks like myself or fringe orthodox folks will show up, you need to show your faces at regular communities and teach regular people. It seems that the only orthodox Jews that many left wing streams of Judaism like are the one’s hated by orthodox Jews themselves, like orthodox LGBT community members.

I hope that the frum gay community can actually have a shul that is really frum, mainstream frum, not left wing fringe frum. In a similar vein to the way that left wing orthodoxy shot itself in the foot by featuring Sara Hurwitz as the first orthodox Rabbi yet showing blatantly that she wasn’t fully covering her hair by mainstream orthodox halachic standards – they screwed their movement forever. I think that order to gain ground within orthodoxy; you have to show that you are in fact orthodox. If I come to shul and women are getting aliyot and there’s a mixed seating section, my mind automatically says that this is not orthodox, I’m cool with it, but for LGBT to make any inroads to the orthodox community it cannot veer from the orthodox course.

I was also a little put off by the mention of an eventual seeking to redefine halacha, this is the perfect way to justify the orthodox hatred of the gay community. If you wish to redefine halacha you will never be accepted, if you acknowledge that you understand the breach of halacha, but are trying to maintain Torah m’Sinai this is of utmost importance and there is no agenda other than to be able to be proud of your identity and the ability to walk the streets without getting fruit or insults thrown at you.

I did enjoy the speech, although they were preaching to the choir, for me it’s good to see that by writing about the orthodox gay community I’m not just pushing people’s buttons, I’m trying to show my support as a frum Jew for my fellow Jews who are struggling more than I can ever hope to – I thought finding a shidduch was hard enough until I met folks who lost their friends, their family, their children – all because they wanted to be honest – it seems that honesty is good until you happen to be gay. Orthodox LGBT people can use all of our support and I am proud to show my support, while still maintaining that halachically it’s a very hard issue to combat – but the least we could do – is stop calling being such babies about it and thinking “ew it’s disgusting” therefore it’s wrong. Maybe we should try and understand the issues a bit more so we can help show our support, we don’t have to redefine halacha to help fellow Jews in need of help and support.

I see chabad welcoming Jews who are openly violating shabbos by coming to their homes via car and these people may always openly violate shabbos, but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying to make them into better or more fulfilled Jews. I even met a guy this shabbos who was gay and despite being gay, became frum anyway, because he loves the orthodox lifestyle believes in the divinity of it, etc…no idea how he felt around parshas kedoshim time, but I cannot relate, I can only be envious of his strength and emunah.

LGBT Kiruv: I should have slipped this in earlier, but the folks from the pride minyan mentioned that they have an almost kiruv like effect on secular Israelis who had never been to shul ot talked to religious people before, Israeli society is very religiously separate and seculars and orthodox do not get along much. They said that people came to Yom Kippur for the first time in their lives and felt welcome.