Monday, August 11, 2008

A support group for homosexual “Torah-true” Jews?

David Benkof spends much of his Jerusalem Post opinion article, “Ex-Gay isn't kosher,” arguing against Jewish groups who recommend JONAH and similar sexual realignment programs.

I am decidedly on his side; those programs have never seemed legit to me, largely because they seem like the product of such blatant wishful thinking. There is no way that their practitioners would ever accept proof that their methods simply do not work.

I'm also not a fan of their pushiness. If someone would approach you looking to change, I can understand – and would expect – you to help. But the in-your-face approach their spokesmen often take, condemning those who have not 'changed,' is offensive to me.

But then Benkof makes an interesting call for help. Interesting, but I'm not sure what to do with it.

At the end of his piece, Benkof invites formation of an Orthodox support group for gays who seek to conform to halachah. He writes, I would love to see a Torah-true organization for same-sex-attracted Jews who on their own seek help in following Judaism's guidelines for family and bedroom life. Alas, such an organization does not yet exist.

My initial reaction is to say, “Sure, let's go for it!” But I'm not really clear on what “it” is. What would this group do? Are we looking to offer counseling? A shoulder on which to lean? What else? It seems to me we should be offering something more substantive than friendship.

And while we're on the topic, I'd like to see friendship for same-sex attracted Jews who did not seek to follow halachah. I think it's important to recognize that people's decisions on sexual lifestyle don't have to define their entire relationship with Torah and other Jews. Of course I don't accept homosexual practice as a halachically-valid decision, but still...

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  1. I definitely agree with you on the issue of friendship for all homosexual Jews, even those who don't follow halakha.

    As for support groups for homosexuals who want to live according to halakha, I heard about an Israeli group that was founded a couple of months ago (report here), but they sound more like a protest group than a support group.

  2. It seems to me we should be offering something more substantive than friendship.

    Well, you would be. It would also be a place to meet other singles... ;)

    Seriously, it seems that what such a group would offer is halachic guidance for observant gay OJs. What is halachically permitted, what isn't, the history of the rabbinical decisions, and what "observance" means in the context of something so fundamental to one's private life, mental health, and well-being. I guess I'm seeing it as an educational group, where you lay out the accepted halacha, relate it to people's actual lived lives, and then let them make an informed decision about where to go with it.

  3. I think Tzipporah's comment are very wise, and her "joke" actually points to a serious problem. Any group for Orthodox gay Jews is going to run the risk of having people fall in love. I would seek out the guidance of a posek who is well-versed in these issues as to how to handle tricky issues like providing a resource and halachic guidance without contributing to halachic non-observance.

    I would also like to see a speakers' bureau of sorts. I think gay groups could learn a lot from traditionally religious gay people who are actually following what their religion demands but aren't self-hating or "ex-gay." More importantly, there are groups of rabbis and lay frum Jews (unfortunately mostly on the left, probably, for now) who could learn a lot by hearing from frum gay Jews like me with rabbis who aren't on the far-left fringe of Orthodoxy who are doing what their rabbis tell them to when it comes to dealing with their same-sex attractions. There's a lot of misimpressions about homosexuality and halacha - especially when it comes to women, to tell the truth.

  4. Daniel-
    Thanks for your email. The HOD site actually looks pretty good to me, and perhaps could grow to be what Benkof seeks.

    Halachic guidance? Now, THAT would be a lot harder than a support group. I'd think it would have to be a one-to-one counseling program in order to provide that kind of guidance, since so much of the halachah in this issue is case-specific.

    Thanks for commenting; I was going to email you a link to my post if you hadn't found it yourself.
    I agree that speakers could be helpful, in both directions.
    What do you think of the HOD organization Daniel mentioned? Sounds like they could do a lot of this?

  5. Well, I think I'm using "guidance" in a more liberal-Jewish way - education about the halachic decisions, not making halachic decisions for the individual participants of the group.

  6. i view "jewish" homosexual groups as i would view a group of jewish "mechallelai shabat" (or other "major" (assuming such a thing exists) lav). as long as they dont seek legitimacy in the context of judaism, it shouldnt be a problem.

    but to say such behavior is acceptable (which does not seem to be the case here, though it is the case in the general "jewish" homosexual community) would be like mechallelei shabat claiming lighting a fire on shabat (or other lav) is permissible.

  7. Tzipporah-
    Actually, I was using the term the same way...

    Welcome; I'm fairly certain I know which F.A. you are, and I've been wondering when you would make it here.
    We have a halachic category for Jews who violate a law and say that their practice is legitimate: It's called an אומר מותר. While we don't agree with such a person, we don't drum him out, either. (I realize you were not suggesting drumming out.)
    Separate note: I assume you are not talking about people who are homosexual, but rather people who practice it sexually?

  8. Some good resources for people interested in this topic are

    Judaism and Homosexuality by Chaim Rappaport

    this is a halakhic "case for compassion", written by a well respected Orthodox rabbi

    Wrestling with God and Man by Steve Greenberg

    Greenberg is an Orthodox rabbi who is openly gay, but a smart guy who knows a lot

    There might actually be more going on than you'd think.

  9. Hi Doc,
    Yes, R' Rappoport's book is excellent; Benkof also references it in his piece.
    Steve Greenberg is worthy of discussion on another occasion, in terms of the boundaries of Orthodoxy and religious self-identification, but I'm not in an exclusionary mood at the moment.
    There actually is quite a bit afoot on a case-by-case basis. What Benkof is looking for is more organized, though, and that's what I am not seeing these days.

  10. I confess, haven't read those books (a little embarrassed here), but took a trusted colleague's word for it. I'll seize opportunities to add to reasons for acceptance of people, not rejection, you know.

    I imagine that there are many good reasons why that group you're looking for isn't.

    Have you seen Kirtzono (google it) for the parents' point of view, btw?

    Thanks for posting on this, Rabbi. I feel it's very important not to marginalize people for sexual orientation. Some of the best, most chareidi rabbis don't, even if they operate b'tzniut.

  11. 1. actually, i left atown before you became the rav, but i come by occassionally (probably this week or next) and come to your morning daf shiur (where i will re-introduce myself).

    2. what i really mean, is a particular practice of homosexuals to publicize their behavior, to have it considered "normal". which obviously is the opposite of what you are referring to. this publicity is (now) part of their "lifestyle".

  12. HOD has some good attitudes and ideas, but some of what they say (in English) sounds more like GayThink than it does scientific or halachic ideas. For example: "A certain percentage of the population in any society is mainly or exclusively homosexual by nature and not by choice." That's a widespread idea in the gay community, because it reinforces the comforting notion that G-d made us gay and being gay doesn't have to do with society, but it actually does have to do with society. Any anthropologist who is an expert at homosexuality across cultures would roll his eyes at the "certain percentage" notion. There has never, ever been a scientific or anthropological study across cultures that found a fixed percentage of every society is gay. It's a gay fantasy, but not a scientific reality.

    In addition, "There is no Halachic injunction concerning consenting affectionate relationships between two people of the same sex." Again, this is a gay-Jewish fantasy that has no connection to reality. I have spoken to at least two dozen Orthodox rabbis and none has said a gay man in an "affectionate relationship" with another man is acting consistent with halacha. (Lesbians are different.) If HOD has a psak from a major rav approving of male-male affectionate relationships, they need to name him. Making a declaration that something treyf is actually kosher with no sources cited and no rabbi named is not an approach that is consistent with Orthodox Judaism.

    I'll comment more later.

  13. Therapydoc-
    I wasn't familiar with Kirtzono, no; thanks for clueing me in. I'll have to look into it.

    Ah, now I know. I look forward to seeing you when you come by.

    I can't really speak to the GayThink issue; I lack the psychology (and anthropology) training.
    On your latter point, though, I can say that it all depends on the meaning of "affectionate."

  14. What I see from that hod site is a cry for acceptance, compassion, with the understanding that nobody is changing anybody else's mind. Like thousands of singles in upper Manhattan who have basically convinced themselves that they will never compromise, never marry, indeed, they don't and probably never will. Orthodox gays are seeking the same validation. Honor us in the synagogue, feel our pain. I don't see how mainstream Orthodoxy can officially recognize them. That is what they really want, everything on their terms.

    What does the Rebbitzen think about granting them honors in the synagogue? Who decides, a posek, the rabbi? The Rebbitzen? A religious committee?

    I think they should stay in the closet.