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Do Homosexuals Fit into the Jewish Community?

Do Homosexuals Fit into the Jewish Community?

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Question:

According to Jewish law, how should a person react to homosexual feelings? Do homosexuals fit into the Jewish community?

Answer:

You ask about feelings and law. But feelings do not fall within the domain of law. A person feels what a person feels. Then he has the power to decide whether he will act upon those feelings or… not. This is the human experience: desire, longing, wanting…and the law. Part of our development from childhood to adulthood is creating for ourselves a moral compass. Something that's internal. That which tells us right from wrong. And that moral compass is comprised of myriad components, but must be firmly grounded, always, in a system of values.

For Jews, the all-encompassing system is Torah law. Torah law governs every single part of living. And from the body of Torah law emerges a system of values - general, societal and personal. Sometimes, it's easy; we feel an affinity, for example, to the laws of tzedaka, or we feel a strong connection to the laws of Shabbat or brit milah. And sometimes, we feel something quite the opposite - we feel estranged or disconnected or personally deeply at odds with a law.

We feel what we feel. Some feelings we can change, and some we can't. Sometimes what we feel is subject to modification, and sometimes it's not. Totally and unequivocally not. And yet, the law is absolute.

As much as we know about human sexuality, we don't yet know enough. We're all, as individuals and as a society, still learning. In the last half century, we've come a long way in our understanding of human sexuality, and in redefining a cultural moral code. Some of what we've come to accept as a society is long, long overdue. And some of what we've come to accept undermines the very dignity of human sexuality. But, we're learning.

We do know this, though: we know that among other sexual behaviours, Torah law expressly forbids the specific act of male homosexuality.

And we do know this: Torah law forbids bigotry; homophobia is prohibited.

And we do know this: too many Jewish girls and boys, Jewish women and men, have suffered too much for too long. And we know that most of that suffering is caused by the environment around them. We do know this: when we become judges of another person, we behave contrary to Torah law.

And we do know this: A Jew belongs in a Jewish environment. Each of us, struggling or not, needs to be in a truly Torah-observant environment. And each of us is responsible for that environment - each of us is responsible for what we bring to that environment. When we bring ignorance, or cruelty or self-righteous judgment of others, we contribute to the sullying of a true Torah environment. When we bring the most ideal principles of ahavat Yisrael, respect for every individual, recognition of each individual's personal relationship with G‑d...when we bring the best of our humanity, as expected by Torah ideals, we contribute to a Torah environment that is healthy and wholesome.

Or perhaps your question is in regard to how we should react to the homosexual feelings of others? Or how we should react to someone who eats on Yom Kippur? Or someone who longs for the relationship with a man other than her husband? On this, the classic work known as the Tanya provides strong advice: Consider what it means to have such burning passions for forbidden fruit. Consider the day to day fierce and relentless battle demanded to conquer such passions. And then ask yourself, "Do I ever fight such a battle on my own ground?"

The Tanya continues to illustrate the many areas in which all of us can improve by waging at least a small battle on our own ground.

On your question concerning community: A Jew belongs within a Jewish community. There are no application forms and no qualification requirements. He's Jewish—that's where he belongs. Period. We all have our challenges, our shortcomings, our feelings...and our failures in battle as well...and with all that, we are a community of Jews.

Mrs. Bronya Shaffer is a noted globetrotting lecturer on Jewish women's issues, and serves as a personal counselor and mentor for women, couples and adolescents. Mrs. Shaffer, a responder for Chabad.org’s Ask the Rabbi service, lives with her ten children in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
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Anonymous NYC March 27, 2017

Do left handed people belong in the Jewish Community? For that matter, the ambidextrous? People with two different colored eyes? Those with photogenic memories? We know for sure that HaShem makes some people 'not like the others'. Can someone tell me exactly what the problem is with homosexuality then? I've never heard one instance in my whole life where being homosexual harms anyone else. In fact, the exact opposite. The gifts and blessings that this community has bestowed upon the world is enormous. Time to appreciate and include! Reply

Anonymous March 26, 2017

In addition to having urges with people of their own gender, many homosexuals never feel urges for people of the opposite gender. Telling a homosexual isn't just telling them not to do homosexual acts. It's telling them that they can never have enjoyable sex at all, with anyone. Reply

Dan Cleveland, Ohio March 10, 2017

The author gave us the foundation for the answer but avoided specifically answering the question. Why? I think because the answer is not politically correct and the fears associated with that took control. Reply

Anonymous Berkeley January 21, 2017

The spark of Mashiach--found within everyone--will empower us with the humility to embrace the awe inspiring diversity found throughout creation. Reply

Manuel PC Beach FL December 18, 2016

I see this as the aspect to not be judgmental of others with the feelings to do something that doesn't follow the teachings of the Torah. I think when the law clearly expressing male homosexuality was written, it may have come due to not being in the ways of the pagans that in which the men indulged in such acts and may have devoted the acts to their deities. Seeing how nature has both male and female elements and the natural design comes to be heterosexual, it is easy to condemn someone who doesn't follow the "order". In short the Torah prohibits the act and it is against the Torah to mistreat/shun anyone i.e bigotry. Reply

Anonymous Rio Hondo November 23, 2016

Perhaps we should look back at the times when the righteous Jews were persecuted and killed and the Temple desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. It was a time not unlike today; a time of a heavy culture war. A great falling away took place with many Jews embracing Hellenism and all of the pagan worship and sexual practices that came along with it. Do not forget that, in that time, Jew (who became Hellenized) persecuted Jew. In the end, the righteous were slaughtered for what? For upholding the Torah, the Word of God. There is the same culture war going on at this very moment. The righteous are desperately holding on to the Word of God while many Jews have fallen away, holding on to Nationalism instead of purity and righteousness; guilty, like in the day of Antiochus IV, of persecuting their own people for the sake of the lusts of their heart. Reply

Anonymous St. Louis November 22, 2016

That was probably the vaguest essay I've ever read. Thank you for answering my question, Chabad Reply

Anonymous NYC August 30, 2016

In response to Ben from PA---sounds frighteningly familiar. ".....LGBT run media" "LGBT agenda" "LGBT's powerful campaign"----same classic language used by anti-Semites--just substitute the word 'Jewish'. Our Intolerance is never about the one being targeted---it's about the shadow of hate, fear and self-loathing that exist inside. Use the Torah as a mirror to find your own blind spots. Reply

Ben PA August 24, 2016

When Torah condemns the act, I can't imagine that it approves of what leads to the act. We are forgetting something because the LGBT run media have so cleverly brainwashed our minds, even the minds of the devout. If we want to support so much acceptance and tolerance, why aren't those who respectfully, for clearly religious reasons, disagree with LGBT's agenda get hauled to court, vilified, called names and get held up to ridicule? You'd have to be blind (or running scared from LGBT's powerful campaign demanding total support from everyone under the guise of "tolerance"-or else) to not see how unaccepting, intolerant and actually vicious LGBT people are toward those who simply don't agree. Why do we have to explain ourselves, defend ourselves, and still in the end be called "homophobes" and worse because we do not support LGBT? The tide has turned-it is those who want to support Torah instead of LGBT that are being persecuted, and people supporting Torah are actually afraid. Reply

Anonymous NYC June 29, 2016

Seems like the most important commandment for us Americans today is the, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' one. Studies have shown that killing does more harm to the health and safety of the community than a 'man lying with another man in the ways of a woman' have ever done. In fact.....no harm ever reported there to the greater community. Time to focus on real important issues. Reply

Anonymous Rio Hondo June 29, 2016

Nice words but they are your words and not words from the Torah. Thou shall not lie with a man as with a woman and all the teachings regarding the treatment of our neighbor are truth eternal. Said teachings are not there to condemn or to bring shame but so that we may have life from the Eternal One, knowing beforehand that there will be sons who reject the eternal truths from the Father of Lights.To obey is better than sacrifice and to disobey is to reject the wisdom from the Holy One as Korah rejected the authority of Moses. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem June 28, 2016

I am defined by Torah's teachings on 'welcoming the stranger', yes. I am defined by Torah's teaching that we are all (gay, straight, buddhist, Christian, Jew) created in the Creator's image. I am defined by Torah's teachings that I will not do to my neighbor--what is hateful to myself. The 'Truth' of the Torah is the pursuit of wholeness---shalem---from which the word 'shalom' comes from. There is no wholeness where there is no self-esteem, and self-esteem is hard to cultivate when others tell you that you should be ashamed for how the Creator created you. You're not disrespecting me. You're disrespecting G-d's vast diversity of creation .I disrobe and expose myself as the Torah disrobes and exposes herself every Shabbos for all to draw near and listen to the mysteries of Creation. Reply

Anonymous Harlingen June 28, 2016

Jews are defined by Torah. No Torah, no Jews. When you leave the truth of Torah and pursue your own understanding, you have disrobed yourself and have exposed your shame. You nonetheless retain your freedom of choice. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem June 15, 2016

May Abraham, Sarah and Hagar's tent be open to their beautiful LGBTQ Puerto Rican grandchildren who lost their lives in Orlando and all 'others' who are rejected, discriminated against, and a 'stranger in a strange land'. You are welcomed. You are loved. You are part of the Creator's diverse rainbow of diversity. Peace be Upon You. Reply

Jordan Canada June 15, 2016

Many years ago, I gave up on my Jewish roots, partly because of bigotry and sexism.

This message brings me hope that after 5700+ years, maybe soon the time will come to make a few urgent changes. Reply

Anonymous May 3, 2016

After so much scientific research and so many personal testimonies we've heard of and read over the years that same sex relationships are natural and an innate part of human sexuality---how come it is still thought to be an abomination? I understand why incest and relations with animals are forbidden. No child or animal would ever give consent to this if they were able to speak up for themselves. But can someone tell me----what harm is brought about by two men or two women loving each other? Why is it considered an abomination? Why don't gay people think it is an abomination, but some heterosexuals do? Could Judaism go on if we just sacrificed that 'false goat' that causes such huge pain to so many? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org February 25, 2016

For a detailed discussion on the issues involved I would suggest reading Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport Reply

Rick Abrams Bev Hills February 17, 2016

Dear Mr. Shurpin,

The issue is not whether there is a prohibition of tendencies but whether there is a prohibition on all sexual activity between men. There is only the regulation how to do it.

The Torah does not say, "everything which is not expressly approved is forbidden." One may not infer from a regulation about when a married man and woman may not have sex to mean that they may never have sex. Under rules of judicial interpretation, the specific does not include the general. 'Do not run with scissers" does not include "Do not run."

Those who attempt to convert the regulation into a prohibition of all sex between men are excluding the words which we usually translate as "like a woman." "Do not have milk within 1/2 hour after having meat" may not be changed to "Do not have milk."

Also, I object to reinterpretations of the Torah so as to conform to Christian concepts. It is especially unwarranted when the result creates a division within the Jewish people. Reply

Bruce Bierman Berkeley February 16, 2016

we all come from the same place, and we are all oriented toward the same goal. Our differences are only in order to better express our Source and to more completely achieve our goal. Which makes them not differences, but the ultimate expression of Oneness.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe) Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org February 16, 2016

Of course you'r right. As the article explains, there’s no prohibition against having homosexual tendencies only acting upon them. Furthermore, it is also true that only certain acts can potentially result in capital punishment (with proper witnesses and warning). That however does not mean that the other acts are permitted.
As a side point, a court has the authority to issue a decree and forbid something which is permitted and have its decree perpetuated for generations to come. Similarly, it has the authority - as a temporary measure - to release the Torah's prohibitions. What then is the meaning of the Scriptural prohibitions Deuteronomy 13:1: "Do not add to it and do not detract from it"?

The intent is that they do not have the authority to add to the words of the Torah or to detract from them, establishing a matter forever as part of Scriptural Law. This applies both to the Written Law and the Oral Law. Reply