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Do Homosexuals Fit into the Jewish Community?

Do Homosexuals Fit into the Jewish Community?



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


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’s Ask the Rabbi service, lives with her ten children in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
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Discussion (151)
February 11, 2016
selfish vs selfless
A true Jew is all about sacrificing one's life for the sake of the other; a kingdom of priests, selfless in every way, our brother's keeper. In the case of homosexuality, I agree that we all have our inclinations to do what G-d, by way of Torah, says we should not do. The same applies for divorce or adultery or murder, etc. I do not believe that h-sexuality is any worse than any of the aforementioned trespasses. However, when we commit any of these sinful acts, we take the path of self and reject the path of selflessness. As an adulterer, we selfishly seek our needs over the needs and desires of our spouse and kid. As a murderer, our need for revenge and/or anger supersedes the mercy we are called upon to show our offender. When we act on our gay inclination, we allow our desires to defile the temple that was created in the image of God and sacrifice the kids we should have had, And in gay marriage, we deny our kids the male and female exposure shown to us for the sake of our own desires.
Rio Hondo
February 7, 2016
Gay Converts
A rebbe with an inflated sense of self-importance? Shirley, you jest. I know, "don't call you Shirley."

You are so right on everything you say. Those on the far right tend to justify their behavior by saying that theya re preserving the Jewish People. When I was young, I believed that. Now, I know that they are in fact christianizing much of Jewish life by adopting the christian archetype into their basic psychology that their Faith -- which is contrary to reason, logic and science -- is The Truth.
Rick Abrams
Bev Hills
February 2, 2016
Acceptance and Understanding...
I admire the point of view in this article, even if I don't agree with all of it. The world in which we live would certainly be improved if prohibitions against bigotry and proud judgement were held in at least as high regard as those against male-male anal sex, particularly considering the first concern is of a law about which one individually would need to adhere and the second concern is of a law about which someone else would need to adhere. Stigma and judgement are seeping diseases, and if indeed the consensus within the Orthodox communities is that Jews deserve to be in Jewish communities, this rampant haughtiness and exclusion needs to be significantly curtailed. The world in which we live makes up the truth, and when we are willing to address it, and understand it, and honestly speak of it and in it, rather than avoiding it, then we read the parchment of our reality, the code of truth. Listen to people and do not fear them and you may see the Torah saying something new to you
Chicago, IL
January 25, 2016
Hashem loves me and I love myself enough to be myself
I'm a Reform Jew and I'm gay. Just as I've made the choice to have Hatafat Dam Brit in order to fully accept and immerse and include myself in the traditions of the Jews, I've chosen to live how I feel Hashem created me... to love and be loved... and to be intimate... even if it's with another male. It may be written that if man lay with another man as with a woman then it's an abomination. I accept whatever Hashem feels I deserve as a result of my actions, but I feel in my heart that he loves me and will not hold it against me. It's a personal call.
December 16, 2015
Yes, but then what about the Jewish convert? There seems to be a great divide between what is damning to one born to a "Jewish mother" and someone seeking to be of Jewish faith. If a potential convert has a Jewish spark or soul and always has had such than why is there such a restriction on whom we will and can "accept"? A homosexual Jew is to be treated lovingly simply because of the status of birth yet a potential convert is damned by anything and everything. Isn't it a form of unjustified discrimination when we actively turn away homosexual converts for not meeting our "guidelines" well enough? If we truly believe the g-d's will and involvement in all creation reigns unobstructed than how can we turn away those who seek him? Are they not doing so according to g-d's will? If a convert has never really converted because they always retained a Jewish soul than why are there hoops to jump through at all? It seems that the Jewish community and rebbe have an inflated sense of importance.
Boise, Id
November 30, 2015
Torah-phetic Interpretation
As someone who has taken a longer time than my peers to understand where I was on the sexual spectrum, I always interpreted the section of Torah to be more of an observational notion than a moral one: Man cannot lie with a man as he does with a woman as it is literally impossible apart from which, the result (male pregnancy if you will being an impossibility) would be abhorrent - e.g. a physiological phenomena. Nonetheless, I believe we all come back to the cardinal rule of doing unto others as we would see fit done to us. My Jewish community has always driven every commandment back to this in terms of how we see one another meaning that exclusion and bullying are out of the question and acceptance is the rule of the day. It's been a big part of my being able to understand myself on my own terms and at my own pace and I don't know that I would have had that freedom, let alone encouragement, in another community.
boston, ma
October 27, 2015
We are one
How can we recite the Shema and find divisions among ourselves?
Rick Abrams
Bev Hills
October 27, 2015
May We Be Like Abraham
May we all rush like Abraham to welcome strangers, guests and those who are considered 'other' to our open tent with gracious hospitality . Many have traveled long distances in the heat of oppression and descrimination to find a welcoming place to rest and renew their battered self-esteem. After all, the lack of hospitality and human kindness was the gravest sin of Sodom according to our sages. And who knows if the stranger may turn out to be an angel with blessings to bestow!
Bruce Bierman
October 25, 2015
Jewish lesbian
I came out of the closet as a lesbian in my early twenties, having fallen in love with the wonderful woman who later became my wife. While my family finally accepted my wife after we were married, and continued to allow us to participate in Jewish family life, my greater Jewish community did not. It makes me sad that our beautiful children are unable to grow up in the Reconstructionist Synagogue I did. A synagogue that taught equality and justice, all of my life, for everyone - except gays apparently. It saddens me that I am unable to give my children a solid Jewish identity, and have them grow up surrounded by a vibrant and supportive Jewish community, as I did. I can not stop being gay, any more than I can stop my eyes from being blue. I did not want to leave, but we have been cast out. We now participate in a spiritual life at the local UU church where we and our children are loved and supported, not shunned.
Brookline, MA
June 3, 2015
Concerning The Branches of the Menorah and Fitting In
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)
Bruce Bierman