Last year, Eli Gaventa wrote an article for Yediot about our community’s attitudes towards people who are LGBTQ+. Amongst other things, he rightly highlighted the increased risk of suicidal ideation that is associated with growing up gay in a religious community. I write this as a continuation to this conversation, to the journey we as a tnua are on in relation to this topic.
This week’s Parshiot are packed. We talk about the proper way to give a korban, a very strange situation with some goats, the prohibition of consuming blood, and the list of people who we are forbidden to marry.
Most people will glide through this Shabbat as they usually do, and it will be just like any other week (apart from the fact it’s Pesach, but let’s put that aside for a minute!). They’ll daven and listen to the leining in their usual manner, they’ll go to the Kiddush, have a good schmooze, go home, and they’ll be with their families for lunch – and, of course, they’ll go to Sviva in the afternoon! It will be just another nice Shabbat, nothing extraordinary at all.
For some people, however, this Shabbat is a hard one to get through – a Shabbat that seems to condemn their very existence. They will wake up, go to shul, and hear in the leining that being gay is repulsive, abhorrent, an abomination. It almost doesn’t matter that this is not a good translation of the passuk – that it’s actually talking about sexual acts – this is what that person will hear. As the classic blue Artscroll Chumash puts it when commenting on תועבה: ‘An abomination – none of the relationships given above are described with this term of disgust, because they involve normal activity… Homosexuality [sic] is unnatural and therefore abominable’ (Brooklyn: Artscroll Mesorah Publications, 2002). This wording has fortunately been removed from later editions, but you can see for yourself – page 653.
What do you think it’s like to read that, taken out of all halakhic context, as a frightened and closeted teenager?
They’ll go into the Kiddush and they’ll wonder,
“Would any of these people still talk to me if they knew the truth?”, “Would the Rabbi still shake my hand?”, “Would he even want me in his shul?”, “Does G-d even want me if I’m like this? I’m disgusting.”
Then they’d walk home to lunch at their grandparents and wonder the similar things:
“Would I still be welcome at this table if they knew what I really was?”
They’d leave lunch to go to Sviva and hear children, and maybe even madrichim, use the word gay as an insult. They’d think to themselves “Calling someone gay is an insult, it’s horrible. I wish I wasn’t like this.”
This is terrible and unacceptable, and we need to stop people feeling this way. I don’t know about you, but I would not want a single person in my community to feel that their existence is abhorrent, that they are disgusting. No one should ever feel like can’t go to shul, be close with their family, or not be able to be a part of our amazing tnua because of their sexuality.
I’m writing this because I was this person. I was the person sitting in shul thinking about if I would ever be able to have a family. If my kids would ever be able to have the amazing upbringing that I had. If they could attend Bnei Akiva, if I would even be able to have kids… Then I would spiral into a whole host of dark and depressive thoughts. I’m writing this because I want to want to make sure that if there’s anyone out there in the dark as I was, that they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Because there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise you. Although it is happening slowly, the Modern Orthodox community is making leaps and bounds in accepting us. Chief Rabbi Mirvis released a guideline about LGBTQ+ pupils, that even the most chareidi schools had to read. There are good Yeshivot and Seminaries that will accept you, even if you’re out of the closet. (Though a friend of mine would like me to make the point that there are some which will not).
I also want to take this chance to thank and acknowledge Bnei Akiva’s efforts over the past few years, which put most Modern Orthodox institutions to shame. Their proactive and open efforts to discuss and condemn homophobia have meant that I now feel safe, no longer frightened of being “outed” within the tnua. Bnei Akiva has taken huge steps in this direction, and the movement is in a totally different place to where it was a matter of years ago. Inclusivity training has become standard for all tzevatim, and although things may not be perfect yet, you should know you do have a place in this tnua. We have a place in this tnua.
I write this now for anyone who may need to hear it: I know that right now you might be in excruciating pain. That you probably don’t believe me when I say that you can be happy, that you can be religious, halachically compliant and gay too, but I assure you it’s possible. There are other people out here, and you are not alone. We may not have anyone to look up to or follow, because it just wasn’t possible with the climate back then. But we can pave a way for ourselves now. It’s not fair, but we will do it. I, for one, refuse to leave Orthodoxy because of my homosexuality, and the same is true for others. We still want to keep kosher, we still want to keep Shabbat, and we still want to give our kids a Jewish education. None of this is affected by our sexual orientation, and nor should it be. No one should be pushed out of their community or their personal observance because of their sexuality. We will not be pushed out of our communities anymore, nor forced into secular or liberal spaces (with all due respect to them). This is our home, and there is a space for you here as much as there is a space for me here. The last thing I want to say is this: it gets better, I promise you. It gets so much better. It might not seem like it now, but there will be a time when this is all in the past. We see you, we hear you, and we are here for you.
What I want to ask is – as a young gay religious Jew, what does success look like for me within the community? Is it tolerance of my existence? Acceptance of my relationships? A shul membership for myself and my significant other? Being accepted into a Yeshiva/Sem that reflects my level of knowledge and learning? Introducing my significant other to my family? My children being accepted into an orthodox school? Being able to not hide my significant other from my siblings under strict orders from their primary school? These are questions that we as a community need to think about; their answers paramount to how we move forward with true inclusivity.
We are here for any support if you need it, anonymous or otherwise, please do get in touch. Equally, if you disagree with me or have any other opinions you wish to share, please do so. Any questions are also welcome, so long as they come from a place of genuine curiosity and they aren’t intended to be inflammatory.
A boger in Shevet Avichai.