The Gay Orthodox Underground

Recently, organized efforts have been made to confront the conflicts between homosexuality and traditional Jewish life.

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The Internet Creates a Community

GLYDSA does very little advertising, but its presence on the Internet has helped people to find out about it. The anonymity provided by the Internet has been a godsend to Orthodox gays. Suddenly, questions can be asked without fear of exposure.

Another Web site, Orthogays, provides resources and answers to the most frequently asked questions. Is it possible to be Orthodox and gay or lesbian? What does the Torah say about homosexuality? What can I do about sex as an Orthodox gay Jew? Can I still be Orthodox if I have gay sex? Why did God make me gay? What about the mitzvah of peru urevu (procreation)? How can I contribute to the continuity of the Jewish people?

Chat rooms enable people to safely meet and talk about topics that would normally be viewed as taboo. The topics in those chat rooms vary widely. They have recently included: What constitutes kosher sex for an Orthodox gay couple? Should Orthodox gays come out? What should be said when gay bashing is heard at a Shabbat meal?

"Miryam's" interest in starting OrthoDykes, a group for Orthodox Jewish lesbians, had its start in Israel about ten years ago. The issues for Orthodox lesbians are different than for Orthodox gay men, in part because the Torah does not specifically prohibit lesbian sex.

Still, these women are often married and have children, and coming out would mean isolation. "[Orthodoxy] is all they know," says Miryam. "They love the rituals, the Sabbath, the davening [praying]. But then religion becomes the thing that means they have to reject a part of themselves. Your spiritual side is as powerful as your sexual side. You can't ignore [one] at the expense of the other."

Ashkinazy, meanwhile, says the groups are transforming the community. For a long time, he says, "people couldn't conceive that it was possible to be gay and frum, so they were leaving [Orthodoxy] in droves." Now, he says, "More and more people are staying frum--because of the support system and the role models."

The Lives They Live

Many gay Orthodox Jews attempt to ignore their sexual impulses, perhaps even marrying and raising families. Others act on their impulses to a point--avoiding intercourse because of the biblical prohibition. And then there are those who lead fully gay lives, ignoring the halakhic [Jewish legal] ban on gay sex.

"Ovadia" is in the first group. Ovadia lives in a right-wing Orthodox community in New York. He confessed to his wife that he was gay when she was pregnant with their fourth child. She stayed with him, and they now have six children. Ovadia attends Ashkinazy's support group for gay Orthodox men, and says he enjoys the camaraderie. But he would never tell anyone at his shul that he goes to these meetings. He says he and his family have too much to lose.

Richard Isay, a gay New York-based psychoanalyst, estimates that 15 to 20 percent of gay men marry women--because they want to deny or "cure" their gayness, or want children, or to please their parents. After a few years, Isay says, many have episodes of unfaithfulness. After 20 years of marriage, most of these couples were divorced or stuck in loveless marriages. He adds that in the Orthodox community, the number of gay men marrying in pursuit of traditional lives is much higher than in the secular world.

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Naomi Grossman is a freelance writer living in Sharon, MA. She currently works for GlobeSt.com, an online news service.