Suicide rates among Orthodox homosexual youth are dramatically higher than that of their heterosexual peers, research published last week showed.

The research on suicide among all Israeli youth, conducted by Hannah Bar-Yosef, a member of the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Suicide that operates under the auspices of the Health Ministry, reported that 20 percent of gays and lesbians who participated in the survey had attempted suicide.

The rate for the general youth population stood at 3.5 percent.

But even higher rates were recorded among religious gays and lesbians, with Bar-Yosef saying they faced even greater familial problems than those from the secular community.

Daniel Jonas, director of Havruta, an organization devoted to promoting tolerance for religious homosexuals, said the feelings of gay and lesbian youth in general that they are alone and do not have people to talk to about their sexuality is heightened in the Orthodox community.

According to Jonas, many in the religious community see homosexuality “as some kind of psychological sickness” because of which there is a high incidence of rabbis, religious educators and parents in the community instructing youth who believe themselves to be gay to undergo some form of conversion therapy.

“This causes damage to these people’s self-perception, because when the “treatment” doesn’t work, they’re more inclined to blame themselves for still being gay,” Jonas said.

In 2010, several prominent national-religious rabbis signed a statement of principles calling for acceptance of “Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex attractions” as full members of synagogues and to allow them to participate in religious rituals and honors, and to be treated like anyone else in the community.

The statement, signed by leading rabbis such as Shlomo Riskin, Yuval Cherlow, Benny Lau and David Bigman, asserted that degrading treatment of homosexuals violates of “the deepest values of Judaism,” but nevertheless shied away from endorsing the same attitude to “members who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner.”

Jonas said that to combat the phenomenon of suicide among religious gays and lesbians, rabbis must say publicly that although they might not agree with the lifestyle of homosexuals, they must be accepted and given communal support.

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