Rabbis convene in Jerusalem to discuss homosexuality in national-religious community

Some say we are born with sexual orientation, others advocate psychotherapy to change.

Rabbis convene in Jerusalem to discuss homosexuality in national-religious community (photo credit: COURTESY UNION OF COMMUNITY RABBIS)
Rabbis convene in Jerusalem to discuss homosexuality in national-religious community
Some 200 rabbis from the national- religious community gathered in Jerusalem on Tuesday for a conference on homosexuality and how it should be approached by the community.
One prominent discussion at the conference recommended psychotherapy to help homosexuals deal with their sexual orientation while living a religious life, and in some circumstances, to change that orientation.
Efforts to change sexual orientation have stirred controversy and drawn sharp criticism, which conference organizers denounced as an attempt to silence a legitimate viewpoint advanced by some professional academics.
Because of the vehemence of such disagreements, the conference wanted to deal with the issue of homosexuality in the religious community “away from media pressure” and without the need to be “politically correct,” said Rabbi Amihai Eliyahu, head of the Union of Community Rabbis, which sponsored the event.
In addition, organizer wanted to raise the idea of using state funds to pay for therapy for people seeking to deal with or change their sexual orientation, similar to sex-change surgery is funded through the “healthy basket” of state subsidized treatments.
“There are academics who are here – as well as people with the opposite sexual inclination – who are dealing with or dealt with it [their inclination] in the framework of Jewish law in a good way, which allows them to live a life of holiness,” said Eliyahu.
“The state and the academic world needs to invest massive resources for people who are interested in having treatment that will allow them to have normal marital relations between a man and woman. The state has to invest in this,” he said.
Rabbi Araleh Harel, who heads B’kedusha, a group that connects religious gays with therapists, said the only form of therapy it advocated was psychological, nothing else, and that therapists used by his organization were licensed and qualified.
He also said such therapy was not designed to reach a specific goal, but that the person seeking therapy had to define their own desired outcomes.
Harel said, however, that people who approach B’kedusha for assistance most often are seeking to “re-evaluate” their sexual orientation, or to see if they can change it.
There is no contradiction between being religious and having homosexual inclinations, he said, but acting on such inclinations and engaging in homosexual acts was forbidden.
“A religious person who wants to transgress Shabbat is still religious, but a religious person who does transgress Shabbat isn’t religious,” Harel said simply.
“Some people succeed in changing their sexual orientation. Others try and don’t succeed. But they are also commanded to live a life of holiness in accordance with Torah and Jewish law.
It’s not easy, it’s not simple, he wont necessarily succeed, but that is what God wants from him.”
Harel said that despite the human urge to form a committed relationship with another individual, gays who are not able to change their sexual orientation “are required to forgo life with a partner.”
Eliyahu said, nonetheless, a homosexual in a homosexual relationship should not be rejected by a synagogue community as long as he does not “encourage” or “incite” others to be gay and does not “fly his sexuality on a flag.”
Such a person can even be called up to the Torah and lead prayer services, he said, and should be treated like anyone else in the community who commits a sin.
“As long as he doesn’t fly a flag about his sexuality, no one will interfere with his life... No one will throw him out of the community, no one will ask him what he’s doing in private life. But he won’t be a rabbi of the synagogue, just like someone who desecrates Shabbat won’t.”
Daniel Jonas, director of the Havruta organization for religious gays, welcomed the conference as positive, in that the religious leadership was even willing to discuss the issue, something he said would not have happened as little as five years ago.
He added that he and his organization were not opposed to the idea of therapy, but insisted that such treatment be designed to help an individual discover who they were.
“You can’t fire the arrow and then draw the target around it,” Jonas said.
“We are in favor of people exploring exactly who they are and what they are, but I don’t believe that the people at this conference are willing to accept a result of a man saying they are unable to form an attraction to a woman.”
He also rejected the assertion that a religious homosexual should abandon any desire to live with a partner in a committed and sexual relationship.
“Life alone is death,” Jonas told The Jerusalem Post. “Living not just for two or three years but for one’s entire life alone is not life.”
He argued that Judaism opposed a monastic or ascetic life and that it was impossible to expect someone to live in such a manner.
“The myth that a person can live his entire life on his own with no companion, and without a way to release his sexual needs is not healthy,” he said.
Jonas rejected the comparison of homosexuality with Sabbath desecration, arguing that people do not choose to be homosexual, they are born that way, whereas someone who violates the Sabbath choses to do so.
He insisted that religious gays could lead a homosexual life without violating specific Torah prohibitions.
“There is still a long way to go, but the fact that they are willing to talk about us and sometimes even with is a step forwards,” he concluded, adding the hope that he or someone from his organization would be invited to a similar conference in the future.