June 18, 2019

We Need Gay Orthodox Rabbis

“On May 24, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that I would be ordaining a gay Orthodox rabbinical student who was denied the opportunity to receive smicha from his own Orthodox yeshiva. On May 26, I did so, ordaining Rabbi Daniel Atwood during a ceremony attended by more than 200 guests.

I have been an Orthodox rabbi for a long time, and I know my decision will be met with shock and exasperation by many members of the Orthodox community.

But I also know that our community desperately needs gay Orthodox rabbis, and we ignore that communal need at our own peril.

Leviticus 18:22, which states that “thou shalt not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination,” has not been erased from the Torah. But that biblical commandment does not give us license to ignore or abuse the significant number of carefully observant Jews who are LGBTQ.

Unfortunately, that has often been the reality. The contemporary Orthodox approach to these individuals, with a few notable exceptions, has proven worthless or even dangerous.

Orthodox yeshivot will tell you that they simply don’t have such students. For gay students to survive in such an environment, they must not give any hint to their orientation, which in the hot-house of yeshiva life soon becomes a radical form of self-denial.

When this tension cannot be sustained, their rabbis, parents, charlatans and quack “healers” often prescribe “conversion therapies” that not only don’t “cure,” but actually damage both the body and soul. Conversion therapies typically utilize repeated inducements of shame and pain, and most often lead to a breakdown rather than a successful modern-day exorcism. Nobody gets cured; plenty of people get hurt.”

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