Jay Michaelson
How can you be gay and Jewish?, p.3

Of course, one cannot presume to know all the ways of the Ineffable One. But, if we look at the facts without blinders, this is not a subtle issue. On the one hand, gays who have accepted themselves (we will now speak only of gay men, since lesbians are not included in the Levitical prohibition) are capable of warm, loving, honest, sustained family relationships. They, like straight people, can experience God in their loving relations, in their erotic union, and in their emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual integration, and can reflect that experience in meaningful, moral, and productive lifelong relationships. On the other hand, gays who have not accepted themselves are repressed, distorted, and prone to erratic, dangerous, or inappropriate sexual activities. (One thinks of the recent Catholic church scandals, for example, or of comparable scandals, less well-known, within the Jewish community -- scandals which happen to affect certain key decisionmakers on this very issue.) Speaking from my own experience, the "closet" is a far too gentle term for an all-encompassing net of lies, self-hatred, and desires for self-mutilation. Studies conducted in the 1990s showed that almost half of gay and lesbian youth in the U.S. attempt suicide more than once; almost 90,000 per year succeed. Does a loving God want this?

We also know, for a fact, that sexual orientation, while perhaps fluid, is irreversible. On the negative side, it cannot be "cured" with "reparative" therapy, actually a form of aversion therapy designed to cause pain or nausea at the sight of an inappropriate sexual object. (Given the horrible psychological mutilation involved in such "therapy," I believe it should be banned by all responsible Jewish authorities as a form of [harm to the self].) On the positive side, sexual orientation is part of who gay people are. It is how God made us, and the way we love. And love, according to countless Jewish texts and traditions, is one of God's greatest gifts and a way in which God makes Godself knowable to us. Does a loving God want people to mutilate precisely those parts of themselves designed to express love?

I do not believe the existence of a loving God can be squared with a blanket prohibition on homosexuality. However, we should note that such a view is theoretically possible. Perhaps homosexuality is a special challenge which, like disability or a propensity to sin, is inexplicably bestowed upon some people for reasons we may only guess. If this is the case, we would expect those pious saints who abstain from all sexual contact to be blessed with especially intense devotion for God. Indeed, this may be the case in the Jewish tradition, as we know of many great rabbis who never married, or who married only very late in life. (Examples include the tanna Ben Zoma and the ethicist/kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.) Perhaps these were the celibate gay sages we would expect to find. Since we have no way of knowing the sexuality of these men, I can only reply on the basis of anecdotal evidence from contemporary sources. I know few closeted, celibate men who are joyous, generous, loving, and in love with God. Quite the contrary: most closeted men I know are conflicted, distorted, and only partially alive. On the other hand, in my own life and in the lives of many friends of mine, ending the lies, self-deceptions, self-mutilations, and repressions of the "closet" opens the door to being a full ethical, religious Jew. Instead of cursing God, one makes peace with and learns to love God. Instead of seeing oneself as especially prone to evil, one begins to see oneself as a special Divine vessel. And instead of hating the means to love, the gates of love are open.

Admittedly, this evidence is only personal and anecdotal. It is sufficient for me; it may be insufficient for someone else. However, having spent many years meeting both open and secret gay Jews, across all movements and religious affiliations, I have not met a single repressed gay Jew who is healthy, happy, wise, and living a full life of traditional Jewish values. I have met many open gay Jews who do all of these, in joy and in holiness.

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Image: Jay Michaelson

September 2004

Singing God's Praises:
Psalms and Authenticity
Josh Feigelson

Two Prayers for the Days of Awe
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

How can you be gay and Jewish?
Jay Michaelson

Hiding your Sins
Hal Sirowitz

Retrato de Familia
Bara Sapir

Jews and Bush
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Hyatt Regency Dead Sea Resort
Rowena Silver

Radical Evil
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson