An Open Letter to Chaim Levin and Other "Gay Orthodox" Activists
Dear Chaim Levin,
We are writing as members of the Torah Declaration committee and just like you, many of us have personally struggled with Same-Sex Attraction (SSA). We know well the difficulties, the pain, and the fear involved in this struggle. We are sorry to hear that you personally had an unsuccessful and negative experience as part of your efforts at healing your SSA. As with therapy for any issue, many individuals will feel differently about their personal healing process and may experience differing results.
A friend of yours, Jayson Littman, who is now a publicly gay-identified Jewish activist, also utilized the services of the same organization for healing his SSA. While he is proud about his gay identity, he also publicly acknowledges, in an article written in the Huffington Post, that engaging in therapy through that same organization as you did, was incredibly helpful and healing to him:
“I worked through therapy to gain confidence, shed body-image issues and work on correcting the classic triadic family dynamic (enmeshed mother, distant father, and confused, overly sensitive son) that resulted in my homosexual condition (so I believed). During therapy I learned how to love myself, love my parents, and feel emotions. I became confident, secure, and emotional.” Many of us on the Torah Declaration Committee have likewise personally experienced a profound healing of our emotional wounds that caused our SSA. Gender-affirming therapy helped us with a broad range of emotional, self-esteem and body-image issues. Like Mr. Littman, who also experienced his therapy in a totally different light than yours, we believe that our experiences in therapy enabled us to live our lives in harmony with our religious beliefs and values and should not be negated but rather be highly recommended. We also, Baruch Hashem, have been able to successfully overcome or manage our inclinations to the extent that some of the men on our Committee who previously had no attraction whatsoever to women, now feel very attracted to women.
Furthermore, several of us have met incredible Aishes Chayils, women of valor who were able to see past our SSA struggles. They love and support us for who we are, as striving human beings and Torah observant Jews. As our loving spouses, their support is heaven sent both in our continuing commitment to our journey and in living a Torah sanctioned life. Some of us can now sit proudly, holding our children in our arms. In those moments it becomes crystal clear that all of the struggles and difficulties in overcoming our SSA are well worth the courageous efforts we undertook.
We want to share that joy, hope and real life fulfillment with all of our struggling brothers and sisters out there. It’s terribly tragic that most of us only hear the false message of “born this way and can’t change.” We know this is not true, because we have personally experienced this process. There is now a whole network of Orthodox individuals who have successfully overcome or managed their SSA and we will no longer be silent. We are tired of hearing and enduring the continuing ridicule, denial, and demonization about our journey to wholeness. Those days are now over. We will no longer stand idly by. Our voices and experiences need to be heard.
While most of us do not want to be public figures as we move on with our lives, we have personally met with many of the signers of the Torah Declaration. Our Rosh Yeshivas and Rabbeim and the Ravs of our shuls are now very aware of the many frum individuals who have successfully gone through the healing journey for SSA. They have met us, our spouses and heard our stories. Attempts to deny our existence and our success, is no longer a viable option for gay activists.
Our question to you, Mr. Levin, is what kind of life will those who heed your message have? How can you tell Torah Observant 18-, 19-, or 20-year-olds that they can’t ever have any type of kosher intimacy or romantic love for their entire lives because “they can’t change?” We deeply empathize with your personal story and lack of success in healing your SSA. Our hearts go out to you. However, just because you have not been successful, please don’t discourage others from having a real chance at successfully turning around their lives and be able to live with Torah-sanctioned love and intimacy by healing or managing their SSA.
Dissonance between Identifying as a Gay and Orthodox Jew
Another friend of yours who is public about his identity and struggle and is part of the “Gay Orthodox” acceptance movement has written for several years on his blog (anotherfrumgayjew.blogspot.com) about the many sides of this issue. Originally he stated that he did not see a conflict between his identity as a homosexual and that of an Orthodox Jew. Initially, he fully accepted upon himself the obligation to remain celibate for his entire life while not denying his “identity” as a proud homosexual, believing he was “created” this way.
After a few years of living with the reality of what life is like as an “Orthodox Gay Jew,” he recently posted the following on his blog:
“I want to posit something a bit deeper. Being gay, acknowledging that there is a part of you, created by G-d or developed as you grew up, that inherently desires you to act against religion makes you question why and how this is possible. One is forced to acknowledge the possibility that the Torah, at the very least, has been misinterpreted over the past few thousand years, or maybe even be wrong, and that makes you change your thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.
“How can a person be gay and religious? How can G-d create someone gay, or develop a gay identity within a person and then tell them that they cannot act on it? This question rocks so much of the foundation of everything the Orthodox community raised me to believe. For that reason many of my gay friends and I will all question things about religion that we hadn’t before acknowledging our sexuality. I question how accurate the Rabbis were in their interpretations and what biases were brought into the Talmud and codified law. Many others in today’s world think and question the same way, but for myself, and maybe for other gay people as well, it’s the underpinning of being gay that drives these questions. These questions that make a person rethink every law, not just the law and interpretation of homosexuality. For anyone that's ever experienced the dissonance with the Torah - that a part of their being and who they are is delegitimized by the Torah, they understand what I'm talking about.”
Once again our hearts ache for the terrible disillusionment that is confronting Orthodox individuals who have bought into the gay party line that somehow homosexuality is an identity and an intrinsic “part of who you are.” This unfortunate belief system, which is unsubstantiated by science, can be spiritually destructive to the person who adheres to it.
The Gemara in Nedarim 51(a) expands on the meaning of the word Toeivah that the Torah associates with acts of homosexuality. To’ei attah bah—you have been led astray/you are mistaken with this. It is a false belief to think that this is part of who Hashem created you to be. You may have this inclination and desire not by conscious choice, but as a human being, you retain free will to overcome it. If you mistakenly believe that homosexuality is part of who you are, how can you possibly ever hope to overcome it? The Torah is telling us not to accept a mistaken belief along with not engaging in a prohibited action, because one tragic misunderstanding leads to the other.
“Private Behavior and Assur Activity”
In your letter you wrote that you don’t mention prohibited behaviors. You say that “being gay” is not an expression of “personal intimate behavior; it merely expresses an orientation.” Perhaps we should think about the realistic results of this approach. Your position is tantamount to telling Torah Observant Jews who are struggling with SSA, that they can never have any kosher intimacy or romantic affection in their lives. People struggling with SSA are no different than anyone else and deeply desire emotional and physical support and love that is personified by a loving spouse while building a Bayis Neeman. What kind of effect will your telling them that this is a permanent and unchangeable condition have on their “private behavior,” particularly if they are young? We all know that too many will falter and commit “assur activities.” Words and beliefs have real world consequences and, in our case, consequences of Biblical proportions.
You claim that you are not trying to change halacha or advocate for gay marriage. That may well be. However, many other advocates in the so-called “gay Orthodox” world are very much trying to push the envelope on what is “acceptable” according to halacha. Steven Greenberg touts himself as an “Orthodox” Rabbi. He recently orchestrated an “Orthodox gay wedding” or what he calls a gay Orthodox commitment ceremony. One hundred Orthodox Rabbis quickly issued a public denouncement of his efforts to portray himself as an “Orthodox” rabbi in these circumstances and condemned the farce of creating an “halachic” gay ceremony.
Only a few weeks ago another gay affirming Orthodox Rabbi from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Rabbi Zev Farber, publicly posted (Morethodoxy.org) the following shocking statement and open breach of prohibited Biblical law:
“I believe we must come to terms with the fact that, in the long run, Orthodox homosexual Jews really have no choice but to allow themselves to fulfill the intense desire for emotional and physical intimacy in the only way open to them.”
This outrageous statement has encouraged and emboldened “gay Orthodox” activists to now start touting Rabbi Farber and his statement as an official heter for people to act out biblically prohibited activity.
It is very clever to take the incremental approach to gay acceptance. “We just want acceptance of our orientation.” Your plea for acceptance of homosexual “orientation” becomes Rabbi Farber’s acceptance of violations of Biblical law based upon his unfounded belief that individuals have “no choice,” which, in turn, leads to Rabbi Greenberg’s argument that “well, if they are going to be acting out, isn’t it better if they are married.” This incremental approach has worked exceedingly well in the secular world. Gay activists have possibly engineered the most successful social movement in the history of the United States. In the past few decades, they have succeeded, through a combination of emotional appeals, intimidation and political coercion, in changing numerous laws in the U.S. in order to gain acceptance and now affirmation of their life-styles, including same-sex marriage in several states. This was unthinkable 25 years ago.
Understanding the Torah Declaration
We are happy to clarify any confusion about the theological basis for the Torah Declaration (TorahDec.org), which encourages love, compassion, and support for those struggling with SSA. It makes clear that healing is possible and available for those who wish to abide by Torah law. The Declaration also makes a clear distinction between difficult or tragic situations, which happen all the time, and a permanent Torah-contradicting situation with no solutions:
“Struggles, and yes, difficult struggles, along with healing and personal growth are part and parcel of this world. Impossible, life long, Torah prohibited situations with no achievable solutions are not.”
Tragic accidents or afflictions in which someone loses a limb or is born blind or deaf or, G-d forbid, contracts cancer are indeed mostly permanent situations. However, none of those tragic situations are a Torah-violating condition like homosexuality which posits that one is not capable of finding fulfillment without violating Torah law.
In other words a deaf person has no Torah obligation to hear a shofar, nor does he express a deep desire to violate biblical law. He is able to lead a kosher life without any type of Torah violation. The same is true of someone who is blind or has cancer. There is no inherent contradiction with Torah law in those situations.
In fact many other permanent types of situations where one is born with a physical or spiritual affliction such as a mamzer (child of a biblically prohibited relationship) or even a tumtum or an androgyne (person born with unsure or mixed genders) may halachically enter into marriage. There is a kosher outlet for each and every situation. A mamzer can marry another mamzer or a convert. According to the Rambam and Nodeh b’Yehuda, a tumtum and an androgyne can get married as well.
There are other situations which temporarily may not have a kosher outlet, such as that of an agunah. However, these are circumstantial and changeable situations with possible solutions. A witness may show up to testify to the death of the missing husband and free the agunah. Or a recalcitrant husband may finally give his wife a get. The Torah Declaration’s theological viewpoint that “impossible, life-long, Torah-prohibited situations with no achievable solutions” are not possible, is, in fact, unique to the falsehood stated about homosexuality. None of these other tragic or difficult situations enumerated above include a permanent, unalterable, Torah-violating condition with no hope for any type of satisfactory solution, as is being falsely posited about homosexuality.
The Torah Declaration’s Message of Love and Compassion
What you, Mr. Levin, neglect to mention about the Torah Declaration is the whole section devoted to the “mitzvah of love and compassion” wherein we understand that individuals afflicted with same-sex attraction “are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds.” The Declaration makes clear that such individuals “deserve our full love, support, and encouragement in their striving towards healing.”
However, the Declaration makes a crucial distinction between “struggling individuals who seek health and wellness” (as so many of us did) and those who proudly identify with “the homosexual movement and their agenda.” The importance of this distinction, the Declaration goes on to say, is “the difference between what G-d asks from all of us and what He unambiguously prohibits.”
The Torah Declaration’s message of hope and support for those struggling with SSA has been signed by over 200 (and growing) of the most respected and well known Rosh Yeshivas, Ravs of shuls, community leaders, and mental-health professionals. This is a broad coalition consisting of Rabbis from across the religious and political spectrum. They include members of the Chassidish, Yeshivish, Chabad, Sephardic, Modern Orthodox, and Yeshiva University communities. Signers include R’ Yisroel Belsky, R’ Moshe Green, R’ Shmuel Kamenetsky, R’ Sam Kassin, R’ Avrohom Y. Nelkenbaum, R’ Yisroel Neuman, R’ Steven Pruzansky, R’ Yisroel Reisman, R’ Hershel Schachter, R’ Moshe Soloveichik, R’ Moshe Dovid Tendler, and R’Abraham J. Twerski M.D. (For a complete list see our Signatures page.)
We hope that Rabbis, community leaders, and mental-health professionals who read this response will also consider signing the Torah Declaration. There is power in numbers and everyone who signs the Declaration can make a significant difference in this important struggle to protect our Torah way of life.
We would like to end our letter by emphasizing a crucial point to the Torah Observant world: change for SSA is possible. This essential message can literally save people’s lives. We know—because it did for many of us.
Sincerely, The Committee for the Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality