They appealed to rabbis, petitioned the press, and tried to raise awareness through movies and plays. Now the religious gay community is establishing a website in an attempt to yet again try and touch base with the religious world, which has condemned them at best, and shunned them at worst.
Last week the religious organization HOD (an acronym for religious gays in Hebrew) launched what they described as the “first independent website run by and intended for the gay and lesbian religious community.”
This new website is far from being stereotypically ‘gay’: alongside kippa clad figures under a bright sky painted in the colors of the ‘gay pride’ flag, the site also features articles on halachic issues as well as a page on the weekly Torah portion. Like many other sites, the HOD site also allows for some virtual Q&A. “Users can contact Rabbi R. regarding halachic concerns either by telephone or through the following link,” states the website.
Jewish thought thus clearly abounds on the site. As for gay pride, it is still a difficult notion. The site managers, as well as the aforementioned rabbi, still staunchly refuse to disclose their identity.
Itay, one of the founders of the site, explained to Ynet that this new website is innovative in its approach to homosexuality and religion.
“Up to now the only website catering to the religious gay community was atzat-nefesh (www.atzat-nefesh.org),
which was basically run by straight people that publicly stated that a religious person cannot be gay. They tried to ‘turn’ gay religious people straight, which is something that we know cannot be done. We try to help people reconcile their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation,” he explained.
The founders of the HOD site, young religious individuals themselves, founded the site as part of an overall larger agenda to not only remain part of the religious community, but to reach out to the religious world and attempt to garner its acceptance.
“Both the religious community and the religious gay community are experiencing a lot of changes in thought and perception as of late. One clear indication of such changes is the willingness of the part of many rabbis to hear what we have to say,” explained Itay. One such rabbi is Rabbi Yuval Sharlo, with whom the site managers had what they describe as a “wonderful meeting.”
Open dialogue aside, Rabbi Sharlo still stated in the HaTzofe Newspaper, as well as in the HOD website that “in spite of my clear sympathy to people who have ‘alternate tendencies’, the Halacha point of view on this matter is unequivocal and cannot be changed.”
If the Halacha cannot be altered, why meet with the rabbis at all? According to Itay, “the meetings with the rabbis are not an all or nothing thing. First of all we want the rabbis to see the human faces behind the social phenomenon, and to realize that we are here and that we exist….Down the road we want to come to a situation where everyone can find a niche for themselves within more flexible halachic bounds.”
Recognition and acceptance are therefore foremost on the site operators’ agenda, “We want to embrace both identities, gay and religious,” explained Itay, noting that “we (religious gays) can be found everywhere in the religious world, and simply want to eliminate the stigma, disgrace and sometimes outright violence that has been leveled against us within the religious community.”
“We are your beloved sons,” site operators made an impassioned plea to the religious community, its rabbis and public leaders, also quoting Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who stated that he would “rather transgress with reckless love to fellow Jews than unwarranted hatred.”