The letter was sent to a wide array of rabbis, religious Knesset members, mayors, community leaders, and organization heads, including Conversion Authority head Rabbi Haim Druckman and Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, and notes that it is only ignorance and lack of awareness that lead to the senseless hatred against homosexuals within the Orthodox community.
Ultra-Orthodox protest against gay pride parade (Archive photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
Rabbi R., an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who answers questions for visitors to the HOD website, told Ynet that “people who have homosexual tendencies suffer greatly, especially within the religious community. Many gays feel rejected not only by the Orthodox society, which does not look favorably upon their lifestyle, but also by God. We therefore must slowly find a way to broach and remedy this difficult situation.”
The rabbi further notes that “open dialogue and interaction with the gay community are the first step, seeing as this topic has only recently been broached in Orthodox circles. Speaking to gay men, rabbis, families, and educators helps us understand fully the sheer distress and anguish that religious gays feel. We cannot be obtuse to their suffering, or the suffering of any human being for that matter.”
'Fear no defense for senseless hatred'
“Fear of the gay lifestyle is no defense for senseless hatred, violence, deligitimization of the gay lifestyle and other severe infraction of the mitzvoth between men and his fellow,” notes the HOD letter. “We do not want to ‘break’ or twist halachic demands, wrote the religious gays, “only live within the niche which halacha affords us as religious individuals.”
Itai, one of the HOD website’s operators, stated that it was the tremendous response generated by news of the site’s launch on Ynet that led him and fellow site founders to appeal to the Orthodox community.
“People were asking me on talkbacks and forums why a religious gay website should be such a big deal when we contend daily with Qassam rocket attacks and the Winograd Commission, “said Itai. “Why make such a huff over it, people were asking. The big problem is that the Orthodox community refuses to discuss the gay dilemma, and sees even broaching the topic as a huge taboo.”
'Our intention is not to subvert halacha'
Itai furthermore denied the notions that religious gays would like to subvert halchic constraints. “Like all religious people we accept the stringent demands of Torah law and would gladly sacrifice ourselves on God’s alter. We do no expect rabbis to annul or alter halacha law on our behalf. The problems with Orthodox gays is mainly a social issue, but those seeking to silence us can easily state that we (gays) are trying to go against the Torah and its demands.”
HOD website founders also noted that many ‘straight’ individuals—including parents, friends and even rabbis—have entered the site since its official launch. “This is mainly due to disgust from the persecution and senseless hatred gays experience,” noted Itai. “Most of these individuals have no affinity for the gay culture whatsoever.”
“Orthodox culture cannot unceremoniously excise us from its ranks,” Itai further stated. “There are other groups that are similarly subjugated, and we would like to be a test case for acceptance of the ‘other’ in Orthodox community.”
In summing up the site’s mission, Itai said that “the way gays are treated in the Orthodox world today violates many of the commandments between man and his fellow man. We appealed to individuals that can give us a semblance of acceptance in the Orthodox world, and we hope that other rabbis and leaders will be willing to talk to us as well.”