I received your letter a few days ago and was very pained by the anguish you have undergone for so many years because of your homosexuality and which is especially torturous to you now that you have become a baal teshuvah. You have asked me for a Torah view on your problem. I hasten to answer you with the hope that what I write will help you in some way.
I believe that the course you have taken is correct: you refuse to deny your nature as a homosexual while at the same time refuse to deny your Jewishness. There is no contradiction between the two if they are viewed in their proper perspective.
Judaism looks negatively at homosexual activity, but not at the homosexual. Whatever the source of his nature, whether it is genetic or acquired (the Torah does not express any view on the matter), is immaterial. This nature in no way diminishes or affects the Jewishness of a homosexual. He is as beloved in God’s eyes as any other Jew, and is as responsible as any Jew in all the mitzvos. He is obligated to achieve life’s goals by directing his life towards spiritual growth, sanctity and perfection of his character no less than is any other Jew. He will merit the same share in the world to come which every Jew merits, minimally by being the descendant of Avraham Avinu and maximally by totally devoting his life towards the service of God.
Past homosexual activity has no bearing on one’s Jewishness. Although it is a serious sin, all humans by nature have spiritual shortcomings; this is why teshuvah was given to us. Teshuvah has the capacity to return a person to a state even higher than that which he had before the sin.
Accordingly, a Jewish homosexual has to make a commitment to embark on a course through which he will ultimately rid himself of homosexual activity. It is not necessary that he change his sexual orientation (if this is at all possible), but that he cease this activity. It is obvious that for many people this will be difficult, and will have to be accomplished over a period of time. But it must be done and it can be done.
Family and children are important in Jewish society but one who does not have these need not feel that he is not a full-fledged member of the community. The verse in Isaiah 58, which is read by Jews all over the world on every public fast day, is addressed to the homosexual:
Let not the saris [who is physically unable to have children] say, “I am a dried up tree.” For so saith God to the sarisim who keep My Sabbath, who choose what I desire, and who keep My covenant: “I shall make them in My house and within My walls a monument, a shrine, superior to sons and daughters. I shall render their [lit., his] name everlasting, one which will never be forgotten.”
Can a homosexual be expected to live as a celibate? I believe a Jewish homosexual can accomplish this if he decides that the Jewish people is his “wife and children.” It is possible to do this if he throws his every spare moment into devotion to the welfare of his people. There are many areas where he can do this.
A homosexual who does not have a family can make serious contributions to Judaism which others cannot: for example, bringing Judaism to smaller communities where there are no facilities for raising a Jewish family.
Activities involving much travel, such as fundraising, (a vital aspect of Jewish survival) are best accomplished by someone who is not tied down to a family. I know of a homosexual who helped establish several important institutions through his fundraising.
Even within one’s community, devotion to public causes can be more easily done by someone who has no family obligations. Several individuals whom I know became respected, active members of their communities during their lifetimes, even though it was well known that they had no interest in marriage.
Devotion of one’s life to others is generally not considered an option in our modern world, since fulfillment of one’s own desires and appetites is considered the major goal of life. This has caused the homosexual community to publicly flaunt their homosexual activity, as if to say to the rest of the world, “See, we can have just as much fun as you!” This is an understandable response to a culture which believes that without sexual satisfaction, life is a failure. But this belief is both a total falsehood as well as a perversion of the nature of humanity.
The fact is that neither homosexual or heterosexual activity has the capacity to grant happiness to humans, as even a cursory glance at our unhappy world will demonstrate. The only activity which can give us happiness is striving towards reaching the true goals of life. Life is not meant to be an arena for material satisfaction. It is to be used to carry out God’s Will by coming closer to Him and serving Him by keeping His commandments.
Sexual activity, by which the family unit can be built, is only one of the activities with which one can serve God. But someone who does not have this capacity still has a whole life and unlimited opportunities to serve God.
I have written at the outset that it is important for you to come to terms with your homosexuality. But to do so, it is vital to change your orientation away from the manner in which Western culture views life, and instead see sexuality in its proper perspective.
How does Judaism look at the reason for someone having been born or becoming a homosexual? Life is meant to be a set of challenges by which we continuously grow spiritually. Any physical defect curtails the enjoyment of life, but on the other hand, meeting the challenge inherent in such a defect can be the greatest source of joy and accomplishment. Challenges are what life is all about, and homosexuality is one of these challenges.
It is difficult for us to understand why certain people were given certain shortcomings as their challenge in life and others were not. We cannot fathom God’s ways, but we can be sure that there is a beneficence behind these handicaps. When these shortcomings are met, they will grant us a greater satisfaction from our lives and a deeper devotion to God than if we were not given them.
I will add that I do not think that it is necessary for you to give up on the hope of someday having a family. I was personally involved in a case of a woman who knowingly married a homosexual man in order to help him overcome his condition. They subsequently had a large family. It was only because they were both deeply religious Jews that they were successful. There is reason to hope that with your acceptance of living a life in the service of God, your problem will be overcome. Nothing is impossible if we merit Divine assistance: “Can the hand of God ever be inadequate?”
I hope that the ideas I have expressed here will be of help to you. In your struggle toward reaching the goals of your life, remember that you are not unique; all of humanity is engaged in the same struggle. You were just given a different set of circumstances within which to operate.
With my heartfelt blessings for your welfare and for your true success, I remain
Very truly yours,
*From the files of Rabbi A. Feldman, rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Be’er Hatorah in Jerusalem and the author of The Juggler and the King.