‘The Silent Revolution’ in Orthodox Attitude Towards LGBT People

At the end of Shabbat Israeli Channel 1 news aired an inspiring segment on the process in the religious community with regard to LGBT people. Activists from Havruta and Bat Kol were interviewed and shared stories about their lives as gays and lesbians in their religious communities.

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Reporter Amichai Stein brought to the viewers voices that are different from those of Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who said that the Torah commands the death sentence for homosexual relations. The people from the religious Zionists faction who were interviewed in the news segment were those who are willing to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and do their best to get to know the other.

“It used to be much more complicated before. Rabbis didn’t want to talk about it at all, they didn’t even believe that such thing existed,” said Moshe Grosman, a board member at Havruta, “but today, it’s much more simple. Though still complicated, it’s much simpler than before.”

Grosman, 24, hangs a rainbow flag with a Star of David outside his home in the city of Shiloh, one of the most religious settlements in Israel. “You can see the remains of a torn flag behind it,” he tells the reporter. “We hung a rainbow flag five months ago and after a couple of weeks we found it torn, and I said, ok, if someone had torn my flag I’m going to hang a bigger flag, and with the Star of David on it, and since then this flag is here, and it raises a lot of discourse in the settlement.”

Reporter Amichai Stein calls the growing change in attitude towards LGBT people in the orthodox religious community ‘the silent revolution,’ since most of the voices that often make the news are those like Rabbi Amar’s. But in fact, orthodox religious gay and lesbian people are becoming less and less rare in their communities. “My boyfriend spent the High Holy Days here,” says Moshe Grossman. “He was here for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, and there was no outstanding attitude towards him. People greeted us with ‘Shabbat Shalom’ and ‘Happy Holiday,’ and though I debated whether to bring him here in the first place, I remembered a conversation with one of my friends who asked me ‘What will happen when you have a boyfriend?’ and I told him, ‘It’s going to be the same as when you have a girlfriend. He will become one of our clique.'”

“Today there are many orthodox communities, in some of which a few of us are members, in some not, who deal with these questions,” says Tehilah, a board member at Bat Kol. “There are growing numbers of LGBT families who choose to raise their children within the religious society.”

“My friends raised an eyebrow, totally,” shares Aviyah First, Tehilah’s roommate, and an orthodox Jew, “after they met Tehilah. They asked me, ‘Tell me, is this…?’ and then I found myself being an ambassador of the LGBT community without even being a part of it.”

Uri Erman, 24, husband of Daniel Jonas and ex-orthodox religious man, says that he couldn’t leave his yarmulke on his head after coming out as gay. “From a very early age I knew i was gay, I knew to give it a name,” he says. “That’s the age when people are having Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs and find their ways into the religious society. I had experienced my way out of it.”

“From time to time we have a Shabbat together with the [LGBT] community, and the first time that kids who are 16, 17, 18 years-old arrived with their Tzizit hanging out of their clothes and all, I had two feelings at the same time: on one hand jealousy, and on the other hand- pride. Pride that I’m a part of it.”

Same sex couples in Israel who wish to get married can’t legally do so in the country – so they fly abroad. Uri and Daniel chose to get married in Denmark. After breaking the news to their families, both families, parents and siblings, joined them to attend the wedding. “Same-sex wedding is currently a taboo in the religious community,” says Jonas. “But there’s no verse that prevents me from loving and being loved. There’s no ban on two men living together, to have joint lives, and G-d willing, have children together. The discussion is only on sexual relations. I don’t know of any case where a rabbi stood outside a synagogue and asked every woman who came in whether she’d been to the Mikveh that month.”

“A heterosexual couple who declare themselves Orthodox and get married, we do not stand in the entrance to their bedroom to see what they’re doing,” concludes Moshe, “and that’s the attitude I’d like them to have towards me, my own complex issue in front of G-d that I’ll solve by myself.”

“At the end, it’s not a halachic question to me,” says Tehilah. “In the end it’s a question of who I am in this world, and with the Torah being the Torah of life, our challenge is to find the way for it to be that- Torah for life.”