Whisper It, but Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Community Is Starting to Talk About Homosexuality

Observers say there is a growing understanding among many Haredim that the previously taboo subject can no longer be ignored

When a religious Knesset member was pressured by his party into resigning last week after attending the wedding of a gay nephew, many Israelis saw it as further proof of the intolerance and rigidity in the ultra-Orthodox world. But others saw just the opposite.

The real news, they insisted, was not that Yigal Guetta had been given the boot from the Shas party, but rather that an ultra-Orthodox politician in Israel had attended a gay wedding, had urged other members of his family to join him and was not afraid to speak about it publicly.

“This was not just an ordinary family gathering,” notes Prof. Tamar El Or, a sociologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who has studied the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) community. “It was a Jewish religious ceremony, and what Guetta said was that it was his obligation to attend and make his nephew happy. That is pretty revolutionary.”

The ultra-Orthodox community may not accept or tolerate homosexuality, but according to Prof. Kimmy Caplan, chairman of the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, it is finally starting to address the issue.

“Not only homosexuality, but also other phenomena once considered to be stains on the family or the community – mental illness, for example, or children who left the Orthodox way of life,” he says. “These are phenomena the Haredi community has been starting to come to terms with. There is a growing understanding that they exist, that they can’t be hidden or denied, and that they have to be dealt with.”

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