A Burning Fire and a River of Tears
The response to the anonymous article by a student in YU published in the most recent Kol Hamevaser has been overwhelming. In order to make the article more readily available to a wider audience, we are presenting it in full here.
A Burning Fire and a
One Day in My Shoes
Editor’s note: This article was submitted anonymously to protect the student’s identity and allow him to discuss the topic openly. If you would like to contact him privately, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wake up to a buzzing alarm clock signaling the arrival of another day and head out to daven. I concentrate as hard as I can and ask Hashem for help to face another day. I am the typical YU student. I go to morning seder, lunch, shiur, and then my secular classes. I am still the typical YU student. I sit down for supper, go to night seder, and then to Ma’ariv. Am I really the typical YU student? I spend my nights studying for the next day of classes; I work hard for my grades, but still find some time to spend with my friends. But as I get ready to put my head down for the night, exhausted from a trying day, I know that I am not the typical YU student; Hashem has given me the challenge of challenges, a challenge that leaves me muffling my cries on a tear-stained pillow as I slowly fall asleep.
Each of us has a challenge in the world, a roadblock on the highway of life that challenges us to become the best we can be. We are given these tests to help shape our character and to become masters of our desires, whatever they are. Whether the test is keeping Shabbat or learning afternoon seder between classes, we are all given a test in life. My own challenge keeps me up at night, preoccupies my thoughts during the day, and leaves me feeling like I am walking down a somber road in a lonely world: I am a religious Jew, living in the observant Jewish world, faced with the challenge of being a homosexual.
The Torah in two places[i] tells us that the act of homosexuality is an abomination, and under no circumstance is one to perform this act, even when faced with death as the only alternative. This is because the act of homosexuality is likened to that of bestiality and adultery and is looked upon in the most severe of manners. There is little reference otherwise to homosexuality in the Torah and Talmud, although at the end of Masekhet Kiddushin, on daf 82a, we are told that two men are prohibited from sleeping under the same blanket for fear of possible homosexual relations taking place. The Gemara there, however, states that this ruling no longer applies, as such acts were practically unheard-of during that era. Little other halakhic information is available from these early sources on this topic, although some stories are related in the Gemara and several biblical Midrashim.
Before homosexuality started to become an acceptable alternative lifestyle in modern society, as is so visibly flaunted today, the idea of permitting homosexuality within Judaism was unheard of. Despite the fact that homosexuality is clearly labeled by the Torah as an abomination, some people have, within the last several years, started making arguments to try to find loopholes for its permissibility. Homosexuality is labeled by the Torah as an abomination and there are no infallible arguments against it. “How can Hashem expect us to live our lives as celibates? As two consenting adults, we should be allowed to live our lives the way we want in order to find true happiness,” is often an argument put forth to the Jewish community. “‘Love,’ ‘fulfillment,’ ‘exploitative,’ ‘meaningful’ – the list itself sounds like a lexicon of emotionally charged terms drawn at random from the disparate sources of both Christian and psychologically-oriented agnostic circles,”[ii] wrote YU’s Chancellor and Rosh Ha-Yeshivah, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm in the 1970s. He went in depth to prove that these sorts of arguments would permit any sexual relationships in today’s society, removing from it all sexual morality.
As a religious Jew, I have always put Torah values at the center of my beliefs. Never would I dream of trying to say that homosexuality is permissible; I know that there is something intrinsically wrong with such an act. That is certainly not to say, however, that it is not a challenge for me. Attraction, whether to a man or to a woman, is not always something that one can control. The fact that I have certain desires – which I would purge from my life in a second if I had the ability – is something that I cannot change. They leave me with feelings of solitude, despair, depression, and, alas, excitement.
Am I an abomination? Does Hashem look at me with disgust and loathing, as I feel so many people would if my struggle should become known and as so many people do, in fact, look at “open” religious Jewish homosexuals today? When one looks closely, the verse in Va-Yikra labels the homosexual act as an abomination – but only the act. The perpetrators are people, people who are challenged and who do not know how to control their desires – desires that so many of them pray they never had. British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks explains clearly that the Torah “does not condemn homosexual disposition, because the Torah does not speak about what we are, but what we do.”[iii]
However, within the Orthodox Jewish context, few people recognize this. While many today have corrupted general society, leaving it with the notion that once someone is gay, he/she will eventually “come out” and live an “alternative lifestyle,” this is impossible for an Orthodox Jew to accept. As such, I have hidden throughout my lifetime – today I do and in high school I did. I hid in fear that I would be ostracized and excommunicated from the Jewish community. I stood alone as a frightened fifteen-year-old boy, avoiding acting on my desires, yet also unable to call out and ask for help to rid myself of them. I stood frightened and did not know where to turn. I always wanted to find a wife and raise a family as an Orthodox man. I did not know how I would ever be able to do that, but I knew, and still know, that that is the life I am destined to live. I knew that one day I would need to tell someone about my feelings, step out from my hidden world of shadows, and ask for help.
It took me five years to gain the courage to reach that petrifying moment. After many months of praying and introspecting, I eventually reached the point not where I wanted to tell someone, but where I was prepared to do so. That moment had been the most horrifying and dreaded thought in my mind for so many years. I had prepared for the worst possible outcome, no doubt because of
I was not sure how my rebbe from yeshivah in
My path is unclear and even though I still stand alone, I stand armed with the will to live another day and fight to keep my beliefs alive. No matter the support I get, I stand on trial every day of my life. I do not know where my future will lead, nor how I can change my feelings. I live with a sense of frustration, knowing the goal I want to reach but lacking the tools to arrive there. What must I do to be able to marry a woman? What must I share with my future partner? How can I even bring myself to tell her this hidden secret? I do not know if it is fair to ask someone to live with me under these conditions, or whether I will truly be able to be happy in such a relationship. All I know is that I want to one day make marriage to a woman work – to love her and have her love me back. I want to watch her walk down to the huppah in the most beautiful wedding dress, with tears of happiness and joy in her eyes, as I know there will be in mine. I know that I want to stand with her, supporting her through the hard times that we will go through, and be there for her always. I see this vision in my future, but I have so many questions that have no answers.
I know that I have a goal that I hold onto every day, but I live trying to cope with an everlasting sense of guilt, even though I understand that these feelings are not my fault and that this is the way my life was divinely ordained to progress. I have read through so many different experimental ideas about the root of homosexual attractions. But to me, that is all they are – ideas, possibilities that I do not think can really help in ridding me of my challenge. In fact, I do not think that I will ever be able to fully rid myself of these feelings, even when I marry and raise a family. Such knowledge is endlessly frustrating. I know where my path will lead, but I do not know how to get there. I see hope at the end of the road, but the path to it is covered by a screen of smoke and fog.
And I still live in fear. I have told a handful of people about my challenge. The results have sometimes been incredibly painful. I have had to pull away from people I had once called friends because of pain and embarrassment. I have been forced to sever relationships with close friends because of their lack of understanding and because of the hurt and confusion I have caused them. I watch my friends begin to date and to marry and question what my future holds. Will I find someone to share my life with? Will I ever really be completely happy with my decision? Am I destined to live a life alone? I want to tell my friends, to cry out to them, but I know I cannot. I know that the path that has been laid before me is one of solitude.
Rabbi Dr. Lamm once wrote that “Judaism allows for no compromise in its abhorrence of sodomy, but encourages both compassion and efforts at rehabilitation.”[iv] I have told you my story and have given you a glimpse at my challenge. I do not ask you to cry with me or accept me; I only ask you to realize that I am out there. Realize that not everyone who is challenged with homosexuality is parading or protesting for equal rights. I beg you to realize this – that I, too, am a frum Jew, trying to live a frum life like everyone else. I stand with you in the elevators of Belfer, Furst, Muss, Morg, and Rubin. I eat lunch at your table and sit with you in class; you call me a friend. And I am not one person; I am the courageous voice that has spoken for a group that lives isolated and in hiding.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot 2:5 tells us to never judge someone before one has walked in his shoes. I have let you see a peek of the trial I will face for the rest of my life, and ask that you do not judge me; I ask you to understand me. I stand next to you, even if you will never know my identity and my challenge. There is a fire within me, which will always burn, urging me to fight and complete my destiny, which I must hide from the world. I stand next to you, even if you will never know my identity and my challenge. Many tears have flown from my heavy eyes and there will be many more. One day in my shoes, a trial that will last a lifetime.
[i] Va-Yikra 18:22 and 20:13.
[ii] Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, “Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality,” in Jewish Bioethics, ed. Fred Rosner and J. David Bleich (New York: Sanhedrin Press, 1979), 209.
[iii] Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks’ foreward to Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View (
[iv] Lamm, 217.