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Is being gay a sin? Can one be a Jew and a gay person at the same time? How does the Jewish community think about gays?

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If you are referring to the Orthodox Jewish community, then please specify. When it comes to theology, the different movements take different approaches to this subject. Let us try to minimize machloket. –  Adam Mosheh Feb 12 '12 at 17:15
I'm honestly surprised Isaac Moses protected this rather than closing it... –  SAH May 12 '12 at 0:00

6 Answers 6

up vote 39 down vote accepted

This is a very controversial subject. However, a distinction must be made in terminology between "being gay" (which for the purposes here we could define as being sexually attracted to members of one's own gender) and engaging in homosexual acts (where Male-Male intercourse is an unambiguous violation of a Torah-level prohibition and Female-Female may be a rabbinic prohibition).

So with those definitions, being gay would not be a sin from a Judaism perspective. Engaging in homosexual acts is a sin. One can definitely be a Jew and be Gay at the same time, and one can be Jewish and engage in homosexual acts at the same time, just as one can be Jewish and violate the Sabbath or eat non-Kosher food at the same time - a Jew who sins is still a Jew.

Regarding how the Jewish community thinks about gays - it depends on the community. This can range from being very respectful and welcoming (and for some of the most liberal non-Orthodox denominations, allowing and sanctioning such unions) to don't-ask-don't-tell to downright hostility. It just depends on the community (though the topic is definitely more polarizing than "how does Judaism think about Sabbath violators", or almost any other topic).

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+1 Very well put. –  Shaul Behr May 18 '11 at 14:52
Male-Male intercourse is an unambiguous violation of a Torah-level prohibition and Female-Female may be a rabbinic prohibition, so are you saying that lesbian is more tolerable than gays? –  Graviton May 18 '11 at 14:55
@Graviton - I assume that by "gays" you are referring to male-male intercourse. So then yes, the level of sin involved with female-female sex (rabbinic) is lower than than of male-male (Torah-level, though this link raises the possibility of a Torah-level violation for a lesbian relationship). –  Yaakov Ellis May 18 '11 at 15:04
@Graviton re "more tolerable": Note, though, that rabbinic prohibitions are not to be trifled with, either. –  msh210 May 18 '11 at 16:41

@Yaakov Ellis gave an excellent answer, but I would add just a single thought to explain to don't-ask-don't-tell attitude of many communities.

As mentioned before, Judaism sees homosexual acts as a sin. (Perhaps different levels of prohibition depending on the gender.) However, Judaism does not generally consider predilection to a sin to be a sin itself. It may a difficult test, to be sure, but Judaism expects people (of all backgrounds) to overcome their temptations (whatever they may be).

Judaism does not generally approve of broadcasting one's personal tests and shortcomings. (Note that one is not allowed to speak לשון הרע (negative speech) about oneself.) Since Judaism classifies homosexual acts as a sin, one would expect an observant Jews to not broadcast or classify themselves based on their temptation to sin. I think this is the general basis for the don't-ask-don't-tell attitude of many communities. They might be welcoming of gay individuals, but at the same time not be supportive of Gay Pride movements.

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shmuelp, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for this insight! –  Isaac Moses May 20 '11 at 2:19
AFAIK the Chofetz Chaim actually rules that one is allowed to speak Loshon Hora about oneself. (Yes, I know, the famous story... But he may have been just saying it is not advisable, but not forbidden.) –  SZH May 2 '14 at 15:53
So we're not supposed to talk negatively about others and not about ourselves? –  Jim Thio Jan 12 at 7:56

The Torah contains prohibitions against many activities that Hashem assures us are spiritually harmful to us. These are mainly activities that we might otherwise want to do.

On one hand, practicing homosexuality is one of these proscribed activities, on the other hand, Jews who are homosexual will find this prohibition far harder than any other.

Certain less tolerant communities will reject a practicing homosexual, as they would reject any Jew who didn't keep Shabbat or kashrut. Communities who are more accepting are more likely to welcome homosexual Jews into their community, even if they don't approve of what that individual does in the privacy of their bedroom.

"Can one be a Jew and a Gay at the same time?"

The way of life prescribed by the Torah is intended for all Jews. Having said that, being a religious Jew I'm sure is exceptionally challenging for a homosexual. But for a Jew who wants to realise their spiritual potential, there's no other way.

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Please see Wikipedia's article on homosexuality and Judaism.

Here's my summary of some points from the Orthodox Judaism section of that article.

  • Orthodox Judaism basically forbids male homosexual conduct.

  • Rabbinic views:

    • The Lubavitcher Rebbe and R' Jonathan Sacks both advocate offering help and/or compassion to homosexual Jews.

    • R' Norman Lamm says that some (but not all) homosexuals are diseased, and need compassion and treatment, not ostracism.

    • A statement, mainly by Rabbis Nathaniel Helfgot, Aryeh Klapper, and Yitzchak Blau, adds that exclusive homosexual Jews normally shouldn't marry someone of the opposite gender.

  • The JONAH organization focuses on "prevention, intervention, and healing of the underlying issues causing same-sex attractions." Atzat Nefesh is similar.

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To improve this answer, please consider quoting and/or summarizing the relevant parts here. (However, try to avoid copying entire sections and pages as per here and here.) –  HodofHod May 11 '12 at 22:22
@HodofHod: Thank you for the suggestion. Done. –  tealhill May 14 '12 at 4:38
.........and +1 –  HodofHod May 14 '12 at 5:00

as mentioned before depends on how you define "being".

homosexual intercourse is a sin. if a jew commits a sin he doesn't stops being a jew, this is how someone could be gay and jew, same way someone could eat bacon on iom hakipurim and wound't change the fact that he is jewish.

if you define "being" as an inclination/attraction, as long as he didn't do anything, it's nothing. just like someone that would like to eat bacon, fantasize about it, bought, prepared the barbecue, is smelling and putting in his for, as long as he didn't eat it he didn't commit a sin. this is called the evil inclination.

the difference here is that you can't think about prohibited relations and there are no exceptions. for most things if a life is at stake you can make an exception, but not here.

the jewish perspective about non jewish gays as I see, is like the romans used to be. just a group of people that let theirs desires control them. it is not a question of right or wrong, they just seek what gives them more pleasure. the romans had a utensil in which they could throw up in parties so they could continue eating.

in addition today there's the challenging factor, some people have pleasure in confronting the established values, just like a teenager.

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"the difference here is that you can't think about prohibited relations and there are no exceptions." What? –  HodofHod May 4 '13 at 0:03

Opinions vary.

Box Turtle Bulletin is one of the best websites out there for news affecting the gay community. They have an American focus, but also discuss other areas of interest (particularly the recent outrageous human rights abuses in Uganda, and the attempt there to pass a bill applying the death penalty to homosexuality).

Here's a list of their posts tagged "Judaism": http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/tag/judaism. It shows a variety of Jewish opinion. For example, various Jewish groups were on different sides of California's "Proposition 8", which encoded anti-gay animus into the Constitution. Some of the rabbis who argued against Prop 8 nonetheless do not support same-sex marriage in their own faith; they're just wary (rightly) of encoding religious beliefs into state law:

Many of the Rabbis do not support religious same-sex marriages within their faith. But they recognize that the terms of civil marriage should not be dictated by a religious majority.

On the other hand, some of the rabbis do support same-sex religious marriage. There are, even, specific gay synagogues (which have their own, interesting problems).

One argument I've heard is that the Torah prohibits only gay anal sex; anything else is fine.

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Ah. Commentless downvotes. Helpful. –  TRiG May 20 '11 at 12:15
I downvoted you because your answer sounds like a advertisement. Your post became political when the question didn't involve politics. It's clear from your language that your intent was to persuade readers that homosexuality is acceptable, when the vast majority of Orthodox Judaism rejects this; that is to say, your post is misleading. –  Judah Himango May 21 '12 at 18:14

protected by Isaac Moses Mar 15 '12 at 14:51

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