Ex-gay group Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), despite their heavy involvement with Christian organizations, claim to be a viable alternative for Jews who see conflict between their sexual orientation and the Torah. They claim to take a Torah guided approach to the matter, and have several articles on their site to support this view. But another option for frum (observant; religious) Jews who are dealing with their homosexuality is to – well, to stay gay. The Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association (GLYDSA) shows us how.
Christians are familiar with the holiness code followed by Jews. It is referred to as“The Law” by Jesus and Paul. Verses like Leviticus 18:22 are often cited to validate bigotry and hate against gays. However, “The Law” is not simply the first five books of the Bible (the Torah). Jews have TWO laws: the written Torah, and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah, passed down from generation to generation since the National Revelation at Mt. Sinai, is the interpretation of the Written Law, which has since been written down. This vast collection of literature consists of the Talmud (“Learning”) and the Midrash (“Interpretation”).
The Oral Torah and written Torah are inseparable and rely on each other to communicate what is collectively called Halakha (lit. “the Path,” Jewish Law). Judaism insists that the Scriptures cannot simply be taken at literal face value. In the Oral Torah, rabbis give their point of view and interpretation of scripture, often disagreeing with one another. However, a dissenting argument is not automatically considered heretical. As a result, debate over the meaning of scripture is intrinsic to Judaism, allowing for much flexibility in the faith without immediately causing a schism.
One example of how the Oral Torah dramatically changes the literal reading of the Law:
The phrase “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:22-27) is defined by the oral tradition to imply monetary compensation (Bava Kamma, 84a). The Torah requires penalties be universally applicable, which means if the phrase were taken literally, blind people could not take part. In addition, Leviticus 19:18 prohibits personal retribution. Therefore, the entire commandment is intended to ensure the equality and fairness of punishment, not to condone an equal vengence.
Why is this important? Because anti-gay Christians use verses from the Bible that they share with Jews to condemn homosexuality – and yet there are many gay Jews in the world. GLYDSA does a wonderful job explaining how one can be an observant, orthodox Jew while embracing who you are. Their FAQ page is a wonderful resource for those with scriptural questions regarding homosexuality.