A Wobbly First Step on LGBTQ+ and the Frum Community

by Rabbi Yisrael Motzen

Perusing the comment section to the ‘First step’ article brought about a number of personal reflections. First and foremost, the analogy I used, comparing “Chani’s” choice to not keeping Shabbos, was misleading and imprecise. Misleading because many interpreted it to refer to those advocating for a change in Halacha, which was not the population I had in mind. Imprecise because, as one high school principal commented to me, “These questions are THE questions of this generation.” To compare these issues to Shmiras Shabbos, an issue with clearly defined lines, is an imperfect analogy as there is good reason to distinguish between them. A fear of normalizing a way of life that is against the Torah is well-founded and needs to be countered.

An additional area where my presentation could have used more explaining was my conversation with the teenager. This particular teenager had their mind made up, and I addressed the questions posed to me. Many do not, and we do them a great disservice if we were to simply accept every line of thinking promoted by our surrounding culture. Teenagehood is a terribly confusing time as it is, and the additional choices that are now thrust upon our youth by our culture do not make their lives simpler and create even more instability.

Lastly, as some pointed out, many great Rosh Yeshivas and rabbanim have publicly proclaimed the need for compassion in this and all areas. In my conversations with leading rabbanim on these issues, I have only encountered compassion and kindness. Some seem to have understood that I was implying otherwise, and this was certainly not my intent.

In sum, this article was born out of heart-wrenching conversations with those who were deserted by family, by parents who felt utterly lost, and by rabbanim who wanted to help congregants but did not have the tools. It was written from the heart without enough forethought as to how it would be received. With the stakes being as high as they are, this was a mistake.

That said, I do maintain the need for this conversation to continue. If anything, the writing of this article and the response made that even clearer. If I were to rewrite this article, I would instead describe the challenges and handicaps in writing such a piece:

We have a group of people in our communities who would like to remain in our communities. Some will strive to live their lives al pi halacha in every respect. Others, due to challenges so deep that I cannot wrap my head around, may conclude that they cannot, and yet, they desperately wish to remain within our communities. How do we relate to such people? Which model, in a history riddled with imperfect communities, do we compare this to? I, for one, do not have a good analogy.

More and more teens are grappling with these questions and there is a dearth of knowledge at our disposal. Ideas that are politically incorrect are quashed in academia, stifling appropriate research into these issues. It is not to say that the current understanding of these issues is incorrect, only that the field of mental health is terribly handicapped and that we are missing a complete picture. Can we all, rebbeim and mechanchos on the one hand, and mental health practitioners on the other, have the humility to say, we are not sure what is happening here? Can we work together to do research unencumbered by the current limitations, and can we, as a community, accept their conclusions? This would provide the tools to people like myself to be able to have informed conversations on the matters at hand.

While it is true that great people have advocated for compassion balanced with conviction, we may not have the proper language to express this balanced feeling. Some accused me of being too accepting, I would accuse many of the commenters on the piece of being unnecessarily harsh. How do we properly balance ona’as devarim with a fidelity to Halacha when they seem to clash? How do we prevent our communities from normalizing ways of life that are antithetical to the Torah while having open and much-needed conversations on the topic? This, more than anything else, was the purpose of my article. My attempt at a first step was far from perfect and I thank those who pointed this out to me. I hope and pray that by addressing the questions posed above, we can all take a first step together, and create a more compassionate and conviction-filled Jewish community.

While some readers did not appreciate this final point, there were others who did. I am attaching a letter I received, a first-person account, as it illustrates the need for this continued conversation:

As one of the subjects of the recent debate between Rabbis Motzen, Menken, and Gordimer that was recently published on Cross-Currents, I read each piece with significant interest.

Before giving over my own perspective, please allow me to say that (despite my particular struggles) I do not identify as part of the LGBT+ population as I do not believe that someone’s particular orientation or lack thereof needs to define our entire identity in relation to the world, I do not advocate for any changes to halacha, and I obviously cannot presume to speak for anyone’s experiences other than my own…

Please note that I prefer to remain anonymous not out of fear of pushback or because I have anything to hide, but because I agree with those who said that these sorts of discussions are best to have in privacy with therapists and rabbonim. I am sharing my own experiences here only for the sake of having a more productive communal conversation…

I am someone who did everything “right.” Once my rosh yeshiva told me that I was old enough to start dating, I did so with the intention of finding a partner to raise a family with… Within six months, I was engaged and soon married. I then began learning in kollel, and have appeared content to my friends and rabbonim ever since. That, however, was not really the case. My wife and I realized very quickly that something was “off.”…

Like anyone would do in this situation, I immediately… began seeing a (frum) therapist who offered many practical suggestions. Months of therapy, however, were unsuccessful and the therapist himself ultimately admitted that it does not work for everyone in my situation. My wife and I decided that we would stay with each other following that experience and are still committed to raising a Torah family despite these challenges. Not everyone is prepared to do that, though. Once I realized that I would not be able to change my desires, I found a group of peers who were all in the same boat… Two things became clear as we all spoke with each other.

First, we are a distinct minority. The vast majority of those in our situations either ended their marriages, ended their relationships with frum Yiddishkeit, or both. Secondly, we were all uncomfortable bringing our unique shaylas to our rabbonim or roshei yeshiva as we were convinced that we would just be written off or told to do (or not do) things we already knew.

Perhaps this reflected a lack of emunas chachamim on our part, but I believe Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how “___phobic” the frum world is proved our worries correct.

This status-quo is a problem because our shaylas are not just disappearing into thin air. Some of these questions are halachic in nature, but most are hashkafic… These all require Daas Torah to answer, but in order to get that Daas Torah, we first need to know that we can actually come forward to rabbonim and poskim with our shaylas without being turned away or distrusted.

This brings me to just three points that I’d like readers of this piece to see.

1) We exist within your communities. Many of us neither want to leave, nor want to wear our struggles on our shoulders. But it’s hard to keep up either of those attitudes when we feel that we have no one to speak to about our struggles. Staying frum, for many of us, has become its own form of mesiras nefesh and it truly pains me to say that.

2) While I would not recommend indiscriminately teaching our youth about these topics, I did not have the ability to realize there was anything particularly different about me until I was already married. Others try to bury their sexualities for the sake of shidduchim and obvious problems arise in our marriages as a result. It seems to me that there needs to be some type of medium where those of us who struggle with sexuality or a lack thereof and yet still want to raise frum families in a Torah environment can be in each other’s parsha without needing to worry about traumatizing those who do not want to share our struggles or can simply not date at all and still be socially at home in our communities.

3) As Rabbi Motzen said in his initial article, a little compassion can go a long way. We’re not asking for public psak or even drashos. We just want to know that there are rabbonim who we can bring our shaylas to that will not antagonize us for raising them. Until Rabbi Motzen’s article was published, that was not an assumption I could make. And the immediate responses he received in the comments of his original article and through the responses thus far have been disheartening at best.

Editor’s Note (by YM): I would like to examine and respond to the letter-writer’s reference to “Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how ‘___phobic’ the frum world is.”

It is important to return to what both of us wrote, because our statements are not as the writer describes, and, in fact, are not grounds for assuming that rabbis would “antagonize” those who raise these issues due to personal struggles. They do not at all prove his (or their) fears correct.

In reality, Rabbi Gordimer wrote that people with SSA and other impulses “can live Torah-true lives as they serve Hashem with sincerity and contribute to Klal Yisroel in numerous ways.. in their ever-challenging and saintly quest to remain loyal to the Torah.” He wrote both that such an individual is seen by rabbis as “a tzaddik and a gibbor,” and that “in none of these cases do the people under discussion consider themselves to be part of an ‘LGBTQ+ community.'”

It is objectively true that ‘LGBTQ+’ is identified with issurim, of course, but this raises no obstacle—as, per both Rabbi Gordimer and the writer himself, having SSA impulses does not automatically place a person within that ‘community.’ The writer said that “I do not identify as part of the LGBT+ population as I do not believe that someone’s particular orientation or lack thereof needs to define our entire identity,” and described LGBTQ as “a label we personally reject,” referring to others with a similar situation to his own. Thus he describes himself and others as (quite precisely) those Rabbi Gordimer emphasized must be welcomed, not rejected.

To me, the fact that the writer first expressly removed himself from the ‘LGBT+ population,’ and then apparently included himself in Rabbi Gordimer’s accurate characterization of that same population from which the writer removed himself and his peers, is very confusing. Rabbi Gordimer and the writer made the same distinction between two different groups of people, and Rabbi Gordimer went on to describe the group in which the writer places himself in only favorable terms. It appears that the writer is so fearful of rejection that he could not accurately understand Rabbi Gordimer’s words of welcome, and I hope he will reconsider.

This is doubly true because Rabbi Motzen, in his response to Rabbi Gordimer, made basically the same distinction between those with SSA impulses and those who make themselves ‘advocates’ for the ‘LGBTQ+ community.’ Rabbi Motzen likened these to two categories of Mechalelei Shabbos: “those who do so b’farhesya mamesh, driving their convertible past shul on Shabbos, honking their horn, and waving at those making their way to shul, and then there all the others.” And I, for my part, used the same two categories in my response to Rabbi Motzen, and took pains to refer to “the activists as a group” as a subgroup of the same ‘LGBTQ+ community’ of which the writer disclaims that he is not a part.

That LGBTQ activists tar anyone who sincerely believes marriage to be between a man and a woman as “phobic” is as self-evident as the aforementioned association with ‘issurim’ (Google “Jack Phillips homophobic” if you need proof). This is, as with the earlier case, not the fault of the frum community any more than it is the fault of Jack Phillips. Once again, it is a reality created by ‘LGBTQ+’ advocates that should not pose an obstacle between a sincere, frum person with SSA impulses and the rabbonim and roshei yeshiva that the writer acknowledges that he, without such fears, might consult. [It is interesting that a rav is automatically assumed to be more judgmental than a frum therapist.]

Thus none of that which the writer claims “proved our worries correct” was based upon an accurate reading of what Rabbi Gordimer and I wrote. In reality, there is no such barrier! No one would be “written off,” and whether or not they would merely be “told to do (or not do) things we already knew” cannot be known until each individual comes forward and asks a Rav that he trusts.

In other words, the doors are open, even if the closet remains closed to the public. And I hope that is something the writer, and others in similar situations, will realize.

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19 Responses

  1. Steven Brizel says:

    There is a line and boundary between issues discussed by an individual and aRav and the expectation that a community should legitimate clearly inappropriate activity

  2. Mark says:

    As someone who has assisted a number of individuals, male and female, who struggle with this issue, I identify deeply with the letter writer and with what Rabbi Motzen is trying to do.

    There is no question that there are sincere, truly ehrlich, upstanding people who struggle with their orientation, but who want no part of the LBGT movement or it’s advocacy efforts.

    These individuals need competent assistance and a safe place to turn. They are truly suffering and need our sympathy and love.

    Thankfully, there are therapists within the frum world who specialize in this area and have helped many. More and more therapists are becoming aware of this struggle and with time, more help will be available.

    Why don’t rabbanim or individuals such as myself step up to the plate to do more and to raise awareness? Very simple. Because this is a third rail issue. The LBGT advocates are so ferocious and unrelenting that they have no trouble insisting that you sign on to their program 100%. Anything less is unacceptable and you’ll tarred and feathers. מה לי לצרה הזאת? One would have to be insane to touch this issue publicly and risk their wrath.

    Additionally, the frum world is also not educated and many fear anything to do with a movement that seeks to overturn Torah values in the manner that the LGBT movement does. They are rightfully very suspicious of the motives of anyone affiliated and therefore, not as much is being done as needs to be.

    This is not an easy problem to fix, but over time, hopefully greater awareness will lead to improvements and greater access to the small population that wishes to lead Torah-true lives while dealing with a huge personal problem.

  3. Mark says:

    To clarify – the extent of my assisting said individuals was to direct them to competent therapists in this area. Many people are not aware of their existence and I’ve been able to serve as a bit of a resource, but organizations like Relief know the therapists and guide people every day.

  4. Leora says:

    There are frum people who struggle with sexuality …and some of them are straight. Older straight singles have a hard time too…
    I would like gay frum people to wonder, just for five minutes, what it feels like to be a married frum woman who suffers from pain during sex, actual physical pain, and therefore is for the most part celibate (or suffering pain for her husband’s sake) and medical care can’t always resolve her physical problems.
    Just imagine what it’s like for both partners in that marriage to go through years of that…
    My point is that yes, it’s hard to be frum and gay. It can also be hard to be frum and straight, I promise.
    But what is the solution for gay frum people? If therapy can’t help, then what?

    • Reader says:

      “But what is the solution for gay frum people? If therapy can’t help, then what?”

      Prayer, Torah study, mitzvos, teshuvah.

      • Reb Yid says:


        This strongly suggests that they did something ‘wrong’.

        There’s teshuvah that needs to be done, for sure, but not by these individuals.

    • David Ohsie says:

      I haven’t seen gay frum people as a rule discount other people’s struggles with being frum or just being. OTOH, some of the commenters and posters are trying to minimize the challenges facing the gay frum by talking about other struggles as though they are no big deal. You should direct your comments to them because they are the ones who are minimize the issues that both gay and straight people face in the Frum community.

      As far as “solutions”: there are none in the sense you are thinking of a solution, but we can avoid creating unnecessary problems. We have to face the fact that some people are wired up in a way that doesn’t allow them to both act in normal human ways and keep traditional Halacha 100%. Of course since that is true about a lot of things (we are also wired to gossip, be jealous of others etc) and almost all of us are habitual sinners by traditional Halacha, we can reduce the problem, such as it is, by stopping the insistence that gay people must “fix” themselves and instead accept that there are frum gay people. The Almighty and All-knowing can live with the tension He created. We are the ones who need to adjust.

  5. dr. bill says:

    I am not a rabbi or a psychologist but I have had to deal with individuals with same-sex attraction My late protege in my days at the upper echelons of corporate America was a gentile gay dating an Israeli. We joked that he visited Israel more often than I.

    I learned that what matters most is not the specifics of one’s opinions but whether one is or is not judgemental. I and i suspect many can detect if an individual is judgemental from the language they use either orally or in writing. Rabbi Motzen’s orientation and that of others is obvious.

  6. Dr. E says:

    Many people who are members of the LGBTQ community are part of it because others are making that assumption and summarily lump them all together. For the person who confided in Rabbi Motzen, that was not the case. Others are isolated and that “community”, while made up of some very different categories, provides a context of belonging that validates them as people, which whether you like it or not is an existential human need. There might be others who use that community in order to flaunt their personal choices. But even in many of those cases, while not lonely, they are indeed alone.

    To me it’s unfortunate that Rabbi Motzen had to circle back a second time to spell out what I feel to be his noble motivations for penning his original post. As I pointed out then, all he was calling for was some compassion and empathy toward certain categories of people. Is the LGBTQ topic such a hot button sugya where a respected community Rav is rendered automatically guilty on a blog by mere association with vulnerable individuals, and his faithfulness to the Mesorah is immediately impugned by armchair Dayanim? Somehow, any mention of LGBTQ is a “kannaus-trigger” for commenters on this and other blogs. One can only surmise as to the Psychological, emotional, and social reasons why this is the case.

    In Rabbi Motzens posts, there has been no Halachic validation of any lifestyle that represents a slippery slope toward the erosion of Torah values. Of course, the pesukim and Halacha have spoken. Not that the Torah needs any support, but way of the world and how humanity perpetuates itself sort of sets the record straight. So, there is really no need to feel the “mechayev” to come to the Torah’s defense by reasserting its objection to certain prohibited behaviors.

    But all of that is not really the point here. The point is that there is a miut hamatzui that has not found its derech in Yahadus and is seeking to no longer be alone. Some have had proclivities for a long time which is their Yetzer Hara. Some may have been disenfranchised early in life. Some may have suffered physical, sexual, or emotional trauma which has set a life path in motion. So, the question that Rabbi Motzen was addressing was “now what”? Each individual has a father, mother, sister (perhaps) spouse and children, niece and nephews. This person might be the only Kohen available to duchen or the sole Levi to take the second Aliya at the 2PM Shabbos afternoon Mincha. He or she might be working in the kosher supermarket where we take our kids to shop. I could go on and on about how it’s not just the individual’s “pekel” but one that affects the community. Obviously, there are Halachic and public policy questions to be dealt with. The real Poskim are often the arbiters of that. But, the community Rabbanim like Rabbi Motzen play an important and often heart-wrenching role as data collectors to inform the nuances for these difficult shailot. Furthermore, Rabbanim (and frum mental health professional) are crucial in maintaining conversations and thereby retaining connections for hope.

    This is certainly not to say that those who are LGBTQ have the monopoly on not having found their place in the community. Other segments include those with mental illness, addictions, struggles with theology, and those who have been turned off from the religion within which they have been nurtured. Furthermore, to focus exclusively on the specific scenario of a frum educated male who is dealing with SSA outside or within a marriage with those issues and potential outcomes is really ignoring and marginalizing the struggles of all others in the “LGBTQ community”. The common denominator is that compassion and understanding will go a longer way than “our way or the highway”.

    • Someone says:

      Would you like to clarify how you are defining a miut hamotzui. because it seems you have now reduced greatly the threshold of things you need to be choshesh for lehalcha. A simple example would be what you have to do for tolaim, and there are many others.

  7. MK says:

    Rabbi Menken wrote.
    Once again, it is a reality created by ‘LGBTQ+’ advocates that should not pose an obstacle between a sincere, frum person with SSA impulses and the rabbonim and roshei yeshiva that the writer acknowledges that he, without such fears, might consult. [It is interesting that a rav is automatically assumed to be more judgmental than a frum therapist.
    … I think that it’s incorrect and dangerous to place the entire blame for our communal shortcomings in dealing with this challenge on “them”.
    Aside from the “lobby for acceptance” many , including some Rabbonim, in our community, don’t understand the depth of this challenge, nor the Torah hashkafa regarding it as well as what can and what can not be done to combat it.
    In 2012, Jonah released a “Torah Declaration on Homosexuality”. It declared that it is “hashkafically axiomatic” that Hashem would not give a person a challenge, that can not be overcome, which precludes an intimate relationship with a person of the opposite gender.
    So every person with SSA can overcome it.
    It goes on to declare it an obligation to undergo Jonah’s (since discredited) conversion therapy. And implies that if a person can not overcome this challenge, he or she is just not trying hard enough.
    The letter was signed by over 100 rabbonim.
    (For some that “title” was a stretch, for most, not.)
    I personally know a beautiful (former) Ben Torah who, after spending decades begging Hashem to take this challenge from him, decades withstanding the challenge with gevurah that can not be imagined as well as undergoing extensive therapy, was crushed and devastated by that letter.
    One of greatest of Gedolim in America authorized me to tell that person that the letter was “hashkafically and factually nonsense”.
    Eventually, a gadol that endorsed the letter acknowledged that it was a mistake and was greatly pained when told of the pain it caused that young man.
    Many of those who signed, later said that they signed it because Rav… signed it.
    (It seems that many didn’t even read it.)
    Rabbi Menken is surprised that it may be assumed that a Rav is more judgmental than a frum therapist.
    This letter was a judgmental as they come. And on top of that?
    Was wrong!
    You could never find 100 frum therapists that would sign a letter like that. Not because they are inherently more sensitive than rabbonim, but because they “get it”.
    Let’s stop pretending that the only barrier between frum people dealing with this challenge
    and the “sensitive understanding Rav waiting for them… is the LGBTQ lobby.
    The barrier is identifying the Rav who is sensitive, understanding and knowledgeable in dealing with this challenge!

  8. Shades of Gray says:

    During the 2009 question over the “ Being Gay in an Orthodox World” event sponsored by a YU student Tolerance Club and Wurzweiler School of Social Work, I tried to think of a solution which would make everyone happy–or at least less unhappy. I wonder if it has some relevance to the current discussion.

    On the one hand, YU is a yeshiva and can’t be expected to be perceived as diluting, even subtly, the values of Torah. On the other hand, there is bullying, and in general, a mental health issue which no one disputes. Yet LGBTQ+ aren’t the only class of individuals in the community who feel alienated and are in the need of sensitivity. If so, why not contextualize the YU event as including all sorts of alienated people, which indeed is a Torah value? Would that have been less controversial? Applied here, would contextualization from the pulpit have relevance to furthering the sensitivity being discussed by R. Motzen ?

    Fast forward a decade where there is more awareness on many issues. This February, YU’s Counseling Center announced that there will be three new confidential support groups for students on both campuses, including one group for LGBTQ+ support. Even the student Pride Alliance board praised it as a “great, significant step” towards improving LGBTQ+ students’ access to mental health resources, while still wanting an official club, according to the YU Observer student newspaper.

    Also, unlike in 2009, the YU administration and representation of the Roshei Yeshiva issued a unified “Fostering an Inclusive Community” statement on LGBTQ in September 2020(there was however a small amount of disagreement when advertising a public student-organized Zoom event, “Being LGBTQ+ In An Orthodox World”, held last December, which was inspired by the one in 2009).

    The approach of contextualization I mentioned above was recently suggested by the YU administration in a meeting with YU Pride Alliance members. According to the April, 2021 NYS lawsuit filed by the YU Pride Alliance, “Vice President Joseph implied that the students should abandon their efforts for an official LGBTQ club and instead join an umbrella student clubs that addressed a range of issues, only some of which relate to LGBTQ students.” I assume that the YU Pride Alliance club is still being litigated.

    • Someone says:

      What doe s a “representation of the Roshei Yeshiva” mean? Were they designated by the al the Roshei Yeshiva to speak on their behalf, or do you mean that there were some of the Roshei Yeshiva there representing theor own opinions.

  9. A friend of the letter writer says:

    I have read the original letter and am shocked at the editorial standards of this blog.
    This letter has been heavily edited and is not representative of the writer’s letter–and therefore YM’s arguments in the editor’s note is completely invalid because much of his argument is based on words that the *original letter writer did not write.* For example, the writer did not write the sentence “Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how ‘___phobic’ the frum world is.” The writer also did not make the generalization that “…someone’s particular orientation or lack thereof needs to define our entire identity,” or describe LGBTQ individuals as “a label we personally reject.” Nor did the writer identify as an individual with “SSA impulses.”

    The editors of this article should be held accountable for their gross misrepresentation of the letter writer.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      The commenter’s assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, the letter was not edited (although it was redacted, as below, by the editors of Cross-Currents, the retained text is unchanged from what we received). To first make a slanderous claim and then claim the victims of the slander must be “held accountable” for being lied about is how one poisons dialog and makes it impossible, replacing it with discord and conflict.

      Details of the writer’s personal situation were redacted because (along with being lengthy overall) we felt some of the material was unnecessary and improper to share publicly. These are clearly indicated by ellipses. None of this impacted upon the aforementioned quote or its context, which were printed precisely as received.

      The “friend of the writer” claims that I fabricated a quotation that falsely painted me as a bad and intolerant person, requiring that I explain the writer had seriously misconstrued what was said (and that the barriers he imagined are simply not there). This is irrational. The “friend” is simply trying to set up new barriers, without telling us precisely what those barriers are. Sadly, this verifies much of what Mark wrote above, regarding LGBTQ advocates turning this issue into even more of a third rail than the Gemara already does.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    The key strategy of the LB…etc. movement is to mislead, shame, and intimidate its opposition. Torah Jews, through these many millennia, have stood up proudly to such assaults from all directions. We don’t give up; we are on HaShem’s team.

  11. A friend of the letter writer says:

    Alright, I’ll be more specific and provide a few examples. That should hopefully change my “claim” to a statement.

    The letter writer did not presume to make anyone else’s cheshbon or generalize for anyone else. He wrote, “I do not believe that my particular orientation needs to define my entire identity in relation to the rest of the world” Rabbi Menken changed this to “I do not believe that someone’s particular orientation or lack thereof needs to define our entire identity in relation to the world” The replacement of “my” with “someone” and “our” makes it seem as though the letter writer is claiming that according to him no one needs to define their identity by their orientation. The letter writer DID NOT presume to speak for anyone else. It is possible, therefore, that for another person their orientation or lack thereof may need to define their identity in relation to the world–only, the letter writer does not.

    The writer also described LGBT as a label he and “his peers” reject, NOT “we personally reject.” The term peers was referring to a specific group of individuals. “We” could refer to anyone, including “SSA” Jews who do not act. Anyone who did not read the editor’s note may reasonably assume this false “we” refers to everyone.

    Third, “I believe Rabbi Gordimer’s automatic equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label my peers and I reject) with one particular issur and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ must be ‘engaged in a campaign to label every Torah-observant Jew (and others following our Torah’s guidance on these matters) a hateful, “phobic” individual for not agreeing with them’ proved our worries warranted.

    Rabbi Menken, you changed this to “‘Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how ‘___phobic’ the frum world is.'” I understand that you changed this because you felt the writer misconstrued it and you were correcting the meaning as per your comment. Two wrongs do not make a right and you could have addressed the writer’s perceived misconstrual in the editor’s note instead of blatantly misquoting him.

    The pluralization of the word issurim implies that the writer was referring to multiple issurim; he was not.

    The writer of the letter NEVER implied that the attributed goal (by the frum community) of the LGBT movement is to show how phobic the frum world is as a whole. He implied that the attributed goal (by the frum community) is to show how phobic INDIVIDUALS are.

    There is another concern here, that people are assuming that the writer “has SSA impulses” based on the edits you made. This is incorrect and you can share that without issues of tzniut. I will refrain from explaining for the sake of maintaining the privacy the editors wished to maintain.

    I worry, also, as to why it’s acceptable to discuss “SSA impulses” but not to discuss the practical concern the writer described himself as having. It seems to me that his issue is not as problematic halachically as the acting upon of “SSA impulses” and I am curious why you edited out what the issue was.

    Rabbi Menken, regardless of the validity of your points in the editor’s note, you argued with a heavily edited few sentences–that you yourself edited– and that’s really not acceptable.

    • You make an assumption that R. Menken is responsible for the edits. This is incorrect. Several editors – including myself – edited different parts of the letter, sometimes for different reasons and concerns./ Backstory: The letter writer wanted us to post his full, longer letter is an independent submission, but anonymously. In general, we frown on submissions, although we clearly allow some when convinced that those submissions are important. All the more so do we routinely reject anonymous submissions, even when accompanied by reasonable explanations. R. Motzen, advised by one of the editors, cleverly found a way to incorporate parts of the letter into his own piece, which was fine. But ANY contributor – whether of an essay or a comment – understands that all submissions to ANY publication is subject to a process of editing. In this case, there were issues of length; of the inappropriateness of details of the letter writer’s sexuality [and we have reasons to believe that he is a fine, respected ben Torah. Nonetheless…]; of ambiguities. It is understandable that the letter writer would be disappointed in finding his words shrunk and bent out of shape. The editors, for their part, did not see it that way. They believed that they acted completely in conformity with common practice, and found common ground among them to allow as much of the letter through that met the needs of the main body of our readership, and the strictures of tzniyus. We are disappointed as well that we should be criticized after going out on as much of a limb in the first place in allowing this thread in the first place. Nonetheless, we apologize for any hurt and disappointment this may have caused.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      I guess I have to repeat myself, and with this, close the discussion. I disagree with Rabbi Adlerstein on semantics: “editing” and “redacting” are different things, and, in this case, crucial. The “friend of the letter writer” asserts that we explicitly changed the wording of the original letter, which is a different thing than redacting lengthy text with details we felt inappropriate to include.

      As I said above, the letter was redacted, and that is what Rabbi Adlerstein means here. He agreed with me, at least to the extent that he cannot recall any actual editing.

      To be certain, I went back and downloaded a new copy of the Word document that we (Rabbi Adlerstein, Rabbi Gordimer, and I) received from Rabbi Motzen on October 3, containing his “Wobbly First Step” post including the letter-writer’s letter.

      Directly contrary to the “Friend of the letter writer”‘s assertions, the following are copied verbatim from that document:

      • “I do not believe that someone’s particular orientation or lackthereof needs to define our entire identity in relation to the world”
      • “I believe Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how “___phobic” the frum world is proved our worries correct.”
      • As above, this includes the words “a label we personally reject.” The context, who “we” refers to, is obvious from the letter-writer’s letter, of which that section appears in its entirety.

      I am a bit less forgiving than Rabbi Adlerstein, because the “friend” has repeatedly targeted me when I didn’t touch the text at all, not editing, not redacting (I removed extraneous carriage returns found in the Word document, and I undoubtedly reformatted “lack thereof” correctly as two words.). I even said so, as above! And what was the “friend’s” response when I pointed out that his complaints were false? To go back and do it again, accusing me of lying (and doing so anonymously, of course, so as to suffer no consequences for revelation of his fraud), and even contributing purported motivations for why I made the non-existent changes to the document we received.

      And all of this, of course, resulted from our decision to print the letter, including its false aspersions against Rabbi Gordimer and myself, along with a correction that, in fact, he was imagining barriers, that we were not, in fact, painting with a broad brush as he asserted, and that thus the door is more open than he imagines. I even strove to be gentle in how I said it: “It appears that the writer is so fearful of rejection that he could not accurately understand Rabbi Gordimer’s words of welcome, and I hope he will reconsider… In reality, there is no such barrier!… In other words, the doors are open, even if the closet remains closed to the public.”

      If this is the level of dialog desired by those who “wish for more dialog,” is it any wonder that we don’t have it? The “friend of the letter writer” has only himself to blame that comments are now closed.

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