Gay Orthodox Israelis click on new religion Web site
It’s been less than a month since an underground movement of gay Orthodox Jews in Israel went online and already tens of thousands of people have visited their Web site.
The site is called HOD (for Homo’eem Dateem or Religious Homosexuals), a play on the Hebrew word hod for glory. It’s the first to cater to gay men living in Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish minority, where homosexuality is viewed as a sin and people are often scared to admit publicly they are gay, fearing harassment or banishment.
Of course, not all of the online visitors fit into that category, said Rabbi Ron, one of the site’s creators. The site was flooded after local media reported on its inception and Ron, a gay Orthodox rabbi who asked that his last name not be mentioned, was interviewed on Israeli radio.
The Web site, written mostly in Hebrew but with pages in English as well, was the first of its kind and broke the taboo of discussing homosexuality from within the ultra-orthodox sector.
“Our main goal is to bring the religious gay community, as well as rabbis and leaders of the religious communities, relevant information and articles concerning our issue,” HOD says in its English-language section. “This way, we hope to reduce the hate towards homosexuals in the religious society. Moreover, HOD is your place to publish your opinions, stories and anything else you wrote related to this issue.”
Rabbi Ron told the Jerusalem Post the site aimed to break down stereotypes and foster dialogue: “We want religious people to know that we want to adhere to Halacha. But we also want them to understand that a homosexual is born the way he is and has no choice … Judaism’s main emphasis is on actions. We understand that, and we are not asking rabbis to permit anal sex or to make any changes in Halacha. We just want basic understanding.”
HOD is not the first website aimed at religious gays, Itay, one of the founders of the site, explained to Ynet : “Up to now the only website catering to the religious gay community was Atzat-Nefesh (here in Hebrew and English ), which was basically run by straight people that publicly stated that a religious person cannot be gay. They tried to ‘turn’ gay religious people straight, which is something that we know cannot be done. We try to help people reconcile their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation.”
This month, Israel’s attorney general ruled that same-sex couples are allowed to adopt children that are not biologically connected to either parent. The decision expanded the legal rights of gays and lesbian couples in Israel, where the Rabbinic Court has jurisdiction over marriage. Haaretz quoted a religious cabinet minister as calling the ruling “shocking and disgusting”.
The creators of HOD take a pragmatic approach in their attempt to gain acceptance from ultra-conservative religious leaders. By breaking taboo, they hope to gain awareness, which is the first step towards acceptance, Rabbi Ron said. Once that is done, maybe they can tackle the issue of making orthodox Jewish law less stringent, he said. The Web site declares: “You cannot ignore us any longer.”