Shmuel Herzfeld – A Gay-Friendly Orthodox Rabbi

James Kirchick writes:

Unlike most Orthodox synagogues, some of those congregants at Ohev Sholom are gay and don’t feel pressured into keeping that fact a secret with their rabbi or fellow worshipers. This is of course in large part attributable to Herzfeld. Whatever the cause of same-sex attraction (and Herzfeld’s use of the phrase “lifestyle choice” to describe it suggests that he believes it reasonable to expect gay people to remain celibate), Herzfeld is obviously not repulsed by it in the way that many clerics are; his easygoing nature at the vigil is evidence of that. “I want to focus on what we can do together,” he says about Jews who are not as observant as he might like them to be, “not on what we can’t do.” This welcoming approach has provided nearby congregations with unexpected competition. According to Frum, “the knock on” Herzfeld from some disgruntled area rabbis “is that he takes the most committed people from other congregations.”

“It might be a law that has no reason,” Herzfeld speculated, comparing the injunction against homosexuality in the Torah to the proscription against wearing garments made of both linen and wool, something that, unlike murder or theft, does not harm other people. Why, then, does he still believe that homosexual activity is wrong? In an essay he wrote nine years ago, Herzfeld cited the rabbinical scholar Rashi about how to confront just such questions: “When Satan and other nations will throw arguments at you and say what is the meaning of this law and what reason is there for it, we should respond, ‘It is a chok,’ it is a decree before me, and I have no permission to think evil thoughts about it.” In other words, the Torah says it, and therefore it is so. Herzfeld likens his attitude towards the legal recognition of gay marriage with that of his involvement in the lives of gentiles seeking state sanction of their unions: it’s none of his business. “If a Christian wants to get married,” he says, “it has nothing to do with me.”

With the same conviction and basis that people declare themselves gay, I could declare myself a libertine. I want to have sex with thousands of women, many of them married and many of them post-pubescent but under 18. I don’t act on this and I live quite happily at shul without sharing my proclivities. I must be sadly repressed! I should identify myself to everyone in earshot by my sexual orientation — massive variety! Then I’d be honest. Now, where can I find a orgy-friendly Orthodox rabbi? I want to stop living the lie. I want to be accepted for who I am.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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