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Friday, September 23, 2005

Coming Out

This week's Forward had an article that really took me for a loop. It's unusual that the mainstream Jewish media publishes something that hasn't yet made it to the blogosphere. This story, though, I hadn't caught any wind of before seeing it on Thursday night when the Forward publishes their new articles. Apparently, the very popular principal of the Modern Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush, Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer, stepped down upon coming out of the closet as both being gay, and being non-Orthodox.

Interestingly, his former students seem more shocked by his leaving Orthodoxy than by his homosexuality. One student is quoted in the article as saying "I don't care so much that he's gay as that he left religion," another student wrote an e-mail to Rabbi Stadtmauer saying [sic] "ive been hearing rumors that youve come out in the open to say that your gay and that your not so religious anymore and i have nothing against the gay part if its true but i dont understand how you could give up your religion that easily".

In Rabbi Stadtmauer's response to the e-mail from his former student, he says:
So for now, I re-exploring my spirituality and religiousity just more slowly, without preconditions, and with the hope of integrating my whole life and beliefs together. I still believe in the Value and Truth of Torah, even if I don't feel bound by halacha. And I may yet return to it later.
This must be very confusing to his former students. I don't think Stadtmauer's sexual orientation will be as confusing to these kids as reading these words from a former religious role model about his disillusionment with practicing Orthodoxy. I have a feeling that this might be an impetus for many of Stadtmauer's students who may have been on the fence about remaining Orthodox to give up on staying the course. In today's day and age, disaffected youths need a lot less than the bolting of someone who seems to have been such a huge figure in their lives.

Update: Check out Miriam's take on this story.

45 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great synopsis. I'm surprised the admin. of Y of F let Stadt. get away with writing that e-mail. I would think they would have made a condition that he not contact former students.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

kids resent and bolt from hypocrisy more than anything else. would it be better if he was openly gay AND insisted he was orthodox? That would be much worse.

In my mind, being gay doesn't make him a bad person, just not necessarily an orthodox person.

Same as if I decide not to observe shabbos any more. By my definitions, this doesn't make me a bad person either--just not an orthodox person. (I personally equate the two from a Torah point of view; not to say being mechalel shabbosa is immoral, rather that the torah prohibits both and it's not up to mere mortals to elevate one over the other).

My point is that kids who are teetering and looking for an excuse to bolt might use the Rabbi's decision as a justification. Those kids digusted by the institutional hypocrisy of many orthodox institutions may feel emboldened in their remaining orthodox because of a Rabbi who came to terms with himself but refused to diminish the integrity of Orthodoxy in the process.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

I don't think that the status quo can remain. Too many things have happened and there is going to be a point at which things will shift one direction or another.

I can't speak for the rav but it would seem to me that the position of Orthodox Judaism on Gays does not make it easy to be both and consequently there is going to be some kind of movement.

11:10 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Those kids digusted by the institutional hypocrisy of many orthodox institutions may feel emboldened in their remaining orthodox because of a Rabbi who came to terms with himself but refused to diminish the integrity of Orthodoxy in the process.
I would agree, if he had stated that he was not abandoning his Orthodoxy. But he clearly states that he is. In my opinion, if a role model bolts from a level of observance that he has been preaching his whole career to these kids, its bound to make some dent on the psyches of these impressionable high-school age teens.

11:10 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I can't speak for the rav but it would seem to me that the position of Orthodox Judaism on Gays does not make it easy to be both and consequently there is going to be some kind of movement.

Jack, I am not suggesting that he remain Orthodox. That is not my choice to make. I am only making an observation that his announcement that he is no longer adhering to halacha must leave these kids reeling. It will also make the job of the remaining administrators in YOF who are ostensibly trying to keep these kids' observance levels up, all the more difficult, IMHO.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Rebeljew said...

OM

I get your drift. You think he should have left without making statements to anyone. That is the only sensible position.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no matter how you look at it the situation sucks.

(no pun intended)

11:57 AM  
Blogger Rivka said...

I also have to ask: If Orthodoxy does not accept homosexuality, how can anyone openly be gay, yet at the same time say they are Orthodox? Wouldn't that be like saying you don't keep Shabbat or the laws of Kashrut, but you still consider yourself Orthodox? Isn't that an inherent contradiction in terms? If he had come out saying he will keep all the Halachot except the ones keeping him from being gay, wouldn't you have other Orthodox Rabbis condemning him all over the place?

12:05 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

how can anyone openly be gay, yet at the same time say they are Orthodox? by not practicing gay sex

12:11 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

mum you are not going to love this
http://amshinover.blogspot.com/2005/09/blithering-idiots.html

12:13 PM  
Blogger Rivka said...

"how can anyone openly be gay, yet at the same time say they are Orthodox? by not practicing gay sex"

Wasn't that the point the Rabbi was trying to make, by "coming out," that he WAS going to practice gay sex? Usually, when a person is openly gay, it's to associate with and have relationships with other gay people, I think.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous alan scott said...

Rivka, why is your mind so far in the gutter?

Maybe he came out because he was tired of pretending to be something he wasn't for so many years. In my experience, most LGBT folks who grew up in the religious community come out out of desperation (it's either that or suicide) and leave the community because they've been taught their whole lives that the community won't countenance their existence. And being how closely tied together Orthodox practice and being part of the Orthodox community are, it's not surprising at all to me that Stadtmauer chose to strip himself of the label "orthodox" upon coming out. There is no way the community would have let him keep calling himself Orthodox, even if he was machmir on everything -- and probably even if he was completely celibate, too.

By the way, in the interest of accuracy, he resigned as principal a number of months prior to coming out. Also, as an alumnus of the Y of F, I'm still in touch with some people in the school, and the students' reactions make perfect sense to me. Gay people aren't this hidden unknown ominous evil to kids who grow up with shows like "Will and Grace" on TV. This is the post-"Trembling" generation, they know LGBT people exist, even in the Orthodox community, that it's not their "sinful choice" to be gay, and they're probably wondering why it took so long for a high-profile person to come out.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Jack, I am not suggesting that he remain Orthodox. That is not my choice to make. I am only making an observation that his announcement that he is no longer adhering to halacha must leave these kids reeling. It will also make the job of the remaining administrators in YOF who are ostensibly trying to keep these kids' observance levels up, all the more difficult, IMHO.

I don't disagree with any of that. And let me put my cards on the table, I had two gay uncles, one of who died from complications brought on by AIDS.

There were friends and family who said tehillim and really did a lot to try and be there for us, but I remember all too well the messages I got from some of them.

I especially remember being told that Orthodoxy has no problem with people being gay, as long as they didn't act on it and that bothered me tremendously because it just didn't ring true.

I won't hijack this post with my thoughts on that.

But again I do agree with you about the impact that this announcement may have on the students.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous uncle moishy said...

It will also make the job of the remaining administrators in YOF who are ostensibly trying to keep these kids' observance levels up, all the more difficult, IMHO.


The YofF admin has put a gag order on the subject. Teachers are prohibited from discussing it, and they are not responding to student inquiries other than with silence. So the kids are on their own trying to sort this out, or they have to lean on their parents.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Rivka said...

I wasn't trying to be crude, I was responding to the other's comment.
"There is no way the community would have let him keep calling himself Orthodox, even if he was machmir on everything -- and probably even if he was completely celibate, too." I totally agree with you. Maybe you just said it better than I did.

If it's true that teachers are prohibited from discussing this, then that is very sad.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post Ortho. I would imagine that kids would be most off balance from the fact that a principal who taught them Orthodox values suddenly giving them all up. Makes it hard to take those teachings seriously, justified or not..

5:00 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

"I especially remember being told that Orthodoxy has no problem with people being gay, as long as they didn't act on it and that bothered me tremendously because it just didn't ring true."

It doesn't ring true because people who engage in pre-marital sex, also a prohibition mentioned in the Torah, are considered Orthodox, even if it's somewhat known what they're doing. Yet, an open mechalel shabbos or is considered off the derech. What's p'shat?

Should practicing homosexuals also be considered Orthodox Jews who are sinning.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Not to make light of a serious situation, but when i saw the title of this post i thought you were going to reveal your identity!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:31 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Not to make light of a serious situation, but when i saw the title of this post i thought you were going to reveal your identity!

Sorry, Steg. No such luck.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sympathize with AS as one who struggles daily with the yetser hara. Some people steal, others, covet. The weakness of some is pride and anger, others rationalize sloth or display a lack of integrity. These are those who throw the first stones.

Homosexuality and adultery etc. are not viable options in the Orthodox community, but they happen. People do teshuvah as AS probably will. The test of that will be his rejection of Conservative Judaism.

1:31 AM  
Anonymous Another Former Student said...

I was a student in Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer's class the very first year he started teaching at the YOF. Over my last two years at YOF, I had the privilege of working with him for various extra-curricular activities as well.

I noticed the shift in administration via my YOF alumni magazine, but first learned of the Forward article this shabbat. I followed up on blogs afterwards.

Though I graduated over 10 years ago, my reaction was the same as the student mentioned. I was not remotely surprised to learn that he is gay, but I WAS surprised to hear that he was 'leaving the Orthodox community' (which is what was described to me over shabbat). I was also saddened - because AS is first-rate educator (a true mechanech) and losing him is a big loss for the YOF and Modern Orthodoxy as a whole.

AS was and remains a deliberate and thoughtful man. He never liked the 'Rabbi' title, and he was always very precise with the language that he used. I think a lot of assumptions are being made on what 'Orthodoxy' is and means. I don't see how anyone can have anything but respect for how AS chooses to understand halacha, the Orthodox community, and labels.

I'm frustrated (though NOT surprised) to hear that the YOF has a gag order on this topic. There are gay students at YOF. There always have been, and there always will be. If their principal - a kind, brilliant man - can not remain in the Torah community, how can they?

It is long past time for the Orthodox community to learn how to it can at least welcome and respect gays and lesbians, even if it will never condone homosexual sex. Any mechanech would view this as a prime "teachable moment" - not something to hide from or treat as scandal.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok. all gays are welcome.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no gag order for teachers to talk to students who approach them about the situation, it was just strongly suggested not to talk to reporters hanging out outside the school

9:29 PM  
Blogger PTeitMD said...

It's really interesting to see the discussion unfolding here. I'm glad that the orthodox/gay issue didn't end when Trembling left the theaters.

I'm also a Flatbush Alum, and I'm gay. I was the alum who was quoted in the Forward article about AS's coming out.

I just wanted to add a couple of things to the conversation. There seems to be an overriding view that homosexuality is an intrinsic evil since it's assur in the Torah. This is a horrible association to make, and one that is completely anti-halacha. To prove my point, look at the issurim of sha'atnez, or better yet, eating shellfish (which is also a to'evah). These two issurim are not intrinsically evil, nor are they immoral; yet they are forbidden.

To those of you who equate being gay to adultery- or any other issur for that matter- you simply don't understand how harmful these analogies are. People choose to cheat on their spouses. No- they don't choose to *desire* to cheat on their sposes, but this is a desire which passes, and sexual gratification can be attained in a halachic manner. Not so with homosexuality. You're stuck with being gay for life, and there is NO halachic possibility to attain sexual gratification. Simplifying a life-long ordeal by comparing it to a fleeting desire to eat a cheese burger is offensive to those of us who deal with this ordeal. And it is this misunderstanding of our ordeal that causes so many of us to leave the community.

Don't get me wrong- I'm not a nebech case by any means. I'm a physician, have a loving boyfriend, friends and family who love me, and my life is wonderful since I've learned to accept myself. But I never could have gotten to this stage had I not come out of the closet and understood that I- despite being gay- deserve the love and respect of others.

The only thing that I find lacking in my life is that I truly feel like an outsider in the Orthodox community. I cannot stay where I'm not respected as a human being. And as you all know, frumkeit cannot exist in a vacuum. You simply cannot be frum without a community.

I can only plead with whomever is reading this-

Please don't treat us like nebach cases. We're not. Gay orthodox men and women are viable and vital members of the community. The only way that we're going to stay a part of the community is if we can be accepted as we are. As AS said, it's much easier to leave than to fight an uphill battle against the community to end up feeling bad about yourself.

I've left the community. Please don't let the same thing happen to the younger generation of frum gays.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Homosexuality and adultery etc. are not viable options in the Orthodox community, but they happen. People do teshuvah as AS probably will. The test of that will be his rejection of Conservative Judaism."

Okay. This is a discussion about being gay and Judaism. Are you comparing being conservative with being gay or adulterous? His true test is his rejection of conservative Judaism???? That's the most ridiculous statement I've ever heard. Orthodoxy makes up a very small percentage of the Jews in this world. Would you rather that all the conservative and reform Jews (yes, they are Jews) leave the fold completely, put up their christmas trees and sing "Deck the Halls"?!?!

As a conservative Jew who went to yeshiva all my life I'm sick and tired of being told that my choices are evil. They're not. They're MY choices. I understand why you do what you do and don't have a problem with it. I don't pass judgement on you regarding your religious practices or what you do behind closed doors. Please don't pass judgement on others.

There are plenty of observant Jews who attend conservative shuls just because they feel more comfortable in that environment.

If you're not 110% observant and never do anything wrong, then get back to me. Otherwise, concentrate on yourself.

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conservative and Reform Judaism both reflect sociological realities. The spirit of "American Judaism" is a "can do" attitude {we can do anything we want}.

Orthodox Judaism doesn't validate everything everybody does, regardless of how imperfect Orthodox Jews are.

Sorry to hear you are sick and tired.

To Dr. Frum, worthy of love, I do not know your experience. Is being gay intrinsic, transcending same sex attraction? The decorator gene? If not, for whatever reason, the Torah forbids the consummation of this desire, perhaps, because it is desired. You've done what you felt you wanted to do. People have free will to commit adultery and to focus primary attraction in others of the same gender.

Is your sexual gratification the purpose of creation?

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I KNWO THIS IS KIND OF LATE BUT I JUST WANTED TO SAY THAT I WAS NOT SURPRISED THAT HE CAME OUT. ALL I COULD SAY IS "WHAT A STADT LETTER." RUMORS ALWAYS CIRCULATED BOUT HIS GENDER PREFERENCE....DOES ANYONE REMEMBER HIS "SKI TRIP" WITH DR WOLOWOLSKY? THERE WAS A GAY CONVENTION AT THAT VERY SAME HOTEL THAT WEEKEND....GOES TO SHOW YOU THAT RUMORS SOMETIMES STEM FROM THE TRUTH

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but so what if he's gay. So, he's gay.

I'm white.

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a Flatbush alumnus, but I've known AS for years, and always admired his combination of fierce intelligence with gentleness and decency. It's fair to say that if AS had not felt called to Jewish education, he could have made millions as a software designer.

I feel that losing AS (even it's only temporary) is a HUGE loss for Modern Orthodoxy and Jewish Education. I do understand, though, why he felt he had to give up on Orthodoxy. It is simply impossible for people to be openly gay and Orthodox. (PTeitMD - I wish it weren't so, but resolving this conflict seems logically impossible to me.) How can a person accept a prohibition against something so basic within them as divine truth? The choice becomes whether to lead a lonely, monastic life (which AS seems to have done for many years) or to leave Orthodoxy.

AS, whereever you are, I hope you find the happiness you are looking for. To reaffirm your words - there is tremendous value in Torah, and I hope that the many years you devoted to its study and teaching remaining of value to you. You will be sorely missed.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orthodox Judaism has really done this man a disservice by not fully accepting GLBT people. Full acceptance includes recognition of families! The Reform and Reconstructionist movements are fully accepting, and Conservative is getting there.

Had Orthodoxy been more flexible, he probably would have remained Orthodox.

5:52 AM  
Anonymous Scott Ball said...

There is no gag order for teachers to talk to students who approach them about the situation, it was just strongly suggested not to talk to reporters hanging out outside the school

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