This month, in-line with Pride, we got in character with Netanya-based, 42-year-old Israeli, Ron Yosef, who reconciled his homosexuality at the age of 18 and has stood up for gay rights in Orthodox Judaism ever since.
How did you grow up?
I grew up in a very traditional, religious family from a young age, but I studied in a secular school. I would go to synagogue on Fridays and Saturdays.
At what age did you come out?
After my army service, in a lengthy process that took several years. My initial realization was at the age of 18, but it took me a long time until I agreed to accept myself. I publicly came out of the closet in 2009, in an interview with the Israeli television program Uvda (“Fact” in Hebrew), the leading investigative and current affairs program on Israeli TV.
What kind of Judaism do you currently practice?
I am associated with the Orthodox stream. I never decided to be a rabbi, for most of the years I have tried to avoid it, because at first it seemed impossible to combine Judaism with homosexuality. Only after long years of study and deep understanding did I realize that it could fit in and connect. It is necessary to acknowledge that homosexuality is not a sin.
How do you personally combine religion and being homosexual?
According to the Torah, the prohibition is of anal relations between two men. The Torah and Jewish law do not prohibit homosexuality as a tendency or identity. It is impossible to say a homosexual person is automatically a deviant, a ‘sick person’ or ‘an abomination’ because of an act, just as it is impossible to say so about heterosexuals. This principle, despite the fact that it is simple and obvious (and perhaps because of it), is an essential basis for the very discussion of this issue, without which it can’t be implemented in a proper and fair manner.
One thing can be clearly stated: Judaism does not prohibit homosexuality. Whether it is genetic or acquired (it is important to emphasize that, contrary to the prevailing position, the Torah does not express any opinion on the matter), it is irrelevant.
Those who claim that being homosexual is considered a sin in the eyes of halacha (Jewish religious law) is wrong and misleading. The tendency in no way detracts or influences the homosexuality of the homosexual. He is loved by God as any Jew, and committed as a Jew to all the commandments. He must attain the goals of life by directing his life toward spiritual growth, holiness and integrity - no less than any other Jew - he has an equal part in the world to serve God.
Are you in a relationship?
I was in a relationship for 12 years, but now I am single.
Where is your favorite place to go to a party in Israel?
I’m not a party guy - I’m more in favor of social gatherings, but for religious gays I recommend Gavra, a religious party line on Thursdays at Bootleg on King George St in Tel Aviv.
Where do you work?
For two decades I’ve managed a synagogue and served the LGBTQ religious community.
What is the best part about your profession?
I am happy that I’ve had the privilege to help thousands of religious and ultra-Orthodox homosexuals personally, to see the change that has occurred in them, in the acceptance of their families and their community, and to lead important social progression.
What is the most challenging?
To be patient with people who speak with hatred, to break the walls of silence in yeshivot (the Orthodox Jewish college or seminary) and educational institutions. It will take time to cleanse the bad blood spilled and correct the blazing hatred, including verbal and physical violence against religious LGBTQ and anyone else. I grew up and was educated in a complex religious environment where differences are resolved with speech, where we have compassion for those who are different. I believe it is better that we fail with free love, then God forbid, with free hatred. May we know better days of altruism, mutual respect and free speech.
Where do you find inspiration?
In everything you can find inspiration - in challenges and in all the difficult moments. Everything is aimed at us from God, we just have to keep our eyes open.