Promises for My Gay Children: Reflections of an Orthodox Rabbi for Yom Kippur

As I prepare for Yom Kippur, I have been giving some thought to all of my and our collective sins. To paraphrase the Al Het Prayer, I have been thinking about both the sins which I have committed intentionally or unintentionally. What have been my sins of commission and my sins of omission? What have I done inadvertently by not doing anything at all? How will I be judged for my actions?

I was thinking about this yesterday when I read a profound blog post by John Pavlovitz, a pastor of North Wake House Church in North Carolina. In his piece entitled If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent he boldly came out as a person of faith in support of his and other peoples’ children who might be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Questioning.

Reading this, I got to thinking ahead to the Torah portion we traditionally read in the Yom Kippur afternoon service. This portion is comprised of a list of sexual prohibitions (Leviticus 18:1 – 30). Why would we read the primary religious source used to substantiate homophobia on our most holy day of the year? While I might not have an answer to this question, I do feel that silence on this issue is its own sin.

As a human being, I feel a need to speak out on this because there are those for whom it is not just their comfort or happiness that are at risk, but their very health, safety, and actual lives. As a Jew, I cannot stomach senseless hatred toward people because of who they are. An integral part of our Jewish identity comes from our experience as victims of the world’s hatred. We cannot stand idly by as other people suffer from bigotry. As a Rabbi, I feel a need to speak out for justice.

I feel a visceral need to speak out on this issue, not despite my being an Orthodox Jew, but because of that fact. As it says in the Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in the Orthodox Community, which I feel honored to have signed, “Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.”

To this end, in the spirit of Yom Kippur, I wanted to make my own promises to my children. Amen to Pastor Pavlovitz (1-4 paraphrased from his blog):

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.
My children won’t be our family’s best kept secret. If my children come out, we’ll be out as a family.

2) If I have gay children, I’ll pray for them.
I won’t pray for them to be made “normal”. I’ve lived long enough to know that if my children are gay, that is their normal. I will pray for them just as I pray for all of my children.

3) If I have gay children, I’ll love them.
I don’t mean some token, distant, tolerant love that stays at a safe arm’s length. It will be an extravagant, open-hearted, unapologetic, lavish, embarrassing-them-in-the-school cafeteria, kind of love.

4) If I have gay children, most likely; I have gay children.
If my kids are going to be gay, well they pretty much already are. They are today, simply a younger version of who they will be; and today they’re pretty darn great.

5) If I have gay children, I expect them to participate in community.
Not only are my children a critical part of my family, but they need to know that they are a critical part of the larger Jewish family. We are a kehilah kedosha– sacred community. Bigotry and hatred pose a much bigger risk to this sanctity than the issues that one might profess regarding my children’s orientation. I promise to fight with anyone who would want to limit their involvement in school, camp, synagogue, etc.

6) If I have gay children, I will learn Torah with them.
Learning Torah is a central Jewish practice. Engaging Torah writ large is the life blood of our people. I believe in the Torah. My commitment to my children is to have them join the conversation of our people and to have their voices heard. I promise to learn with my children– not just the nice parts, but also the Torah portion we read traditionally in the Yom Kippur afternoon service. I expect to listen and promise to have their interpretation heard. And when my time comes, I look forward to giving God some feedback. They should have the confidence that I will be waiting there for them when they meet the Judge on high. My commitment to my children is unwavering and eternal.

7) If I have gay children, I will celebrate their partnership.
My wife is my ezer k’negdi– she is my helpmate. She pushes me to make sure I am my best self. The key to sustained happiness and a life of meaning is finding a partner with whom to share your life. Having a healthy partnership is not just the key to surviving in the world; it is the key to thriving. This partnership is the bedrock for a bayit ne’eman b’yisrael, a faithful home in Israel, which is the basic building block for Jewish society. I hope that we were good role models for partnership and my children should expect that we do not just tolerate their life partner, but that we find ways to celebrate that partnership.

8) If I have gay children, I will celebrate their family.
Our children are the greatest joy in my life. While my children might not have children in a “traditional” manner, it does not mean that they should not feel the obligation of Pru uRevu– to procreate and raise another generation of proud Jews. I promise to be a great Zayde to link the next generation back to our past. While my gay children will have taught me about liberation, perhaps being older I have what to share with their children about exodus from Egypt. It is my job to hide the Afikoman; I expect their children to read the four questions. I promise that they will never question their connection to Jewish history and their role in our lustrous future.

There is no doubt that some of you may be offended by what I have said here. But as Pastor Pavlovitz wrote, “This isn’t about you. This is a whole lot bigger than you.” It is about my children and the parent I aspire to be. On these issues I could not stay silent. That is how I hope to be judged on Yom Kippur.

-Reposted from the Canteen



30 Responses to “Promises for My Gay Children: Reflections of an Orthodox Rabbi for Yom Kippur”

  1. 1 Elizabeth Yaari October 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Wow Powerful Thank you

    Elizabeth Yaari

    631-935-2212 Cell 16 Gaines Place, Huntington, NY 11743

  2. 2 Arielle October 2, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I am so proud of you! Brilliant article! I’m sharing this everywhere!

  3. 3 survivorgirl007 October 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    This Christian gal says, “BRAVO and thank you!”

  4. 4 Jared October 2, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Good for you and thank you for saying something. Such a great message to hear as a gay man, as I go into the Yom Kippur holiday.

  5. 5 Z October 2, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you for doing a great job showing how there is no place and no reason for homophobia in the Orthodox community. I often think that the biggest moral challenge Orthodox Judaism has to face is not Egalitarianism and “women’s issues” (and I say this as a female educator), but finding and making a place for gay and trans people to be full members of the community. Thank you for being one of the few people to speak up.

  6. 6 Jacob October 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you. It’s so hard for me to open up in Jewish communities, but heroes like you make me feel safer. I love orthodox Judaism. And you make me feel like that community would still love me back if they knew I am gay.

  7. 7 D October 2, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    You made me cry. I have been avoiding shul for years on Yom Kippur for this very reason. I’ve always been concerned with Judaism spreading a homophobic message and reaching its largest audience by delivering this message on our holiest day. Thank you for saying that it’s wrong! You have given me hope!

  8. 8 Christopher October 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Thank you for this article. It was truly a blessing.

  9. 9 Jonathan October 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    – your children are lucky to have you as a Dad
    – may the New Year help ALL Parents embrace their children.

    – Toronto

  10. 10 storrskid October 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    I am not very familiar with Orthodox Judaism, although I grew up with many friends who were Jewish, some more Orthodox than others. But, I think it is amazing and astounding that you would speak up and take the position that you have (as well as that taken by Pastor Pavlovitz.) It is too often the case that people of religious beliefs are unable or unwilling to say the things that you have said, and to indicate that loving our children (the children of God whose well being has been entrusted to us) is our greatest job as parents. To love our children without condition is sometimes a difficult task, and when a child self-identifies as something like LGBT, it can be more difficult. After all, our natural fears and concerns can take over (who would want their child’s life to be any harder than it has to be or fraught with the kinds of dangers that LGBT people face, in our own country as well as around the world?) And social fears, for ourselves as well as for our children (what will the neighbors think can run deep for many people). But, stepping away from all of those natural fears and concerns, and being able to say “I will love my child for what they are no matter what others might say about them or me” shows that you indeed understand the meaning of unconditional love. Sadly, all too many people today haven’t the foggiest idea what it means.

  11. 11 Efrem October 2, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    How can u celebrate their partnership if bible/Torah says its disgusting? How can say this as a rabbi/clergy?

  12. 13 Miriam October 3, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Yawner koach! I have a gay son and I agree with every word you wrote. Thank you for having the courage to write these inspirig words. G’mar chatima tova to you and your family.

  13. 14 Miriam October 3, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Yasher koach is what I was trying to write. Thanks spellcheck.

  14. 15 Michael October 3, 2014 at 3:38 am

    We are all G-d’s children. Life’s challenge is to live to our full potential, whomsoever we are. Giving to others is what it is all about!!

  15. 16 Dewey Oriente October 3, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Between you and Pastor Pavlovitz you are restoring my faith in the compassion of clergy. As it should be.

  16. 18 Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein October 3, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Thank you for this. Now, your name may be added to those of us who are already receiving or being informed of hateful comments on very “authentic Orthodox blogs.” As a proud mother of our four involved amazing Jewishly committed children, of whom two are gay, I feel that G-d has given us these amazing gifts and I am grateful every day. They are all involved Jewishly and committed to observance and live in accepting validating Jewish community. This Yom Kippur I express my gratitude to Ribbonu shel Olam who created our children the way chosen by HaShem and I continue to feel honored to be their mom.

    Maybe next Yom Kippur there will be more acceptance and less “Sinat Hinam” amongst our community of Orthodox Jews.

    Tzom Kal to all and thank you again for this.

    Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein

  17. 19 2BarA October 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Thank you for the inspiring words, Rabbi. This straight Anglican Grandma blesses you and is happy to know you are taking the sensible approach to this matter. Shalom!

  18. 20 Michael La Rocca October 4, 2014 at 5:37 am

    Thank you for that beautiful sentiment, rabbi. I wish more people around us could be so level headed. But, please forgive me for pointing out something that struck me, as someone who is gay and happily single. The words of both you and the Christian minister who made similar comments are beautiful and made me cry happily…right up until: “The key to sustained happiness and a life of meaning is finding a partner with whom to share your life. Having a healthy partnership is not just the key to surviving in the world; it is the key to thriving.” So, by being single I won’t thrive? Bless you, rabbi, for being so loving and supportive of your children regardless of their sexual orientation, and it’s wonderful that you have clearly embraced same-sex marriage. But to be frank I fear we may be at risk of taking it just a step too far by indirectly sending the message to the potentially-single-when-they-grow-up children (gay, straight, or otherwise) that their lives are lacking if they aren’t married. Personally I support same sex marriage for the sake of equality. Unfortunately I think an inevitable side effect of the much-needed cultural swing towards marriage equality is the perception that married life is inherently BETTER than being single. Maybe it’s just me, thinking that it’s a message we single people have sent to us plenty already. I have spent the majority of the last 18 years looking for “Mr. Right” but he has eluded me, so perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. But I have had to work to accept the idea that I’m fine on my own and don’t need someone to complete me. (How many times I’ve thought, “Ugh, Jonathan and Steven are getting married? I’m thrilled. Now, genug!”) Kidding aside, it chafes to think that now some people think my gay life is wonderful, but…could be better if only I’d find a husband. I assure you my life is happy and full of meaning with or without a spouse. I truly appreciated what you wrote a great deal, so forgive me if I come across as finding fault. Your children are clearly blessed to have you in their lives, and we are better for having heard your words. Thank you for taking a huge step to get your message out there. Peace.

  19. 21 Ron October 5, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Thank you Rabbi! As a Jewish gay couple with 13 year old twins who celebrated their Bnei Mitzvah this past year, we are fortunate to have had the opportunity, strength, and indeed the support to build our family against all odds… We unfortunately also know too well the pain of rejection, as there was at least one instance when a (Conservative) synagogue we considered made us feel unwelcomed, and we even had the horrible experience of leaving a Bat Mitzvah of a daughter of our friends when they joyfully recited the aforementioned verse from the bible without any commentary or qualification (although as it turned out they were unaware of it…). But for the most part we enjoyed acceptance and embrace by Jews and non Jews of most denominations. Let me say that I would add an obvious point to your commentary stating that once you arrived at these conclusions, it does not matter whether or not you kids will in fact be gay… These are principles that should apply to all. And those who are gay or have gay children and are interested in knowing more about how they can become parents, you can get information and support from the nonprofit we created (with conferences in the USA and Israel) at

  20. 22 Methodist October 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.|

  21. 23 ravhiorlow October 8, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Yes, you can sign up for my blog above or you can follow me at @ravhiorlow

  22. 24 Steeve Aukingso October 18, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    Great website. A good amount of helpful data in this article. Now i’m mailing the item to many good friends ans furthermore expressing inside scrumptious. And obviously, many thanks in the energy! Great website. A good amount of helpful data in this article. Now i’m mailing the item to many good friends ans furthermore expressing inside scrumptious. And obviously, many thanks in the energy!

  23. 25 Margaret Sequeira October 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Dear Rabbi Orlow, thank you so much for this post! I wanted to let you know I wrote my own response to both of you on my blog this week. I welcome your comments and feedback! Again thank you it is a wonderful post!

  24. 26 msequeira28 October 30, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I wanted to let you know, as I did John Pavlovitz that your posts moved me to write my own response. You can read my entry here:

    I welcome your feedback and response. Again thank you for your post!

  25. 27 eberhard February 29, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    A great man who thinks and writes like this !

  1. 1 If I Have Gay Children: A Rabbi's 8 Promises Trackback on October 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm
  2. 2 Wait for Me Until I Welcome: Further Reflections from an Orthodox Rabbi to his Gay Children | Said to Myself Trackback on November 7, 2014 at 11:01 am
  3. 3 If I Have Gay Children: A Rabbi's 8 Promises Trackback on February 28, 2015 at 3:22 am

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