Orthodox gays in Israel find support in Web site

JERUSALEM Thu Feb 14, 2008 9:57am EST

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An underground movement of gay Orthodox Jews in Israel has created a Web site to help homosexuals cope with living in a strict, religious community that is often hostile to their lifestyle.

The site is the first public forum in the Jewish state where gay members of the Orthodox community can seek support and advice.

Orthodox Jewish law views homosexual acts as a sin and people in the religious communities are often scared to admit publicly they are gay, fearing harassment or banishment.

Thousands of people have visited the site since it was launched about two weeks ago, said Rabbi Ron, one of the Web site's founders, who asked that his last name not be disclosed.

"Jewish law forbids the homosexual act, but it says nothing about orientation... The Web site can offer advice on an individual basis on how to live as a gay man according to Jewish law in the community," said Ron, a 33-year-old Orthodox rabbi who said his congregation was unaware he was gay.

"It's meant to show that you are not alone."

Called HOD -- which in Hebrew means glory, but is written as an abbreviation for "religious homosexuals" -- the Web site is directed only at gay males. There is a separate Internet community for Orthodox Jewish lesbians.

The Web site has received hundreds of letters from Orthodox gay men, including some who are married and have families. It offers information and dialogue about dealing with homosexuality while living as a pious Jew.

Ron said there was no single answer for everyone because Jewish law does not discuss the issue in detail, but for some it may be through abstinence, while others could find alternatives.

In an editorial on the Web site, he wrote: "There are 613 commandments. A homosexual cannot fulfill two of them -- to take a wife and have children -- but there are 611 others that he can fulfill truly and faithfully."

The Web site also mentions the need for tolerance and understanding in the community rather than persecution.

A letter addressed to the chief rabbis in Israel said gays are not seeking a revolution in Judaism, but demand recognition and fair treatment.

In his editorial, Ron wrote: "First society has to change, and then we'll speak about Jewish law."

(Editing by Michael Winfrey)

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