What it means to be an Orthodox Jew — a response to Asher Zeiger

What does it mean to be an Orthodox Jew? To the people I know and associate with, the term means to follow all the Laws of the Torah to the best of our ability. It does not mean we are perfect. Rather it means we are constantly working to perfect our actions to reflect the rules we follow.

Asher Zeiger’s “Reconcilible Differences” doesn’t seem to understand this point. He properly begins with: “In recent years, I have been repeatedly saddened when friends of mine abandoned their religious lifestyle upon publicly acknowledging their homosexuality.” It is always a sad occasion when somebody feels he should abandon Judaism because his desires are too great. However, his post then dissolves into apologetics and that is where he loses the thread of Orthodox Judaism.

Keeping the 613 Mitzvot


It’s not as though religious observance is “all or nothing.” The Torah gives us 613 mitzvot to fulfill, only 369 of which can be kept without the Holy Temple. I have yet to meet the Jew who fulfills every one of those 369 commandments. As an Orthodox rabbi once told me, God does not expect anyone to keep every one of the Torah’s mitzvot, because nobody can. We are human, and as such we have our shortcomings and failures. Our goal is to keep as many mitzvot as we can, and when we reach that “upper limit,” to push for one more, and then another. It is a lifetime quest that can never be completed and will always give more to strive for.

Asher is both right and wrong with the above quote.  Religious observance is truly an all or nothing venture. One either decides to keep all the Mitzvot to the best of his abilities or he doesn’t. If somebody seeks to convert on the assumption he will only keep 612 Mitzvot, his conversion is not good.

However, as Orthodox Jews we understand we have desires that push us to sin. In other words, there will be Mitzvot that, in a moment of carelessness or weakness, we will stumble upon. For those moments we need to strengthen our determination to not sin like that again. As the Talmud says, “A person only commits a sin if a spirit of foolishness enters him.”(Berachot 31a) Yes, Judaism is all about living in the moment.

So, when seeing an openly gay couple enter into the synagogue, indicating that it isn’t merely a moment of weakness but a lifestyle choice, should they be counted for as part of the congregation? Should they be called up to the Torah even though they are flagrantly defying the laws without any embarrassment?

[Somebody, on the other hand, who is known to be gay but is not with a partner, does not have this issue of being actively defiant and should be called to the Torah in my humble opinion (and minor knowledge in Halacha. Disclaimer: I am not a Rabbi).]

‘Don’t Judge Me Because I Sin Differently Than You’

I originally saw the above quote as a re-post from an Orthodox rabbi friend on Facebook and I couldn’t help but agree. We all sin, it’s a given. Man, created imperfectly, can only work to create perfection within himself. Yet, we shouldn’t judge others for the fact that they sin differently than we do. So how can I pass judgment on those of gay affiliation for their sins?

This is really a question that ought to be reversed, though. There seems to be a common assumption among us today that a gay man must live with another man as he would a woman. For some reason a gay man has a far greater desire than anybody else.  This is utter nonsense. The desire to sin is the desire to sin. There is no difference between a psychopathic murderer and a kleptomaniac in this regard. Both must work to overcome their urges.

[I am, of course, not comparing the veracity of the crimes against each other (in my mind they are on the two opposite extremes), but rather the addictive pursuit the individuals feel.]


There is no conflict between being of Homosexual Orientation and an Orthodox Jew. As imperfect beings we all have desires that we follow during times of weakness. As King Solomon writes in Proverbs (24:16) “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again…”

However, we must not forget the second part of the passage “…and the wicked fall into their evil.” Being a flagrant violator has no place within Orthodoxy.

About the Author
Meir is a Political Science graduate of Lander College for Men (A Touro College branch in Queens NY) and a recent Oleh