Altering the Closet: Aron Betoch Aron(H) Hebrew by Irit Koren (W93939)
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Book is in Hebrew

This article is reprinted with permission of Haaretz. Visit www.haaretz.com.

After a close friend, Orthodox like herself, admitted to her that she was a lesbian, Irit Koren decided to conduct a serious academic study of the dilemmas and the difficulties faced by Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox homosexuals and lesbians in Israel.

When Irit Koren was 25 years old, her good friend Tal--who, like her, is Orthodox--told her that she was a lesbian. Koren admits today that she was shocked to discover that Tal, who was one of her close friends, from her own social and cultural circle, could be a lesbian.

In the first chapter of her book Aron Betokh Aron (A Closet Within a Closet), published by Yedioth Ahronoth, Koren frankly describes how she went on the defensive, and as a result had a confrontation with her friend, using all the familiar cliches: "How do you know you're a lesbian if you've never had a boyfriend you loved? If you haven't tried psychological or hormonal treatment? If you've never had a sexual experience with a man?" Tal replied: "How do you know you're straight even when you don't have a boyfriend? How would you know you're straight even if you never had a boyfriend? Do you think that psychological treatment would change you? Do you think that hormonal treatment would cause you to want to spend the rest of your life with a woman?"

Writes Koren: "I had to admit that the answer to those questions was negative ... I knew I was straight, because I just knew it ... Tal was Tal, and she was both Orthodox and a lesbian. For the first time in my life I was personally acquainted with someone who was a lesbian. I could no longer talk about lesbianism using the same terms and social concepts which I had been taught, as a product of an Orthodox education. I could no longer think about lesbianism in terms of the bored girl from Sheinkin Street [a symbol of trendiness] searching for herself, emotionally disturbed. In my opinion, Tal was and still is one of the most emotionally healthy girls I have known. She has simply never been attracted to men."

Her curiosity was aroused and Koren, today a 28-year-old doctoral student in the department of gender studies at Bar-Ilan University, began to research the subject. She interviewed Orthodox gays who in their distress had turned to rabbis. The stories she heard differed only slightly from one another, according to the circumstances and to the rabbi's level of integrity: Some rabbis suggested getting married and conducting a dual relationship, with a man as well; some ruled that the homosexual connection had to stop, because it is an extremely grave sin. Most of the rabbis suggested pretending to be straight, starting a family (while lying to the partner), conducting a normal life, not revealing the secret to anyone, and praying to God that it will pass.

Koren's master's thesis in education, which she submitted at Hebrew University, was entitled, "I was born gay and I was born Orthodox." It included descriptions of difficult personal experiences she had heard from 16 homosexuals and lesbians she interviewed. She adapted the paper into the book "A Closet Within a Closet," which was published last week in the context of the series "Yahadut Kan Ve'akhshav" ("Judaism Here and Now").

The 1950s Kinsey Report determined that about 10 percent of the adult population are homosexuals. Newer studies, which don't take into account a one-time sexual experience in adolescence, estimate that the percentage of gays in the population is about 4 percent. There is no reason to assume that the situation in the Orthodox population is substantially different. Due to circumstances, Orthodox gays hardly ever "come out," which is why the reality described in the book arouses so much curiosity.

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Altering the Closet: Aron Betoch Aron(H) Hebrew by Irit Koren Altering the Closet: Aron Betoch Aron(H) Hebrew by Irit Koren
Altering the Closet: Aron Betoch Aron(H) Hebrew by Irit Koren Altering the Closet: Aron Betoch Aron(H) Hebrew by Irit Koren