Ex-Yeshiva Head Outs Himself, Leaves Fold

By Jennifer Siegel

Published September 23, 2005, issue of September 23, 2005.
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A former principal of one of New York’s most illustrious Modern Orthodox high schools has announced that he is gay and no longer an Orthodox Jew.

Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer, 42, stepped down as head of the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School in June, after serving as a teacher and administrator for more than a decade. At the time, the administration believed that Stadtmauer’s desire for a career change was behind his departure. But in recent weeks, according to former students and officials at the school, the former principal confirmed that he recently had come to terms with being a gay man and has turned away from Orthodoxy.

In a September 19 letter sent to parents in Brooklyn’s Flatbush section, the school’s president, Jack Rahmey, said that last week Stadtmauer informed a member of the administration “that he was a gay man and no longer considered himself an Orthodox Jew.”

“To the best of our knowledge, Alan Stadtmauer had never previously discussed these issues with members of the faculty or with any students, and there have been no allegations of inappropriate behavior during his tenure at the Yeshivah,” Rahmey wrote. “He always acted as a professional and adhered to all of the Yeshivah’s standards and practices. We were not aware of his personal issues and conflicts when he resigned.”

Stadtmauer, a graduate of Manhattan’s Ramaz School, received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s affiliated seminary. The rabbi could not be reached for comment. According to former students, he left last week for a three-month tour of Asia.

In a widely circulated e-mail signed with the rabbi’s name, the author wrote, “Given how alone I have been all my life, I just couldn’t see fighting an uphill battle just to remain lonely in the Orthodox community.”

In recent years, the profile of gays and lesbians has risen dramatically in the Orthodox community, particularly with the release in 2001 of “Trembling Before God,” a documentary featuring interviews with gay and lesbian Orthodox Jews, including Steven Greenberg, the world’s first openly gay Orthodox rabbi. In New York alone, several support groups for lesbian and gay Orthodox Jews have gained steam over the last several years.

Greenberg’s 2004 book, “Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition,” advanced a model for integrating gays into Orthodox life through a more liberal interpretation of Halacha, or rabbinic law; other, more conservative commentators have advocated retaining gays in the Orthodox community through teaching abstinence, offering treatment designed to alter sexual preferences, or extending the kind of tacit acceptance that the community routinely grants others who are not fully observant.

In contrast, Stadtmauer has left the Orthodox world — a fact some students found more troubling than the revelation about his sexual orientation. “I don’t care so much that he’s gay as that he left religion,” said one Flatbush senior, who was rushing down Brooklyn’s bustling Avenue J on a recent weekday morning to make it in time for the start of school.

One 1997 alumnus of Flatbush, who is gay, praised Stadtmauer as “the rabbi that everybody loved.” The former student said that though he had left Orthodoxy, he remains active in a traditional congregation. He described Stadtmauer’s religious drift as “surprising.”

“I’m not sure that he realizes — and this is the important thing — that he’s not alone,” the alumnus said. “Nobody who faces this issue, who’s fighting the ‘uphill battle,’ is alone in the Orthodox community.”

For their part, Orthodox leaders said that they are working to show tolerance and compassion for gays, even while maintaining Halacha.

Psychotherapist Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, said that while gay and lesbians may not be suitable candidates for leadership positions — just like someone who does not keep the Sabbath or observe kashrut — they are welcome in the community and should be viewed no more harshly than other Jews who are not fully observant. Weinreb said that in some cases he supports “psychotherapeutic treatment” to help gays “reorient” themselves, but he believes that some individuals are not candidates for change.

Rabbi Dov Linzer, rabbinic dean at the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical seminary, also argued that while homosexual sex is prohibited by the Torah, synagogues should not judge homosexuals any more harshly than those who transgress rabbinic law in other ways. At the same time, he acknowledged that unlike those struggling to keep kosher, individuals grappling with questions of sexual identity typically face “soul-wrenching” questions that can cause “a profound crisis of faith.”

“It’s an existential crisis,” Linzer said. “Halacha demands a lot sacrifices in life, in many, many, realms but there’s usually none that makes someone challenge their core identity and [wonder] if they as a person are accepted or rejected. I would say that if there is anything similar to it, it might be how some Orthodox feminists are struggling with such issues, meaning that it’s not only the question of ‘Is the Torah giving me an opportunity to participate as fully as I feel I should?’ but ‘Is the Torah biased against who I am, biased against women?’ It’s a similar issue here. It’s not just a question, I think, of what is the Torah prohibiting and demanding of me, but is the Torah against me?”

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