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A Novel’s Unlikely Friends

From the archive: A gay man and an Orthodox rabbi find connection in Wayne Hoffman’s novel Sweet Like Sugar

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According to the Torah, homosexuality is forbidden. That injunction is what makes Rabbi Zuckerman, a frail old man, recoil when he learns that a new friend, a twentysomething named Benji Steiner, is gay. These characters and their relationship anchor a new novel, Sweet Like Sugar, by Wayne Hoffman. It’s a story that takes on identity, personal secrets, and the search for connection. The novel is something of a departure for Hoffman, whose debut, Hard, took a much more explicit look at gay life, describing the personal and political engagement of a group of gay men in the late 1990s in Greenwich Village.

Hoffman, the managing editor of Tablet Magazine, will accept the prestigious Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award at the annual American Library Association conference today. To celebrate his accomplishment, we re-present his conversation with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry. They discuss Sweet Like Sugar, how his two careers—novelist and editor—influence one another, and his own experience finding acceptance as a gay Jew. [Running time: 16:54.] 

This podcast was originally published on Aug. 17, 2011.

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Hershl says:

You write:

According to the Torah, homosexuality is forbidden.

This is absolutely wrong.

The Torah never condemns homosexuality. It forbids anal intercourse whether between two men or a man and a woman.

The rabbinical commentaries stated long ago that since sex between two women is not mentioned in the Torah then homosexuality is not the issue.

I was told this by one of the greatest poskim in Lakewood, Rabbi Dov Lesser. When I told him I was gay, he replied, So what? What’s the problem?

He then explained the above to me and invited me to come spend Shabbos with him and his family.

He told me that the rank ignorance in the Jewish community has perpetrated this myth for years.

BTW, I started the gay and lesbian shul in Chicago in 1976 when the Chicago Jewish community refused to allow openly gay Jews like myself to be part of their congregational life.

That shul is still going strong.

chana says:

thank you hershl for posting this…

Leon Gefen says:

I am a gay orthodox Jew living in Chicago…where is that Shul ?? Is it Or Chodosh ?? Or the one on Sheridan RD. ?? Neither are orthodox. Also I am confused by your comments that Homosexuality isn’t forbidden. You follow that by a statement that Anal sex is forbidden. That sounds like a contradiction to me . If anal sex is forbidden doesn’t that forbid Homosexuality ???? Please explain your (Or Rabbi Lessers) statement.

    Hershl says:

    Hi, Leon

    I am a gay Jewish man who was a talmid of Rov. Lesser for over 20 years. He told me that the Torah does not prohibit homosexuality since it is part of nature. Rather, he stated, what is prohibited is anal intercourse which is not synonymous with homosexuality. It can also be done between a man and a woman. I don’t understand why this sounds like a contradiction since one can have other types of sex besides anal sex if one is homosexual. Or, like me, just not have sex anymore in general. My greatest satisfaction with my partner of 27 years is cuddling, kissing, holding hands, just finding intimacy with each other.

    Rabbi Lesser was very supportive of me being gay and Jewish. However, even secular Jews have bought into the myth that the Torah forbids homosexuality as the first line of this review demonstrates.

    And that is really too bad since it is a total lie.

leon, anal sex is a sexual act. homosexuality is a state of being. a book you might want to read is ‘wrestling with god and men’ by rabbi steven greenberg, a gay orthodox rabbi.
good luck

Lenore W. Zuspan says:

Can you tell me how I can order the books featured in this article?


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A Novel’s Unlikely Friends

From the archive: A gay man and an Orthodox rabbi find connection in Wayne Hoffman’s novel Sweet Like Sugar

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