This past summer, Rabbi Alan Stadtmauer resigned abruptly as principal of the prestigious Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush. Officially, the reason was that he wanted to pursue another career, though the school didn’t mention the real reason he believed he couldn’t continue his current one: Stadtmauer, 42, was just coming to grips with his homosexuality, which is anathema to Orthodox teachings. So he quit.
“We don’t know of any other heads of yeshiva anywhere in the world who have come out. It is a first,” says Sandi DuBowski, whose documentary Trembling Before G-d is about the struggle to be gay and Orthodox.
Actually, it’s not clear that Stadtmauer, who’d taught at the school for ten years, intended to come out—at least not yet. In September, after the rabbi resigned, a student politely e-mailed him to ask about rumors that he was gay. Stadtmauer replied, “I appreciate your understanding about my coming out … ” But one close confidant of Stadtmauer’s, Rabbi Steve Greenberg (author of Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition), says that when Stadtmauer told the student he could share the e-mail “if your friends were wondering the same things,” he was thinking “maybe three or four friends. He didn’t want this information out like this. He told me this twice.”
Instead, the e-mail circulated widely; The Forward even covered it. And many former students felt betrayed, not because he’d been hiding his sexuality but because he implied that he was giving up, at least provisionally, on Orthodoxy: His e-mail stated, “I still believe in the Value and Truth of Torah, even if I don’t feel bound by Halacha,” the rabbinic laws. “And I may yet return to it.”
“What shocked me personally,” says alum Steven Zeitchik, a writer for Variety, “was not the gay part … but the fact that he left Jewish education.” Zeitchik says he still feels confused by Stadtmauer’s decision, “because the things he hid were so integral to what I was talking to him about, so elemental to how we live our lives in terms of faith.”
According to modern Orthodoxy’s interpretation of rabbinic law, homosexuality is a grave sin, so it wasn’t surprising that the response on certain blogs was more unforgiving. “I knew since day one he was a faggot,” one alum wrote on unorthodoxjew.blogspot.com. “He deserves the punishment of the worst tortures possible.”
School officials sent a letter to parents stating that Stadtmauer had recently told them he was gay but that “he had never previously discussed these issues with members of the faculty or with students.” It added, “There have been no allegations of inappropriate behavior during his tenure at the Yeshiva.”
Greenberg’s hoping all this will at least get people in the community talking about something they don’t like to even acknowledge. Flatbush grad David Cameo knows many Orthodox Jews “who officially admit it, yet decide to walk the ‘straight’ path. Some actually still choose to have a wife and
kids … Some remain celibate.”
Greenberg said Stadtmauer never spoke to him about his sex life, and his e-mail made no reference to his celibacy (except to say, “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”). Stadtmauer isn’t making any public statements for now. Shortly after the e-mail got out, the rabbi left New York for a three-month hiatus—on the other side of the world. He spent Yom Kippur not in Brooklyn but in Bangkok.