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Testing My Faith

I’d left Orthodoxy. But as I waited for HIV test results, I looked to God and the Talmud for comfort.

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This summer, I was working for the U.S. Department of State in Mexico, and LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS were two of my portfolios. I met with numerous advocacy groups dedicated to both issues and talked endlessly about testing campaigns, treatment options, and HIV/AIDS patient discrimination, even visiting clinics and centers where I met HIV-positive patients. Each meeting and visit brought a new wave of guilt and anxiety over my own unknown status, leaving me feeling hypocritical discussing these issues and programs when I myself was willfully ignorant. I was given a tour of one facility where they proudly showed off their waiting room for people who were waiting to hear their results. I looked at it with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and desire to be in there. I saw it as a preview of the end of a tunnel that I wasn’t willing to go through yet.

A few months later, back in Washington, D.C., I got an email from my graduate school, with the subject line: “Free HIV tests!” Like clockwork, the guilt began and the horror score that chimed the ignorance of my status played.

But I’d had enough. It was time to confront my guilt, fear, and my mother’s prediction. I frantically Googled rapid HIV testing centers and went the next day.


With the 20 minutes ticking away in the waiting room, I remembered all those seminary girls I used to jostle over Egged buses in Israel—oblivious to the world around them while they furiously recited Tehilim—and I decided that I needed to do something. Like on Yom Kippur, I needed to show a commitment to the Power so as to warrant inscription in the Book of Life. I couldn’t find Tehilim for my iPhone, so I settled instead on daf yomi—something I never even did when I was studying in Israel.

So, there I was, in an LGBT HIV/AIDS clinic, surrounded by condoms, rainbow flags, and reassuring pamphlets about life with HIV/AIDS, reading a section of the Talmud about candlewicks in Aramaic. Within minutes, the anxiety was banished and the horror score that chimed a death sentence slowed. I felt like I was again performing my end of the bargain with God. I was making a sacrifice. It was by no means a religious reawakening, but it was definitely a salve. And then, just like that, the candlewick discussion was over and the gates were closed. The results were in.


Baruch Hashem,” I said to myself. Scientific reasoning for my negative results aside, my status reaffirmed my belief in a higher power when your life stands a chance of being significantly altered. I might go to Starbucks on Shabbat, and I might ignore the lard in my tortillas. I might lie with men like other men do with women. But when it all comes to the end and I can’t change anything: He is still all that I’ve got.


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Thank you for sharing your story, Matt! I can’t even imagine what you must have been going through while waiting for the results each time. Hugs to you.

I went in for spinal surgery 2.5 years ago, a.k.a. “Spinal Fusion”.
Before I went into the O.R. I spoke to my Jewish surgeon and asked if I could say the “Shema”, in both Hebrew and in English.
I also asked “Hashem” to guide my surgeons hands during the operating time.
Now I am to go back in 6 weeks time for another session. I will do the same prayers! Hashem and I are good friends..:>) (

SharonM says:

Condoms, not prayer, are what is keeping you HIV negative. Keep using them.

Pip Power says:

If ever one had an example of how some Gays are “produced”, this is it! Matt’s life was messed up from the time of conception, by two messed up people. People say that the child in the womb is affected by all kinds of stress, emotions, chemicals etc. Is it any wonder that there is an explosion of Gay people in the world. If you Google


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

It will blow you away. If we say we believe God is the Creator of all things, then after reading this article, you will become more understanding about all the different forms of sexuality in nature.

But & there is always a BUT. I think Gays don’t do themselves any favors with their going on in places like Folsom Street Festival. If you Google & search for Up Your Alley 2008, you will see what I mean. Its getting to the stage now where “normal” people are being treated as “subnormal” by the very people who were once treated as b”subnormal”!

The VAGINA is especially built to receive the PENIS. The ANUS is not & any abuse in this area sexually causes abrasions & infections i.e. STDs etc.

50,000,000 babies slaughtered in Abortion Camps since 1973, in the USA.

What amazes me is the fact that women need counselling, if they have had a miscarriage, but think NOTHING of having an abortion.

Its a “funny” old world!

Pip Power is obviously out-of-touch with reality and pretty removed from rational thought. This is a wonderful, thought-provoking article about the convergence of religion, the individual, and sexuality. I think we, as a Jewish community, need to do a much better job about embracing all people from the LGBTQ community in a non-judgmental way. It’s also fantastic that you can help raise awareness about knowing one’s own HIV status! Excellent article.

Amen to Pip Power

I enjoyed this story. Forgive me if I digress, but I was hoping to also read another story regarding Orthodoxy and being gay.

This is a story that is not getting a lot of coverage in Jewish newspapers, none in the Jewish Press.

It is about Jonah the conversion therapy mill that promises to turn gay people straight.

It advertises every day in the Jewish Press. Last week it was taken to court by former patients some of whom were sexually abused by counselors.

This story was featured on CNN with Wolf Blitzer reporting.

The founder and president of JONAH , Arthur Goldberg was previously convicted for fraud and disbarred.

the Rabbinical Council of America, decided to announce it does not endorse either conversion therapy or JONAH anymore because it agrees with the scientific community that these are quack therapies.

bobschwalbaum says:

Can anyone name one other apparently incurable disease that is SOLELY the product of aberrant human behaviour

I know.. i know.. BIGOT!!!

BUT I’m right… ain’t I?


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Testing My Faith

I’d left Orthodoxy. But as I waited for HIV test results, I looked to God and the Talmud for comfort.

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