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June 22, 2011

Did Gay Orthodox Jews Go Too Far?

Israel-rainbow-flag Amid a sea of rainbow flags and equal-rights banners at Tel Aviv’s 18th annual Gay Pride parade, an unexpected soundtrack filled the air: hasidic music. Despite the suspicions of some marchers, it wasn’t an act of protest by Orthodox groups. Rather, the music was coming from a float designed by a group of Orthodox gay and lesbian Israelis. “Seven years ago, a gay or lesbian Orthodox person had three options — to stop being religious, to stay in the closet and within the religious community, or to commit suicide…" But rabbis – and a majority of gay Orthodox activists – think parade participation went too far.

 

Rainbow Flags Aflutter, Orthodox Groups Enter a Float in Gay Pride Parade
Despite Landmark First, Not Everyone in Israel’s Gay and Lesbian Orthodox Community Feels Like Celebrating
Nathan Jeffay • Forward

Tel Aviv — Amid a sea of rainbow flags and equal-rights banners at Tel Aviv’s 18th annual Gay Pride parade, an unexpected soundtrack filled the air: Hasidic music.

Despite the suspicions of some marchers, it wasn’t an act of protest by Orthodox groups. Rather, the music was coming from a float designed by a group of Orthodox gay and lesbian Israelis.

The first-of-its-kind float, which made its debut at the June 10 parade, boasted the corporate sponsorship of Google, and carried members of the Bat Kol alliance of Orthodox lesbians; Havruta, an organization of Orthodox gay men, and Pride Minyan, a prayer group for Tel Aviv’s Orthodox gay and lesbian community. These organizations promote the acceptance of Orthodox homosexuals — without taking a position on how their members should deal with the fact that gay sex is prohibited by almost all interpretations of Orthodox law.

The groups’ participation in the parade was emblematic of how far the gay Orthodox community has come, Daniel Jonas, Havruta’s spokesman, told the Forward. “Seven years ago, a gay or lesbian Orthodox person had three options — to stop being religious, to stay in the closet and within the religious community, or to commit suicide, which is something that happened, whereas today we are in a very different situation,” said Jonas, who came out as a homosexual man two years ago at age 27.

Orthodox Israelis who are gay and lesbian have started to come out of the closet with increased frequency over the past seven years, observers say. The trend began with the founding of the Bat Kol, and led to the creation of other organizations that provide support and services to Orthodox gays and lesbians. Just last year, nearly 90 Orthodox rabbis, mostly from America and Israel, called for greater inclusivity in their “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews With a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community.” According to the statement, Orthodoxy should not concern itself with whether sexual orientation is genetic or environmentally generated, but should commit itself, rather, to treating “human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.”

One week before the parade, another first took place in Tel Aviv’s gay and lesbian community: A lesbian couple made a bar mitzvah. The officers of their synagogue, the Orthodox congregation, Yachad, gave full acknowledgment to the two women’s joint role as parents of the bar mitzvah boy.

“We felt like we belong, like we have a place,” said Zehorit Sorek, the boy’s biological mother, who is raising him with her partner, Limor Sorek. The boy requested that his name not appear in this article.

Of the 500 people involved in Havruta, Bat Kol and Pride Minyan, many of them, Zehorit Sorek included, have come out over the last seven years. Her story is typical of many: She grew up in an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, attended single-sex Orthodox schools and, when she found herself attracted to women, “ignored it because I thought it was a temporary product of being in that environment.” She married a man at 20 and got divorced in 2006 aged 31 — soon thereafter entering a lesbian relationship with her current partner.

“I was there for the people who felt they couldn’t go,” she said of the parade, recalling how Bat Kol gave her the confidence to come out of the closet. “When I went to my first Bat Kol meeting, I felt I had come home.”

For some, the Orthodox groups’ participation in the parade illustrated that a gay or lesbian identity need not come at the expense of religious identity, Havruta’s Jonas said. “We are a unique bridge between parts of Israeli society that could never before meet each other,” he said.

But not everyone in Israel’s gay and lesbian Orthodox community see it that way. Kamoha — Gay Orthodox Jews, a group that broke away from Havruta earlier this year, saying that Havruta had become too liberal, criticized the decision to create a float for the parade. So too did Hod, an independent organization and website for religious homosexual Jews. “What I see at the end of the day is that they get their 15 minutes of fame in the media, but it doesn’t have lasting effects on any single person,” said Orthodox Rabbi Ron Yosef, Hod’s leader.

In 2009, Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Magen Yosef congregation in Netanya, became the first Israeli Orthodox congregational rabbi to come out as a homosexual — on national television, no less. He said he believes that by attending the parade, Orthodox groups gave tacit endorsement to gay and lesbian sexual activity as opposed to identity, and that this runs contrary to Jewish law. He insisted that Orthodox participation in the parade could prove “damaging” to the attempts by Orthodox gays and lesbians to show that they want greater acceptance without compromising their Orthodoxy.

Prominent Orthodox leaders who until now have been seen as the most sympathetic toward Bat Kol and Havruta, have also condemned the decision to march.

“They have crossed a line,” said Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, co-founder of the Tzohar alliance of Modern Orthodox rabbis, who counsels Orthodox men who are considering coming out of the closet, and who strongly opposes “reparative therapy,” which some rabbis recommend as a means of turning gay men straight.

The prominent Modern Orthodox Rabbi Benny Lau, a signatory of the “Statement of Principles,” who spoke at a recent Havruta meeting, said that while Modern Orthodox communities are starting to be more inclusive, the gay pride parade lacks respect for nuance. Therefore Orthodox marchers “may find that doors that were starting to be open to them are now locked.”

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Let's say I have a craving for pork. I know that eating pork is forbidden by the Torah. I know that if I want to call myself an Orthodox Jew I cannot eat pork nor can I encourage or support other Jews in eating it.
So if pork eaters then stage a protest against laws forbidding pork in Israel, would it be right for me to join them?
These guys want to eat their cake and have it too. They want to be see as Orthodox Jews in good standing except for this one minor little thing about gay intercourse which they shouldn't have to hold by. It's a sad position to be in but it isn't Orthodox.

A number of Poskim have ruled that homosexuality is a matter of ones, not toevah.

GI, you think every orthodox Jew observes every orthodox rule?

GI, you think every orthodox Jew observes every orthodox rule?

Posted by: WoolSilkCotton | June 22, 2011 at 07:03 AM

I assume one must define *precisely* just what is meant by orthodox. What you are implying by your question is more akin to what one would call a tzadik. There are certain characteristics that are clearly within everyone's definition of orthodox. If one drives on shabbos then virtually no one would classify that individual as orthodox no matter what else that person does or does not do. The fact that we are able to talk in terms of gay orthodox seems to imply that a person's sexual orientation is not a factor in a person's religious classification. It may be considered an abomination in all three religious classifications for all I know hence the fact that one may attach that label to all classifications i.e. gay orthodox, gay conservative and gay reformed.

No, male on male anal intercourse is considered an abomination. That's it. No other gay sexual activity is defined as an abomination. A woman who has engaged in lesbian activity, for example, may be forbidden to marry a Cohen and might (according to some ancient authorities) be subjected to flogging- but it's not an abomination.

Skeptical yid - assuming you can cite sources for your assertion (which sounds pretty strange) would this not apply to the orientation and not the act itself?

SY, supposing the Orthodox rabbonim came up with the following rulings based on a re-interpretation of Torah and Talmud:
Henceforth:
1. anal sex in whatever fashion, even performed in the context of a (heterosexual) marriage is now totally assur and a toeivah.
2. fellatio, even performed in the context of a (heterosexual) marriage is now totally assur and a toeivah.
3. cunnilingus, performed in the context of a (heterosexual) marriage is a mitzvah and is henceforth regarded as part of the marital obligations of a husband (ie. he cannot refuse it to his wife).
Apart from the above, married couples are free to indulge in whatever healthy normal sexual activity they wish.
How many Orthodox Jews (or any Jews) would abide by these new regulations?

Why do you then suppose that male homosexuals, being like everyone else would limit themselves to "non-prohibited" activities (ie. NOT male on male anal intercourse)?

My point is that once one allows a certain private activity in this case sexual activity, it is very difficult to prohibit certain acts which obviously one cannot witness.

Dave: personally I couldn't care less what people do in private. My point was that the same Ortho Jews here who spew hate and violence towards Gay people don't even abide by the self same halachah they supposedly cite.

"Let's say I have a craving for pork. I know that eating pork is forbidden by the Torah. I know that if I want to call myself an Orthodox Jew I cannot eat pork nor can I encourage or support other Jews in eating it.
So if pork eaters then stage a protest against laws forbidding pork in Israel, would it be right for me to join them?"

I am not intermarried. I have no craving to intermarry. I do not think intermarriage should be allowed in Jewish law.

If people held a rally for civil marriage in Israel, which would allow intermarriage and other marriages not allowed as kiddushin under halacha, I might well participate, out of my political belief in the need for seperation of religion and state.

WSK, I don't think every Orthodox Jew obeys every rules. Far from it and frankly, with the fragmentation of the community and the different standards each group has there's no way to fulfill that requirement. If I don't believe in Lubavitch's Rebbe as messiah I'm breaking a Chabad "rule", if I watch Star Trek I'm breaking a Chareidi rule.
But - and this is crucial - there is a difference between breaking a rule and denying the rule applies to one or that it should be changed. It could be that I sneak off into to local small town and eat a Big Mac once in a while because I have a taavah for it (I don't, by the way) but I wouldn't then stand up and say that I'm Orthodox but that Big Mac's should be considered kosher.
If two gay men want to give in to their desires, that's between them and God. However, parading around in the company of people who openly defy the Torah and say that such an attitude is legitimate is not proper Orthodox behaviour.

"How many Orthodox Jews (or any Jews) would abide by these new regulations?

Why do you then suppose that male homosexuals, being like everyone else would limit themselves to "non-prohibited" activities (ie. NOT male on male anal intercourse)?

My point is that once one allows a certain private activity in this case sexual activity, it is very difficult to prohibit certain acts which obviously one cannot witness. "

A married couple is forbidden to have sex (or among the orthodox to touch) when the woman is a niddah. One is forbidden to engage in many activities in the privacy of ones own home on shabbat and Yom tov. One is forbidden to eat milchig shortly after eating fleishig, an activity easy to do without anyone else being aware. There is a range of forbidden acts that we rely on individuals to self-police.

Imagine such behavoir in moshe rabineu's time, israel is a secular nation thats just drifting so far.....i see rabbi weiss and the nk's point now.

"But - and this is crucial - there is a difference between breaking a rule and denying the rule applies to one or that it should be changed. It could be that I sneak off into to local small town and eat a Big Mac once in a while because I have a taavah for it (I don't, by the way) but I wouldn't then stand up and say that I'm Orthodox but that Big Mac's should be considered kosher.
If two gay men want to give in to their desires, that's between them and God. However, parading around in the company of people who openly defy the Torah and say that such an attitude is legitimate is not proper Orthodox behaviour."

three possibilities

1. Someone DOES think that the halacha should change, and that there is an Orthodox way to (I cant speak to whether that is realistic, as I am not O)
2. Someone accepts that the O halacha is what it is, but objects to SECULAR law being what it is. the parallel here is intermarriage - one can believe its banned in halacha, while objecting to the notion of secular law enforcing that prohibition, on civil libertarian grounds
3. Someone is not interested in the marriage issue, but wants to proclaim their sexual identity in public, so that others who share that do not feel alone, suicidal, etc. ANd the marriage rally just happens to be a convenient place to do that

This last BTW, is what sets this issue apart from the craving an occasional big Mac - we are talking about fundamentals of human relationships, something essential to human identity and self esteem - not a craving for a particular sensual experience. The constant refusal to accept that, the placing of their identity, their selfhood, on the same level as a slice of bacon, is one thing that I think many gays find offputting.

GI -

Do you think pork should be made illegal under secular law in the United States? If I were to attend a rally opposing the banning of pork would you assume I thought pork should be allowed under halacha?

Masortiman, of course I don't think pork should be made illegal in the US. If you were to attend a general rally opposing such a law I'd assume you're protesting the government imposing on people. However, if some regular secular/humanist group of Jews organized such a rally and you joined, I'd find it difficult for you to call yourself Orthodox (yes, I know you're not) at the same time.
The bottom line is that the halacha does evolve over time but very slowly and very cautiously. What's more, you're not allowed to notice this progression because the minute you do those same authorities that have been slowly moving things along shout "Whaddaya mean 'change'? There's no changes allowed!" and then slam the door on further progression.
As for your point "not a craving for a particular sensual experience", I think that this is exactly the focal point of the issue. If an Orthodox Jew has homosexual tendencies but is committed to living a life al pi halacha then he is committed to specifically avoiding that particular experience. Not the lifestyle (although parading in public in a thong at gay pride parades raises other issues) or the essential human identity. It's the right to say "We're Orthodox even though we engage in anal intercourse" that these folks want to be able to say.

You are no longer a jew if you are gay! Period! To hell with rabbis and who they define as jew. Torah tells me that act is punishable by death, a jew that believes in jesus is no longer a jew, but one that is gay is a jew? Judaism is a religion not an ethnic group, if you dont abide by the religion according to torah, you are not a jew, just that simple, judaism was stolen by rabbis, now homosexuals want their share, such blasphemy, its an afront to Hashem.

"However, if some regular secular/humanist group of Jews organized such a rally and you joined, I'd find it difficult for you to call yourself Orthodox (yes, I know you're not) at the same time."

But then thats a political judgement, about how to make alliances, and whether or not the identity of rally organizers matters. Its not a question of halachic POV. I dont consider it right for NK to attend events sponsored by the Govt of Iran - I dont judge them to be influenced by Shiite muslim theology because they do.

"As for your point "not a craving for a particular sensual experience", I think that this is exactly the focal point of the issue. If an Orthodox Jew has homosexual tendencies but is committed to living a life al pi halacha then he is committed to specifically avoiding that particular experience."

if (I will address this below) ALL same sex erotic contact is considered subject to the prohibition from written torah, then we are saying they need to be celibate. They can feel romantic love, but they cannot express it physically at all. While obviously not ALL sources agree, I think the general tendency of our mesorah is that is NOT how Jews are expected to live, or should live.

" Not the lifestyle (although parading in public in a thong at gay pride parades raises other issues) or the essential human identity. It's the right to say "We're Orthodox even though we engage in anal intercourse" that these folks want to be able to say."

I am not sure how to put this delicately to you, but there ARE gay men who do not have anal sex, but are far from celibate. The question of whether the other things they do to express their love physically, are prohibited d'oraita, or d'rabbanan, was the central part of the Roth vs Dorff debate before the CJLS. I have thought that contempoary O opinion was unanimous that either A - its all d'oraita or B. Its irrelevant, since unlike C, they are unwilling to alter the halacha d'rabanan in this case. Your wording indicates otherwise, but perhaps I am misreading.

> I dont consider it right for NK to attend events sponsored by the Govt of Iran - I dont judge them to be influenced by Shiite muslim theology because they do

But I do consider them to be anti-Semitic bastards for doing so. I can understand why gay Orthodox Jews would seek out other homosexual companions but when they become part of a political movement that has as its platform very anti-Orthodox positions they have crossed a line.

> then we are saying they need to be celibate. They can feel romantic love, but they cannot express it physically at all.

Not at all. As unattractive or uninteresting as it might be to them, having heterosexual intercourse with a female marital partner is completely permissible to them. And that's the point - the mesorah limits sex to just such a coupling. A guy might have the hots for his buddy's wife. Does that give him permission to go over for a quickie while his buddy's out of town for a meeting?

"I dont consider it right for NK to attend events sponsored by the Govt of Iran - I dont judge them to be influenced by Shiite muslim theology because they do

But I do consider them to be anti-Semitic bastards for doing so. I can understand why gay Orthodox Jews would seek out other homosexual companions but when they become part of a political movement that has as its platform very anti-Orthodox positions they have crossed a line."

One can, then, be antisemitic and still be Orthodox. There have been shtadlonim for centuries who were orthopraxic, and normative in their theology, but consorted with antisemites. I find it very strange that to be Orthodox, one must follow a particular political line.

" then we are saying they need to be celibate. They can feel romantic love, but they cannot express it physically at all.

Not at all. As unattractive or uninteresting as it might be to them, having heterosexual intercourse with a female marital partner is completely permissible to them."

for some it is uninteresting. For some it is repulsive or impossible. Thats just speaking to the sex. As for the marriage, that kind of marriage has often been associated with all kinds of pain and tragedy for both partners.

" And that's the point - the mesorah limits sex to just such a coupling. A guy might have the hots for his buddy's wife. Does that give him permission to go over for a quickie while his buddy's out of town for a meeting?"

Again, I think you are trivializing whats involved - the hots for a particular partner is not the same as an orientation (BTW, afaict the Dorff tshuva STILL bans all same sex erotic contact for bisexuals) The permission requested is 1. to express ones inner being in a romantic relationship with a member of the only gender (and we Jews accept that gender differences are essential and not arbitray, which sets us apart from some secular thinkers) with whom that is possible and 2. To express THAT relationship, physically

Whether that is possible within the O approach to halacha, I cannot say (its been a struggle even in a movement that is more willing to dispense with fences around the law) But I do not think its helpful to trivialize what is at stake.

Posted by: SkepticalYid | June 22, 2011 at 07:35 AM

It begs the question, why would lesbian sex not be considered abomination, is it possible that because generally man like to view lesbian sex, and get aroused by watching two woman.

Sheesh, again with the homosexuals, Reb Rosenberg? It's almost enough to make one miss the never-ending Rubashkin, fraud, molestation, and Rebbe-deification tirades of old. Carry on!

Masortiman, here's the basic deal: Torah and halacha determine what is permissible and what is forbidden for a Jew. Sometimes it's easy: thou shalt not murder. Sometimes it's limiting: thou shalt not eat pork. And sometimes it can cause a conflict with one's very essence: thou shalt not engage in homosexual intercourse.
However, personal distress or deep desires have never and are not excuses for violating halacha or motivators for change. The gemara discusses a case in which a man lusted so badly after another man's wife that he brought himself to the edge of death. When asked about whether she could at least stand on the other side of a partition sight unseen and speak with him the sages said no. His personal problems were not the issue and halacha wasn't going to be waived 'cause he really, really, really wanted this contact.
Homosexuals in Judaism are in an awful position. They have to deny one of their most fundamental drives because that drive is incompatible with the Torah's rules. It's hard, it might even be seen by some as unfair but it cannot be accommodated.

halacha does evolve over time but very slowly and very cautiously. What's more, you're not allowed to notice this progression because the minute you do those same authorities that have been slowly moving things along shout "Whaddaya mean 'change'? There's no changes allowed!" and then slam the door on further progression.Posted by: Garnel Ironheart

while this was not the case in the gemarra, where halacha was changed instantaneously(shmitta heterim, chalitza with no yeebum) it does accurately reflect the current modern-ortho landscape vis-a-vis social issues. those words in conjuction with lau's make the most sense.

while Modern Orthodox communities are starting to be more inclusive, the gay pride parade lacks respect for nuance. Therefore Orthodox marchers “may find that doors that were starting to be open to them are now locked.”

what ortho LGBT's want is to not be shunned. and the MO community might be in part prepared to oblige them. but that would be nuanced as lau says. while the MO would certainly honor the torahs view that some gay sex is toeivah, they could simply pretend not to notice or mind that certain amongst them are gay. they might be able to forgive their gayness as a weakness or flaw.
but when ortho-gays march in a parade which calls for equal treatment, and screams for gays to have pride (positions i support), then that removes the nuances and is likely to be detrimental to their desire for quiet acceptance within their communities.

"Homosexuals in Judaism are in an awful position. They have to deny one of their most fundamental drives because that drive is incompatible with the Torah's rules. It's hard, it might even be seen by some as unfair but it cannot be accommodated"

Thats all I was asking for, an acknowledgement that its a fundamental drive being denied - not something trivial, as some posts here implied. I dont expect us to agree beyond that - I dont expect us to agree on how to handle the issue of agunot - but there at least we can agree that TRYING to solve the halachic problem is worthy. I think the issue is just as strong here.

"However, personal distress or deep desires have never and are not excuses for violating halacha or motivators for change. "

I think its fruitless to review the different movements views on what the motivations for past halachic changes have been. Lets agree to disagree on this.

"The gemara discusses a case in which a man lusted so badly after another man's wife that he brought himself to the edge of death. When asked about whether she could at least stand on the other side of a partition sight unseen and speak with him the sages said no. His personal problems were not the issue and halacha wasn't going to be waived 'cause he really, really, really wanted this contact."

This is however, a story from the Talmud, not an actual empirical social and, now we know, genetic reality. And there is nothing to indicate that he found his own wife repulsive in the way some homosexuals find heterosexual sex repulsive. Its an interesting story, but I dont think probative of the correct approach to halach in this case.

and of course you frame the case as "waiving halacha" Thats not necessarily the issue, but finding an approach within the halacha, that addresses the problem.

Garnel @11:20 a.m.
Very well said. I think, as a non-denominational traditional, that your comments are correctly presenting the most empathetic Orthodox position that can possibly be presented without compromising halacha.
I am sure that past generations of Reform and Conservative rabbis would align themselves with your view and not the current positions of the Reform and Conservative movements on this issue- which have gone far too far in my opinion. I think partly out of a wish to not be attacked by non-Jewish liberals.
Sadly there are some of us that are always afraid of "what will the goyim think".
I used to be like that, but no longer.

"I am sure that past generations of Reform and Conservative rabbis would align themselves with your view and not the current positions of the Reform and Conservative movements on this issue-"

I think its rather unfair to invoke the dead, who themselves lived not only in different circumstances, but with different knowledge.


" which have gone far too far in my opinion. I think partly out of a wish to not be attacked by non-Jewish liberals.
Sadly there are some of us that are always afraid of "what will the goyim think".
I used to be like that, but no longer."

wrt to the Mesorah, a case can be made that attempts were made by Chazal to address aspects of biblical law that were less compassionate than Roman law, and thus had become an embarassment. certainly the ban on polygamy, made 900 years earlier in the Ashkenazic world than among the mizrahi, is hard to see as anything other than "worrying about what the goyim will think"

As for earlier generations of Reform, are you seriously telling me that 19th c reformers who tossed out the very notion of a chosen people and of Jews as a nation , werent worried about what the goyim thought?

"am sure that past generations of Reform and Conservative rabbis would align themselves with your view and not the current positions of the Reform and Conservative movements on this issue- which have gone far too far in my opinion"

GI's position, if I read it right, is that halacha does not change in response to needs, desires, and psychic suffering, no matter how great. I do not see how past generations of C rabbis, who not only made changes in the treatment of agunot, for example, precisely in response to such issues, but who actually made such radical changes in halacha as the driving tshuva (which to me addresses a far less worthy complaint) would accept GI's halachic reasoning.

as for Reform, which with rare (and mostly recent) exceptions has rejected halacha per se for over 150 years, I dont see how they can be tied to ANY halachic viewpoint.

if you mean that a 19th cent reform rabbi would have opposed gay rights, you are probably correct. There were some 19th c american reform rabbis who accepted chattel slavery (orthodox rabbis too, I guess). That a given rabbi did not anticipate the changes in social views is not an argument that he was not influenced by the social views of his own time.

Is Kolko an Orthodox Jew ? Is Leib Tropper an Orthodox Jew ? (Is he a rabbi?) , is Weingarten an Orthodox Jew ? is Kassin an Orthodox Jew ? is Leib Pinter an Orthodox Jew ? is Mondrowitz an Orthodox Jew ? is Spitzer an Orthodox Jew ? are the Satmar rebbes 1 & 2 Orthodox Jews

They also broke some Orthodox Laws but are still considered Orthodox, But I guess for Garnel Ironheart and the other idiots repeatedly raping your own daughter is not as bad as having consentual gay relationships

they want to say they are gay, then let them be gay. they can be orthodox and gay just as long as they didnt do any intercourse or sexual activity.
the torah doesnt say if youre allowed or not allowed to be gay. however it says you are not allowed to act on those desires. so if someone where to have acted on it, he is far from orthodox. this is a chillul hashem and is bringing down the whole orthodoxy.

I wish the article had explained what it was about their participation in the parade that Tzohar and other MO rabbis took issue with. I know that gay pride parades can be very, uh, untznius. So in that sense maybe their participation makes it look like they endorse the parade and a lot of what goes on at it. On the other hand, I think it's great if they can get their name out there, generate some publicity and hopefully reach out to some closeted, scared frum Jews.

To see more opinions on this issue of Gay orthodox Jews go to http://richdweck.blogspot.com/

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