“Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the L-rd your G-d, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh
“The halakha was firmly convinced that man is free and that he is master not only of his deeds but over his emotions as well. The halakha held the view that man’s mastery over his emotional life is unqualified and that he is capable of changing thought patterns, emotional structures and experimental motifs….” (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “A Eulogy for the Talner Rebbe,” in Joseph Epstein, ed., Shiurei Harav (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1994), p. 68.)
I had no intention to write about homosexuality. But then I read the news, and saw that the rainbow flag had risen in Israel with the commencement of Tel Aviv’s annual “Gay Pride Month.” And in the climate we live in, where too many people with kipot are expressing ideas pertaining to homosexuality that are contrary to Torah, I was compelled to write something. I am not a Rabbi nor a halachic decisor, yet on such a critical issue, one need not be a Rabbi or posek to defend the sanctity of Torah. This is Basic Judaism 101.
In Tel Aviv, homosexuality is not only tolerated, but is celebrated lavishly and flamboyantly each year. The highlight of the month-long festival is the annual “Pride Parade” which occurred this past Friday, June 12. Reportedly there were over 100,000 participants for last year’s celebrations and this year’s organizers believe that they will surpass that number. they have scheduled an added bonus this year, in the form of a dance party to be held at Bloomfield Stadium. Prominent DJ’s and entertainers are slated to perform. The desecration of G-d’s name promises to be enormous.
In truth, it’s not a one month affair. Tel Aviv proudly touts itself as one of the most “gay friendly” cities in the world. The metropolis of Tel Aviv aggressively advocates for the lifestyle, and many prominent players would like to go even further. If it were up to Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai, gay marriage would become legalized in Israel, and at the rate that we are regressing collectively, he may live to see its fruition. At the commencement of this year’s event, Huldai said as much to The Jerusalem Post:
“I think that the State of Israel can learn from Ireland, that just recently, in a referendum, approved gay marriage. I think that in the State of Israel, given the awakening that’s happening, it’s important for there to be a city that says ‘here, a person can live their life.’”
We are taking our values from G-dless Europeans who have no concern for the lives of the living or the unborn-that in itself should tell us something. Little wonder that Medinat Tel Aviv shares the European sentiments (and the language) on such matters as “settlements” and “the occupation.” Should it surprise us that in a society of such debased thought, that the prospect of more affordable “Milky” treats could actually lure Israeli’s to the blood-blackened soil of Germany?
In an ideal Torah world, Tel Aviv would be a forum to display the beauty of Torah and Jewish morality to the world. Tel Aviv is an international stage for many things, most of them un-Jewish. The ethos that drives much of Tel Aviv is far from anything Torah related. And the annual celebration of homosexuality is another Tel Aviv expression of deviancy and perversion parading itself in front of the gentile world. And there is often a calculated vindictiveness to this advocacy. A hatred of Torah and tradition. As we have seen before, the more aggressive advocates sometimes schedule parades through the holy city of Jerusalem. They are motivated by a vindictive l’hachis mentality chooing Jerusalem specifically to offend religious Jews. As I see it, if you don’t believe in a G-d, why go out of your way to upset those who do? They do it because they want to rub it in the faces of every G-d fearing person. They want Israel to be like ancient Greece, where the body is deified, and all physical expressions, and perversions, of the body are celebrated.
Politically Incorrect Torah?
Tragically, any attempt today to discuss the Torah’s position on homosexuality is deemed a provocation. This tendency can even be found even among many religious Jews, who despite their loyalty to Torah, have adopted the values of contemporary society. When the issue is raised, many immediately assume ill-intent, borne out of the belief that the person addressing the Halachic position is motivated by aggression and hatred towards homosexuals. I reject this notion. Certainly, there are those who harbor coarse feelings of aggression which often speak of personal psychology rather than ideological belief. Yet the Torah’s position is clear. And if we do not articulate it, we will suffer the consequences.
Political correctness has no place when it comes to addressing a Torah issue, regardless of contemporary society’s values. Provided that the topic is discussed with dignity, sensitivity, and intellectual honesty, we needn’t be ashamed to quote Halacha. To cater to the desire to censor this topic on the altar of political correctness, sets a dangerous precedent, which will continue to erode the truest of our Torah values.
Gay Marches against G-d/Reluctant Advocates for Torah
And yet the scourge of this lifestyle frequently forced upon the public, pales to the travesty that has occurred among religious minded Jews who subscribe to Halacha but nevertheless harbor western liberal ideals and become religious abettors of sin. Worse yet than the lay people, are the growing number of “modern-orthodox” rabbis who joined hands with those who openly identify as homosexual and orthodox. Liberal relativism has actually changed the way Torah Jews view homosexual lifestyles.
Homosexuality has always made certain self-identifying Modern Orthodox rabbis uncomfortable. For many of them, they equate it as yet another run-of-the mill prohibition, and they don’t distinguish between those who eat cheeseburgers and those who commit homosexual acts. The problem for them is that on the one hand, as religious rabbis they cannot escape the fact that the Torah’s position regarding homosexual behavior is clear. The penalty for the sin is capital punishment (assuming all the criteria are met). The fact that there is no Sanhedrin today is irrelevant to the greater question. What would a Sanhedrin do if confronted with the issue? The answer makes many Modern Orthodox rabbis uncomfortable, because it stands in opposition to progressive notions of homosexuality. So whenever Modern Orthodoxy “confronts” the issue, the response is an ambiguous statement paying homage to Halacha in a peripheral and mild fashion, while presenting an egalitarian outlook.
In 2010, a group of Modern Orthodox “rabbis and educators” in America came out with a “Statement of Principles” regarding Judaism and homosexuality, to which a group of religious rabbis were signatories. Unfortunately, the list has grown since 2010. Some of the signatories will be familiar to readers, since their troublesome activism is not confined to this one issue. A trend is readily apparent. If only some of them would have the intellectual honesty to relocate to the dying conservative movement, rather than trying to change Halachic Judaism.
A cursory reading of the statement is unremarkable, since for the most part it doesn’t seem terribly radical. After all, the signatories freely acknowledge that homosexuality is prohibited according to the Torah. As I see it, the danger of the statement is subtle, and only a careful analysis exposes the true motivations. As such, I have added my own comments after each paragraph.
Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.
My comment: I generally agree with this point, provided that the individual isn’t harming anyone or acting egregiously. Any attempt to undermine their dignity is not only contrary to helping such a person, but it would constitute sinful behavior. Furthermore, those who harass such a person bear responsibility for any psychological/physical injury that the person sustains might result from such behavior.
The term kevod haberiyot is a clever one since many egalitarian activists use whenever they want to argue radical positions that are contrary to Halacha and/or Jewish thought. While I have no reason to doubt that those who signed this statement are concerned with the dignity of people, the phrase skews the issue. For example many “Open-Orthodox” activists argue for the inclusion of women in matters of Torah reading, leading the tefilla, etc., despite the long-standing universal opposition based upon halacha and hashkafa. Their questionable arguments, which are rejected by all normative halachic rabbis past and present are contingent on their interpretation of this term. The problem lies with the fact that the concept of kevod habriyot is not determined by Gloria Steinem.
Furthermore, those who signed this statement are portraying every person who engages in homosexuality as a modern-day Job. They fail to differentiate between one who respects Halacha and struggles with such issues (such a person warrants our compassion), and one who is proud of his/her behavior.
2. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.
My comment: Again, I would differentiate between one who desires psychological/religious help and one who lives and flaunts a public life of sin. I would argue that opposing such an individual is not only permitted but obligatory, provided that it is undertaken within a dignified framework, and in a manner which sanctifies G-d’s name.
- Halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression. The sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle.
My comment: This statement fails because it is neutral. Halacha sees heterosexual marriage as the ONLY permitted model, not merely the ideal one!
- Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition. While halakha categorizes various homosexual acts with different degrees of severity and opprobrium, including toeivah, this does not in any way imply that lesser acts are permitted. But it is critical to emphasize that halakha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them. (We do not here address the issue of hirhurei aveirah, a halakhic category that goes beyond mere feelings and applies to all forms of sexuality and requires precise halakhic definition.)
My comment: A deceptive statement. On the one hand they acknowledge (as they must) that all acts of homosexuality are against Halacha, and that the nature vs. nurture debate is irrelevant to the Halacha. They qualify the statement by noting that “it is important to emphasize that Halacha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them.” They evade the issue of hirhurei aveirah (while paying lip service to the fact that such a concept exists but that the issue is complicated) which exposes the former statement as untrue. (While the criteria of hirhurei aveirah are indeed complex and out of the immediate scope of their statement, ideation and feelings that play a part in the possible actualization of a particular sin ARE indeed against Halacha, just as ideations about another man’s spouse would be. Hence, any statement that purports to be based upon Torah but avoids addressing this issue is flawed.) The closing sentence is irrelevant. Naturally, Halacha demands sensitivity to those who struggle and ‘are seeking help’.
Whatever the origin or cause of homosexual orientation, many individuals believe that for most people this orientation cannot be changed. Others believe that for most people it is a matter of free will. Similarly, while some mental health professionals and rabbis in the community strongly believe in the efficacy of “change therapies,” most of the mental health community, many rabbis, and most people with a homosexual orientation feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.
We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.
My comment: No man is damned by his genes. The Talmud states that The Almighty doesn’t play tricks on his creations. Whether or not “change therapies” are ineffective or harmful to patients is still open to debate, despite the attempts of the overwhelmingly liberal world of mental health professionals to assert that they are. Certainly, I agree that any therapies that are definitively shown to be harmful should be avoided in all matters of mental health. (I would add that in addition to the litany of halachic/hashkafic issues involved, people should also avoid the popular practice of visiting questionable “wonder-workers,” “kabbalists,” or gurus whose activities can be also harmful to people’s psychological health.)
- Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering. For example, homosexual orientation may greatly increase the risk of suicide among teenagers in our community. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality. Rabbis and mental health professionals must provide responsible and ethical assistance to congregants and clients dealing with those human challenges.
My comment: I agree that mental and physical health must not be compromised. I would also add that all forms of emotional assistance must be administered in accordance with authentic Jewish teachings, and under the guidance of those who are both learned in Torah and are trained to deal with emotionally troubled individuals. While every appropriate measure must be taken to ensure the safety of the individual, Torah people cannot legitimize any expression of homosexual behavior, directly or otherwise.
- Jews struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve our support. Accordingly, we believe that the decision as to whether to be open about one’s sexual orientation should be left to such individuals, who should consider their own needs and those of the community. We are opposed on ethical and moral grounds to both the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and to coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.
My Comment: I view the process of “coming out” as contrary to Halacha, since the individual creates an identity intrinsically related to prohibited sexual expression. This holds true whether or not the person actually engages in such behavior. Furthermore, such a decision is also problematic since it posits definitively that one was born that way and that they had no recourse but to succumb to sin. I am equally opposed to the process of “outing” someone which would be tantamount to publicly shaming someone.
8. Accordingly, Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. As appropriate with regard to gender and lineage, they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of the synagogue they join. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakha.
We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner. Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with regard to membership for open violators of halakha. Those standards should be applied fairly and objectively.
- Halakha articulates very exacting criteria and standards of eligibility for particular religious offices, such as officially appointed cantor during the year or baal tefillah on the High Holidays. Among the most important of those criteria is that the entire congregation must be fully comfortable with having that person serve as its representative. This legitimately prevents even the most admirable individuals, who are otherwise perfectly fit halakhically, from serving in those roles. It is the responsibility of the lay and rabbinic leadership in each individual community to determine eligibility for those offices in line with those principles, the importance of maintaining communal harmony, and the unique context of its community culture.
My comment: Naturally they were unwilling to address the complicated Halachic issues presented in statements 8 and 9, since they open up a whole can of worms that cannot be glossed over with carefully crafted statements. What will they do when a boy with two “fathers” celebrates his bar mitzvah in shul? What about weddings? What if a homosexual congregant is offended when the prohibition of homosexuality is read aloud for the congregation? How far does the concept of kavod habriyot go? The questions remain unanswered, and no proper system for dealing with them is offered. Since they cannot openly state that Halachah prohibits an open homosexual from praying on behalf of the congregation, acting as a witness for a marriage, or blessing the congregation in the capacity as a Kohen, they defer the issues.
10. Jews with a homosexual orientation or same sex attraction, even if they engage in same sex interactions, should be encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability. All Jews are challenged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability, and the attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.
My Comment: I agree that Judaism is not an all or nothing way of life. There is certainly merit in the expression of other mitzvot, even if one transgresses in other matters.
11. Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings, and halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood. But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting, and we encourage parents and family of homosexually partnered Jews to make every effort to maintain harmonious family relations and connections.
My comment: Nice theoretical sentiments which completely ignores the hypothetical mess illustrated by Statement nine. These issues are akin to the problems of interfaith communities and synagogues who now have to accommodate and assimilate Judaism because they have abandoned the framework of Torah. I would venture to say that no synagogue that was forced to cope with a sizable percentage of such legitimate “challenges” could remain an orthodox synagogue for very long. Their children would be presented a version of ever-changing Judaism that would prove as viable as the Conservative Judaism of the 60’s and 70’s. How can the integrity of the most basic principles of Jewish sanctity and morality be preserved, in an environment where open practicing homosexuals who violate the most basic laws of morality are fully accepted and embraced, albeit without full halachic rights? What is likely to occur, in fact almost a certainty to occur, is the compromising of Halacha either from the laity or the pulpit.
- Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives. They should be directed to contribute to Jewish and general society in other meaningful ways. Any such person who is planning to marry someone of the opposite gender is halakhically and ethically required to fully inform his or her potential spouse of their sexual orientation.
My comment: Without overtly saying so, the authors imply their rejection of the use of “change therapies.” I suspect that their opposition is not based on intellectual grounds or definitive empirical data, but rather on ideological grounds. “Change therapy” contradicts the basic principles of pluralism. I cannot comment on the efficaciousness of such therapies, although it appears that results can be found in both camps, those who claim they were helped, and those who claim otherwise (some even maintaining that they suffered psychologically). Nevertheless, to the extent that one may fall into a category where their individual drives are entirely towards same sex partners, I agree that no healthy or productive marriage could occur from such a union. In line with this train of thought, I would agree that potential spouses should be informed of any challenges resulting from such a union.
(Conclusion) We hope and pray that by sharing these thoughts we will help the Orthodox community to fully live out its commitment to the principles and values of Torah and Halakha as practiced and cherished by the children of Abraham, who our sages teach us are recognized by the qualities of being rahamanim (merciful), bayshanim (modest), and gomelei hasadim engaging in acts of loving-kindness).
My comment: Nowhere in the Torah are we told to be merciful to one who tramples upon the fabric of Jewish modesty. As the Torah states, “A man who lies with a man as one lies with a woman, they have both done an abomination, they shall be put to death, their blood is upon themselves” (Leviticus 20:13). Naturally, such extreme measures can only occur in a society with a Sanhedrin which is qualified to judge capital punishment cases. Furthermore, in order to punish the participants of such actions, the strict halachic criteria need to be satisfied in the form of two qualified witnesses and by issuing a proper warning. In contemporary Israel, which is devoid of a Torah framework and the institutions to regulate such behavior, the challenge of our times is limited to educating people towards Torah. Yet when public displays of deviancy occur, I believe that we have an obligation to speak out without compromise.
Statement of Purpose? What Is the Purpose?
As I see it, the views of the “rabbis and educators” who signed this statement are anathema to Torah values. Rather than a framework of Torah, this “statement of purpose” reflects the discomfort of too many religious Jews who have accepted goyish views on morality. The leaders of the “modern-orthodox” movement often spout such slogans about “the courage to be both modern and orthodox,” the reality is that the challenge and the end result of such a collective statement, is neither courageous nor orthodox. The biblical prohibition of homosexuality is not open for debate. As the Talmud asserts, The Almighty doesn’t play tricks on his creations, and yahadut rejects the notion that man is damned by his genes. No religious Jew would ever contest this point.
I pity those individuals who respect Torah and struggle with such issues. But the Torah Law stands. And no amount of political correctness can skew the issue, no matter how many rabbis sign such a statement. The prohibition of homosexuality transcends the act itself. Homosexuality represents the death of society, since it is contrary to the way Hashem wanted man and women to live. Furthermore, unlike a cheeseburger, homosexuality is also prohibited to the gentile, a fact that is often totally ignored by many enlightened religious thinkers. It is a universal prohibition!
So what is the proper Jewish approach?
- Above all, strict and proud adherence to Halacha and not to the values of Obama or the Europeans who advocate for degeneracy. Liberalism has no boundaries and there is no status quo. It only regresses. Not long ago, you couldn’t find one liberal mainstream politician in America who would advocate for gay marriage. Today, the tables are turned. Once upon a time, sanity reigned in the locker-rooms of American sports, and the prospect of an openly gay player sharing a locker-room with homosexual players would have been anathema. The natural discomfort that most men would have in such an environment with an open homosexual would have been understood as an obvious truth. Yet today’s world is more degenerate than the world of yesterday. Today’s liberals view normalcy as abnormal, tradition as antiquated. And to say otherwise, is akin to defaming a man based upon his skin color.
From a halachic standpoint, neither the Jew nor the gentile can do whatever he desires sexually. How then should we treat someone who struggles in this regard?
- From a societal perspective, we need to provide genuine compassion and sensitivity, and a desire to help the suffering individual curb, curtail, redirect any behavior (to the extent at all possible), combined with an uncompromising position which asserts that regardless of the nature vs. nurture debate (inconclusive and probably a bit of both), homosexual actions are prohibited, as is an identification with a homosexual “personality” and homosexual ideation.
- The individual struggling with this problem needs to internalize the stark fact that from a Torah perspective, there is no permissible expression for male homosexuality. They need to understand that the Torah respects the notion of personal struggle. And the desire to overcome internal struggles in order to live a healthy Torah life is the noblest expression of all. At the end of the day, those who struggle with this issue, will only have to answer to The Creator. And The Almighty requires no explanation from his creations.
To those who struggle with their sexuality, May Hakadosh Baruch Hu give them the strength to overcome their desires and to sanctify His Name.