Tolerance is the greatest virtue of our time. Intolerance, the greatest vice. If you’re intolerant of a behavior that doesn’t harm others, you’re a bigot.
This moral judgment is a product of the secular world, but it has infiltrated frum circles. Frum parents today are told by so-called experts to be tolerant of their children taking drugs, committing sexual crimes, or even breaking Shabbos. Show them endless love, they tell us. Don’t judge.
In short, taboos are under attack. Of course, no honest frum Jew would sanction taking drugs, breaking Shabbos, or committing sexual crimes, but they try to “intellectualize” these sins. “The acts may be sinful,” they argue, “but there’s no reason to get upset over them and we shouldn’t regard a person any differently for having committed them.”
I believe this attitude is terribly misguided and only paves the way for more sin. The fact is that taboos act as deterrents. Many of us remember thinking as children, “My mother will kill me if I…” This thought kept us from acting in ways we otherwise might have. But what if aberrant behavior had come with no penalty? What if we knew that our parents would have shown us exactly the same love no matter what we did? Would that have decreased or increased the likelihood of us acting improperly?
Taboos exist for a reason – they’re effective. And we therefore do no one any favors by discarding them. Remove a taboo associated with a behavior, and all you’ve done is increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring.
Let me offer an extreme hypothetical. Suppose a person has a desire to violate the Torah’s laws on incest – say, the one in Vayikra 18:9. Disgusting, people would say. To sin in that fashion with your own sister? You must be out of your mind.
And yet, if the Torah prohibited this behavior, presumably some people on this planet have a desire to engage in it. One could argue: Why demonize such people? Why not try to understand them? Why not accept them lovingly in our shuls and publicly recognize their struggle? Why not let them meet in groups so they can support one another and speak about their desires in a “safe space?”
Don’t chas v’shalom say the behavior isn’t sinful. Just take the emotion out of the equation. Get rid of your instinctive revulsion. Perhaps they were born that way. Why stigmatize them?
And yet, we all intuitively know that taking these steps would not only be morally perverse; it would increase the risk of people committing these sins. The few Jews on this planet who possess this desire don’t act on it because they know the whole world will regard them with disgust if they do. To commit a sexual sin with your sister? How twisted can you be? That’s how we all think.
But what if we didn’t think that way? What, then, would stop these individuals from sinning? Their belief in G-d? Perhaps. But we would be making it harder for them to resist their desires since we would have removed a stigma that currently helps keep them in check.
In other words, not only do taboos prevent exploration of sin by ordinary people; they also prevent those who are already inclined to sin from transgressing lest they be caught and shunned by their family and community.
Thus, it’s good for a child to fear what his parents and community will think if he starts smoking a joint. It’s good for a teenager to be worried about being ostracized if he takes off his yarmulke. And it’s good for all of us to worry what our neighbors will think if we flout the Torah’s sexual laws.
It may perhaps be appropriate for select community leaders to show extreme tolerance in private. But the community as a whole must remain “intolerant” by keeping taboos in place. Strip them away and all you’ve done is create the conditions for sin to flourish.
The views expressed in this column don’t necessarily reflect the views of the full editorial board of The Jewish Press.