Knowing Rabbi Feinstein?
I am troubled by Rabbi Michael Taubes’s mention of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s alleged practice of transliterating the word “rabbi” when referring to conservative or reform clergy (“Is It Proper,” Feb. 24).
First, Rabbi Feinstein received numerous letters and calls on a regular basis and I do not see how he or those who were helping him with translations and other issues could necessarily determine the religious affiliation of the questioner.
Second, I cannot conceive that a major halachic authority, basically accepted by all religious Jews, would resort to that type of behavior with its potential chillul Hashem.
Third, it may be that he only used the straight name “Rabbi” for people he knew about directly or indirectly and the rest went into the transliteration category.
Finally, I think Rabbi Taubes should check further with people who knew Rabbi Feinstein personally to determine his true intentions.
Rego Park, N.Y.
Neglecting the Rambam (continued)
Rereading my words as published last week, I saw the need to clarify and elaborate. While the religious offense of homosexuality entails the forbidden act, one’s natural or nurtured lowly desires (see Rambam’s Moreh, Guide of the Perplexed, 2:36; 3:49), even those not forbidden under homosexuality, are not to be indulged in by default. Yes, even heterosexual desires threaten to be a source of sin (“and you shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes” (Numbers 15:39). See also Maimonides’ Laws of Teshuvah 4:4 and 7:3; and Issurei Biah 21:19. Values like these, it appears to me, form the substance of the unbridgeable chasm between [Maimonidean] Judaism and a non-Jewish world-view (or self-view) that views sexual orientation of any kind as something to be proud of, and even core to one’s identity. As intelligently articulated by Maimonides, Judaism is the polar opposite of the Islamic conception of sexual urges as a pinnacle of self-actualization (those unfamiliar with the Islamic notion may refer to the entry for Houri at WikiIslam.net).
If influential figures among Torah-true Jews, on leadership and policy-setting levels (e.g., YU), would wisely leverage such basic philosophical teachings of the Rambam, it is my hope that those burdened with the task of representing Judaism will cogently meet the challenges facing youth growing up in an increasingly sexually-obsessed culture.
As Rav Kapach opens his introduction to the Moreh, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be opened” (Isaiah 35:5). “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; and on those who dwell in a dark land, a light has shone” (ibid. 9:1). Would that we merit to be worthy of studying the Moreh to its righteous conclusion.
With the prayer that we, as a community, succeed in advancing and articulating a compelling worldview that respectfully but firmly meets prevailing non-Jewish sexual mores head-on, unmoved and unfazed by the hubristic gales of our benighted times.
The Dialogue on Accommodation Continues
Rabbi Michael Broyde’s rejoinder to my article opposing accommodation to same-sex marriage and other moral aberrations errs on several counts (“Accommodation Is Still The Better Path,” Feb. 17). Rabbi Broyde believes that Jews are better served when all views are accommodated in law, and he sources his opinion in the writings of Rav Moshe Feinstein. This revered gaon approvingly noted how the United States allows each person to “act according to his own will,” while “the government will ensure that no one swallows up another.”
Rabbi Broyde takes this statement as a carte-blanche endorsement by Rabbi Feinstein of the “everything goes” mentality that is the hallmark of moral relativism. Rabbi Broyde extrapolates that “it is not the job of the government to determine right from wrong on a moral level.” Rather, the government’s task “is to prevent theft, murder, religious coercion, and the like.”
There is much to unpack here. If we are to believe Rabbi Broyde, Rabbi Feinstein would care not at all that America is descending to the level of Sodom! As long as Jews are free, who cares about society at large? This astonishing supposition is nowhere evident in Rabbi Feinstein’s words. Yes, the great gaon acknowledged America’s respect for religious freedom, in the sense that we do not favor a particular faith. But can one seriously contemplate that Rav Moshe believed that our government should have no cognizance of G-d?
Further, Rabbi Broyde states that government should not legislate any morality at all. Yet he also believes that laws must exist to prevent and punish murder, theft, and the like. Is he saying that these laws exist only because without them, society would fall apart? If so, he is demonstrably wrong. When our courts prosecute murder, they signal that murder is not only inconsistent with a functioning society, but that it is also deplorable. If a murderer kills with extra cruelty, he receives a harsher sentence. Why, I ask Rabbi Broyde, should this be? If the goal is not to judge whether murder is right or wrong, if the goal is only to protect society, then it should make no difference how a murder is committed. Indeed, from a secular perspective, murder is not “wrong!” The answer is that our society does indeed make moral judgments regarding crimes. We deem murder, theft, rape and the like not merely as acts that existentially interfere with a functional society, but as inherently immoral.
Rabbi Broyde is also wrong when he declares that “America is neither a Christian nation nor a Judeo-Christian one.” Our country is indeed founded upon timeless Judeo-Christian values. Separation of church and state does not mean that we ignore G-d. Rather, it means that we do not impose any particular religion upon our citizens. Yet the U.S. has always incorporated into law many of the basic moral values that are common to Judaism and Christianity (and, indeed, to Islam as well). These values encompass sexual mores, including the firm belief that marriage can be expressed only as a union of a man and a woman.
Rabbi Broyde avers that same-sex marriage will remain legal for the foreseeable future, and that by opposing it we do ourselves a disservice, since in effect we are fighting a pointless battle. Yet the Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges, supported these unions by only a one-vote majority. Here is the good news: If a same-sex marriage case were to come before the Court today, Obergefell would likely be overturned by a five-to-four or even a six-to-three majority. It is time for such a case to ascend the judicial ladder.
Rabbi Broyde then crosses into the danger zone. He insists that, for example, an Orthodox-owned wedding facility must agree to host same-sex marriages! Obviously, no Orthodox Jew can be a party to such an event. Rabbi Broyde is, in effect, saying that we cannot own a simcha hall. According to Rabbi Broyde, we also should not be permitted to refuse a same-sex couple the right to rent an apartment that we own, even if that apartment is in our own home. This trampling upon our individual rights must be rejected forthwith. The way to do so is to mobilize support among the Abrahamic faiths and mount a counteroffensive against the radicals who are destroying our society.
Finally, Rabbi Broyde contests my assertion that battles are usually won by the side more invested in the fight. Thus, in my view, the proponents of same-sex marriage and gender fluidity have been more motivated than their opponents, giving the former the upper hand. The verity of my statement is evident in how public education has changed in just a few years. Radicals bent upon destroying gender categories have managed to seize control of school boards, thereby gaining power over the content of books and course material that school children are studying. The result is that kids are being indoctrinated with insane and dangerous nonsense about gender fluidity.
Simultaneously, schools now try to brainwash kindergartners with information about sexuality that has no place at all in the younger grades. This has all occurred because the proponents of this nonsense have been more motivated to succeed than opponents have been to stop them. And this miseducation continues through grade school, high school, and college.
The encouraging news is that traditional morality can make a comeback. Faith-based folks must take back school boards. We must support candidates, especially gubernatorial ones, who are imbued with our values. (Witness the courageous moral stances of Governor Glenn Youngkin in Virginia and Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.) We must bring cases before a sympathetic Supreme Court. With G-d’s help, we will succeed.
Far Rockaway, N.Y.
Rabbi Broyde responds:
Thank you to Avi Goldstein for his letter to the editor.
He makes a few points and I will do my best to reply. I will try to limit my reply to factual errors on his part and leave the readers to form their own opinions.
Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, Rabbi Feinstein’s son-in-law, notes (in an interview in The Jewish Review in 1989), “My father-in-law, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, felt very strongly that allowing government to legislate in any area of morals and ethics gives them a toe-hold in religion, and if you let them in a little bit, the government will begin to expand its role in this area and start regulating what is proper to teach and what is proper to do in a religious context. Now, Rabbi Feinstein had lived some 10 to 15 years under Stalin and his experience of the Russian government’s total involvement in the religious life of the Jew was so traumatic that he held fast to the idea that we should keep the government away from religion even in those instances where its legislation might seem to be supportive of the Torah point of view. For Rabbi Feinstein, the complete separation of church and state was absolutely necessary for the survival of any minority group.”
Thus, I think that my explanation of Rabbi Feinstein’s view is both consistent with what Rabbi Feinstein wrote himself and the explanations provided by his close family.
So too, Avi is wrong when he notes that the case that approved same sex marriage “would likely be overturned by a five-to-four or even a six-to-three majority” since the law of the United States, as codified in the “Respect for Marriage Act,” passed on December 13, now makes same-sex marriage the law of the United States. This law would need to be repealed – by a majority vote of the House and Senate and signed by the President – before a challenge to Obergefell could even be brought. The matter, in short, is no longer subject to court challenge.
Opposing discrimination is a good idea. A commercial wedding hall that caters to all – Jews, Christians, Hindus and secular people – should not be allowed to discriminate even on same-sex marriage matters. Since I do not want hotels to refuse to host Jewish weddings, I am prepared to extend the duty not to discriminate to all. (Kosher wedding halls should connect themselves to religious institutions and hashgachot, and then are reasonably exempt from the non-discrimination laws (which exempt religious organization) and can refuse to host Christian weddings and same sex marriages.) My point is that the same principles apply to all; discrimination by secular-commercial-public organization is bad and should not be supported.
Avi is wrong as well when he says, “According to Rabbi Broyde, we also should not be permitted to refuse a same-sex couple the right to rent an apartment that we own, even if that apartment is in our own home.” Actually, the law permits this discrimination. The Department of Housing and Urban Development notes simply, “The Fair Housing Act covers most housing. In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.” Jews can be discriminated against in that setting and so can same-sex couples. I do not want discrimination against Jews in large housing complexes and I thus favor non-discrimination as a general idea that is good for all.
I do agree with Avi that I contest his assertion that battles are usually won by the side more invested in the fight. I furthermore do not think this battle is winnable now or in the foreseeable future in America. Thus, I am against fighting it. Furthermore, I am nearly certain that the costs of losing it will be high and painful. I think that no matter how hard Utah tries, it never beats California. Rabbi Arie Folger, in a letter to the editor a few weeks ago, put it well: “We cannot win every battle, and it may therefore be unwise to fight every battle.” Of course, these are just matters of opinion and I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves if battles are really won by the side more invested.
What we can and must do is wisely, lovingly and patiently raise our children in our own Torah institutions – schools, shuls, camps and communities – to live in a world that does not share our values completely. We can do that if we live ourselves the lives we aspire to.
A Tragic Loss of Young Children
As I sit down to write this, my heart is heavy with grief. This week I had to announce to a community at large the tragic loss of several young children. It was heartbreaking to be a liaison to the non-Jewish community of teachers who helped with their special needs education and to plan for a funeral of these precious neshamos.
This was a family in constant crisis, and despite the best efforts of the community, they fell through the cracks repeatedly. Yet, Shimon Boyer, a”h, loved his children with all his heart and soul and dedicated them to Hashem, despite his own struggles. As a single father of four special needs children, it was not easy for him at all. He wanted them to have full lives of Torah, and the community had to pick up the pieces often and love these children as their own. The shared grief from the caretakers of these children has shattered my very being this week.
I have heard from dozens of teachers, rebbes and social workers, all sharing the same story of four amazing, beautiful children who were taken too soon from us.
I cannot offer much solace because most of the family is gone except the uncle, who was also involved in raising the children and accompanied them often to events, scout meetings and hikes. We are doing our best to ensure Kaddish is said. However, Hashem has given me enormous chizuk after the first day of enormous pain.
Midrash Mishlei relates the following: Beruriah was the learned and compassionate wife of Rabbi Meir. While Rabbi Meir was teaching on a Shabbat afternoon, both of his sons died from the plague that was affecting their city. When Rabbi Meir returned home, he asked his wife, “Where are our sons?” She handed him the cup for Havdala and he said the blessing. Again he asked, “Where are our sons?” She brought food for him, and he ate. When he had finished eating, Beruriah said to her husband, “My teacher, I have a question. A while ago, a man came and deposited something precious in my keeping. Now he has come back to claim what he left. Shall I return it to him or not?” Meir responded, “Is not one who holds a deposit required to return it to its owner?” So, she took his hand and led him to where their two children lay. He began to weep, crying “My sons, my sons.” She comforted him, “The L-rd gave, the L-rd took. Y’hei shmei rabah mevorach, May the Name of the L-rd be blessed…”
The Ben Ish Chai explains that the reason she explained it this way is that sometimes a neshama returns for just a little while, in another life, to fulfill its purpose for a limited time. Beruriah knew that her children must have come only for a small time to perfect their neshamos. She then chose to tell this to her husband in the form of a parable to comfort him.
I urge everyone in this time to daven to Hashem, come together as a community, forgive each other, seek teshuvah, comfort each other, and raise each other’s neshamos. We must fill in the void left by these children’s departures, and do more mitzvos because they are unable to. We must ensure that their loss is not just a distant memory in a few weeks, but is an inspiration moving forward.
We will be conducting a fund for free smoke and CO2 detectors l’zicharon the children, which several community children have suggested and want to do to help heal the community at large. I think this is a wonderful idea. Please take this time to check your own smoke and CO2 detectors, and buy them if you don’t have them. Don’t turn a small “forgetting” into a huge tragedy. There is a halachic imperative to protect our children, and this isn’t a choice. If you can’t afford one, reach out to me, and I will gladly pay for it.
I want to extend my immense gratitude to Chabad of Arizona, especially Rabbis Dov and Moshe Levertov, who handled the funeral arrangements. Their ahavas chesed knows no bounds.
May Hashem comfort all in this time and strengthen Klal Yisrael and those who provide comfort to children through teaching. May we only celebrate simchas and have the zechus to see the Moshiach in our time.
Rabbi Pesach Lattin