Yael Valier wrote:
Recently, I have been wondering if we can used proven halachic methodologies to ease the suffering of homosexuals in Orthodoxy.
As we have discussed numerous times over the years, there are laws in the Torah that were given for discernible and clearly important reasons that also end up causing suffering to innocent or not-so-bad individuals.
For example, the ben-sorer umoreh (the biblical “rebellious son”), a not-necessarily-so-bad-individual, whose parents can have him killed. Societally, it is imperative to reinforce the value of respect for parents. But the law of the ben sorer umoreh is so extreme that the rabbis legislated it out of existence. They declared that it only applies to a boy of a certain narrow age category who has to have done certain acts and whose parents have to have certain (almost impossible) characteristics, etc. In this way, we preserve the law on the books, and therefore our stance regarding respect for parents, but do not cause suffering which looks to us to be extreme.
This is an example of evolving Torah – a reaction which is sensitive to evolving sensitivities and natural development of humanity.
Another example is the mamzer (“bastard” which, in biblical terms, is applied to the child born of a forbidden marriage, but not, as in the west, to a child born of two unmarried parents), as we have mentioned many times. It is important to maintain certain family structures and borders, but the result of this law is to cause tremendous suffering to innocent individuals. Again, the rabbis go to great lengths to make the status of “mamzer” inapplicable. For example, they use deliberate, extreme naivete by saying that the baby of a woman who gives birth any time up to a year after she has had relations with her husband is not a mamzer. Or, to give another example, the rabbis try very hard to let mamzerim disappear within a family, etc. (We have discussed this – no need to go into details.) Again, we preserve the law on the books, but go to great lengths not to cause suffering to innocent people.
Similarly, with an aguna, a woman who remains married due to lack of evidence that her husband is dead, we bend rules. We allow one witness to testify to the death of a husband rather than the normal two, etc.
For the mesorevet get, the woman whose husband refuses to give her a writ of divorce and who is therefore chained to a marriage, we accept the use of violence to coerce her husband into saying, “Rotzeh ani” (“I accept/want”) and then we accept his statement in court. We use all sorts of rationalizations to back this practice. “It’s Deep down, we know he really wants to do the right thing” etc.
Similarly, (and we have not discussed this example in the TT), we have seen a change of attitude toward people who commit suicide. The Shulchan Aruch says (I think) that such a person is buried in a separate part of the cemetery and that not all of the laws of shiva apply. But the understanding that someone who commits suicide is mentally sick modifies our behavior in this regard.The rabbis understand that the person did not want to be driven to such a state and that it would cause extreme suffering to the members of the person’s innocent family to have their loved one shunned.
So the rabbis, based on their evolving understanding, use all sorts of halachic tricks to avoid inflicting suffering on innocent people.
I have not seen this discussed with regard to homosexuality, but it seems to me (though I know little about halacha, so I certainly may be wrong) that this may be a direction in which we could make some headway:
We can agree that forbidding sexual relations between men, perhaps only a specific sexual act, is a society-preserving law. We want men to be forced into committed relationships with women, etc. But the law causes great suffering, loneliness, etc. to innocent people who are caught in the vise of society’s need for structure.
Shunning homosexuals did not use to be seen as a problem. Now it is. We are evolving as a society. In the same way that we no longer feel in our guts that killing children for rebellion is acceptable (yes, I know that there is an opinion that it never was), or that avoiding burying people who commit suicide in certain sections of the cemetery is acceptable, we now feel that shunning homosexuals, preventing them from living with love, etc. is unacceptable. We feel that in our guts but we have to deal with the Torah’s proscription. Can we not use some of the deliberate halachic naivete we employ in other cases in this case too? Two men love each other and want to raise a family. If I can declare that the child of a woman is that of her husband’s, even though he has been gone for a year, then I can declare that I do not know what goes on in the bedroom of these two men, and that love should be welcomed, and loving parents should be encouraged. We do not need to be hard-headed realists and point out that it would be very difficult to believe that these men do not perform certain acts of sex, nor do we have to inquire. On the contrary! We are very able to be naive for the sake of preventing the suffering of innocent people in other cases. We should use the same naivete to allow innocent, suffering homosexuals to be welcomed members of our community.
God has given us the freedom to negotiate God’s law. We are given the freedom, maybe even the imperative, to take into account our changing circumstances, understandings, etc. Why not use that ingenuity toward solving this problem too?
Yael Valier wrote:
An addition to the post above:
Dan (my husband) suggests that, as these things are probably usually done, the kind of deliberately “naive” thinking I propose below can be implemented incrementally. For example, perhaps, since there are no eidim (witnesses) to certain sexual acts between two men, one cannot prevent them from being called to the Torah (or whatever), even if they live together, raise children together, etc. They do not do an issur (prohibition) befarhesia (in public), certainly, and as far as we can legally ascertain, they don’t do an issur at all!
Uriel Weisz wrote:
One more example that, IMHO, is very similar to the issue here is mechalilei Shabbat (people who violate the laws of Shabbat) and people who don’t keep kosher in public. Technically, those people should not get aliyot (called to the Torah) or other public kibudim (honors). To get around it I’ve heard rationalizations such as, “it’s worse to embarrass them”, “be dan l’kav zchut” (judge favorably), and my personal favorite, “maybe they’ve done t’shuva (repented) since they got out of the car” .
This is already happening in several communities. I know of one couple in Florida who were members at a shul for years, until one of them wanted to get elected to the board. So, we ain’t fully there yet, but we are on our way. Definitely needs discussion though to help it move along.
As part of the discussion, how about the other side of the question: Can, how and why would a gay couple want to be part of a community that believes their most intimate and private act is against the law of G-d? Even if we have gotten around the obligation to kill or otherwise punish them, the law is still there.
Side note: Before mental illness was recognized as an actual illness, the excuse of “maybe they did t’shuva” rationale was used to allow people who had committed suicide to be buried in the Jewish cemetery. Like so many other cases in halacha, the precedence and rationale is there, it’s the Rabbis and communities that aren’t.
Shabbat shalom (I assume:)),
Yael Valier wrote:
In your response, Uriel, you write:
“Can, how and why would a gay couple want to be part of a community that believes their most intimate and private act is against the law of G-d?”
Because they believe in the law of God! Because they want to be close to God! Because they believe that halacha is a good system! Because they believe that they were born b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God), and that they were born “kirtzono” (according to His will) and that they are not perfect like no one is perfect!
We don’t know what their “most intimate and private acts” are. Maybe they feel more intimacy when they cuddle. We also don’t know who does what lechatchila (a priori) and who does it b’dieved (a posteriori).
Why would someone who has committed adultery want to be part of a community that believes that his most intimate and private act is against the law of God? Why would someone who sleeps with her husband when she’s a nidda want to be part of a community that believes that her most intimate and private act is against the law of God. Does anyone check on her? Does anyone expect her to secede from the community, to stop doing other mitzvot or to do other mitzvot outside of the community, alone, because she doesn’t keep this crucial law?
I don’t understand your question.
Yael Unterman wrote:
Part of me likes this approach very much. Its respectful, keeps out of people’s private lives, assumes the best about them, welcomes them, and employs halachic mechanisms to resolve real suffering. I do believe that Orthodox communities or individuals that have taken the step of welcoming gay people probably do something very similar to this automatically – but you here are suggesting a halachic basis for it, which is great.
Another part of me doesn’t like the fact that it’s predicated on pretending and looking the other way, which are actions that also occur when communities prefer to ignore things that shouldn’t be ignored, and permit hypocrisy to flourish. It is the opposite of truth.
Is there some way of adopting this approach while not abandoning our truth-sense?
Uriel Weisz wrote:
Thank you Yael U. That is what I was trying to ask from a different angle, but you said it much better (and in a more understandable way).
Calev Ben Dor wrote:
Hi Uriel, Yael U, Yael V and others.
A few thoughts come to mind.
Firstly – I think its a really topical issue.
Secondly – I completely get Uriel’s point. About a year ago, I presented a 5 week ‘Troubling Torah Texts’ course in Yakar Tel Aviv (which included Rebellious Son, Mamzerut, Amalek, Homosexuality and Iyov). There are different schools of thought in relating to the tension between what the literal meaning of the text says, and what our intuitive feelings of morality and fairness think (which actually relates back to the Hartman vs. Soloveitchik / Leibowitz debate over the Akeida (binding of Isaac) that we have discussed in the past).
One group will say ‘this is what the text says, so we need to go with it – who are we to question’ (in other words, if the text says to kill Amalek, that’s what we should do, because they must be evil; Mamzerut is a spiritual disease etc etc)
Another group will express how unfair the law is, but leave the challenge of resolving it to God. In the Mamzerut case, there is a story of Daniel the Taylor who reads a verse in Lamentations as regarding the cruelty of the Bet Din in carrying out a Torah law, and how in such a case God says that He is on the side of the victims (the Mamzerim) rather than the victimizers (the Bet Din). While this is certainly a revolutionary idea, it does little to assuage the practical aspects of the halacha.
A third group will go further try and limit the practical implementation of the law itself (such as Yael V’s example of Mamzerut, or saying that we don’t know who Amalek is anymore, because the Assyrian ruler Sancherev came and mixed up all the peoples). Avi Sagi calls this the practical model and argues that such a model uses “an empirical fact cited in the sources – the commingling of the nations – as a vehicle for their moral intuitions. Aware of their limited ability to reinterpret the canonical text so as to make Halachic norms accord with their moral views, they rely on a fact that allows them to restrict the scope of a ruling about which they have moral reservations…The practical model claims strict adherence to the canonical text but refrains from carrying out its instructions on practical grounds.”
While this model has a certain practical use, it doesn’t do away with the theological problem – in other words, if I were to bring a young child with Amalek DNA, according to the law we may have to kill him.
A fourth, much smaller group, will try and reinterpret the law completely out of existence as seen in the case of the rebellious son (Ben Sorer UMore).
Now we come to the issue of homosexuality. I think the option that Yael V suggested – which I think is probably closest to the third group described above does have a lot of advantages. In fact, it’s not too dissimilar to the conclusion Rabbi Rapaport comes to in his book on homosexuality. Rabbi Rapaport writes that homosexuals should be considered ‘Tinok SheNishba’. It is a fascinating, creative, and in my opinion, to paraphrase Yael a ‘purposefully naïve reading of reality.
[As a side note, “Tinok SheNishba” was originally used for young Jewish children taken away to the Russian army and returned 20 + years later with no knowledge of Judaism. The question became to what extent they should be held responsible for their actions (or their ‘transgressions’) and the conclusion was that we should act in a loving and understanding way because – based on their education – they did not know any better. Tinok SheNishba has also been used for explaining why religious people should tolerate and be compassionate in their dealings with secular Jews – after all, growing up in a time in which God was not overly present, it was understandable that people should become secular, and they should not be blamed for those choices.]
Now on a practical halachic level, describing a group of people as Tinok SheNishba has a lot of positives – we cease to judge them negatively, we respect them and act towards them in a compassionate way – all things that are often currently missing from the halachic discourse towards homosexuality. BUT on an interpersonal level, suggesting that homosexuals are Tinok SheNishba is at best patronizing and at worst offensive. And to go back to Sagi’s point, even though we may have ‘solved’ the practical issue, we still have a theological problem that the Torah apparently states that homosexual sex is an abomination. And it does raise a serious question as to whether homosexuals would feel comfortable in a community that sees them as ‘lost souls’ [and to touch on Yael V’s email – once we believe / argue that homosexuality is not a choice for some people, it ceases to be similar to other serious ‘transgressions’ like adultery or not keeping niddah).
My personal opinion is that there is a way to reinterpret the text. Firstly, I think Toeva does not need to mean abomination but rather taboo – similar to it being a toeva to be a shepherd in Egypt. A taboo is something that is culturally strange rather than morally abhorrent. Alternatively, I think Steven Greenberg’s reading of the verse in Leviticus (as referring to male rape [rather than consensual love]) also has a lot going for it.
But I also think that, for the time being at least, option 3 – which provides a practical reinterpretation while leaving the theological problem out there (with all the challenges that entails for homosexuals feeling a connection to God), is probably the best we can hope for at the moment…and I believe it still represents a large step forward based on what we have today.
Maybe we should even try and combine Group 2 (The Bet Din is victimizing people and God is on the side of the victims) with Group 3 (‘naively’ reading reality to limit practical aspects of the verse / make people feel welcome)
Happy to hear anyone’s thoughts
Yehoshua Looks wrote:
Thanks to the group for getting me back to thinking on this topic. The elephant in the room we are not dealing with is gay marriage, now joined at the hip with our issue. That the Supreme Court in the U.S. took the judicial path of equating “rights” with status was shortsighted, in my opinion.
However, on our topic, I also like Yael V’s approach, but not the framing of it as naivete, which seems to be Yael U’s response to viewing it as pretending.
My framework is best expressed in a story I just verified with Rav Benji Levene, grandson of Rav Aryeh Levin, the Tzadik of Yerushalayim.
When he was a small boy, Rav Benji was walking on the midrachov in Jerusalem on Shabbat with Rav Aryeh. There were several cars driving by and Rav Benji looked up for a response to the Chilul Shabbat (desecration of the Sabbath) from his grandfather. What he heard was, “Kol kach pikuach nefesh.” (“How much danger to life.” In other words, he was framing the driving on Shabbat as a response to a need to save a life, which is permitted on Shabbat.)
Rav Aryeh was not naive at all. His absolute Ahavat Yisrael (Love of Jews) drove him to reframe what he saw, and in the process, transform it from an aveira to a mitzva.
The individual is responsible for his/her actions. We are responsible for the meta-halachic principles, “V’ahavta reicha kamocha” (“Love your fellow as yourself.”) and “B’tzedek tishpot amitecha.” (“You must judge your friend with righteousness.”)
Rav Aryeh stories, along with those of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, among others, touch us at a deep spot in our beings. But do I really want to do anything about it and attempt to emulate these tzadikim or am I just satisfied with a momentary warm feeling and am more interested in what is going on behind the bedroom door?
The first step to repairing the world is for more of us and then more of us to re-imagine it. Then, maybe G-d can do His part.
Yael Valier wrote:
Warning! This email is even longer than Calev’s!
First, I’ll respond to people’s points, one by one, and then I’ll introduce a new idea as a corollary to my original post.
Uriel, I shouldn’t have shot back such a quick and impatient answer to you, mostly because I tend to see you as my conservative comrade in arms. 🙂 But to get back to your question: Can, how and why would a gay couple want to be part of a community that believes their most intimate and private act is against the law of G-d? Being part of this community is not a choice. I do not see being halachic as a choice. I was born Jewish. I believe that halacha applies to me. Period. There is much I don’t like about it and there is much I don’t like about God, but I can’t walk away and say, “I don’t want to be part of this community.” What would I do? Become secular? Not an option!
Uriel, you don’t believe that homosexuals can just say, “I don’t want to be part of this community because it believes that my most intimate and private act is against the law of God,” even if they wanted to, because you believe in obligation. Right? So they’re stuck with the law and they’re stuck with the community and they have to deal with it. Furthermore, male homosexuality is not reducible to being only about anal sex just like heterosexuality isn’t just about vaginal sex. It would be a tragedy if one’s relationship with one’s husband was reducible to this.
The reason I have been thinking about all this recently is because I am translating a children’s book called “Noa and Gal’s Daddies.” It describes the relationship of two men who are the fathers of two daughters. In my opinion, it would be a tragedy to reduce their relationship to “anal sex” and to ignore the love, dedication, and family-building that they have — all things that are viewed positively in Judaism. How can we reduce these people to one act (which they may or may not do – yes, I know that they almost certainly do, but that is where my solution of deliberate naivete comes in – there are no witnesses and I don’t want to know it. In the same way that I know that the baby of a woman is not her husband’s if her husband has been away for a year before the birth, but I am deliberately naive about it because I don’t want to know. Same with Uriel’s great example of the person who commits suicide.)
Yael U: I don’t think that employing deliberate, halachic naivete is hypocritical and it does not violate my truth-sense. As Orthodox Jews, we are very good at the concept of “halachic truth.” The bloody liquid left over after meat is soaked and salted doesn’t count as blood. A tiny spot of blood on underwear, or on toilet paper doesn’t make a woman ritually impure. These are halachic truths. A person doesn’t have tzara’at (leprosy as described in the bible, different from the modern disease) until the priest says she does. Halachic truth.
God gives us the law and the tools to negotiate the law. There is the ideal, unattainable, divine truth and there are the compromises which make up human truth, earthly truth. We have not yet reached the age of the sage Shammai (when it is said that Jewish law will be guided more by the demands of strict judgement than those of mercy) and we cannot live up to the divine model. We human beings must limit the suffering of human beings while negotiating halacha. That is our truth. And to stubbornly cling to a divine ideal is to violate that truth and that mission.
Calev: Thanks for your long and useful analysis. I’m going to pick at bits of it now, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it overall. That goes for you too, Uriel.
You say, “This has a certain practical use, but doesn’t do away with the theological problem – that if I bring a young child with Amalek DNA, according to the law we may have to kill him.” Forgive me, but this is a nonsensical sentence. We do not have a theological problem because it is impossible that we will find a child with Amalek DNA and then have to kill her. God has taken care of that problem for us. It is a bit like saying, “Can God make a yellow which is blue?” One can say the phrase, but it is meaningless. Perhaps the Jews once had a theological problem, when Amalek was still identifiable. But I don’t think so. That was at a time when nations were seen as compound beings. If we have a theological problem with it, then we have a theological problem with the children of the camp of Nadav and Avihu being killed along with them, by God. (Ok, I admit that I find that I do have a theological problem with that.)
You are right, I don’t see homosexuals as tinokei shenishba (children who were kidnapped and raised away from Judaism who, consequently, cannot be held responsible for their lack of observance). I really do think that is arrogant. And yes, “toeva” clearly doesn’t mean “abomination” as we understand that word in English, given the other things described as “toeva” in the Torah.
I agree with you that homosexuality is not a choice, as opposed to, say, having sex while one is a nida. But those two things are not comparable. Homosexuality is not a choice and neither is heterosexuality. If you think that committing adultery is a choice, then you must concede that having sex with someone of the same gender is a choice. I’m not saying lightly that it is easy to abstain. I think that it is awfully difficult.
Yehoshua: See my dealing with gay marriage below!
The deliberate naivete I am advocating is not naive at all, hence the need for deliberateness. Of course Rav Aryeh Levine was not naive. He chose to say something that sounded naive. And I think we should do the same. No witnesses, no judgement.
As with the law of mamzer, the law against man-to-man anal sex has good societal bases. Making innocent individuals suffer lest incest/adultery lead to the birth of mamzers means that people will think before doing such acts. This helps society function.Similarly, the law against man-to-man anal sex has a societal function. If it is too easy to simply go to a bar and satisfy oneself sexually in a one-off, no-obligations encounter, and if homosexual sex wasn’t so frowned upon and regarded as an “abomination,” then many men would simply go for the quickie rather than bother with a stable, responsible, child-friendly relationship. Why do what is difficult if he can be easily sexually satisfied. Granted, many, utterly straight, men wouldn’t do it. But a lot would, especially if you buy into the whole “most of us are at least somewhat bisexual” hypothesis, which I do. So, God sets up all these strictures around relationships. Nowadays, we recognize the suffering of men who are denied relationships. We have condemned people to lonely, loveless lives, along with condemning them to celibacy, of course. It is a terrible burden. Here’s what I propose: We use deliberate, halachic naivete to turn away from our awareness of what goes on in people’s bedrooms. That allows us to accept anyone into our communities as full members. But this doesn’t give homosexual men carte blanche! They cannot now take this newfound acceptance, shrug their shoulders, say, “Ok, I’m gay,” and go carousing in bars. (Please note that I am not saying that all homosexual men would do this, given the chance.)
Just like we expect heterosexuals to respect sexual and relationship limits, we would now expect the same of homosexuals. So…I would say, homosexuals must get married! Fine, be gay. But express your sexual side in a committed relationship! Go on shidduch dates until you find the right man! (I’m not kidding.) Then, do all the things that we promote in Judaism – love each other (we promote love – Love your neighbor…), have children (it is a mitzvah!), raise a family and contribute to your community! It’s only fair!
With legitimacy comes responsibility. That’s what it boils down to. By the way, this could explain why the Torah says nothing about female homosexuality. Women homosexuals are not likely to do societally detrimental things like have a lot of random, casual, impersonal sex, and then feel satisfied enough by this to obviate the need for stable relationships. Yes, I know I’m generalizing. Maybe that is why we do not have to censure them. So that is the obvious place to start. Let’s accept lesbian couples and encourage them to marry and have children! I’m not sure about all this. But that’s what I’m thinking about right now. Looking forward to feedback. And Uriel, I won’t snap this time.
Uriel 2 wrote:
I’m only talking about gay marriage. For individuals, the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy works fine on both ends. Pre-marital sex is pretty much ignored nowadays, regardless of the genders involved. It is only when two people announce to the world that they are in love and want to build a “Bayit ne’eman b’yisrael” (“A faithful Jewish home”) does the Talmudic phrase apply: everyone knows what goes on in the yichud room (the room where a newly married couple goes in order to be alone. Historically where they would have relations for the first time, but no longer used for that purpose), but if you talk about it then something there are bad spiritual consequences.
Stories like the one you mentioned are great for tolerance of the “other,” but we are talking about welcoming into our community and de-facto sanctioning a 24/7 taxi service. What would he say about an aguna (woman who is technically still married to a man when it is not possible to prove that he is dead) living with another man? Putting yichud (the prohibition of a woman and man who are not married to each other being alone in a room) aside, are we going to say that we just don’t ask what goes on behind closed doors? If so, maybe we can solve two problems at once.
Calev, I loved your conclusion (I did read all the way to the end). This whole thing does have a certain “lo alecha hamlacha ligmor” (the halachic concept that an individual is not obligated to complete a tremendous task, but that this does not give her/him an excuse not to start it) feel. Although Rabbi Greenberg’s workaround seems textually unsound to me and pretty much all orthodox rabbis, the generation that grows up with two parents going to the father and son learning program may have a different consensus. I still question whether this would be acceptable to me if I was in the situation, but considering Rabbi Greenberg himself, it obviously is to some.
One thing to point out when it comes to tinok shenishba, driving on Shabbat or any other transgression that we tolerate / ignore, is that we want that person to start keeping halacha. Even if “want” is too strong a word, at least happy if/when they choose to live their lives according to what we believe is correct (or as close to correct as we can get for now). That can’t be the case here.
Yehoshua Looks wrote:
I am not talking about gay “marriage” and the semantics are critical. If the courts finally got around to addressing civil rights for gays, as they should have long ago, that is a legal remedy for discrimination. Halachically, marriage is between a man and a woman for the purpose of intimacy leading to children. The Torah proscribes against the intimate act between two men.
Now, the limited question I am focusing on is how we relate to homosexual families. That is the power of Rav Aryeh’s re-imagining; in how to bring the other closer through not judging and unconditional love. And yes, that even has to apply to an aguna and a married man. We don’t have a Sanhedrin to enforce Torah law. We continue to live with sinat hinam (baseless hatred), which is each of our individual responsibility to repair.
There is an incident that helped shape my thinking. I was traveling with Rabbi Riskin several years ago and we were in the rabbi’s study at a prominent orthodox shul in North America. The rabbi explained that there was a gay couple who were individual members of the congregation. They were accepted and feelings were mostly warm. They adopted a child and the office sent out a family membership renewal. When word got out, there was a mild uproar and the offer of family membership was rescinded.
The rabbi then asked Rabbi Riskin if he’d be willing to meet with the father of one of the gay men. He agreed. The father explained that since the rejection by the shul, his son had started driving with him to a conservative shul, where he felt accepted. The father also told Rabbi Riskin that the two men were celibate. (Whether one believes this, what one should believe in the absence of this information is crucial to the point I am making.) Rabbi Riskin advised the rabbi to reach out to the couple and to bring them back as a family. Family, in contrast to marriage, is not a halachic category and as such can evolve conceptually based on societal norms.
I agree with you Uriel that we do want more halachically committed people. A pre-condition is to establish a non-judgmental relationship built on love and respect.
Cori Widen wrote:
Yehoshua, I agree with you and to put it simply, the main obstacle in facilitating your vision of love and respect (and I would add compassion, empathy, and mercy — which God frequently shows us and we have trouble showing our fellow Jews) is social, not halachic.
Kol HaKavod to Rabbi Riskin who consistently refuses to be bound by those harmful social ‘laws’ and acts in favor of halacha and a Jewish reality that encourages, rather than discourages, people to do mitzvot.
Yael Valier wrote:
Yes! Yes! Yes! What Yehoshua says!
When I proposed last night that we should encourage gay people to get married, I’m not talking about chupa vekidushin (halachic marriage ceremony), which is halachically limited to men and women. Nothing we can do about that. But I’m talking about encouraging (mandating!) people to engage in (or try) legal, committed, family-building, community-building relationships in the same way we do for straight people. All those things are supported by Judaism. Nothing about living together, raising children, sustaining loving relationships, is forbidden. On the contrary, they are wonderful! And being gay shouldn’t mean that one cannot fulfill all these mitzvot. Why are we condemning people to “confirmed bachelorhood” when we don’t see that as an ideal and maybe the person in mind would like to live with love in his life? What we should not welcome is gay or straight people engaging in casual, non love/family/community/society-building sexual relationships.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo wrote:
One issue which came up earlier and which some of you are overlooking is when homosexual couples openly declare that they have full sexual relationships so that we can no longer argue that we do not know what is going on in their bedroom.
Several of my rabbinical colleagues have been confronted with this phenomenon in their communities. It happens more and more, frequently in fact, and has become a pattern since these people want to get fully out of the closet.
Yael Unterman wrote:
Here’s another angle on the debate on homosexuality. I’d like to suggest –with a measure of caution, as I am not sure of these words – that being religious and homosexual is a very difficult struggle but it is not unique. Anyone else who for some reason feels amputated or unable to fully be themselves due to their religious commitment is going to feel many of the same things – for instance, a person who cannot pursue their desired career , a single person who does not express their sexuality, a woman who does not feel fulfilled in synagogue or in learning (if the halachic-legal edge of Orthodoxy is not for her), or even a rabbi who is constricted by his role from being his full self.
Yes, I grant the important point that one’s sexual identity and ability to join with another, have a family and join community is extremely far-reaching, much more than many or most other struggles. That’s very true. Yet let us not treat the struggle of religious homosexuals as entirely and qualitatively different from the struggle of anyone whose individuality and identity butts up against halacha. The premise of much of our work in the Cardozo Think Tank is that many religious people feel this to some degree or another; and to explore the place in halacha for that, the interface between our individual selves, needs and expression, and halacha.
What would happen if we frame the debate in this way? Would homosexuals object loudly that there is no comparison? or would we suddenly perceive this as a collective debate, not one relegated to some fringe elements… in which case, perhaps there would be more movement on this front and less marginalization?
Cori Widen wrote:
Regarding your point about the fact that some rabbis have to deal with homosexual couples who are open about their sexual activity, I have a question for you: What are the practical, halachic implications of this for a community rabbi? If we know that someone does not keep Shabbat, as far as I know, we are still able to welcome them into our community and some even celebrate this as an opportunity to increase the chances that they will do other mitzvot. How is it different with regard to homosexuality? Why does allowing a homosexual couple to be active members of our shul have to be ‘condoning’ their bedroom activities? Why can’t it just be a chance for us to let Jews be Jews, and to let the judgement of their actions be a matter between them and God?
I’m not making a point; I am genuinely asking a question. I have no idea why sexuality has to be treated differently than other ‘big’ mitzvot/sins (such as Shabbat or kashrut).
Michael Kagan wrote:
I don’t know if it helps with the halachic issues but I would be interested to look for an approach which addresses the halachic situation of gay people in the context of the overall halachic situation of individuals generally.
One thing we know without having to create artificial conceptual devices is that congregations are full of people who fall short of halachic standards. If they were excluded for that reason there wouldn’t be any congregations.
I guess the difference with gay people is that the congregation knows at least one way in which they are out of compliance, but does that mean that the congregation should be less accepting of them than they are of people who they know just as certainly to be in breach of Halacha without the knowledge of exactly how? In fact, it should be the other way round. Gay activity is, at least in part, a response to a compelling and, dare I say it, authentic, drive. Because of that, to the extent that it is the congregation’s business to take a position on it, it should be more welcoming than if, for instance, the congregant is know to be willfully in breach of Halacha in a way which damages others.
About Yael Valier
Yael Valier is the creative director of Theater and Theology, a Jerusalem-based theater company. The company allows her to combine her experience in theater and her interest in the beauties and quirks of religion to produce meaningful entertainment during productions and in post-performance discussions with her audiences. Yael is a drama teacher at Midreshet Emuna V’Omanut, another forum in which to explore Torah through the arts. Yael translates from Hebrew to English texts that are meant to be heard – TV screenplays, rhyming children’s books, and publicity videos. She also translates from French to English, specializing in Jewish history and scholarship. Yael is a voice actor, and you can hear her voice multiple characters in several current programs for the Fox Network’s Baby TV channel. Yael and her patent attorney husband, Dan Goldstein, collaborate on various fun educational projects, such as this science and geography album that they co-produced: www.TremendousEarth.com.
A. Cohen says
Shalom…. If the comments I read on this page are an example of a broader Jewish understanding of Torah instruction in regard to “legal’/LAWful sexual activities, then I can more readily understand anti-Semitism again raising up its ugly head in Israel and Diaspora. People, we are in a serious spiritual battle and so few ‘chosen’ People seem to be aware of it.
Yisrael is to Guide and be a Light to the nations yet from within it’s leadership there is much darkness masquerading under the guise of human ‘rights’, tolerance, etc.
Perhaps the rabbi’s should also bend/negotiate the Law that forbids having sex with animals.
Light/Torah will be seen as Darkness and Darkness as Torah/Light as we move ever closer to the end of HaShem’s patience with us.
Do not think I am a cold, uncaring person – I have a family member who is openly and proudly engaging in homosexual activity. I am sad for him. There is nothing ‘gay’/happy about it.
It is plain to see that HaShem made a Man and a Woman to fit each other as sexual partners for the purpose of procreating and filling the Earth with children.
Why do the blind and rebellious insist on leading others on the Path of Righteousness when they themselves are so far from it?
We need to get back to Torah. No one has been given permission to add or remove any of It’s holy Instruction. That is a LIE!
It seems to me that homosexuality could possibly be another example of something that is “unfair” in the Torah. Most would agree that there are at least some homosexuals who seem to have felt since childhood such an inclination. Therefore, the “abomination” the Torah speaks of, might it be the “unfairness” that is inherent in knowing (if one has felt gay all their life) that their sexual inclination had absolutely no possibility for elevation into a mitzvah (i.e. procreation)? This is a similar condition as a mamzer, no? I have no doubt there are sincere homosexuals who have are religious, in committed relationships, generally moral etc. but the homosexual act has no possibility for being a physically creative act whereas the most terrible, immoral, promiscuous heterosexuals can create another human. It seems those born gay have been created and put into an unfair place in this world. But of course this world is hardly fair at all.
Edith Rivkah Levitt says
Not that I personally would want to differentiate but doesn’t the Torah between men and women in this sense. In my son’s Kindergarten was a boy with two mothers At the time he was there they were already separated even thought they still share parenthood. I remember the women who led the Kindergarten say that he would put his fingers in his ear when she read them a children’s book talking about a family unit. Another point to ponder even though I see the same pattern at a mum who has a child of a donor. I see his hardship being without a father. Anyway we could start a new discussion on that topic. This donor turns out to be the father of a zillion kids, what if son and daughter without knowing marry each other. Isn’t that considered incest. Another one a women was in touch with a man over 3 years by the time they got to year 3 they already planned to start of a pilegesh relationship in which she wouldn’t be the only one he was planning on having a harem since his argument was I can tell our souls are not mend to marry nor take any financial responsability for you but yes I want to get anything out of you I can possibly get. Thank G’d the Rosh Yeshiva he was learning with to become a Rabbi! urged him to stop which he did in order to get a Rabbinical degree and since he got it they got back in touch and I am holding my breath. My point is how far can we go beyond the borders of halacha and what consequences is it going to have for the future. At the same time I loved the mothers of the boy they were such a great mums so do I have great respect for the mum who is doing everything to try to raise her son for the very best. Also we need more Rabbi Aryeh Levine’s zt”l/Rabbi Riskins/Rabbi Lopes Cardozo’s!!!
David Greenstein says
I came across this interesting exchange of views and appreciate the thoughtful quality of the comments.
I would like to share my own thoughts and my efforts to re-read the Torah on this issue. But first, full disclosure: I left the Orthodox world many years ago. I presently serve as rabbi of a Conservative shul in NJ. So you may take or leave my contribution as you see fit.
I wrote an extensive essay that argued for a new interpretation of the verses in the Torah that are commonly read as prohibiting and punishing homosexual acts. I argue for need to re-open the gates of midrash halakhah. You may read my essay by going to this link –
And scroll down to the essay “Pitchu Li Sha`arei Tzedeq…”
Sam Stern says
The comments above (as opposed to the discussion itself) are a great example of how singular (and needed) this think tank is in the Orthodox world. Love you guys. :