Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Orthodox Homosexuals

‘I am first of all an ultra-Orthodox woman and only after that a lesbian.’

So said ‘B’ who was interviewed in Ha’aretz where there is a fascinating article about Orthodox lesbians. One might ask, How can someone claim to be Orthodox and at the same time declare that living that lifestyle is not a sin? I wondered about that as I read this article.

First I should clarify that the Torah is not egalitarian on the issue. Men who want to participate in homosexual sex is are biblically forbidden from doing so. It is an act that can be punishable by a court mandated death penalty. Women who want to participate in homosexual sex are not biblically forbidden from doing so. They are perhaps only rabbinically forbidden. Their court mandated penalty is far from the death penalty. I do not know the reasons for this disparity.

So there is quite a difference between gay men and gay women, As I have said many times in the past - while both should be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, there is difference by orders of magnitude between how Halacha sees the forbidden expression of their desires.

Be that as it may, there is no Posek that I am aware of who permits women to engage in homosexual sex. And yet there is an organization founded by Avigail Sperber that caters to Orthodox women who have come out of the closet called Bat Kol. And though the majority of the 150 members seem to be from Modern Orthodox or Religious Zionist backgrounds there are about 15 self identified Charedi women there too.

Avigail Sperber is the daughter of Rabbi Daniel Sperber:

Her father, Rabbi Daniel Sperber, is a professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University and a well-known figure among the religious public, who for many years headed the committee of Hemed, the state religious education system

Both he and his wife openly accept their daughter and her partner as members of their family:

The two are invited as a couple to every family event, and Rabbi Sperber has no doubt that the child who will have two mothers will fit in just fine among the other grandchildren.

I can well understand how a father will accept an errant child into bosom of the family. It is the right thing to do. It is called love and compassion. What I don’t understand is the need to make a cause out of it. Why the organization? Why the pride? There is nothing right about being proud of sinning. Unless they just live together platonicly. And if that’s the case it they wouldn’t need an organization to do it. There are plenty of people of the same sex sleeping in the same bedrooms platonicly - such as in overnight camps or dormitories.

I can even understand that those who are attracted to the same sex want to be accepted for who they are. I support that as well. But to create an organization that takes pride in that and thereby promotes it as a legitimate alternative lifestyle… well, how is that Orthodox?

Furthermore, there is the male side of the issue. In this egalitarian world of ours, homosexual men too want to be accepted. And just as is the case with women, they should be. As long as they do not promote a lifestyle that includes acting on their illicit desires. But in our day and in our culture, what’s good for the gander is supposed to be good for the goose too. What is to stop Orthodox homosexuals from forming a male version of Bat Kol – call it, Ben Kol – and promoting a lifestyle that is Halachicly punishable by the death penalty? Perhaps it even already exists, I don’t know.

Though I agree with the manner in which Rabbi Sperber and his wife treat their children, I question putting an imprimatur on an illicit lifestyle in any way. I would have been happier if he had put a qualifier on the acceptance of his daughter and her partner. In my view he should have said something like, ‘I love my daughter and her partner and am compassionate about their lifestyle but I do not condone their behavior as it is against Halacha’. Perhaps he has and the article just did not point that out.

In any case, I think it is important - once again - to highlight the fact there are some very fine and religious people from all Orthodox strata who are attracted to members of the same sex. They are sincere about their Judaism and committed to observance. And they should be treated as equals with dignity and respect. But it is equally important to once again point out that loving the sinner is not the same as loving the sin. And that any time there is a step in the direction of permitting the forbidden, we ought to protest it.