Sunday, July 03, 2011

Halacha or Homophobia?

The Beatles. They have clearly made the greatest impact on popular music in my lifetime. The songwriting team of Lennon- McCartney has no peers in that department. After them the two biggest influences are Billy Joel and Elton John.

So what does this have to do with Judaism? Not much. But as an aficionado of rock music, I would not hesitate to attend a concert by any of them - including Elton John.

One might say: Big deal! Why is this important? The answer is that it’s not, unless you are homophobic. Elton John is an openly gay performer. He not only does not hide that fact, he openly and proudly lives that lifestyle. Judaism considers ‘lying with a man in the manner of a woman’ to be a capital offense. Mr. John believes that if one is gay and wants to live his life in that manner, he should be encouraged to do so.

There are some who feel that going to concert of someone who is openly gay is an affront to Judaism and that it should be boycotted or at least protested. To them I would ask, ‘Why should I not be able to enjoy some of the most sublime popular music ever written just because I do not approve of the lifestyle of the writer/performer?’ I love the man’s music even as I do not approve of a lifestyle that violates Halacha. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing in Halacha that does not allow me to enjoy his music.

I bring this up in light of a story published in Ynet. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Homosexual's voice equals lewdness? Ynet has learned that rabbis, right-wing activists and National Service girls are protesting a decision to invite singer Harel Skaat to perform at an event honoring National-Civilian Service volunteers. Some of them are even threatening to boycott the event.

According to the protestors, the majority of the event's participants are religious girls, who are certain to be offended by having to listen to an open homosexual sing.

I do not see how someone’s voice can be seen as lewd just because they are gay. As a decades long fan of Elton John, I never once thought of his performances of any of his own beautiful music as being lewd. I don’t know anyone who does. I’m sure that Mr. Skaat’s voice is no different in that regard.

I defy anyone to identify a singer as gay merely by listening to him sing. If that were possible it would be impossible for any gay singer to remain in the closet. The minute he start’s singing he would be perceived as lewd. I believe that the only thing that makes a gay singer’s voice lewd is the mind of the homophobe - unless the lyrics promote the lifestyle.

Besides why stop with gay singers? Why not be upset by any singer especially Jewish ones who have lead less than stellar lives with respect to their behavior with women? I don’t hear anyone protesting singers whose lifestyles includes heterosexual relationships that are far from Halachic. And this includes even Orthodox rabbis who became popular singers.

In at least one case an Orthodox rabbi became musical icon even among religious Jews - despite his questionable public behavior - and accusations of even more questionable private behavior. And yet if an iconic singer like that were invited to this venue, not only would there be no protest; there would be a standing room only crowd of fans!

The bottom line is that one must separate the contributions of any individual to society from his personal life. This does not mean one cannot be opposed to that behavior and say so in public. One should in fact make clear that the hate is of the sin and never the sinner.

That said I would oppose any performer who - during his concert - actively tries to sell his lifestyle as legitimate. That would be a non starter for me. We cannot give a platform to someone who sells Aveiros to multitudes of impressionable fans. But as long as a performer limits himself to the performance there should be nothing wrong with the rest of us enjoying it. If someone is turned off by the man because of his lifestyle, the solution for them is to not attend.

Some have accused Harel Skaat of doing exactly that – selling his lifestyle - at every performance. I hope that isn’t true. But even if it is, the promoters of the concert can easily overcome this problem by making it part of his contract to keep away from ‘gay politics’ and stick to singing… much like Elton John does.

In my view the opposition to Harel Skaat by these rabbis and some of their supporters is based more on homophobia than it is on Halacha. By publicly protesting him they are bringing more attention to the issue and thereby more sympathy for the gay lifestyle than if they had just ignored it.