Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rabbi Avi Shafran on Homosexuals in Orthodoxy

The Forward has an article by Agudah spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran about the Orthodox view of Homosexuality. In essence I agree with it. This should be no surprise since I tend to agree with him on most subjects.

To synopsize his view as best I can, he basically says what I have said. That it is not homosexuality that is a sin – it is the practice of the forbidden act of homosexuality mentioned in the Torah - that is. One must have compassion for those who have same sex attraction, respect -and even honor - those who resist the temptation to act on it becuase of their desire to remain observant.

What is most imortant to note is that he feels pretty much the same way I do about reparative therapy. It ought to be an option but that it is not for everyone.

I personally believe that it only works for those who are either bi-sexual or those who are confused about their sexuality and may have experimented with homosexuality as an adolescent. The sex drive is very strong during that period in one’s life and if they are in a setting with no availability of mingling with girls -which is the case in most yeshivos, they may sublimate their sex drive into homosexual type acts.

For these people I believe therapy can work. But for those who are actually homosexual from their earliest memories, I tend to doubt it. It doesn't make any differecne if there si a gay gene or not. I tend to believe that the kind of treatment described by Chaim Levine in his Jewish Press article is harmful. While Rabbi Shafran doesn’t say so outright, I assume this is what he meant in the following two paragraphs:

Mainstream medical professionals deem psychological counseling aimed at helping people modify their sexual orientations pointless, at best, and counterproductive, at worst. There have even been reports of abusive behavior in the guise of such therapy.

But other mental health care professionals insist that such interventions, conducted responsibly, are not only safe, but also (at least for the highly motivated) effective. And then there are the inconvenient numbers of actual human beings who testify that the therapy has helped them realize their goal to live exclusively heterosexual lives. I have met one such individual — an intelligent, sensitive and even-keeled man — and have corresponded with therapists who have helped dozens of patients control homosexual inclinations and, as a result, live happy, fulfilled, Torah-faithful lives.

My only quibble is who he means by ‘other mental health professionals’. If they are not mainstream, I wonder about their qualifications.

However that some people can be helped is definitely true as I pointed out in my examples. But being highly motivated is apparently not enough to change one’s sexual preferences. I think that was Chaim Levine’s point. He was highly motivated too. But after an excrutiating experience with reparative therapy his attraction to the same sex was not changed.

It is also important to note that nowhere in Rabbi Shafran’s article does it say what it did in that Torah Declaration signed by so many rabbis. To wit:

We emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire.


The only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah.

Nor does he attempt to ‘explain’ homosexuals as innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds. He wisely leaves causes and cures to professionals.

The interesting thing is that the list of signatories to this document includes Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky one of the most prominent members of the Agudah Moetzes. As well as many other Rabbanim who are sympathetic to the Agudah Moetzes.

To be fair it also contains many Centrist rabbis as well. I can’t explain it. Especially since the RCA came out with a far more balanced statement themselves which was neutral on reparative therapy... and is more along the lines of Rabbi Shafran’s article.

This leads me to consider that at least some of the signatures on that document are either forged or obtained under false premises. I have been told that some of the rabbis listed have asked that their names be removed. But they have not done so. Perhaps the same is true about Rav Kaminetsky.

To the best of my knowledge the Agudah Moetzes has not made any official statement about it. Perhaps now would be a good time to do that. I would hope that it would reflect the views expressed by Rabbi Shafran.