Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Conservative Judaism, Homosexuality, and Halacha

First let me reiterate what I have said countless times on the subject of homosexuality. There is absolutely no sin in being attracted to members of the same sex. That is nobody’s business and the Torah is not concerned with it. What the Torah is concerned with is the act that usually accompanies that. Which the Torah puts this way: 
A man may not lie with a man as with women - it is an abomination (Vayikra 18:22) and… A man that lies with a man – in the manner of women, both have committed an abomination - they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Vayikra  20:13) 
In other words it’s the act. Not the inclination. We therefore have an obligation to treat all people – no matter who they are attracted to with human dignity. Mental health professionals have determined that one’s sexual preferences are ‘hard-wired’ so to speak. Whether this is because of nature; or nurture; or both - is immaterial. The consensus among professionals is that sexual orientation cannot be changed.

If that’s the case, how can we reconcile that with the Torah attitude? I can’t answer that question fully except to say that Torah law stands immutable. We cannot say that something is permitted when it is expressly prohibited. No matter how much some people have tried to do that.

For a gay Jew that accepts the Divine nature of the Torah, this presents a major challenge.  If one is attracted only to members of the same sex  - that doesn’t mean he can simply abandon God’s expressed will in the Torah.

On the other hand that doesn’t change the desire. So if someone is gay and refrains from the Torah’s prohibitive act, he is praiseworthy. If he tries to refrain but succumbs to his normal (for him) desires - he is no different that any of the rest of us that succumb to desires which are forbidden by the Torah. It’s all about attitude. One must acknowledge what the will of God is and try to follow it. If we fail, it is because we are human. And it is why the concept of Teshuva (repentance) exists.

How should the Torah world treat homosexual Jews? The short answer (which I’ve mentioned many times) is ‘love the sinner- hate the sin’.

I wish we could end the discussion there. Unfortunately the times in which we live insist on a different response. Society now demands that we not only ‘love the sinner’ but that ‘we love the sin’ too. For those of us that believe that Torah law is the Divine word of God, that is unacceptable. Just as prejudice against gay people is unacceptable. Orthodox Judaism stands firm on these principles.

An article in the Forward discusses how the Conservative Movement is grappling with all of this. And for a movement that claims to be Halachic, the attitude of some of their leaders is quite astonishing.

They now permit their rabbis to perform same sex marriages. That in essence gives homosexuals ‘permission’ to violate the Torah. Marriage in Jewish law is what permits (and even encourages) a man and woman to engage in sex. Gay marriage should do the same. Obviously that’s impossible.

And yet they do seem to at least give a nod to the Torah prohibition. From the Forward
The problem is that even while Conservative life is inclusive of LGBTQ people, it still places limits on their most intimate lives. It instructs gay men to avoid anal sex precisely because of the verse (in the Torah forbidding it) and urged bisexual people to pursue relationships with those of the opposite sex. It also cited heterosexuality as the ideal sexual orientation. 
But that attitude is now under attack. More from the Forward
(Conservative gay Rabbi Amichai) Lau-Lavie and other Conservative rabbis believe those rules should be abandoned. Forty-nine-year-old Rabbi Adina Lewittes, who identifies as a lesbian, is leading the charge... 
(Rabbi Elliot Dorff supports) Lewittes’s proposal to erase the anal sex ban and the language on bisexuality, and holds the right position to advance it, as head of the (Conservative) movement’s lawmaking body, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards... 
It is unclear whether Conservative Judaism will actually abandon the Torah mandate completely. As the Forward article notes: ‘a majority of the committee’s 25 voting members, all of them rabbis, would have to approve it.’ There are still some members of the Conservative leadership that value the Torah’s clear demands.  

But I think the trend is to move away from that kind of thinking. Torah law is being set aside in order to serve modern sensibilities. Treating gay and straight sex the same is one of those sensibilities. That is very understandable. You want your fellow man to be treated as an equal in every respect. But for Orthodox Jews, as much as modern sensibilities must be considered, if they contradict the Torah, those sensibilities are set aside.

If there is any question about whether Conservative Judaism is Halachic or not, what happens here should settle it once and for all.