Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ruling With their Heart - Not their Head

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Why do they do it? Why do some Orthodox rabbis - good men that have done so much for Judaism go so far off the rails that they are practically thrown out of Orthodoxy? I think it is because they are so kind hearted they simply do not know how to say no. They therefore go to great lengths to justify anti Halachic behavior out of pure compassion. Practically blinded to the clearly forbidden nature of what they permit or excuse. Often these rabbis are otherwise people who have done much for Klal Yisroel. But their Achilles heel is the very compassion that has given them the courage and determination to do great things.

There are two prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis that have done just that with the laws regarding the clearly forbidden act of homosexual relations. And both have used the words of Torah or its sages into permit or excuse it.

Rabbi Asher Loptin in what I am absolutely convinced is a sheer act of compassion has endorsed same sex marriage using the Torah’s admonition in Breishis (2:18) of ‘Lo Tov Hayos HaAdam Levado’ (It is not good for man to live alone). While that has always been interpreted as a Godly command to mankind  that they should marry, Rabbi Lopatin has interpreted to apply to people of the same sex living together. Thus implying that same sex relationships are preferred by God over living alone. Incredible as that may seem, I spoke to him about that and this is what he actually believes. He is not trying to deceive anyone with some sort of exegetical trick. His legitimate compassion for people with same sex attraction has over ridden his common sense and the universal interpretation of those words.

The latest rationaliization comes from another great rabbi, Shlomo Riskin, who has done so much for Klal Yisroel. I believe that he too is guided by a compassion so strong that it overrides unambiguous Halacha. In an interview with a Hebrew language publication he has in effect ‘Kashered’ homosexual relationships among people with same sex attraction. His rationale (...and he is not the first to use it) is the use of the Talmudic principle of Oness Rahcmama Patrei – when someone is forced to sin, a benevolent  God’s absolves them of any guilt. And since gay people are hard wired to be attracted to the same sex, they are considered to be ‘forced by nature’ to violate the prohibition and therefore absolved of any guilt in an act the Torah otherwise prohibits as a capital offense.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin
I get their compassion. I truly understand where they are coming from. But I must join with others that have pointed out the error of their ways. You cannot rationalize away sinful behavior by saying you can’t help yourself. Unless you have a break with reality and are delusional, one has to follow Halacha no matter how strong the inclination is to sin.

We all sin because we all have inclinations to do so – each in our own way. Sometimes the desire is so great that it overcomes us. Every individual faces their own specific Halachic challenges in life. Most good people overcome them. But occasionally even good people are overcome by their desires. When we sin we know we have sinned and that is what Teshuva is for. But in no way should we rationalize it or justify it.  Because if we did, we could in theory rationalize all sin away – at least in those cases where no one else is hurt and our desire to sin overcomes us. 

Clearly this is not what Chazal meant when they said Oness Rachmana Patrei. Being forced to sin by one’s own inclination is not he kind of force Chazal was talking about. Any time free will is involved, sinning becomes a choice. No one but your own mental state is forcing you to sin. 

This does not mean that an individual’s psychological makeup is not factored in. It certainly is. If a someone's  emotional makeup is so overwhelming that overcoming sin is near impossible, and then somehow they overcome it, they are considered a Tzadik - the most righteous of individuals.  But that does not make the sin any less sinful nor does in absolve anyone from responsibility if the do succumb.

The Halacha is clear. A man lying with a man as if he were a woman is an abomination punishable by death (under certain conditions that are impossible to meet in our day.)There is no running away from that. There is no rationalizing it.

I am not going to condemn these rabbis because their heart is in the right place. But they are clearly wrong - ruling with their hearts. Not their heads.

That said, I too have compassion for people with same sex attractions whose only viable option to satisfy those sexual urges is sinful behavior. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t know if it is nature or nurture (or both) that makes some people that way. But it seems pretty clear that they are that way permanently. 

I don’t judge them. I don’t look into what people do in their bedrooms. What they do in private is between them and God. I am not God’s accountant. But as a legal matter  there is no question about a behavior that is spelled out in the Torah as specifically as this is. 

I have said many times, the proper Jewish attitude is to hate the sin and not the sinner. But it is certainly not to cleanse the sin as permissible in instances where our God given gift of Bechira - freedom of choice is involved. Saying that one’s psychological makeup absolves one of sin simply does not make any sense. No matter how strong their psychological inclination is to do so.