Thursday, January 11, 2018

Tolerance Yes – Celebration No

Dr. Saundra Epstein, director of the Welcoming Shuls Project. (NJJN)
My apologies to Rabbi Geretz for misleading readers about his actual view with respect to Miskhav Zechor. The implication in the post as originally written was that he permitted it. I have had communications with him  about this. He is clear about it being completely forbidden.  I am truly sorry for this error and any anguish I caused him. The post has been corrected to eliminate any such implication. - HM

Rabbi Daniel Geretz is one of a handful of YCT (Yeshivat ChoveveiTorah) ordainees whose compassion for every human being has translated into questionable religious tactics. I have had a few e-mail exchanges with him and am 100% convinced of his sincere intentions and the belief that such tactics are in line with the will of God. This seems to be a common characteristic of YCT graduates. They place human dignity on a very high level. Which is indeed the will of God.

But there are instances where specific attempts at human dignity are clearly not in that spirit. How, one may ask, is that possible that treating a fellow human being with dignity is not in the spirit of what we know of God’s will? The answer is when God clearly expresses that the common behavior of an individual violates His word. 

Honoring a loving relationship where that love is often expressed by behavior that is clearly forbidden by God as recorded in the bible is an obvious case like that. Rabbi Geretz’s misplaced compassion appears to override that. An article in the New Jersey Jewish News quotes him saying the following: 
“I can’t wrap my head around a refusal to wish a mazal tov to a gay or lesbian couple following a same-sex commitment ceremony.” He feels saddened when Jews who self-identify as Orthodox can’t find an Orthodox synagogue where they feel comfortable.  
Compassion does not mean celebrating a forbidden relationship.  But that is precisely what the LGBT community is asking for. And Rabbi Geretz in a sincere attempt to show human dignity to a homosexual couple by celebrating their union is clearly wrong.

This of course does not mean we ostracize gay or transgender people. But neither does it mean we celebrate a situation that invites opportunities to commit serious violation of Halacha. If you are a Jew, believe in God, and that His will is recorded in the Torah - you cannot have it both ways. There has to be a limit to what can and cannot be celebrated in a Torah oriented community. If a union between 2 people is forbidden it is the height of absurdity to publicly congratulate people who are involved in it.

Rabbi Geretz is not the first or only one to do this. It was done not long ago in the Shul of YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss. In a published announcement they celebrated the engagement of a homosexual couple right along with the engagement of heterosexual couples. (They have since removed that announcement and promised not to do it again after being admonished by the OU).

Rabbi Geretz remains undeterred. As does all the of the other synagogues that are participating in a new LGBT initiative for its Orthodox members. It’s called The Welcoming Shuls Project (WSP). This is a program that seeks gay friendly Shuls that are welcoming to gay people and their families.

According to the article there are 103 Orthodox Shuls across the country that have signed on to the program. However, it appears that most of them do so surreptitiously - fearing repercussion from mainstream Orthodox institutions such as the OU.

I believe they are right to fear repercussions. Because it is obvious from this article that WSP is more than about welcoming gay people into their shuls. It is about celebrating them.

I have said many times in the past that we are obligated to treat every human being with dignity, regardless of who they are attracted to. If an individual has a same sex attraction, it is their business. As long as people don’t make their sexuality a public issue, they ought to be welcomed unto a Shul. But if they do make it public - that ought not be celebrated. 

Because celebrating it is in essence celebrating a sinful relationship. I think that is the goal of programs like WSP mirrors the goal of the LGBT community. They do not seek only compassion and understanding. They do not only acceptance. They seek to normalize forbidden homosexual sex making it equivalent to permitted heterosexual sex. In a world that does not place much value on biblical teachings, that makes sense. Why, after all, would anyone see a problem in any kind of consensual sex between 2 consenting adults?

If, however, one does value biblical teachings as God’s will - then one has to consider that to be the primary consideration, regardless of the compassion and understanding one might feel about it otherwise.

This is where many well intended left wing rabbis fail. Their compassion is so overwhelming that they are nearly blinded to biblical injunction. When confronted with it some have tried to interpret that injunction out of existence with extreme rationalizations about what the Torah actually means – turning that injunction on its head and - in practical terms - permitting the forbidden.  All in the name of a misplaced expression of human dignity.

I therefore continue to protest this new push to celebrate gay unions. Even as I understand the good intentions behind it.