Friday, January 01, 2010

Paving the Road

It seemed like a good idea at the time. When I first heard about the widely attended gay panel at Yeshiva University sponsored by their Wurzweiler School of Social Work and the YU Tolerance Club – I thought, Wow, what a bold move. Finally - a forum whereby one can learn to hate the sin and not the sinner.

I made clear at the time that as long as Halacha is followed one should not condemn someone who is physically attracted to members of the same sex. If one has such a drive but does not act on it, he is to be lauded. And for those who succumb to their Ta’avos, they should be treated no differently than any heterosexual that succumbs to their own forbidden Ta’avos. I of course still feel that way.

Unfortunately most heterosexuals especially religious ones don’t. They tend to feel extreme prejudice against homosexuals. I should add that it is quite understandable that a heterosexual would feel revulsion at gay sex. That makes it very hard even counter-intuitive to be tolerant. We have to work very hard to over-look that feeling of revulsion.

But what is revolting to us is normal to a homosexual. By having no Halachicly permissible outlet for their sex drives, one needs to bend over backwards to understand their predicament. It is my understanding that the suicide rate among homosexuals is higher than it is for the general public. I think that the public revulsion to the act that to them is the only act that is sexually satisfying contributes mightily to the potential depression and higher suicide rate they have. They know our revulsion. It probably depresses them that they are sexually aroused by something that most people are disgusted by.

The assembly in YU a couple of weeks ago did not come off as advertised. Instead of talking about tolerance it ended up almost a legitimizing the lifestyle itself. Maybe not in those explicit terms. But in the over-all tenor of the event.

Rabbi Mayer Twerski spoke passionately about this to students in YU’s Beis HaMedrash earlier this week. Here is an excerpt taken from DovBear who published his words:

Unfortunately, the way the Chillul HaShem unfolded and how the event occurred, it was billed as being gay at YU. The Chillul HaShem unfolded as a reflection on the institution, on all of us, because of people in the event, attending the event, and when that’s how the Chillul HaShem unfolds – not only is there a need to find some forum, some vehicle to go on record against this Chillul HaShem, and in this case the obligation is many times over. The picture projected, one of total distortion, is that it reflects on the yeshiva. It reflects on every segment of the yeshiva, administration, rabbeim, talmidim, everyone was implicated by how the program was projected and how it came off: “Being Gay in YU.” Two of the four presenters also spoke about actual mishkav zachor, in addition to the distortions we’ve spoken up until now. The transcript talks about applause at many points – but no mecha’ah. That’s where the record stands. SO everyone in our community must say that is not us, we reject – we disassociate ourselves from all of that.

I agree. I had no idea this assembly degenerated to that. Had I known I would not have applauded it. I would have condemned it. It was indeed a Chilul HaShem - good intentions gone horribly wrong. Perhaps I should have realized that something like this would happen. But I didn’t and apologize for any contribution - no matter how slight -I made toward that end. I am fully supportive of the Roshei Yeshiva of YU and its administration headed by President Joel who had earlier expressed similar feelings to those of Rabbi Twersky.

I had originally hoped that the whole world was watching when YU seemed to be confronting an issue that had too long been in the closet. I now regret that. Those 6 Roshei Yeshiva who protested it before it happened were right. When there is potential for such a degradation of the Torah, all good intentions should go out the window. Yotzah Sechro BeHefsedo. Any benefit gets washed away by the loss. All I can say in my defense is that my heart was in the right place. I now condemn what happened as a Chilul HaShem.

I think it should be noted that Yeshiva University stood up to the challenge here. This includes not only the faculty of Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva. That was to be expected. It includes almost all of the students and the administration represented by President Richard Joel. There can be no controversy about YU’s position here. YU has certainly had its share of criticism from the right in the past - on many issues. One could debate the legitimacy of those criticisms. Had this event gone un-protested, that criticism would have increased – perhaps rightfully so. And it would have been difficult to refute.

It should also be noted that it is the nature of a Yeshiva like YU to encourage its students to live in the modern world and that it teaches them how to do it. But it is also true that Yeshivos like this are vulnerable to abuse of that approach. To say that something like this could have never happened in Lakewood is true - but there is no comparison. Lakewood is a closed society. It isolates itself from the culture. There is indeed no way this could ever happen there. The more open minded a school is – the more easily it can fall prey to an event like this. YU is open minded - and it happened there – all with good intentions. Thankfully that was not the end of it. The Yeshiva did the right thing to strongly protest it and set the record straight.

It took courage to have this panel. That ended up being a big mistake.

It took even greater courage to condemn it afterwards. For that it deserves tremendous praise. Self criticism is very hard. I hope that the rest of the Yeshiva world appreciates that.