Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Statement of Principles

A statement of principles about homosexuals has been floating around the internet. It was written by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot - a Talmid Chacham of note who is currently on the staff of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). He has also had the benefit of input from many other Rabbanim and Roshei Kollel who signed on to the document. After reading it a couple of times I basically do not see anything in there with which I would vehemently disagree. I do however have a minor quibble with a couple of things. The first is the following:

We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner. Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with regard to membership for open violators of halakha…

I do not see promoting the idea of acceptance of an openly practicing homosexual (…emphasis on openly practicing) as a good idea. Stating this as a principle is has the appearance of accepting the forbidden act itself. Proclaiming that in principle it’s basically up to the synagogue is wrong in my view.

I also have a slight problem with the following:

But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting…

While I agree with this statement in principle, I object to the implied imprimatur this places upon homosexual couples who adopt children. With rare exception I am opposed to promoting adoptions by parents that do not have a male and female parenting role model. A child that has two parents of the same sex is being shortchanged in my view - even if they are celibate.

At best it is a B’Dieved – just like a single parent family would be. If one has no choice that is one thing. But to suggest that less than the ideal should be ‘fully embraced’ is not something I can support. And although the above statement does not exactly say that – it implies it. That said I want to re-emphasize that I agree that children in such circumstances should indeed be fully embraced.

There has been much made of the lack of any right wing rabbis on the list of signatures. I hope that is corrected. It is even worth a little more tweaking through their input in order to get them on board. I think we ought to have a unified approach in how Orthodoxy treats fellow Jews - and every human being - no matter what tempts them sexually.

There are some who would vehemently oppose this kind of document. One person I know has suggested that such a document is the result of the overly permissive general society we live in which has turned what is considered morally acceptable behavior on its head. In the past there could never have been a document like this.

They will cite what some call the ‘yuck factor’ as inherent in the Torah prohibition of the male homosexual act by its use of the word Toevah – an abomination - in forbidding it. (Female homosexual behavior is not mentioned in the Torah but is nevertheless forbidden by rabbinic law and the word Toevah would not apply.) Some will cite that as proof of what our attitude should be and that such documents counter that attitude.

But the truth is that you don't have to be Jewish. Most heterosexuals are naturally repulsed by the homosexual act. We don’t need the Torah to tell us to be repulsed. Toevah must therefore mean something else. For example there is Devarim 25:16 with respect to the prohibition against using false weights in business. The Torah considers that a Toevah too. How many people are repulsed by that?! They should be - but recent history has unfortunately shown that it isn’t even on the radar screen for some of us!

Unlike those who believe the Torah commands us to be repulsed by the homosexual act - it is my personal belief that we must overcome our personal revulsion when it comes to homosexuals. Overcoming revulsion is indeed a Torah value. If someone has a physical defect that makes their appearance physically repulsive – are we not required to overcome that?

The Issurim in the Torah are Assur because the Torah says they are Assur. Not because they are personally repulsive. We are required to treat all of mankind with human dignity - to be Mechabed Es HaBriyos. This includes homosexuals. It may be difficult for heterosexuals to overcome their revulsion. But that does not absolve them of that responsibility.

As long as homosexuals don't flaunt it or advocate it as a legitimate lifestyle we should have compassion and accept them fully into the community. It is not our business what they do in private. As I’ve said many times - we are not God's accountant. And we currently have no Halachic mechanism to enforce any form of earthly punishment even in those rare cases where the Torah would mandate it.

It is therefore up to God to mete out Divine justice for those who succumb to forbidden desires - whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. If we don't know for a fact that they are violating Halacha - we are required to be Dan L'Kaf Zechus and judge them favorably.

If on the one hand – as I said above - two male homosexuals openly proclaim that they are engaging in forbidden sexual activity - then in my view accepting them would be tantamount to accepting the forbidden act itself. If on the other hand they don't proclaim it and are discreet – I believe that we are required to be Dan L'Kaf Zechus - even if they live together.

The truth is that as a society (both general and Jewish) we are far more accepting of forbidden heterosexual sex even in suspected Yehoreg V'Al Yaavor cases. There are people I know who over the years were strongly suspected (via overwhelming circumstantial evidence) of cheating on their wives with other women. In at least one case I can think of it was with the wife of another man.

Everyone eventually got divorced and remarried... and all is forgiven and forgotten - even among the right wing. Had there been similarly overwhelming circumstantial evidence of any of those men having a gay affair - they would have been completely ostracized. In the former one could say we are being Dan L'Kaf Zechus. Why not in the latter?