Friday, October 12, 2018

When Humanitarian Values Conflict with Halacha

Image for illustration purposes only (Times of Israel)
It is really simple if you think about it Halachicly. And at the same time it is quite complex if you think about it sociologically in our day. How to deal with homosexuality and homosexuals is an issue that is difficult to address because it involves the intersection of clear Halacha with the proclivity of good and decent people to violate it. The very mental health of those people are at stake.

I have dealt with these issues many times. The subject has once again been raised in a debate between Hayim Leiter a progressive Orthodox rabbi and member of the liberal Orthodox group, Torat Chayim - and Avrohom Gordimer, a Centrist rabbi and executive member of the Centrist RCA .

First let me re-iterate my own approach which I believe to be the most humane and pragmatic approach to this situation that satisfies both Halacha and human dignity. It is not homosexuality that is a sin. Being attracted to a member of the same sex is not a sin. What is a sin is acting on it in a way that the Torah forbids – and considers a serious violation of God’s law.

As such the best approach is to treat homosexual individuals no differently than heterosexuals. In that vein, an individual’s sex life should be private. No one need talk about what they do in the privacy of their own home. Nor should anyone be suspected of sinful behavior, whether straight or gay. That it exists among both is a fact of life. But it is nobody’s business, unless one wishes to make a public issue of it. 

Gay activists do not subscribe to the idea of ‘What goes on in the bedroom – stays in the bedroom’.  They insist on societal approval of the very act that the bible considers sinful. When confronted with that fact they wave off the bible as a ancient relic written by ignorant men centuries ago.We are far more enlightened today than they were then and we should just discard those ancient values. Which they now consider immoral!  There is absolutely no moral issue at all with homosexual behavior between 2 consenting adults. And it should not concern any of us - who people love; or how they love them.

This is where I part company with gay activists. They want to completely equate sinful behavior in the bedroom with permitted behavior. In their view there is no difference. This is what they advocate. Some of them militantly. This is where much of the fight lies.

For an Orthodox rabbi who knows what the Torah’s prohibitions are, and yet wants to treat all people – gay or straight – with equal dignity, that becomes a problem.  This is where compassion and common sense come into play.

Acceptance of a gay individual into a religious community is a no brainier. Of course they should be accepted. What cannot be accepted is publicly celebrating a lifestyle that is conducive to serious Torah violation.  And in any case modesty should dictate that all matters pertaining to our sex lives should be kept private.

A gay couple that have been ‘married’ to each other is a horse of an entirely different color. Tht takes it out of the realm of privacy and places squarely in the public eye. It celebrates the fact that two people are gay and living together as a married couple. Which most often includes behaviors that are forbidden by the Torah.  When a rabbi publicly welcomes a gay couple on the same grounds as a straight couple he appears to be approving and even celebrating that.. Celebrating it is what Rabbi Hayim Leiter appears to be advocating.

Rabbi Leiter is a Mohel who has performed many circumcisions for children of gay couples. I have no problem with that at all and commend him for doing so. No child should ever be denied a Bris. It is a requirement of the Torah for a Jewish baby boy to be circumcised on the 8th day after his birth. It doesn’t matter who  his parents are or what they have done. They can both be serial killers. It wouldn’t matter. 

But to make a big celebration of it- noting the parents homosexual union and praising  their commitment to Torah after they have gone out of their way to flout it by getting ‘married’ is wrong. I’m sure Rabbi Leiter does not deny the Torah’s clear prohibitions. And yet by praising married gay couples as committed Jews it appears as though he is defying that very prohibition. 

There is even some talk about justifying a  homosexual lifestyle based on verses in the Torah. Which turns on its head any possible interpretation of those words that makes any sense.To put it the way Rabbi Gordimer does: 
To square the idea of openly conducting a lifestyle and structuring a home in a manner that the Torah condemns in quite harsh terms with the idea of “not forsaking anything” in the Torah is quite a stretch; I don’t think that the greatest of logicians could explain it. And how one can accept and laud the emendation of a sacred text so as to include that which Halacha considers to be a desecration is equally challenging to the mind. 
As if to emphasize the direction of the more progressive rabbis, one rabbi that insists on publicly welcoming gay couples into his Shul and wishing them Mazal Tov on their 'marriage' - said the following: about his decision to do so: 
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. 
This is not OK. I know that married gay couples would like to be seen in the same light as married straight couples. But they cannot be seen that way. Gay marriage is a public statement implying societal acceptance of something that is conducive to serious violations of the Torah. It is like saying that a someone whose lifestyle appears to include the desecration of Shabbos should be celebrated in the same way as someone whose lifestyle doesn’t. You cannot congratulate someone for living a lifestyle conducive to Shabbos desecration. That is in essence what progressive rabbis insist on doing.

I understand where these rabbis are coming from. They are compassionate human beings that want to do what they believe is the right thing by being fair to all people regardless of their sexual orientation. I actually agree with their motives. But I do not agree with their methods. Because in my view by celebrating a gay union they are by implication celebrating the transgression of sinful behavior. And thereby desecrating the very Torah they so fervently claim to be honoring.