Sunday, April 07, 2019

A Compassionate Road to Hell

YCT President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer
Last week, I expressed my support for YCT Rosh HaYeshiva and President, Rabbi Dov Linzer. While I strongly disagree with many of his Hashkafic positions, I completely agree with his latest one. Which was to deny the rabbinic ordination of Daniel Atwood, a gay student who has chosen and publicly announced his intent to live a gay lifestyle with another gay man.

Rabbi Linzer said that despite his open embrace of gay Jews, he expects more of a rabbi. It is not that he won’t ordain a gay man. He is actually in favor of that. He hopes to see YCT being the first Orthodox yeshiva to do so.

Even though there is nothing wrong with ordaining a man who is gay, I personally disagree with ordaining a man who publicizes it. It sends the wrong message about homosexuality – leading lay people to assume that if a rabbi can be openly gay, then it must be OK to not only be gay but to live a gay lifestyle that almost certainly includes behavior that is a serious violation of Halacha.

Be that as it may, Rabbi Linzer does not have this problem, He believes that a gay man that publicizes his sexual orientation does not preclude ordaining him. But even he agrees that there are some lines that cannot be crossed. Which – as noted in his recent public statement - made his decision not to ordain Daniel Atwood one of the most difficult decisions he ever made.

Rabbi Linzer is paying a price for standing his ground on this issue. There has been some enormous blow-back by some of his YCT students –  past and present – as well as many of his left wing colleagues. Including some of YCT’s former luminaries who have contributed to a fundraiser for Daniel’s ordination which raised $8000 in one day! opposition to Rabbi Linzer. Rabbi Linzer is a profile in courage - and what leadership is all about.

It isn’t that supporters of Daniel Atwood are evil. They are compassionate people that understand the suffering that gay people have gone through –and still go through. All they really want is to make these – their fellow Jews – feel good about themselves despite their gay tendencies. They believe that these are people that want to be observant and they therefore want to encourage that. They can’t help who they are attracted to. Why shouldn’t we do everything we can to fully embrace them?

I can’t really disagree with the sentiment. But I can and do strongly disagree with the way they implement it. This is a perfect example of the road to hell almost literally being paved with good intentions. 

By embracing them to this extent they are in practical terms rejecting a clear Torah violation. Even though they explain it away with interpretations of the Torah’s words that are clearly not what the Torah intended. Those interpretations are in fact the exact opposite of the Torah’s clear statement about behavior that is strictly forbidden. 

Nor is their application of the Talmudic dictum of Onness Rachmana Patrei. This dictum excuses sin that is forced upon you. For example if someone points a gun to your head and tells you to eat non Kosher food or he will kill you, you may eat it and will not be liable.  

That is not the same thing as making a choice to perform a forbidden act. Even if one cannot help his orientation, that does not mean he has to act on it – extremely difficult though it may be. Doing so is still a personal choice - a voluntary act.

We cannot support any kind of public policy that would seem to make a clear forbidden act – permitted.

But that is exactly what gay activists want. They want the whole ball of wax – complete normalization of being gay in all of its manifestations – including behavior that is forbidden by the Torah ( fact forbidden by all 3 major faiths.) They completely reject the bible’s prohibition as inconsistent with today’s  more enlightened morality. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard even mainstream public personalities refer to the biblical prohibition as ancient and irrelevant – with a shocking tone about how anyone could see it the bible’s way in our day.

YCT ordained Rabbi Avram Mlotek
It is this kind of misguided compassion that made YCT ordained Rabbi Avram Mlotek  come to a decision to start performing gay marriages. He is doing so in response to Rabbi Linzer’s refusal to ordain Daniel Atwood. What makes this so terrible is that he identifies as Orthodox and proclaims his fierce commitment to God, Torah, and the Jewish people. And even acknowledges that Torah’s description of the forbidden homosexual act as a Toevah.

But his compassion dictates that it be ignored in light of what he thinks is a greater good. And instead of doing what he can to assure this violation not be committed he encourages it and even blesses it via some sort of commitment ceremony in place of Kiddushin – the religious marriage ceremony.

That he is motivated by compassion does not make Rabbi Mlotek any less dangerous. His misguided passion notwithstanding.

One has to not only recognize the Torah’s prohibitions, one must do everything in one’s power to prevent people from violating them. Rabbi Mlotek is a Mesaye’ah - smoothing the path for such violations! There can be no equivocating. What he is doing is wrong. The opposite of what he should be doing as a rabbinic leader despite his compassionate intentions.

Where does that leave gay people? How then should we respond to them? I have said many times that we need to treat them like the human beings they are – created in the image of God like everyone else. They are not to be denigrated in any way. Gay Jews are Jews. Same as straight Jews.They should be fully accepted. Gay or straight it  is nobody’s business what people do behind closed doors. 

What we may not do is encourage sin. We are in fact required to do the opposite - discourage it. And clearly we may not honor it or celebrate it. Which is what gay activists strive for. And they have had much success in convincing the rest of the world in the rectitude of their cause. 

Being honest about the Torah’s obligations and prohibitions may not satisfy a gay couple who wishes to be treated exactly the same way a straight couple is. But if one wants to live a religious lifestyle, sacrifices are part of that game. For everyone, gay or staright. Judaism by definition involves sacrifices. We all have our own issues to overcome. Some of which are very great and some which are not. But when it comes to doing the will of God, the degree of difficulty does not determine whether or not we should comply. What counts is to try and do the will of God no matter how difficult. And keep trying even if we sometimes fail.

The problem is that in our world today obligations rarely spoken of. Today it’s all about rights. Convincing people today about the importance of obligations is therefore an almost impossible task.