Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A Well Intended Post that Lacks Clarity

Picture on Rabbi Ysoscher Katz's Facebook post
One of the most important elements of being a centrist (in any sense) is nuance – the ability to see and understand subtle differences in the meaning or expression of various concepts. This might make life somewhat difficult. Being black and white is a lot easier than making subtle distinctions. 

But in the search for Emes, subtlety might make the difference between knowing what is right and what is wrong. I mention this in light of a Facebook post by Rabbi  Yisoscher Katz with which I find myself agreeing - and yet am somewhat troubled by. 

The subject is homosexuality. His point in this context is to basically love the sinner as a function of God’s will. That it is not ours to judge an individual’s sexual proclivity. Our task is to see their humanity and to celebrate that without prejudice. To understand that every human being is created in the image of God and should be treated accordingly.  That mandate applies to all of humankind – no less to homosexuals. 

I obviously agree with him and have said so many times. As I often say, I am not God’s accountant. Neither should anyone else be. 

My  problem, however, is what Rabbi Katz doesn’t say. Which is the other half of the ‘Love the sinner’ quote: ‘Hate the sin.’ I don’t think he would necessarily disagree with that. The sin in this case is the sexual act most closely associated with homosexuals . 

I am not sure whether Rabbi Katz is among those that distort the interpretation of the prohibition – making that act permissible to homosexuals. But unless you are willing to upend every prohibition in the Torah that you don’t like using novel interpretations that render them meaningless - there is little doubt about the prohibition of that sexual act. It applies to everyone. For argument’s sake I will assume that Rabbi Katz does not subscribe to such novel interpretations and agrees that the Torah’s prohibition applies to everyone. That he didn’t explicitly say so in the post is therefore misleading. 

The post in question is based on a picture of one of the most common practices of Chabad Chasidim: Finding non-nonobservant Jews and placing Tefilin on them. In this case a Lubavitcher is shown winding Tefilin around the arm of a fellow wearing a ‘Pride’ blanket. Rabbi Katz praises Chabad’s commitment to ignoring the sinner and seeing only their humanity. To put it the way he does:

(T)his image illustrates the triumph of humanity over dogma, lived reality over abstract truths. 

I assume by dogma he means the typical way in which the biblical law is misinterpreted as forbidding homosexuality rather than the specific act associated with it. He correctly observes that many Orthodox Jews - especially on the right - do not make that distinction. That is hurtful and wrong. This Lubavitcher does not make that mistake. He not only see that fellow’s humanity, he sees his Jewish soul and does not judge him.   

Therein lies the problem I have with Rabbi Katz’s post. By not making the subtle distinction between the sin and the sinner he implies that the sin is permissible too. Although he later (in the comments section of the post) acknowledges that there is such a distinction he should have made that clear in the post itself. By not doing so he has done a disservice to the search for Emes.  

I don’t think that it was his intention. But an unintentional distortion is still a distortion.  Subtle differences must be made clear. It might hurt the gay community to make those distinctions. I’m sure they would prefer being seen as equal to heterosexuals in every respect – including how they express their love to their significant other. But that does not make ignoring that difference right. It instead might mislead some homosexuals into thinking it is permissible!

Which by the way is why I am against events like the Pride Parade. I realize that the purpose of these parades is to dispel negative attitudes homosexuals have about themselves and the negative attitude  others have about them. 

I agree that they should be treated with the dignity demanded by God about all of His creations. But a Pride Parade goes beyond that implying that those distinctions don’t matter. And when an Orthodox rabbi publicly supports such parades (as I assume Rabbi Katz does - for all the right reasons) it implies support of everything about them. Including sexual behavior explicitly forbidden by the Torah. 

We must make these kinds of distinctions if we are to be faithful to the word of God.  Not doing so in either direction - by seeming to permit the impermissible or condemning the sinner along with the sin  - does a disservice to God’s will.