Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Orthodox Approach to Gay and Transexual People

Pride Parade? Sexual identity should not define who you are (Wiki)
LGBT is the issue of our day.  How should the Jewish community relate to people that are either gay or transgender? I don’t think there is any other issue as challenging as this. We currently live in a culture that is doing its best to normalize people with this condition to the point of legitimizing physical changes that are clearly against Halacha. (e.g. sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and to a lesser but equally forbidden extent - dressing in clothing designed for members of the opposite sex.)  We live in a world that also increasingly normalizes the lifestyles of a gay couple that often (if not always) engages in sexual behavior that the Torah considers a capital crime.

One might think that the Torah is clear about what our attitude should be towards people like this. That we should condemn and reject them right along with the behavior they engage in. But as I have said numerous times, it is not as simple as that. In fact it is not simple at all. 

We must consider current knowledge about the nature of those people and weigh it in the context of all applicable Halacha.  This is significant for the many gay Jews that want to remain observant but struggle with their sexual identity or same sex  attractions. Add to this the tolerant attitude of the culture in which we live, and we have a complex situation that  raises unprecedented  challenges. 

On the one hand we cannot condone violations of Halacha. On the other hand we cannot ignore the pain of someone that struggles with these issues in a world that encourages them to live a lifestyle conducive to violating Halacha

As I have said many times  - the short answer to how we should respond to these challenges is to love the sinner and hate the sin.  We must treat each individual in the manner in which God requires of us. He created ‘man’ in His image (B'Tzelem Elokim) and we are to treat then that way. This does not mean we should tolerate those that flout Halacha, openly celebrate their their same sex attractions, and advocate lifestyles conducive to  sin. But it does mean that there ought to be a place in the Jewish community for those struggling with these issues. And treat them all with compassion, kindness and dignity.  

There  seems to be some confusion about that over at Cross Currents. Rabbi Yisrael Motzin had written an article that essentially agrees with these views. But it was countered by Rabbis, Gordimer and Menken as being too accepting - implying acceptance of even a lifestyle that violates Halacha. 

For his part, Rabbi Motzin admitted that is original article was not clear enough and therefore easily misconstrued that way. He tried to clarify his views and I think he did so successfully.

At the end of the day, I think (or at least I hope) that we all agree. We cannot endorse a lifestyle that is by its nature sinful and certainly not permit a surgical procedure like SRS. But we should certainly be compassionate about people that struggle with these issues.

In fact we are not allowed to reject people like this. We must understand and accept them – without accepting any sinful behavior that such conditions might entail. 

To illustrate the struggles of observant Jews like this, Rabbi Motzin published a letter he received in response to the Cross Currents debate on the subject.  Here in substantial part is what it said: 

Before giving over my own perspective, please allow me to say that (despite my particular struggles) I do not identify as part of the LGBT+ population as I do not believe that someone’s particular orientation or lack thereof needs to define our entire identity in relation to the world, I do not advocate for any changes to halacha…

I am someone who did everything “right.” I (dated) with the intention of finding a partner to raise a family with… and soon married. I then began learning in kollel, and have appeared content to my friends and rabbonim ever since. That, however, was not really the case. My wife and I realized very quickly that something was “off.”…

I immediately… began seeing a (frum) therapist who (was) unsuccessful. My wife and I decided that we would stay with each other following that experience and are still committed to raising a Torah family despite these challenges. Not everyone is prepared to do that, though. Once I realized that I would not be able to change my desires, I found a group of peers who were all in the same boat… Two things became clear as we all spoke with each other...

 First, we are a distinct minority. The vast majority of those in our situations either ended their marriages, ended their relationships with frum Yiddishkeit, or both. Secondly, we were all uncomfortable bringing our unique shaylas to our rabbonim or roshei yeshiva as we were convinced that we would just be written off or told to do (or not do) things we already knew…

I believe Rabbi Gordimer’s equation of the entire LBGTQ umbrella (again, a label we personally reject) with issurim and Rabbi Menken’s assumption that what we really care about is showing how “___phobic” the frum world is proved our worries correct...

We exist within your communities. Many of us neither want to leave, nor want to wear our struggles on our shoulders. But it’s hard to keep up either of those attitudes when we feel that we have no one to speak to about our struggles. Staying frum, for many of us, has become its own form of mesiras nefesh and it truly pains me to say that.

Rabbi Menken appended his response to the letter writer and suggested that his and Rabbi Gordimer’s views were mischaracterized. That in fact people like him should be welcomed into the greater Orthodox community. But in defending his views by castigating the letter writer I believe Rabbi Menken errs. 

In my view, that response shows a direct lack of empathy for someone that struggles with these issues. Does he think that this letter writer has some sort of gay agenda? Doesn’t the letter writer’s complete rejection of the LGBT  movement show the exact opposite?

Rabbi Menken doesn’t seem to show the slightest bit of compassion for the letter writer - which belies  his claim of sympathy. It’s one thing to say that such people should be accepted. Its is anther to actually act on it. In his zeal to defend his views he apparently decided to ignore the very thing he says we should do. He should have instead tried to understand why the letter writer felt that way. Instead  he chose to attack him. 

In my view if  he cannot be Dan L’Kaf Zechus then his words about acceptance fall flat.