Thursday, June 08, 2023

Pride in One's Character - Not Their Sexuality

Rabbi Jonathan Leener (YCT)
Yeshiva Chovevei Torah ordainee, Rabbi Jonathan Leener, has a kind heart. As the rabbi of the Modern Orthodox Prospect Heights Shul in Brooklyn, he has welcomed members of the LGBTQ+ community with open arms. He clearly understands what is at stake. Which is the very lives of so many LGBTQ people.

It is by now rather well known that LGBTQ people have a very high rate of suicide. It is compassion that surely motivates  him to have this warm and welcoming attitude  towards people that are still rejected by much (most?) of the Orthodox religious world. Rabbi Leener notes (correctly in my view) that this rejection is very much the trigger for the depression and high suicide rate of the LGBTQ community.  His goal is to change that unfortunate attitude from one of hating the sinner to loving the sinner, if not the sin. 

Rabbi Leener is not the only rabbi that has expressed sympathy for this community. Another Modern Orthodox rabbi, Efrem Goldberg has expressed similar sympathy. Which was precipitated by a devout member of his Shul who confessed to his own gender dysphoria. I count myself among rabbis like this. I too have great sympathy for their plight.

While I agree with Rabbi Leener’s attempt to reduce or even eliminate depression and suicide in the LGBTQ community, I cannot agree with his methods. We both understand the extent of the problem and would like to see an end to the harsh way many religious Orthodox Jews react to them. However, the idea of celebrating a mental condition that so often leads to sexual behavior that is one of the most sinful acts mentioned in the Torah goes too far. You cannot have a ‘Pride Kiddush’ as he just did. There is nothing to be proud about one’s sexual orientation. Whether it is gay or straight. I am not ‘proud’ of being a heterosexual. LGBTQ people need not be proud of theirs. Sexuality should not be our defining characteristic. 

But the LGBTQ community in a misguided attempt to rid this community of depression and suicide has decided to completely dismiss anything negative about it. Including the Torah’s prohibition to perform the sexual act mostly closely associated with gay people. For an Orthodox rabbi to completely ignore that prohibiton - even for the best of reasons is wrong.                                     

That is the difference between Rabbi Leener and me. Despite his admitted recognition of the negative attitude of the Torah to homosexuality, he completely ignores that by his well intentioned but misguided approach. It is irrational to advocate being proud of one sexuality when it entails behavior strictly prohibited by the Torah. One’s sexuality ought to stay private and not celebrated. regardless of what their sexual preferences are. 

If pride is the issue, then one’s character should be emphasized. That is what should be celebrated. Not sexuallty. So while I understand and even applaud Rabbi Leener’s compassion, He is completely wrong in advocating pride in who we are as sexual beings.

What about the the fact that depression and suicides are so high?  How do we deal with that?

That is more about educating the Orthodox religious public about having compassion and respect for fellow human beings and not judging them by their sexuality than it is about telling LGBTQ people to be proud. We all need to learn how to be sympathetic to people whose desires are biblically forbidden to be acted upon.  It id also important to make sure that anyone who suffers from depression or suicidal thoughts gets immediate professional help via qualified therapists. That is the right approach. We must never however celebrate being LGBTQ anymore then we would celebrate Chilul Shabbos. That is going a bridge too far.