Monday, February 05, 2024

Respect and Dignity Does Not Mean Celebration

Image from the YU Commentator
Even though I have done so many times, one of the most difficult subjects for me to discuss is homosexuality. That’s because of how this subject has evolved in the general culture from being a societal taboo to being celebrated. 

My views are based on Halacha. The Torah is very clear about sodomy. Homosexual sex is considered to be a capital offense by the Torah. And yet it is celebrated in the general culture.

The subject is brought up again by Yitzchak Graff in the YU Commentator. Therein he described how MO (Modern Orthodox) rabbis responded to this in the 90s when societal attitudes about homosexuality were changing:

In 1993, the Hebrew School of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) had grown to 35 students for the first time in its history. Now that it was eligible to march, it applied to participate in the Salute to Israel Parade that year. Beit Simchat Torah was not a typical synagogue, founded by gay and lesbian Jews to serve as a religious Jewish space where they would be fully accepted. 

The near universal response by virtually the entire MO (Modern Orthodox) rabbinate (even the left) was to reject anything that would  remotely show our approval of such a serious prohibition in the Torah. As such there was a call by Yeshiva University Roshei Yeshiva to boycott that parade if CBST was allowed to participate. Rav Ahron Soloveichik considered it so strong a violation of our values that he called it a ‘Yehorag V’Al Ya’avor’ - a cardinal sin! This is how that episode ended:

In the long run, the boycott did not prevent Beit Simchat Torah from marching in the parade... 

Though the 1993 Israel Day Parade boycott failed to maintain its initial successes in subsequent years, it symbolically bolstered the Modern Orthodox community’s institutional homophobia. The community was now able to legitimize itself as a force that had the power to reverse social movements and restore traditional Jewish sexual morality.   

Graff’s unfortunate use of the word ‘homophobia’ is indicative of how far cultural acceptance of homosexuality has become. 

Although I do wish that society reflected the sexual mores of the bible that once guided the American public, I am not trying to impose my religious views on them. I am simply stating what the Jewish  attitude about homosexuality should be. 

How should an observant Jew respond to behavior that was once considered so taboo that there were laws against it - and is now not only accepted but celebrated? The Torah is very clear. Sodomy is a capital crime. There is no explaining your way out of that.

And yet it seems that there is scientific evidence that SSA cannot be changed. The scientific ‘jury’ may still out about whether it is nature (a gay gene?) or nurture (some early life experience or experiences). What seems to be certain, however, is that one’s sexual orientation is unalterable. It is set in stone

This brings up another very important Halacha. One must treat with dignity all human beings - created in God’s image with dignity and respect. We must separate the sin from the sinner. If one cannot change his physical or mental state, disparaging them for that is in and of itself a cardinal sin.

As I have said many times SSA is not a sin. What one does about it might be. If a homosexual commits sodomy, he has violated a cardinal sin of the Torah. There is no way out of that. It is not for us to punish them or hurt them. But if you believe that the Torah is the word of God, neither should it be celebrated

This is where I part company with the general culture. Societal evolution has taken us to a place where it isn’t just accepted. It is celebrated. We must not celebrate it. And that should not be considered  being homophobic as Graff suggests. It should instead be considered base Halacha.

Back in the 90s the thinking was not really to differentiate between the sin and the sinner. But I think we have to as a matter of Halacha.