A close friend of mine, who is also a very respected and successful educator, posted support on Facebook last week for the pride parade in Jerusalem. A lengthy and healthy discussion ensued between myself and several of his Facebook followers.
Since my posts on the matter were responses to other people’s comments, they don’t necessarily constitute a full, coherent system of thought on the question of ‘what should be our attitude – as Orthodox Jews – to pride parade and LBGTQ culture’. I hope to one day soon create such an essay but, for the time being, I think people may find interest in these posts. I have received many responses from people saying they feel it has helped them articulate their own opinions better. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with what I write, I hope you will see there is at least a legitimate and logical argument for a conservative approach of opposing pride parade without immediately suspecting ones’ moral character.
Please feel free to comment, question and argue as well as to share positive feedback. Despite how loaded the topic is, I think everyone benefits from it only if it is done in a constructive manner.
I have difficulty accepting your call to publicly support the pride parade in Jerusalem this week. I fully accept individual people but I, as an observant and believing Jew, do not accept – and resent the expectation of me to accept – a way of life which the Torah (and I) understand as being a sin and wrong.
It is like expecting me to be accepting of a flag – and parade – recognizing the legitimacy or rights of adulterers or people who engage in incest. They have feelings, they have rights, some of them even have tragic stories and circumstances but the idea that we as a Torah society should accept the community of adulterers, or community of incestuous couples, or a parade of adulterers and parade of incestuous couples (in Jerusalem none the less) is a terrible thought to me. Even if an individual person who committed adultery might deserve understanding and acceptance – as an individual.
1. You write that there is no prohibition in the Torah to be gay. That depends on what you mean by gay. There is no prohibition to be attracted to men just like there is no prohibition to be attracted to sisters-in-law and no prohibition to be attracted to siblings and no prohibition to be attracted to animals. None of these are prohibitions and we find that all of them are referred to in Rabbinic literature as situations a person might find themselves prone to in certain situations.
There is a prohibition, however, to act on these impulses, even if every single one of them is 100% natural and harms no one. It is a Torah prohibition for a man to have sexual relations with another man. Period. No way around it, even if they are truly and honestly in love and biologically and emotionally attracted to each other. It is a prohibition for a brother to have sexual relations with his sister. Period. No way around it, even if they are truly and honestly in love and biologically and emotionally attracted to each other.
And as I said – though I may be sympathetic and accepting towards an individual who chooses to do a prohibition, under no circumstances am I willing to accept the legitimacy of the sin itself.
For example, many of my (unmarried) students have girlfriends and have shared with me that they are involved in physical relationships with them, despite the severe prohibitions involved.
Did I dislike them because of this? No. Did I resent or hate them because of this? No. Did I still accept them as Jews and people? Of course. But if they were to come to me and say they want me to accept and be ok with the fact that they were having pre-marital sex with women who are Nidda and that I shouldn’t say it is wrong and they were to tell me that if I teach that it is wrong, or even believe that it is wrong, I am a bigot and that I am an intolerant person – that would be an entirely different thing.
And if they organized and marched demanding recognition as an oppressed minority – hormone raging teenagers with no religiously acceptable outlet – I would, of course, not accept it in the least. And I imagine neither would you.
2. I personally am (and believe Halacha is as well) a big believer in certain aspects of queer theory. I would argue that the Torah does not accept the concept of sexual orientation at all. That the Torah does not recognize categorizing people by their sexual attractions and that – as we find in numerous places in Chazal – anyone could, under certain circumstances, be sexually attracted – and engage in sexual relations – with anyone.
But, even if you don’t agree with me about this point, as I’ve previously stated – it doesn’t really matter, as Torah does not prohibit attraction and does not prohibit sexual orientation. It prohibits sexual acts.
By the way – why is incestuousness immoral? If 2 consenting adults, who happen to be siblings , or happen to be mother and son, fall in love with each other – something one could argue they may have no control over – why is it immoral? I am asking seriously.
3. You ask why I say it is so much worse in Jerusalem. Any public display of sin is a Chilul Hashem. And that is what this is. Thousands of people marching in the street proclaiming “it is ok to engage in homosexual sexual relations” and “saying that homosexual sexual acts are wrong is primitive and discriminatory”. This would be true everywhere. But doing so in the holy city of Jerusalem – how much more so. Everything in Jerusalem is amplified. Jerusalem is the place in which our relationship with Hashem and our divine destiny is at it’s peak. The Nevi’im are filled with rebuke about sins done – specifically in Jerusalem, and how public sinning defiles the streets of Jerusalem. A public display and proclamation of legitimacy for acts of sin/revolt in the king’s palace?
I would feel exactly the same if someone wanted to organize a parade and put up flags in Jerusalem celebrating the legitimacy of eating pork (also a natural drive) and expecting me to fall in line, despite me not trying to prevent individual people’s choice to do so in the privacy of their home.
4. Indeed I have had students over the years – male and female – who shared with me their deliberations and struggles on these topics. I believe that not a single one of them felt rejected or hated. On the contrary. To them as well I have explained the fundamental distinction:
There are 2 very different things: acceptance of an individual who struggles with their identity and the challenges of observing Halacha. Whether it is keeping Shabbat, respecting parents, being loyal to a spouse or homosexual attraction and acts – it is our duty and privilege to accept them as Jews and, to whatever degree we can, help them feel part of the community while – in a variety of ways – help them aspire and work towards a life void of sin.
But to accept a categorical lifestyle which has at its core something which is prohibited? To accept public displays of praise for Torah prohibitions? That is not about tolerance. That is about politics. I’ll accept every individual. I won’t accept being forced to accept an ideology which is counter to fundamental beliefs of what Torah defines as right and wrong. That is not tolerance. I’d sooner call it thought police coercion masquerading as liberalism.
Regarding your statement: “what happens when a person tells you that they’ll never be able to have any sort of deep romantic relationship with a person of the opposite sex? That is very different”
I am not sure I agree. I imagine there are many heterosexually identified people who are utterly convinced that they could not possibly have a romantic relationship with anyone but their spouse/partner. I am aware that it isn’t exactly the same things but, if we are judging things from the subjective perspective of the individual, I am not convinced it is that different either.
You write that homosexuality isn’t merely a sexual preference and that it ‘seeps very deeply into a person’s conception of themselves and their identity’. I am not an expert – or even a formal student – of sociology so I will phrase the following not as a statement, rather as a question: Considering we know as fact (and as logic would dictate as well) that homosexual drives, attractions and relations have been part of human nature throughout history and – to the best of my knowledge – until very recently there weren’t really frameworks for homosexual cohabitation, couple-hood and families, wouldn’t it then follow that seeing, or feeling – that one’s homosexuality ‘seeps very deeply into a their conception of themselves’ – is a choice one makes, be that choice a conscience or unconscious one (a-la social construct)?
Meaning, for thousands of years homosexuality existed merely as a sexual preference. I imagine some people found a way to live within normative frameworks of couple-hood while either repressing their tendencies or by leading double lives. During certain periods it may have been accepted to indulge in any and every type of sexual behavior. Sometimes with consent and, regretfully as we are aware, many times without.
One could argue that what I am saying could just as easily be applied to straight couples as well – that sex and couple-hood didn’t necessarily go together either; that romantic love and sexuality can – and have many times – been separate from each other.
I do understand the significance of what I just wrote and I am aware how objectionable it may sound, especially in this day and age. I am not advocating loveless, passionate-less marriages which are filled with cheating. Not in the least. What I am saying is that identifying sex and romance with one’s conception of self and core identity is not necessarily an objective reality as much as a fairly recent sociological development. And this is where I have my biggest issue. As I’ve stated above, I personally hold – and strongly believe this is most consistent with Torah – that defining and categorizing people based on their sexual drives is morally decadent. Be that definition straight, gay, bi-sexual, a-sexual or any other definition which attempts to reduce a human being to their the sexual activities that give them the most physical and emotional satisfaction.
There are sexual acts. Everyone and anyone can, theoretically be attracted to anyone. That is why all the following rules appear on the same 2-3 pages of Gemara:
A man and a women who are not married to each other should not be alone together in a secluded room. One man should not be alone with 2 women in a room together. 2 men used to be allowed to be secluded with a woman but at some point it became forbidden. Servants and children should not dine together without other adults there. Single men should not teach young children because of the married mothers who frequent the school house but also – 2 single men should not sleep together under the same blanket and a single man should not herd sheep. All of these prohibitions are for exactly the reasons one would think…
There are other such examples but the idea of all of them is the same – the sexual drive is powerful and could, under the right (or wrong…) circumstances lead to anyone being susceptible to sexual gratification and satisfaction with practically anyone else. The Gemara doesn’t seemed freaked out by any of these cases and seems to assume they are all part of what could be reasonably expected if one were left to their natural instincts. But to say that any of these acts defines a person as a separate type of person seems to me to minimize and reduce what it means to be human and – more pertinent to where this discussion began – politicize it. (A worthy, separate, discussion is – what is Chazal’s fundamental approach to sexuality in general. But suffice to say that their attitude is rooted in a very different understanding of human nature, purpose and destiny than the dominant approach in today’s culture).
I do not understand how you can say “I have the Torah that tells me certain things are simply not allowed… and yet I want you to be proud of who you are”. If a person was born with a heated temperament and is challenged not to yell at people and lose his temper – he should be proud of who he is as a short-tempered person? The idea that “God accepts us as we are and so should we” is, in my eyes not consistent with the traditional Jewish approach. We assume that we absolutely are not good enough as we are. From the moment we are infants we are taught to believe that “us as we are” is not enough. It is just the beginning and one must – and can – improve and better oneself. We must change, develop and grow to become more than our natural selves. Few things represent this more than the Brit Milah which, of course, is reflective of everything we are discussing.
And even if one could argue the importance of accepting oneself as they are at this very moment in order to be able to realistically work on self-improvement, that is very different than being proud of who they are as someone who is regularly doing something which is defined as a sin.
Be happy for being a human being, be happy for being a Jew, believe in yourself enough to aspire to be good and do good, etc… why should someone be proud in general and particularly of who they are romantically attracted to or like having sex with? And more importantly, why should they be parading it in public? This is where the cynic in me sees pride parade and pride culture in general as much more about politics than anything else. And worst of all, politics masquerading as something else entirely.
[After all of the harsh things I have written I will concede what I believe is an important point. I do think that many, many observant people do not come at the topic with “clean hands” (clean souls might be more accurate). Many say “it isn’t natural”, which is of course incorrect. Many think “it is disgusting”, which as we know can stem from anything from a puritan-style upbringing to fear of their own latent or repressed homo-erotic feelings or other issues I do not know to name. Too many treat it as some extra-ordinary sin, so much worse than any of the other sins mentioned in Torah. The attitude which treats it as so obscene an act and sin has mixed within it too much that, I believe, is not Torah. Too much of it is just good (or bad) old intolerance and fear of those that are different.
This is especially problematic when we are talking about actual people within our communities who face actual struggles and difficulties. These are ever-so-amplified by todays culture which bombards them day and night with the toxic mixture of “just be yourself”, “you are who you sleep with” and pride culture.
I do think educators and rabbis need to accept every individual person, every single Jew – as an individual – with open arms and an open heart. To help them – if they are interested – in growing and changing for the better throughout their life, even if some sins they will never be able to shake – whether it be their fault or almost entirely out of their hands. There are many such things in each of our lives. But I would argue there is very, very little between that and pride parade. I’d actually argue they are diametrically opposed.]
[An interesting offshoot of the main conversation developed and revolved around how LGBTQ individuals are treated in today’s society in general and in Israel in particular]
In what way are LBGTQ people in Israel – or anywhere else in the Western world – oppressed? What “shame, humiliation and homophobia do they encounter on a daily basis”? In today’s culture one gets celebrated when identifying as LBGTQ and humiliated when saying anything that even sounds like any type of criticism of LBGTQ culture. Really not sure what you are referring to.
Regretfully, hate crimes – as well as other random acts of violence – do indeed take place in every country in the world and within every society. That have been said, I was very specific in my phrasing – I was referring to the claim that gays in Israel are oppressed. Maybe we will disagree on what constitutes oppression but I meant that in Israel – as in most (if not all) Western countries – there is no institutional oppression, no laws against, LGBTQ individuals.
For example, in many Western countries around the world acts of antisemitism are committed every so often. Including in the US. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individual incidents a year. (It would be interesting to check, percentage-wise, against which minority group more hate crimes are committed – LGBTQ or Jews – considering their respective proportion in the society). Even so, these many attacks against Jews in no way translates into “Jews are oppressed in the US”.
There are no laws against being Jewish, dressing Jewish or acting Jewish (assuming there was such a thing as dressing or acting Jewish). There are no laws against being gay, dressing gay or acting gay (assuming there was such a thing as dressing or acting gay).
The fact that there are evil people out there – actual bigots and racists, sadists, criminals, and other violent people – that has always been true and will, regretfully, continue to be true. They tend to be equal opportunity types – they’ll beat on people who are gay, Jewish, Indian, Muslim, Christian, women, overweight, very tall, very short, their own children and any other person/persons who can facilitate their anger and cruelty.
Luckily, we do not evaluate our societies based on the behaviors of such individuals, rather first and foremost based on the laws and the accepted norms of the countries and societies in which we live as well as how society views and handles those who break from those laws and norms.
Unless you have a different definition, I stand by my question – where in Israel, or any other Western country – do you see that LGBTQ individuals are oppressed?
I am truly sorry and saddened to hear the way you were treated by a store vendor. I am quite certain that all decent people would, even those – like myself – who take great issue with pride parade. As I have outlined above, there are 2 completely different issues. The first being decent human behavior between one individual and another individual and the second, unrelated issue, being the political agenda and statement forwarded by pride parade.
That have been said, I would be happy to better understand what you are referring to in your second to last paragraph:
1. What are you referring to when you write that the Israeli government has “made the status of a quarter of its citizens lesser than Jews”? The only thing I can think this might be referring to is the “Nation-State law”. If that is what you are referring to, I fear you are misrepresenting it. That law does not lessen or discriminate against any individuals. Rather, it gives legal status to those things that define Israel as a Jewish State. Yes, this means that no other people – as a community – have communal, national rights in Israel. That is the founding principle of the State of Israel. Strangely enough, it had yet to be put into legislation.
2. You say you have seen on TV rabbis saying gays are perverts. Without, at the moment, getting into what they were saying, to whom they were saying it and what they were trying to achieve, I imagine that – like me – you saw it on TV in the context of it being condemned by practically everyone across the spectrum of Israeli society. They were not said by guests, invited respectfully to participate in panel discussions in TV studios. They were quotes and recordings presented in mainstream media as examples of primitive thought and deplorable educational messages. Not only that. For days, the media interviewed rabbi after rabbi, who was called upon (and most all agreed) to criticize those statements and wash their hands of those phrases.
To claim that those 2-3 statements by rabbis who said that gays are perverts in anyway represents Israeli society – or Orthodox rabbis as a whole – feels dishonest.
3. You write that the government has banned gay men from having families. I imagine you are referring to the surrogacy law. The surrogacy law is a far, far more complex issue than the question of “should gay men be able to have a family”. I would argue that it is only a small – and by no means the most important – aspect of it. Many, many of the most progressive countries in the world have severe restrictions on commercial surrogacy. (Countries in which commercial surrogacy is illegal: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Switzerland and UK. Countries in which commercial surrogacy is permitted: Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine). The primary reason for the prohibition in these many liberal countries is to protect underprivileged women who otherwise would be susceptible to selling their wombs or other people forcing them to do so. It has very little, if anything, to do with gay rights to adopt or bear children together. Yes, it is true that there is an overlap of the issues. Among other things because opening the option of surrogacy to include gay couples would highly increase the demand for surrogates, as their options for having children are far more limited than any other type of couple.
To say a law was passed in Israel to bans gay men from having families simply is not true. What happened was that the very restrictive law was not expanded to include them – as well as other peoples and groups. There is a very big difference between the two.
You claim it was a big Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s name) that there were so many people at the pride parade wearing Kippot. I think we may have very, very different definitions for what constitutes a Kiddush Hashem. The sources I draw my understanding of Kiddush Hashem from, are the contexts in which the Torah mentions Kdusha. Most of which surround refraining from natural, instinctive behaviors which are forbidden by the Torah, for variety of reasons (e.g. of appearances of Kedusha: having sexual relations with certain people, eating certain things, working certain times). I’d be interested in understanding how you understand Kdusha that would define participation in a pride parade as a Kiddush Hashem – and where you draw that understanding from.