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Pride Parade – part 2 (The more heated version of the debate)

My previous post about participation in and support off pride parade in Jerusalem sparked several other debates. Below is probably the most heated one. I was uncertain whether to post only my responses (as in my previous post) or also opponent’s (regretfully, that would be the accurate term to use).

I decided to post both sides of the debate. This is for 2 reasons:

1. He makes some interesting points and brings up some arguments I had not thought of previously, or at least not in that way. I think they are worthy of consideration even if I disagree with them.

2. More importantly, because the tone and some of the language used is a very good example and expression of much of today’s progressive discourse in general and queer discourse in particular. A sense that part of being right comes from vilifying your opponent and/or from being a victim. It is a shame, as I do believe he had some interesting arguments, which were shadowed by some of the terminology and tone he chose to use.

Several people have messaged me privately that they would have liked to “like” and “share” my original post as they felt it articulated their own beliefs on the matter but are hesitant to do so for fear of being accused of intolerance or worse and from fear of losing friends. It is sad and a bit scary to me that we have reached a point where people are made to be scared to express their opinions and engage in intellectual debate, and in the name of “tolerance”, none the less. That is part of the reason I feel it is important for me to continue having these debates – and posting them.

 

As a response to my original post he wrote:

Wow. I’ve read a lot of silly things about Pride, but Yair’s piece takes the cake. Pride is about cultivating a collective self-esteem for an identity that is too often met with familial, communal, historic and systemic rejection. Ask any LGBTQ person and they will tell you that there was one point in their life where they thought that if the people around them knew their truth, they would be rejected or worse. This ubiquitous experience stays with you forever, and Pride is about combating it with a celebration of self-worth. Full stop. In places like Jerusalem, where LGBTQ children, teens and adults are being rejected by their families and communities every day, Pride is even more important. Research shows that it is actually the lack of self-esteem about one’s sexuality that is correlated with sexual compulsion, risky behavior, self-harm and promiscuity. Events like Pride fight against that and helps to rebuild a stronger sense of dignity so that we have the well-being to make more moral, ethical, and accountable decisions. So if you were really worried about sinful behavior, I suggest being concerned about LGBTQ people not having access to Pride events.
Furthermore, as a mental health professional who takes his whole youth group to pride every year, I am physically disgusted by the suggestion that you think these 13 and 14 year old’s are celebrating their “sexual behavior”. STOP SEXUALIZING LGBTQ CHILDREN!

Yair Spitz, While I appreciate any musing about a subject, I would be embarrassed to share such a sophomoric analysis on a subject that you clearly know very little about. For more info about the importance of Pride to LGBTQ youth, check our website.

I responded:

One of the points I was trying to get across is that I disagree with the fundamental concept of sexual identity. Meaning, I believe that many people have decided to allow it to define them but I am claiming that that is a choice. A sexual attraction very well may not be a choice but allowing that to define oneself is. One can choose – consciously or unconsciously – which biological and emotional tendencies and which actions define him and impact their self-esteem and feeling of self-worth. If you disagree – I’d be happy to hear why.

That have been said, I do think that in a culture which idealizes being “true” to one’s natural state (meaning, not restricting it) and extreme individualism of “just be who you are”, it is easy to understand why sexuality has become such an integral part of peoples sense of identity. Much of this is diametrically opposed to how I understand the traditional Jewish approach to the meaning and purpose of human and Jewish life. If you disagree with the traditional Jewish approach – that is of course absolutely fine. It would be important to define those differences to understand where each of us is coming from. If you think your approach to this topic is consistent with the traditional Jewish approach – I’d be happy to hear how.
This also has to do with your comment about self-esteem. Lack of, or low, self-esteem is the cause of at-risk behavior for most teens, whether they are struggling with their sexuality, the way they look or the feeling that they are a failure in school. When people are surrounded by a culture in which sexualization and even romanticism is on every billboard, every movie, every show, etc… it indeed makes a lot of sense that this will become the litmus test by which they measure themselves and their self-worth.
I did not say that 13 and 14 year old’s are celebrating their sexual behavior. You either misunderstood what I wrote or are grossly misrepresenting it. I would hope that you wouldn’t need to misrepresent your opponent’s arguments in order to argue your own. Additionally, I would hope that when you think about the topic yourself, or discuss it with your students, you have more to say about the opposing opinions than to dismiss them as nothing more than ‘silly’, ‘sophomoric’ and ‘disgusting’. This is because:

1. It is false. Is it not possible that I have spoken to students and extended family of mine who are openly gay and am aware of their struggles and challenges? and that I have read literature on the topic and simply disagree with many of their premises?

2. It cuts off any possibility of exchange of ideas – in either direction, something I imagine you would like to see happen – at least in one direction.

I most definitely do try to do better. I simply think we have very different understandings of what “better” is, including when it comes to this topic.

To which he responded:

First of all, the whole “I know about race because I spoke to a black person” narrative may work in your circles, but in intelligent society, those kinds of statements are laughable. I’m sure you spoke to a gay, I hope it was lovely.  With respect to your other “points”, I honestly have no idea what you are talking about (and likely neither do you). LGBTQ people have these identities foisted on them because they live in a world where, at best everyone is assumed to be straight and cis, and at worse, you are bullied and rejected if you appear to be anything but straight and cis. Do you think any of us wanted to feel different, alone and rejected? Again, what are you talking about?!?

LGBTQ children and teens are being made to feel bad about themselves because of their sexual orientation and gender identity…so it stands to reason that the building of collective self esteem healing should begin there. Most queer people come out far before they engage in any sexual behavior. And they certainly attend pride events far before they ever engage in any sexual behavior. Their identities are not formed around sexual desire, but the experience of being different than the assumed norm when it comes to something as essential as sexuality and gender. This is an important distinction that you seem to be missing. My identity, and my pride is not at all rooted in what I find sexually arousing.
The whole idea of LGBTQ Pride is the liberation from labels, not restricting ourselves to framings generated in a world where people like us had little say. Our queerness is non-binary, and much more related to the Judaic-german concept of dialectic – than words used for diagnoses. We are at once the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom. If you don’t get that, then you simply don’t get the LGBTQ experience…and probably shouldn’t write about it…yet.

 

I responded:

You claimed I knew very little about the subject. I responded that I know, have spoken and counseled individuals who see themselves as gay. I tell you I have read at least some of the literature people in this thread are referring to and your response is, basically – “you sound just like a racist”. I don’t see how you can claim both sides of the argument. I ask again – is it just completely inconceivable to you that someone may know and may have spoken to many gay people and empathizes with them and has read queer literature and still disagree with the philosophical, ideological and moral foundations of queer culture?

As I have written previously, my observations and main argument is not of how individual people feel or even act. My observations and argument are about LGBTQ culture. And I will add – the conflict it can, and many times does, cause between one, specific, aspect of young people’s identity and other parts of their identity – their family, their religious faith and belief, their community, their heritage, etc…   I continue to argue that the two – individual gay identity and LGBTQ culture – are two very distinct things. You are quite obviously of the opinion that the two are inseparable. I understand the argument but disagree with it, because of my differing understanding of what constitutes identity, in general, and the role LGBTQ culture plays in amplifying one part of it at the expense of the others, which stems – among other things – from a certain ideology and political stance. I’m sorry I am not able to better explain my point, at least enough for you to realize the possibility of their being merit to an opposing approach to the matter. Maybe more acceptance and tolerance would be helpful on both sides of the isle.

To which he responded:

As a mental health professional who specializes in working with this population, it terrifies me that you “counseled individuals who see themselves as gay”. I wonder if they refer to you as “an individual who sees himself as Yair”? I mean seriously, are you even aware of how rude and insulting you sound by framing your reference like that? Let me be clear, from your writing it is evident that you know very little about both LGBTQ identity and LGBTQ Culture. This fabricated distinction that you seem to be peddling as a false dichotomy is meaningless. To weasel out, now you want to reduce your argument to semantics. I’ve graded many a paper from students who try to pass off these amateur mistakes as substantial rhetoric. It doesn’t get passed me then, and it isn’t now.

We don’t have to accept or tolerate bad arguments or ignorance. We certainly do not have to tolerate it when it is coming from a person with no personal stake in the matter who is waxing recklessly about our very value, self worth and emotional well-being. You wouldn’t tolerate it when a non Jew starts telling you what your Jewish Identity means and denying your Jewish name, the same way you should not tolerate it when a man tells a woman what being a woman is all about. This is not a debate, this is me trying to teach you something and you sitting in your ill informed foolishness. When non Jews come for and question your Jewish flag, your right to your own Jeowsh name, your right to celebrate as a Jew, and your entitlement to some pride in your Jewish heritage, perhaps you might begin to grasp that casually musing about whether other people should have or have no access to basic dignity…is obnoxious.

For the record, yes readers, the person who has advocated to strip other people’s rights away, the person who is questioning other people’s identities, the person who broadly dismisses other people’s culture… is the one now asking for tolerance. Typical.

 

I responded

1. Where did you see me write anything about stripping people’s rights?

2. I fear you misunderstood my comment about tolerance. I was not asking you to be tolerant of me or my opinions for my sake. I am not insulted by your dismissiveness. Really. I’m not. I didn’t imagine it would be possible to have such conversations on social media without being called names and dismissed. My comment about tolerance was for your own sake as I find that it usually serves the argument of the side exhibiting it and enables dialogue. Meaning, even if you have no hope in convincing me, I’d think you would want people reading these exchanges to have the best chance of understanding your actual arguments and not disregard you because of the rhetoric you choose to use.

At some point someone else responded to one of my comments saying:

We just finished reading Parshat Naso in which the woman suspected of adultery is dragged through a horrific ritual in order to prove or disprove her guilt. I would ask those haters when the last time was that they forced a woman to drink the Waters of Bitterness or stoned to death a rebellious son. Hypocrites all of them! They pick and choose whom to hate based upon their own fears and ignorance.

I responded:

When was the last time someone stoned to death a homosexual – or called to do so? Additionally, I’d be just as opposed to a parade of adulterers/adulterets celebrating their choice to commit adultery and calling on people to come out and support their right to do so. This, despite the fact that I don’t think there is anything unnatural about wanting to, and actually committing, adultery.

 

To which she responded

I must have struck a nerve or not have been clear in my statement. The point I was trying to make is that there were many biblical practices that when seen through a modern lens, we realize were abhorrent and beyond what we would tolerate as acceptable behavior today. Similarly, there are many practices which were deemed abhorrent in ancient times due to sociological misunderstandings, which today, we would find acceptable practices. when someone has a boo-boo on their arm, the high priest doesn’t come look at it and send them out of the community for a week anymore. Similarly, we understand the ancient sociological basis for the admonition against the practice of homosexuality and today, understand the errors of that prohibition. Okay! Flame away!

I responded:

We are quite obviously coming to this discussion with very different assumptions and beliefs about the Torah in general and its relevance, in particular. There is no Mitzvah I would see, let alone define, as abhorrent.
Similarly, I wholly disagree with your assumption that the content of the Torah and the Mitzvot are based on the societal norms of the time. I am operating from a very different assumption and belief; the one which is consistent with Jewish tradition throughout history – 1. that the Torah was given by Hashem and is not a human creation or just “divinely inspired” 2. (Because of point 1) The Torah and the Mitzvot are not based on the societal norms of the time it was given, rather is based on societal norms as they should be.
This have been said, there is much to discuss regarding the penal system of the Torah – and the rabbis of the Talmud and others have done so at length. For example – the discussion regarding a rebellious son and to what degree the Torah meant it as an actual punishment vs. a very severe warning sign. The fact that both opinions have been part of our literature for over 1500 years means that these two approaches play completing roles in the approach to the topic -the practical level which serves as a warning sign for parents and kids alike about the dangers and destructive nature of extreme rebelliousness and the theoretical level where such a thing could even warrant death.

This is just one possible explanation to one of the points you brought up. I chose it because it is the less politicized of the three but I believe there are similar ways to reconcile some of our modern sensitivities without dismissing and without putting ourselves in a place of passing moral judgment on our communal identity and heritage. Especially when it is that exact heritage which serves as the foundation and source of most, if not all, of the morals and ideals in whose name we are speaking,

I am sorry you chose to present Tzara’at is a mere “boo boo”. I have a feeling you know very well the amount of literature, ancient and modern, that discuss this disease and am uncertain why you feel the need to mock something that has been part of our tradition – in one way or another – for thousands of years.
As I stated, we seem to be speaking from two very different perspectives. Mine is rooted in what has been, consistently and wholly, the core moral and religious identity of Jewish tradition for thousands of years and through that has impacted and transformed Western Civilization’s and humanity’s moral identity and norms. I believe that we were able to do so because the Torah is divine and only because of its divine origin did it – and did we – succeed in it being so transformative. Unlike so many passing fashions of ideology which, over the years, have been adopted by many, claiming truth, justice and morality, just to fade away leaving little if any lasting impact on humanity. I’d be happy to understand what perspectives you are operating from.

At some point of this offshoot conversation, my original opponent joined in and wrote:

how in the world can you compare a pride parade to people who commit adultery? Is a pride Parade to you just a parade of people who commit anal sex and support their right to do so? Is that what the thousands of teens ages 12-18 are doing when they dance through the streets reclaiming their self worth? Are you that perverted that all you see is that when we celebrate our perseverance and community?

Are you even aware that the A in LGBTQIA stands for Asexuals?!?! Why would they be part of a parade about anal sex…or trans and intersex people for that matter?!?

The truth is: You have NO IDEA what you are talking about. The fact that you could even think that this analogy is apt, says everything.

To which I responded:

Why is it you assume that adultery is only about the act of having sex with someone other than one’s spouse? I mean this seriously. I am certain there are support systems and communities of people dealing with adultery dilemmas and the challenging relationships which drive them to choose the specific act. I am sure there are people who feel that once they have committed adultery this act defines them forever. There are people who see themselves as adulterers though they haven’t actually slept with anyone else.

I agree it isn’t a perfect analogy but I think it is a better one than you are presenting it…

And, just for the sake of accuracy, I am not the one who came up with the analogy. “Jane” tried pointing out that people treat the sins of adultery, rebelliousness and homosexuality very differently in order to make the point that people’s treatment of pride parade is motivated by simple hate that is excused through religion or fake ideology.

To that I responded that I would oppose public celebrations of the legitimacy of those prohibitions just the same. Which I would. First and foremost, this would be aimed internally, at people from among my own community – Orthodox and Observant Jews – who support or are considering to support pride parade. If you look back at where the conversation began, you will see this was my starting point.

Indeed, someone coming from a fundamentally different world view (which I don’t know to say if you are or aren’t) would find many of the things I am saying quite objectionable and ill-informed.

But, like you, I am writing less with the expectation to change your mind and more for the sake of others following these conversations and may be looking to form their own opinions on the matter.

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Pride Parade – a critical debate about religious acceptance

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.


Post #1  

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.

Post #2

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.


Post #3

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]

Post #4

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.


Post #5

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?


Post #6

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.

 

Post #7

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.

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Modern Orthodoxy Vs. Religious Zionism (Part 2)

It has been over 3 years since my first discussion on the topic of Modern Orthodoxy Vs. Religious Zionism and I have been mulling over it ever since. In recent months a public debate has arisen in Israel surrounding the question “is there such a thing as Religious-Zionist Psika”. At the same time, in the US the debate between Modern Orthodoxy and newly named “Open Orthodoxy” continues to bubble in the background of many public debates. Though none of these terms are “real” terms, meaning, terms which have Halachik-legal definitions they are ideologies and outlooks which deeply effect both societal norms and, I would argue, the Halachik approaches and decisions of rabbis in these communities. (I am aware that there are those who would strongly disagree with my premise that Halachik deciscors are influenced by predisposed ideologies and rather hold that they interpret the Halachik sources based exclusively on an objective Halachik understanding. Though there is room for a discussion whether that should or should not, ideally, be the case – or even possible – I believe it is very naive to pretend that is not the reality of the Halachik world today, especially when it comes to socially sensitive topics).

This in mind, I will do my best to define the terms based on living in both communities – both in Israel and North America – having studied directly from several prominent rabbis from both communities and having learned and read extensively from their Torahs and writings.

Modern Orthodoxy is what it sounds like – an Orthodox outlook which is informed by and responds to Modernity, seeing value in the phenomena. These include, among other things, the recognition – and value – in the change in the status of women in society, the necessity – and value – of modern scholarship and study, and the positive approach towards the State of Israel. According to this approach, Zionism is just one more phenomena which is a positive outcome of Modernity and as such – we have a positive and inclusive approach to it as part of our Orthodox life. The degree to which ones Orthodoxy is effected – and in what way – by their Modernity seems to be just that – a difference of degree (The baseline seems to be “To what degree does this phenomena fit with our Orthodoxy”? with some taking it a bit further asking “can we make it fit enough?” while some go even further stating “how can we make it fit, period”).

Religious Zionism, on the other hand, is not exactly what it sounds like. Religious Zionism is not the combination of 2 things and is not the relationship between 2 competing ideals. Religious Zionism sees itself as THE Zionism and as THE (Jewish) Religion; a religion which is one in the same with “true” Zionism – the existence of the Jewish People as a Priestly Kingdom and a Holly Nation, meaning – the life of the collective that is The Jewish People  in the Land of Israel according to the Torah of Israel. According to this approach one of the vehicles, or catalysts, to the re-emergence of the Jewish collective is Modernity. But Modernity is not the root cause of political Zionism and the State of Israel. The divine destiny of The Jewish People is. Modernity allowed for that destiny to materialize, almost like a stage which has – finally – been completed for actors who have been practicing for all too long. Therefore, the question that is always in the background of RZ discussions – both ideological and Halachik – is “what is the essentialist character and destiny of Am Yisrael and the best way to realize it?” Modernity is just one more tool through which this may be done.

Meaning, Modern Orthodoxy values Zionism as one more product of Modernity while Religious Zionism has no inherent stance on Modernity at all. This can explain the fact that, while there are many similarities between the communities, there are several key issues they usually find themselves almost completely opposed on.

A few examples:

  1. Tzniut – the prevailing Modern Ortodox approach puts more of an emphasis on the balance in ones individual life between internal and external beauty and spirituality and the exclusivity of the physical relationship to building a unique bond with ones spouse. The prevailing Religious Zionist approach puts more of an emphasis on צניעות as a national characteristic which distinguishes us from other nations, building strong families, which builds a strong and holly nation. As a result of this difference, the Tzniut norms in Religious Zionist communities is higher with many Religious Zionist rabbis holding Halachik approaches – for both men and women – more similar to those of Satmer than those of the Modern Orthodox community. (this also accounts for the growing phenomena of both young men and women in the Religious Zionist community in Israel who have developed unique dress styles, which are both צנוע but also distinct from other cultures, especially Western culture. In a bit of a reverse logic, this also accounts for the fact that, in practicality, there seems to be more of a lax approach among educators and teens in Religious Zionism towards the actual observance of these higher standards, which is a result of the fact that the core educational emphases are different).
  2. Shmita – the prevailing Modern Orthodox approach is that Shmita is one more Mitzvah which the individual Jew should be on the “safe side of”, leading to many Modern Orthodox rabbis (especially in America) to beware of היתר מכירה and אוצר בית דין. The Religious Zionist approach, however, sees Shmita as a test case for the collective observance of a Mitzvah that defines the return to The Land. New factors have been added into the equation, such as the effect Shmita will have on Israeli agriculture and Israeli financial independence. As a result there is a strong endorsement of היתר מכירה and אוצר בית דין whereas יבול נוכרי is treated as אסור, almost as Treif.
  3. Settling the Land of Israel – The prevailing Modern Orthodox approach is that living in the Land of Israel is A Mitzvah which we are once again fortunate to be able to observe in our generation – if you are able to. In the Religious Zionist world, on the other hand, it is seen as the Mitzvah of our generations, as it is the foundation for the realization of the destiny of The Jewish People which is unfolding in front of our eyes. It is seen as as significant to what it means to be Jewish as Shabbat and Kashrut, possibly even more so. This also accounts for another difference – the question of “Land for Peace”. A fairly common approach within the Modern Orthodox world is that, on a theoretical level, if peace with the Palestinians were possible portions of the land should be given in exchange. The predominant approach in the Religious Zionist community and its rabbinic circles sees the mere suggestion as Jewishly repugnant.

Other examples include topics as varied as “family planning” and contraceptives, the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut as a religious holiday (including shaving during Sfira), the attitude towards the Conservative and Reform movements, the status of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, reliance on non Mehadrin Kashrut and the Halachik weight of the plight and voices of the various “others” within the community. By no means do these differences always translate into Modern Orthodox – lenient, Religious Zionist – stringent. The last 2 are good examples of the reverse. Also, by no means do these differences translate into Modern Orthodox – North America rabbis and communities, Religious Zionist – Israeli rabbis and communities. There are plenty of rabbis and communities in Israel who have strong Modern Orthodox leanings, be it because they originate from Modern Orthodox communities in the US or have adopted a Modern Orthodox outlook after being exposed and influenced by some of its proponents.

I admit that this is an oversimplification of a variety of issues and questions which deserve a much more individualized discussion. Many rabbis, including some leading authorities, would not fit so snugly into the boxes I have depicted here and you will find their Halachik rulings crossing the ideological lines just drawn. Individual rabbis will inevitably find themselves taking a stance on each topic based on their understanding of the relevant sources, their tradition of Psika and their evaluation of reality. Even so, I still believe that what has been laid out here explains the major trends and differences between the communities, as best evident in their extremes as well as by the changes the communities have experienced in the past few decades.

Why is this discussion important?

There is a mistaken thought that the Modern Orthodox community in the US and the Religious Zionist community in Israel are the same community with minor, cultural, differences. That they are 2 sides of the same coin with the 2 sides just being the sides of the Atlantic Ocean; that Religious Zionism is the Israeli version of Modern Orthodoxy and that Modern Orthodoxy is the American version of Religious Zionism. That is not true. (Just ask Americn Olim who live anywhere in Israel other than Gush Etzion, Chashmonaim and certain parts of Yerushalaim and Modi’in). There is, of course, a lot of overlap and there are many people – and rabbis – who embody a combination in their personalities and their Torah approach but, the whole context and orientation of the communities are different.

This, I believe, is a reason why the Religious Zionist community in Israel is not only continuously growing in numbers but have, arguably, become the most influential force in Israel society today, while the Modern Orthodox community in the US seems stagnant, not only in its size but more importantly, by a sense of paralysis due to the dialectic values and groups it has difficulty continuing to encompass (some great insights on the state of Modern Orthodoxy in the US by Prof. Jack Wertheimer can be read here).

In North America, recognizing the differences can, hopefully, encourage the Modern Orthodox community to reflect and realize what is missing from its ideology, what emphases are lacking from its internal discourse and more importantly – from its educational philosophy and institutions, a topic I hope to explore soon in a separate post.

In Israel, on the other hand, this can help explain some of the vocal debates in recent years between what seem to be different factions within the Religious Zionist community, with some having a far more Modern Orthodox approach to modernity – and much that comes with it – while others, as stated, having no inherent approach to it at all.

On a personal note, when trying to figure out my own “place” in this discussion I have found myself, over the years, on what seemed to be conflicting sides of some of the specific issues. I have finally understood why. When it comes to my private life – I am Modern Orthodox but when it comes to the public sphere – I am a Religious Zionist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 parables about living in Galut today

To what is it similar?

1. To a man who was punished and chained beside a ferocious attack dog. At times, the dog would bark at the man or maul him while at other times, he would ignore him completely, busying himself by barking at the other dogs, warding them off. Because of his chains, all the man could do was cower in fear and pray to God the dog would not notice him, would not attack and maul him, rather continue barking at the surrounding dogs. After every such prayer, when no dog (the surrounding one or the one he was chained next to) would attack the man, he would say to the dog “good dog! good dog!”. After many such days, someone broke the man’s chains. The man had became so accustomed to living beside the ferocious dog, cowering before it, praying not to be mauled by it and retorting “Good dog! Good dog!”, that instead of getting up and fleeing he just remained where he was. And until today one can find the unchained man laying on the filthy ground beside the vicious attack dog, eating left over scraps and once a week saying: “please God, save me from this good doggie! please don’t let him – or any other dog – maul me to death this weak!”

2. To a man in Germany saying the prayer for “his” government in 1932. (In Germany, some communities continued saying the “prayer for the government” until November of 1938. In Norway – until the closing of the last Shul in 1942. In Denmark – until Rosh Hshanah of 1943. In Antwerp – until late 1941, even after the government surrendered to the Nazis. In France – until the summer of 1942 when the mass deportations began. In Italy – until 1938 with the publication of the “race laws”. In Hungary – until the spring of 1944, when mass deportations began as well. And in Austria – some communities continued praying for the welfare of “their” government until the end of the war.

3. To a man who comes to a formal event and is introduced to a a colleague’s wife. The colleague says to the man: “what do you think of my wife?”. “She seems very nice”, says the man blandly. “it’s ok” says the woman, “Take a nice long look. Stare at me. I don’t mind. Tell me – and everyone else – how beautiful and attractive I am. Wouldn’t you want to spend more time with me? don’t worry – I take it as a complement!”. Not wanting to be disrespectful, the man does as he is told. He looks, he stares, he ogles. The more he looks and the more they speak the more mesmerized he is by her. “If you really think I’m pretty” she exclaims, “prove it and sing me a love song”. Without hesitation the man begins to sing. As he completes his song for his friends wife, his own wife appears besides him and asks: “honey, what’s going on here? did I just hear you sing this woman a love song?” “Don’t worry sweetie” he replies. You look pretty and attractive too. Didn’t I buy you those beautiful cloths and Jewelry you’re wearing? didn’t I spend a whole day just with you last week? here; I’ll sing you a love song too. But please understand that when I’m done singing your song – I still plan on sleeping at her place tonight”.

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It’s time to rethink Slichot!

I’ve always found Slichot (Penitential Prayers) difficult for a variety of reasons: the poetic (and archaic) language of the Piyutim, the speed in which they are usually said, the rote recitation of something intended to be contemplative and even the challenging hours of when they are traditionally said. I’ve always felt there was a bit of a charade going on during Slichot, with a false sense of piety replacing the individual self reflection which the Slichot are meant to express and evoke.

This year, my uneasiness with the Slichot – as it is commonly practiced – has become even greater after deciding to take a closer look at the Piyutim. Though the most important component of Slichot is the recitation of “the 13 attributes of mercy” the Piyutim have come to play an important role as well. Written primarily between the 11th and 14th century, the Piyutim focus on sin and confession, remorse and punishment as well as hope for forgiveness and redemption. Many of them combine ‘scenes’ from Tanach, Misdrah as well as references to historical events. Seemingly, these are perfect features to be focusing on as interludes between the 13 attributes, as they confront us with a picture of ourselves – as individuals and a community – and what is lacking. Even if the language and rhyming are difficult to understand, one can still hopefully get the general idea. And even if one doesn’t, I believe there is (or can be) value in the ceremony for the sake of the ceremony – continuing a long standing tradition, and the feeling of additional spiritual effort as individuals and a community.

Until I started reading the Piyutim and not just saying them in a mantra-like fashion. Just a few, of many, examples (the translations are my own): On the first night we say: “מאז ועד עתה אנו נידחים נהרגים נשחטים ונטבחים. שורדנו מתי מעט בין קוצים כסוחים, עיננו כלות בלי מצוא רווחים”-“And from then until now we are dispersed, murdered, slaughtered, and butchered. In small numbers we have survived among dead thorns (the nations) our eyes yearn without finding any relief”.

On the second night we say: זעם כרגע ועתה להיפוך זרי קודש עתה לשיפוך חביבת רע כקרן הפוך חשובה עזובה כקורעת בפוך – “A moments anger is now reversed (to longstanding anger) holly crowns are now spilled (the crowns of Torah, priesthood and kingship are now desecrated). A beloved friend (Am Yisrael) like a ‘vessel of beauty’, now considered as one who is deserted and ‘rips their clothes’ (as a prostitute)”.

On the third night: “כל היום עליך הרוגים לכפרה אין אנו משיגים” – “the entire day we are killed on you(r name because) we have not achieved atonement”. The following Piyut states: “פחודים הם מכל צרות ממחרפיהם ומלוחציהם” – “they are afraid of all calamities, of those who curse and oppress them”.1919 June Brit Jews march vs Polish pogroms

On the fourth night: “איה כל נפלאותיך הגדולות והנוראות אשר ספרו לנו אבותנו ה’ צבאות”  – “where are all your great and terrible wonders(!) which our forefathers told us about Hashem of Hosts”. A few stanzas later: “מעת לעת צרתי מרובה” – “from day to day our plight increases”.

On the fifth night: “איויתיך קיויתיך מארץ מרחקים” – “I yearn and hope for you from a distant land”. In the following Piyut: “והם שחים ומושפלים עד מאד מהר יקדמונו רחמיך כי דלונו מאד” – “and they are exceedingly lowly and disgraced, may your mercy come hastily because we are dwindled (and cannot bare the hardship of exile)”.

On the sixth night: “ארכו הימים ודבר חזון ארמון נוטש וחדל פרזון” – “Lengthened are the days (of exile) and (lack of fulfillment of) words of redemption. The palace-deserted (Beit Hamikdash) and open cities (of Israel) – have ceased”.

On the seventh day: “מתי תחיינו ומתהומות תעלנו” – “When will you revive us and bring us up (to the land) from the depths (of exile”.

On Erev Rosh Hashana: “העיר הקודש והמחוזות היו לחרפה ולביזות וכל מחמדיה טבועות וגנוזות ואין שיור רק התורה הזאת” – “The holy city and its suburbs have been disgraced, all its treasures sunk and hidden and there is nothing left but this Torah”.

The common thread to all these quotes (and there are many more) is this: how can they possibly be uttered in today’s day and age? how are they not the gravest of insults and show of ungratefulness towards Hashem, who has – in this generation -brought us back to the Land of Israel, to sovereignty, to military and economic self sufficiency, to the flourishing of agriculture, Torah scholarship and technological advances? in short – to redemption? These statements are not being said in past tense. They are being said in the same fashion in which they were written – as a reflection of the current state of the Jewish People. As if nothing has changed. Is there a greater חוצפה כלפי שמיא than that? How can the denial of Hashem’s Chessed be expected to serve as a tool of self reflection and repentance? How can one hope to get close to Hashem through ingratitude?

סמל מדינת ישראל=ויקיפדיה---

Of course it is important to always remember the hardships we experiences and their causes. Of course not everything has been rectified but – on Pesach, would we consider for even a second saying עבדים היינו לפרעה במצרים (we were slaves in Egypt) without adding ויוציאנו ה’ אלוהנו משם ביד חזקה (and Hashem our God took us out of there with a strong arm)? Would we fathom to only discuss the terrible slavery without the redemption that followed? We are not talking about formal Tfilot and prayers which have strict rules and warnings about change (although I most definitely do not recite the traditional version of נחם on Tisha B’av but that is a topic for a separate post), rather on Piyutim, which are not the central part of Slichot which in itself does not have nearly the status of formal Tfila (even if it is fashioned after its model).

The are 2 possibilities I can think of for how people can continue saying these Piyutim, or at least sentences of these sort in the Piyutim:

Option 1 – People don’t pay attention, or mean, what they say in Tfila, let alone in Slichot.

Option 2 – People choose (knowingly or not) to stay in a state of perpetual trauma. A psychosis, in which ghosts of the past are conjured into their perception reality. (Why would people do this? is it an escape mechanism for not having to deal with the truth and the obligations that would bring with it? is it an emotional inability to process the truth with its challenge of the familiar? maybe a topic for a different post).

Either way – neither of these possibilities bode well for us as we enter The Days of Awe, days which require sincerity towards ourselves and sincerity towards Hashem, days, during which we spend hours in Tfila, speaking to Hashem and to ourselves about what is true and what is false about our past, present and future.

 

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