Rainbow Flag

Many gay people, faced by the impenetrable wall of the prohibition against homosexuality, just give up on Judaism. This need not be so. But, even if we should find ourselves subject to every canard in the world, Torah-believing Jews will never change one letter of the Torah. And that Torah says that same-sex sexual relations are prohibited[1]. This is not the first time that Jews and Judaism went out on a limb against the mainstream of societal values; and it won’t be the last. From Abraham through Moses, Ezra through Maimonides, Jews have set their own moral standards. Man has been much better because of these quiet moral revolutionaries; and man will be much better off because of our stand on this issue as well.

There is nothing in the Torah to negate the possibility that people may be born with homosexual urges. Judaism accepts that the feelings of all gay people are real for them. The confusion of factual realities with moral ones, however, is an elementary mistake. That a whole civilization should accept that error with vigor is no compliment to the thinking of our age.

But let’s be clear. Judaism is opposed to defining people as gay. It is homosexual acts that are forbidden, not homosexual orientation. There is, in fact, no word in Judaism for a gay person per se. There are many “characters” within halacha, the prophet, the sinner, the sage, the convert. All have a unique legal (halachic status); the homosexual is not one of them. Judaism doesn’t define people based on sexual desire.

We ought to recognize that a significant number of gays are committed to being Torah-observant. Theirs is a great struggle, a struggle we can never presume to understand.

For a good deal of Jewish history, homosexuality was prevalent in the society around us. In recent times, Western society has again come to increasingly legitimize homosexuality for a variety of reasons. I for one, am totally unfazed by this. Why? Because, if you want to understand the secret of the eternity of the Jews, look to their Torah. The mystery of our survival lies in our ability to soar above history — to align ourselves with meta-history, rather than the moral trends of this or that century. The survival of the Jews cannot be explained by the normal rules of sociology, history or anthropology. But if we are to subject ourselves to the same rules of other civilizations, we will go their way. We will – as British historian Arnold Toynbee promised us – rise to our peak and then disappear as so much fluff.

In a dramatic message to the Jews, God in His Torah stated: “If you will subject yourselves to the vicissitudes of history (Hebrew: be’keri), then I will respond in kind. I will allow you to subject yourselves to normal historical processes. (Hebrew: V’halachti af ani emachem be’keri)”. But know that this will be a death sentence for you. Lose your uniqueness, and you lose the miracle of your survival. Normal historical rules predict your disappearance. And that is exactly what will happen.

There are urges, even overwhelming ones that are never cured; people learn to cope with them and they can learn control. Keeping halacha was never said to be easy, only right[2]. And it is not pick and choose. Once the Torah prohibits homosexuality, it must be faced as a challenge like any other. Some homosexuals will never overcome their urges[3], and indeed Judaism recognizes that many of our passions and desires that contradict the moral message of the Torah will be with us for the rest of our days. This does not mean that the battle should not be fought.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was reported to have said, “Halacha rejects the current proposition that sexual fulfillment is the summum bonum of life, arguing that a halachically ethical life often denies the heterosexual as well as the homosexual the possibility of total sexual fulfillment[4].”

This does not mean that that we are asking the gay person to deny his or her essential reality. As was stated by one great rabbi: You must refuse to deny your nature as a homosexual while at the same time refuse to deny your Jewishness[5].

There is a great deal of meaning in that for we are presuming that a gay person’s nature is not the only religious negative he or she has to overcome, but, as full-fledged members of the Jewish community[6], he or she brings some unique sensitivities to the table from which we can all benefit. Not only is it forbidden to discriminate against gays, but we ought to learn from what they have to offer.

At the same time a gay person has many other opportunities of finding meaning within a Torah life-style. He or she is no less Jewish than anyone else; he or she is no less beloved by God. He or she is no less capable of spiritual greatness and is held accountable by God to fulfill all of his or her potential[7].

Rabbi Aharon Feldman, a leading Torah teacher in the United States, wrote in a now famous – but originally privately composed – letter to an Orthodox man with homosexual desires:

Can a homosexual be expected to live as a celibate? I believe a Jewish homosexual can accomplish this if he decides that the Jewish people is his “wife and children.” It is possible to do this if he throws his every spare moment into devotion to the welfare of his people. There are many areas where he can do this.
Because he does not have a family, a homosexual can make serious contributions to Judaism which others cannot. For example, bringing Judaism to smaller communities where there are no facilities for raising a Jewish family.
I know of a case where a rabbi successfully inspired the Jews of an entire city for over forty years because, for various reasons, he never married. Since there were no religious schools in town, the rabbis who had held his pulpit before him all moved away when their children had to start going to school. But this rabbi, because he had no family, stayed on and had a major impact on the entire city.
Activities involving much travel, such as fundraising, a vital aspect of Jewish survival, are best accomplished by someone who is not tied down to a family. I know of a homosexual who helped establish several important institutions through his fundraising and is grateful for the sexual orientation which freed him to make this contribution.
Even within one’s community, devotion to public causes can be more easily done by someone who has no family obligations. Several individuals whom I know became respected, active members of their communities during their lifetimes even though it was well-known that they had no interest in marriage.
It is no accident that homosexuals are generally more sensitive to the needs of others and to matters of the spirit (viz., the high percentage in the arts) than the rest of the population. This is because their function in society is meant to be one where their family is the Jewish people. Their sensitivity is an emotional tool which they were granted for devoting themselves to, and empathizing with, others….
… It is difficult for us to understand why certain people were given certain shortcomings as their challenge in life and others were not. We cannot fathom God’s ways but we can be sure that there is a beneficence behind these handicaps. When these shortcomings are met, they will grant us a greater satisfaction from our lives and a deeper devotion to G-d than if we were not given them[8].

This is one approach, And there are others. But here we must take our stand. A gay person is in Jewish eyes, as beautiful as any other. He or she is as deserving of my love as any other human being. But, we cannot tolerate the open and active promotion of gay pride, of open insistence of being indiscreet as a statement to the world and of the promotion of an entire gay culture.

All people are multi-faceted. A person may be artistic, or scientifically orientated, passionate or bland, organized, punctual, interested in stones, and a dozen other things. A gay person is at least as multi-faceted as anyone else. Sexual attraction is but one component of his or her entire psyche. There is nothing stopping such a person from engaging in an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle even if they cannot imagine themselves giving up their gay activities. Yes, at some stage they will be faced by the contradiction of their Torah commitments and their sexual activities. Many people approach Judaism with significant lifestyle contradictions. Female singers, dancers, intermarried – all need to resolve their current selves with their embrace of the religion. Thousands have done so without denying their essence. We do request discretion as a basic sensitivity; yet, there is no contradiction between being gay and celebrating the Sabbath and festivals, keeping kosher or any other aspect of Judaism. It is wrong for a gay person to define their entire selves as gay and hence in total contradiction with Judaism.

If we will not make gay people welcome in our communities, they will make their own. This has nothing to do with legitimization of a life style. Rather, it has to do with accepting every Jew as being 100% Jewish. The Torah is theirs as much as it is mine or yours. To the gay person I say, “As a value, I cannot agree to homosexuality. But, that has nothing to do with my respect of you and your dignity. I am certainly an imperfect human being, with all my baggage and deep dark secrets. I am not claiming any position of moral superiority. Come, let us strive together.”

[1] Leviticus 18:22 clearly prohibits (male) homosexual relations. There are other sources to ban lesbian relations as well.
[2] Adam Jessel, Jewish Action -Spring 5763/2003.
[3] There is a lively discussion as to whether conversion (reparative) therapy is effective and, if so, for whom.
[4] Wolowelsky and Weinstein in Tradition, 29:2 (Winter, 1992).
[5] See http://guardyoureyes.com/resources/ssa/item/a-letter-by-reb-ahron-feldman-to-a-gay-baal-teshuva
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.

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