Rain on the Gay Parade

An op-ed essay that I wrote arguing against a planned parade and 10-day happening for gays in Jerusalem this summer was printed this week in the Jerusalem Post opinion section. Side-by-side with my piece was an essay titled “Holiness and World Pride” advocating exhibition and parading of this lifestyle.

In my essay I utilized 3 approaches, and I feel I could learn from others a better way to deal with genuine questions such as “Why should the government interfere in consensual relationships between adults” and the issue of free speech (parades being a sub-category of freedom). I am wondering which approach when dealing with this sensitive subject is effective.

My first approach was to present two midrashim which express the concept that even more severe than the Biblical prohibition against mishkav zakhar (sodomy) was the legalizing of such behavior. One is a midrash related to the era of Noah:

The generation of the Flood was not blotted out from the world until they wrote marriage deeds for males and males, and males and beasts, thus fully legalizing such practices.

The other midrash relates to the passage read on Yom Kippur forbidding such practices. The Sifre says,

The verse “You shall not follow their legalized norms” (Lev.18:3) does not signify a prohibition against copying the construction or agricultural practices of the surrounding non-Jewish nations, but only signifies a rejection of the legalization of norms such as a male marrying a male, a female marrying a female.

I tried to show that these practices are forbidden even if they have become hukim – legalized norms in the surrounding nations, whether in ancient Canaan or New Canaan, Connecticut.

My second approach was reductio ad absurdum, trying to show that if someone maintains that the government should not interfere with adult consensual relationships, then we would logically have to legalize incestuous relationships (brother-sister, mother-son) and allow promotional parades.

The last section of the essay tried to give a contemporary understanding of the biblical prohibition against same-sex unions by citing the discussion by Rav J.D. Soloveitchik z”l of the creation of ezer kenegdo for Adam in Genesis. In his “Family Redeemed” the Rav writes

“the helpmate stands not alongside but opposite Adam. Only in opposition does man find help. Loneliness can only be ameliorated if lonely man meets lonely woman. Man is redeemed from loneliness not alongside but opposite an existential antagonist.”

Throughout the essay I tried to adopt the tone of compassion that I learned from Rav Aharon Feldman. Seven years ago he wrote what I consider the best essay on the subject of homosexual behavior, “A Letter to a Homosexual Baal Teshuva” Rav Feldman wrote :

…Judaism looks negatively at homosexual activity, but not at the homosexual nature. Whatever the source of this nature, whether it is genetic or acquired (the Torah does not express any view on the matter), is immaterial. This nature in no way diminishes or affects the Jewishness of a homosexual. He is as beloved in God’s eyes as any other Jew, and is as responsible as any Jew in all the mitzvos. He is obligated to achieve life’s goals by directing his life towards spiritual growth, sanctity and perfection of his character — no less than is any other Jew.

This week the two chief rabbis of Israel together with many of the highest-ranking Christian clergy (Archbishops and Patriarchs), and three Moslem Sheiks held a press conference to protest the parade. As yet the issue is unresolved. It mght be noted that the head of the Conservative (Masorati) movement in Israel, R. Ehud Bandel, is actively in favor of the parade and same-sex marriage.

I assume that others have experience in trying to explain the Torah’s opposition to the legitimization and legalization of homosexual behavior. What would be the best way to address a varied non-observant, or even observant, audience when one is given a limit in time or word count? Perhaps we err in even discussing this publicly, and should eschew such forums?

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via www.cross-currents.com.

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10 Responses

  1. yingele says:

    I was actually planing on posting about this subject, but I couldn’t of done it any better than you did. Nice job!

  2. Moishe Potemkin says:

    The principal question is how to make people care about the fact that your religious sensibilities frown on their behaviour. Unless and until you can provide an explanation for that, regrettably, your efforts are probably in vain.

  3. jz says:

    A wonderful shiur from R’ Dovid Gottlieb deconstructing the myths: mms://ra.colo.idt.net/simpletoremember/gottlieb/Homosexuality.mp3

  4. Jack says:

    If they discover that homosexuality is genetic that changes everything.

  5. Shira Leibowitz Schmidt says:

    My response to “Jack” in comment #4 is to read the letter I mentioned above by Rav Aharon Feldman. In it he writes

    Accordingly, a Jewish homosexual has to make a commitment to embark on a course where he will ultimately rid himself of homosexual activity. It is not necessary that he change his sexual orientation (if this is at all possible), but that he cease this activity. It is obvious that for many people this will be difficult, and will have to be accomplished over a period of time. But it must be done and it can be done.
    How does Judaism look at the reason for someone having been born or turned into a homosexual? Life is meant to be a set of challenges by which we continuously grow spiritually. Any physical defect curtails the enjoyment of life, but, on the other hand, meeting the challenge inherent in such a defect can be the greatest source of joy and accomplishment. Challenges are what life is all about, and homosexuality is one of these challenges.

    These are isolated quotes; it is better to read the entire letter.
    Shira Schmidt

  6. Commenter #4, Jack, writes: “If they discover that homosexuality is genetic that changes everything.”

    How is this so? If they discovered that adultery is genetic, would that change our view of adultery? What about kleptomania? If kleptomania is genetic, is stealing permissible?

    We all have a yetzer hara — if you will a “genetic” desire to do things which are sinful. Different people’s yetzer hara produces desires to commit different since, but aren’t we all obligated to overcome those desires? In this regard, how are homosexual desires any different?

  7. Nephtuli says:

    “My second approach was reductio ad absurdum, trying to show that if someone maintains that the government should not interfere with adult consensual relationships, then we would logically have to legalize incestuous relationships (brother-sister, mother-son) and allow promotional parades.”

    I never bought this argument. What you’re basically saying is that society cannot recognize one without recognizing the other. This isn’t really an argument to recognize neither, because it could be used just as easily as an argument to recognize both. If a person thinks this through rationally, and truly believes that we should not interfere in private conduct, he’ll end up supporting both.

  8. Mo says:

    I think Rabbi Feldman was unfortunately duped by the homosexual lobby into accepting their contention that their lifestyle is inborn and not chosen. That contention is questionable and we should not accept it uncritically. It is part of their campaign to portray themselves as victims suppressed by society. They have campaigned to change the language of discourse about this to terms subtly favoring their point of view. One example is the usage of ‘sexual orientation’ to replace ‘sexual preference’. The latter implies their behavior is a choice, while the former implies it is their innate nature. This was detailed in an article in the O-U’s Jewish Action magazine a while ago, which people should read. Similar things are involved in the shift from ‘homosexual’ to ‘gay’. We must be careful about terminology we use.

  9. Sholom Simon says:

    My second approach was reductio ad absurdum, trying to show that if someone maintains that the government should not interfere with adult consensual relationships, then we would logically have to legalize incestuous relationships (brother-sister, mother-son) and allow promotional parades.

    Nephtuli wrotes: “I never bought this argument.”

    For whatever it’s worth . . . a friend of mine who taught in an afternoon Hebrew school was faced with these questions from the students (they were C, he is O, and they asked him, davka, “what do you think of homosexual marriage”). He approached the answer in the following way. He brought up those other relationships, and, of course, the kids had definite opinions (probably based on a gut level “yuck” factor), about which should be permitted and which shouldn’t.

    At that point he asked them to examine: why did you say that these should be permitted and those should not be. At that point many of the kids were flummoxed. Some, indeed, described a “yuck” factor. “But what if somebody isn’t grossed out by it?”, the teacher asked.

    Eventually, the kids were tied up in knots, trying to examine and/or determine the criteria that they themselves used as to which relationships should be permitted and which shouldn’t be.

    Finally, the teacher concluded his lesson. He said that _he_ really couldn’t think of any man-made criteria either as to which ought to be permitted and which ought not to be. And so, he told them, he relies on Torah to tell him which are permissible.

    At the least, it got those 6th grade kids thinking about relative and absolute standards of morality.

  10. M. Hillson says:

    “In my essay I utilized 3 approaches, and I feel I could learn from others a better way to deal with genuine questions such as Why should the government interfere in consensual relationships between adults and the issue of free speech …”

    An additional point can be raised:

    Let us ask the “gays”: Why in Jerusalem of all places?

    If they answer: “Because the most ‘holy’ places need to be educated to be tolerant
    and to ‘love everyone'”,

    Let us reply: “If you folks loved everyone, you would be tolerant of others’
    opinion that your actions are wrong. If you want to falunt yourselves
    in front of those others, then you are intolerant of their opinions,
    and you want to impose a liberal doctrine on the world,
    effectively becoming a “thought police” to ban politically incorrect views,
    and de-legitimize the traditional religious vew of ‘holiness’.

    P.S. Rabbi Ravitz once termed this approach “Liberal Terror”.

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