Our Attitude Towards Gays – Response to “Troubled”

I am troubled by Troubled.

His comment citing Rav Moshe’s responsum could have come from many, many people in the general community. It is important to realize that getting a clear perspective on the issues is often practical and crucial, beyond theoretical considerations of how we regard the culpability of gay people for their actions. (That, in the final analysis, is something that G-d needs to deal with far more than ourselves.)

Dr. David Luchins tells a poignant story of a young man who was a rising star in NCSY, enrolled in YU, and abruptly disappeared from the scene. He emerged years later, dying of AIDS. While in YU, he began to notice and worry about his attraction to men, and scheduled a meeting with one of his rabbeim, with whom he shared his concerns. The rebbi told him, “It’s a simple choice. You can either be frum (observant) or gay.” The young man reasoned that he pretty much knew beyond doubt that he was gay, so it left him no choice. He sold his tefillin, walked out of Jewish life, and touched base with Dr. Luchins while suffering in loneliness. Dr. Luchins arranged for him to visit at NCSY National, which gave him a great boost. He died shortly thereafter. When Dr. Luchins reported back to the rebbi, the latter immediately voiced his recriminations. He knew as soon as the young man walked out of the room that he had said the wrong thing.

Few people would have known the right thing to tell that young man back then. We should be wiser today. Even if “Troubled” would be correct (which I do not believe), we must find a way to offer the compassion that the Torah asks of us, even while rejecting certain activity. We have no mandate to drive even evildoers out of our community, unless they are harming others. We have no right to encourage those who violate one transgression – no matter how serious – to violate others. If our attitudes distance some people so much that we fully drive them out of the community, we wind up G-d forbid with their blood on our hands.

This is not the way of Torah.

Rav Ahron Feldman shlit”a was certainly aware of Rav Moshe’s responsum when he penned his classic piece and his follow-up, articles that every Torah Jew should read and internalize. It can be assumed that Rav Moshe’s piece addressed a particular person. It is impossible to extrapolate to all people, and is not the definitive statement about all homosexual activity, which varies greatly in motivation and source.

Reading those articles may make the difference between life and death.

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12 Responses

  1. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,
    It is impossible to prove from that maaseh that YU rebbe was wrong. It could be that his thinking was correct and that his delivery was overly blunt. It could be that the same thing would have happened had he
    dealt with the talmid differently. We don’t know. Knowing when a behavior is hurting others is also a judgement call.

  2. shmuel says:

    It seems to me that in previous generations the approach to homosexuality was to call it and those who were inclined toward such activity as a “toeivah’ without further analysis. The approach of recent years toward deviant sexual predilection seems not to have precedent in the halachik writings of the previous generations (on this topic). What does this mean? Are the contemporary poskim also under the influence of modern day scientific theories while those of previous generations weren’t and therefore the halachik approach has changed? The alternative is that contemporary poskim disagree with those of previous generations which is no less disquieting.

  3. Troubled says:

    Well after reading the “classic” from R’ Feldman I wasn’t sure that he disagreed with me, only that he was extremely compassionate in his response to this individual. But after reading the follow up, there is no question that he has an out & out disagreement with R’ Moshe. Well, I definitely am not worthy of a comment betwixt these two Rosh Yeshivos, but I think a neutral observer would say that there is a vast difference between the two. I feel comfortable having R’ Moshe on my side.

  4. HILLEL says:

    Please be aware that your comments don’t exist in a vacuum.

    America is in the midst of a culture war, and the radical Homosexual movemnet is th the vanguard of those who seek to tear down all standards of decency and family.

    Moreover, there is an active campaign to “normalize” what is a perverted lifestyle for . Winess the current popular academy award winning film “Brokeback Mountain.”

    To discuss Homosexuality without an awareness of the scoial context may result in giving aid and comfort to this dangerous cancer that is spreading rapidly thoughout our socirty.

    When something becomes “normal,” and even fashionable, you can expect to get a lot more of it.

  5. Chaim Markwitz says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein is troubled by Troubled. With all due respect to Rabbi Adlerstien,
    I am troubled by the fact that you are troubled. Troubled is asking a legitimate question.
    Rav Moshe zt”l who was recognized as the posek hador wrote a psak in which he unequivocally stated that
    the desire to be a homosexual wasa form of meridah (rebellion). Given that this is Rav Moshe’s psak I
    don’t see why it is not legitimate to ask what to do with Rav Moshe’s teshuva. Let me be clear,
    I have no problem if you tell me that you have a different understanding than Rav Moshe or that
    Rav Moshe’s psak doesn’t apply in 2006. What I am bothered by is the fact that you seem to feel asking
    such a question is inappropriate, when in reality it is a question that needs to be answered.

    Also, for what it’s worth I clearly remember when Rav Aharon Feldman’s letter came out and
    at the time I was troubled by what do you do with Rav Moshe’s teshuva. This question still bothers me.
    If anyone knows if Rav Feldman has ever addressed this I would appreciate knowing what he said.

  6. Jewish Observer says:

    I would like to see Rabbi Adlerstein take back his argument of “Rav Ahron Feldman shlit”a was certainly aware of Rav Moshe’s responsum”. He cannot believe it – it is not in line with the spirit of independent thinking that he himself employs on this blog.

    Applying it to learning would be the equivalent of saying, “surely Tosfos factored in – and rejected – what the p’nei yehoshua is conjecturing, so what right does does the P”Y have to suggest it.” or “surely reb chaim rejectd my chiddush, so I had better keep quiet.”

    RAF is allowed to disagree with RMF and we surely are allowed to accept RMF.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    R A Feldman’s articles were fascinating reading. Yet, when “Trembling Before G-d” was released
    ( which my wife and I saw with another couple), R A Feldman was not exactly portrayed in a favorable
    light. In fact, I seem to recall that there was a discussion of legal action because of an allegation
    that much of R A Feldman’s point of view ( presumably as in the two linked letters) was left on the
    cutting room floor so that the film’s director could present the film as gay rights agitprop from
    a “Jewish” point of view.

  8. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I agree with JO in principle, but not in practice. Indeed, I would have no problem with RAF openly disagreeing with a teshuva of Rav Moshe’s. I don’t think that it happens to be RAF’s style. He lived in Yerushalyim for decades where “party disciple” was enforced pretty rigidly. His about-face in the Slifkin affair points to that. Rather, my guess is that he saw room to apply Rav Moshe’s teshuva to those people who do take up gay activity out of curiosity, boredom, unavailability of alternatives, etc., but not to those who claim to have had gay leanings from their earliest remembrance.

    I also take issue with those who characterized Rav Moshe’s teshuva as a “psak.” The teshuva he wrote was for advice to a particular young man who apparently asked him the best way to do teshuva for his past indiscretions, and how to avoid falling prey to the same activity in the future. Rav Moshe responded in part with an analysis of how gay activity occupies its own niche in the Torah’s list of illict relations, as demonstrated by the repetition of the word “toevah,” making it sui generis. Going on to explain why that might be, Rav Moshe wrote that there is no natural inclination towards gay behavior. Rav Moshe may have meant his analysis to apply to all gay men, or he may have not. (In the latter case, the Torah’s extra “toevah” would apply only to those who experiment with gay activity, and therefore create new desires for themselves; the behavior, of course, as a matter of halacha is forbidden to all.) Even if the former, it does not constitute a “psak.” The analysis of the Gadol Hador of the last generation should not be taken lightly, of course, but it does not rise to the bar of psak. (In fact, many would call such an analysis “derush,” based as it on his understanding of a Scriptual pleonasm.) One of the great tragedies of our times is people confusing “psak” with other forms of Torah writing, creating huge pressures for conformity that makes full affiliation with the Torah world unattractive to too many people.

    In any event, I do side with JO, that even if it were psak, RAF in principle could disagree, based on his own observations of reality. (Some of the other commenters will minimally have to concede that things have changed since Rav Moshe’ teshuva, since he writes there that “the entire world, even evildoers, mock the practioner of sodomy. He is even dispareaged in the eyes of his partner…” Do they believe that this is true today?)

    I am probably even more radical that JO. I believe that in most cases Tosafos indeed did anticipate the Pnei Yehoshua, and rejected it. Nonetheless, not seeing the flaw in his reasoning, it is the duty of the Pnei Yehoshua to set forth his proposal – and our responsibility to study them both

  9. Jewish Observer says:

    “One of the great tragedies of our times is people confusing “psak” with other forms of Torah writing”

    I pasken like RYA

  10. Mo says:

    I think Rabbi A. Feldman, while laudably trying to sensitively address some problems, went too far and departed from the Haredi consensus in this area. Honestly ask yourself if the Jewish Observer would have published his two pieces on it rather than Jewish Action. He wrote those pieces before he became RY of NIRC as well, IIRC. I have doubts if he would have done so afterward. If those two pieces of his would be shown to the gedolim he deferred too when they banned writings of R. Slifkin, I suspect they would not like them. I think that if he disavowed Slifkin, he should disavow those two pieces as well. He erred – presumably out of much compassion and being inadvertantly swayed by some homosexual propaganda disguised in scientific terminology – but an error remains an error.

  11. Jewish Observer says:

    “ask yourself if the Jewish Observer would have published his two pieces”

    to which of my two pieces are you refering?

  12. Ben-David says:

    A large part of the problem is that so many of us – including many poskim – have accepted as “scientifically true” the most slanted pro-gay propaganda. Merely by repetition, these attitudes have seeped into our society.

    We speak of “gays”, implicitly accepting the skewed notion that one sexual problem defines a person, and implicitly accepting the canard that homosexuality is genetic and an intrinsic part of the person.

    In fact, there is a solid body of psychological theory that explains homosexuality as a maladapted response to lacks or traumas in a person’s development. These theories were never disproved, just shouted down by gay activists.

    This therapeutic approach is more consonant with Torah teaching.

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