The “B” Word

Over the course of his distinguished military career, it is unlikely that General Peter Pace ever encountered a barrage as unrelenting as the one lately lobbed by the media and punditsphere after he expressed his personal feelings about the practice of homosexuality. The offensive (in both the word’s senses) weapons aimed at him were only words, but they were duly destructive all the same.

What General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dared to voice was his conviction that homosexual acts – not inclination, not orientation – are immoral. Needless to say, anyone can choose to disagree; the general was opining, not seeking to impose his views on others. But some who disagree with him seem to feel that his point of view simply has no place in civilized discourse. That should trouble us all.

The volleys lobbed at General Pace included widespread characterizations of his remarks as evidence of odious prejudice. The New York Times called the general’s beliefs “bigoted” and averred that he was “wrong in every way, and out of step.” The New York Daily News headline about the matter read, simply: “General Bigot”.

Similarly, several years ago, The American Civil Liberties Union ran an advertisement comparing people who object to homosexual practices on moral grounds as akin to vicious racists of yesteryear. Those espousing a traditional view of acceptable sexual behavior, the ACLU asserted, seek “to hide behind morality.” But, the ad continues, “we all know a bigot when we see one.”

One of the few categories of humankind universally and rightly reviled is the club of bigots – those who judge others negatively solely because of their ethnicity, color or faith. That the word is being expanded these days to encompass those who disapprove of certain activities is a development both dismaying and dangerous.

As a third Gotham daily, the independent-minded New York Sun, editorialized: “If everyone who holds that homosexual acts are immoral were a bigot, it would mean that most adherents of traditional religions… would be bigots.”

A 2001 study indeed showed that a majority of Americans hold that “homosexual behavior is morally wrong” – precisely what General Pace said. If the general is “out of step,” as The New York Times contends, the paper is picking its marchers.

Some might imagine that contorting the meaning of the word “bigotry” is innocuous. But a more realistic take is that it is a first step toward restricting free speech – indeed, toward stifling free thought.

We have already witnessed the treatment, in 2002, of a British Columbia public school teacher who was suspended for a month without pay and received a demerit on his professional record for writing letters to a local newspaper that were critical of the practice of homosexuality.

The Canadian Charter of Rights protects citizens’ freedom of expression and religion. But that was apparently no bar, in the eyes of the British Columbia Supreme Court, which ruled on the matter last year, to punishing the teacher for his views. We Americans may not take our constitutional cues from our colder-air neighbor to the north, but we do well to remember what a celebrated bard once noted about weathermen and knowing which way the wind is blowin’.

If fact, the chill has already arrived. Even here in the United States, the Boy Scouts, for its barring of avowed homosexuals as leaders, has lost funding from dozens of United Ways and municipal government sources; and the group’s policy has been publicly condemned by, among others, the American Federation of Teachers, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress and the Reform movement’s Joint Commission on Social Action.

The issue is not benign and the game is zero-sum. Either the choice of a particular conduct is like being black, or there is a difference between who people are and what they do. To the degree that the first approach is advanced, proponents of the second one will be vilified, demonized and even penalized.

And if disapproving of homosexual behavior is bigotry, then not only religious folk but nonbelievers, too, who nevertheless accept the validity of the traditional moral code are, ipso facto, villains. And why should the label be any less apt for those who disapprove of other affronts to the traditional moral ideal – like multi-partner or incestuous relationships? Either morality has meaning and trumps what some people wish to do, or it does not.

We Americans cherish our constitutional right to live our lives freely, in accordance with our consciences and beliefs. What we need to stop and ponder is that sometimes erosions of that right can tiptoe in, whistling innocently, dressed in the shiny robes of progress.

Should the word “bigotry” be successfully devolved to include deeply-rooted, time-honored and sincere religious beliefs, it might not be long before morality becomes the conviction that dares not speak its name.

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23 Responses

  1. JewishAtheist says:

    One of the few categories of humankind universally and rightly reviled is the club of bigots – those who judge others negatively solely because of their ethnicity, color or faith. That the word is being expanded these days to encompass those who disapprove of certain activities is a development both dismaying and dangerous.

    Is one who believes the “activity” of miscegenation is immoral not a bigot? What if General Pace had said, “I love black people and white people, but it’s immoral for them to get married!” Or what about if he just said, “It’s immoral for black people and white people to have sex?” I agree that opposing gay sex is better than opposing gay people, but you shouldn’t confuse “less bigoted” with “not bigoted.”

  2. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) says:

    The biggest problem is that there are way too many people on both sides who don’t distinguish between, as you said, who people are and what people do.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    A statement that is objectively true does not become problematic just because someone is offended.

    For example, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others were once widely reviled for calling attention to the breakdown of the black family.
    In hindsight, we can see how much social disintegration could have been prevented if people were willing to correct it then and not shove it under the rug. The sad results of stifling discussion of this topic have been described recently by Bill Cosby and others.

  4. Binyamin says:


    miscgenation has never been considered immoral except if one of the races is considrerd morally inferior, but not on its own. no one would say that it is a problem if they think the two involved races are equal in all ways.

    Homosexuality is immoral for the act itself, not for who is involved. That is why opposing homosexuality is not bigotry, but your example is.

  5. David N. Friedman says:

    Rabbi Shafran makes many good points. I wish to add others:
    1) The modern secular idols of “tolerance” and “diversity” hold honor for homosexuality as its highest priority. The remaking of modern morality against its traditional basis is a critical goal so that “morality” in general must be seen as something other than sexual propriety. Support for homosexuals is now so strong it commands a kind of shame machine against the majority in a blatant effort to marginalize religion.
    2) General Pace is in double trouble since he faces opposition in his pursuit of the war against terror. The reaction against him can be seen in context of what he represents as a military commander–in additon to the social aspects.
    3)The Left has largely succeeded in making a behavior based issue, homosexuality, equivalent to race and religion. This is why the mantra of “race, religion and sexual orientation” has become so popular. A smoker is a person who smokes, a speeder is a person who speeds–these people are not defined by their behavior but are separate from it. By contrast, the homosexual is DEFINED by their actions and do not complain about the perception. A kind-hearted America goes along with the calculation so that homosexuals are a special, protected class of people–Disney offers “gay days”–and other businesses market specifically to homosexuals in an extraordinary way. Almost no business would ever imagine to market themselves, for example, to Catholics or even black people in such a specific way for a product of general interest. Americans have come to agree, however grudgingly, that homosexuals are a class of people and this has been aided by propaganda showing gays in a positive light–such as Ellen D and television shows such as Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Seinfeld’s tug at the gay issue, stating “there is nothing wrong with it”–however tongue in cheek– has also helped shaped the culture into accepting the proposal that there really is nothing wrong with the lifestyle choice of homosexuality. The love and compassion of Dick and Lynne Cheney for their daughter comes across as acceptance and not simply tolerance in the old fashioned sense of the term.

    We live at a time when morality has come to be radically redefined–and this is perilous by itself. The shame machine that can make supposed bigots out of decent people is amply demonstrated by the fact that the largest public relations enterprize for the homosexual lobby is called the Human Rights Campaign. Support for homosexual advocacy is therefore equivalent to support for “human rights” and this is further evidence that so many terms are so rapidly being re-defined–an entire language is being recalled and defined in new terms.

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Is somebody who opposes a particular religion a bigot? After all, religion is a matter of behavior. All religions believe that followers of all other religions can switch.

    If hatred of a particular religion is bigotry, then bigotry is not “hatred based on something that a person cannot change”. We need a better definition before we decide is anti-homosexualism is bigotry or not.

  7. Binyamin says:


    That is an interesting point.

    I think that you are technically correct, but the point stands. People who oppose religious groups usually do not care about the particular activities that they do. (People are not anti-semetic because they thinking keeping kosher is an abhorrent act.) So we can say that bigotry is ad-hominem hatred ( based who they are or the community they belong to), while people who are anti-gay base their oposition on the activity, not anything inherent in the person.

    An important issue here is that gays tell us they are a different kind of person, not just people who have decided to act a certain way. Most people who are against are not buying this story, and they believe that gays are making a lifestyle choice. The gays therefore claim bigotry, but that is only a valid claim if we have already accepted their claim of inherent difference.

  8. Joe Fisher says:

    What a nice article, and col ha cavod to the general who came out of the closet with his beliefs about perversion.


    Our Orthodox Rabbis conspicuously don’t speak out much against this perversion, even when they might be listened to. I’m sure there’s a good reason for this silence. Can anybody on this board explain the background on this?

  9. irving says:

    RAS denies that there is such a thing as a homosexual and that there is a such a thing as a community of homosexuals and that homosexual relations is normal within that community.

    If you stay in the Yeshiva and close the doors you can deny those facts of life.

  10. HILLEL says:

    To Joe:

    It is very difficult for Orthodox Rabbis to “speak out against this perversion.” Merely by speaking out against it, they run the risk of making it a topic of conversation among our vulnerable youth and bringing this perversion in the mainstream.

    Thus far, they have taken the position that it is best to keep the subject out of our Orthodox publich sphere.

    Nevertheless, some Orthodox groups–the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and the Rabbinical Alliance of America–have delegated Rabbi Yehuda Levin to speak for them on this issue in the corridors of power where public policy is decided.

    Rabbi Levin has met with Vatican officials, with political leaders in the United States, England and Europe in order to counter the efforts of the radical homosexuals to mainstream their perversion into civilized society.

    In Israel, he has garnered the support of the most prominent Rabbis, including Rabbi Eliashiv and the members of the Edah HaChareidis.

    As of now, this is a losing battle. The radical homosexual activists are gradually turning the old moral standards on their heads. It is now “immoral” to be “bigoted” against public displays and indoctrination of children into the homosexual lifestyle.

    Soon, it will not only be “immoral” to oppose homosexual indoctrination, it will become illegal, and even criminal.

    This, evidently, is one of the final tests before the final redemption. Just as the Jews descended into the 49th level of Tumah inEgypt before they were redeemed, so, too, do we seem destined to share their fate before our redemption.–Hang in there!

  11. Binyamin says:


    actually, no one denied that, and I do not think that RAS is still cloistered in a Yeshiva. (your second and thirtd claims are not something anyone would deny).

    The claim here is that homosexuality is not a natural equivalent of normal behavior. You did not respond to this claim.

  12. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Dear Irving,

    I am agnostic about whether there are two types of people, heterosexual and homosexual. I think that sexuality is probably a more vague and malleable thing than such a simplistic dichotomy. (If nothing else, the cases of public figures who have gone from one “sexuality” to another, not to mention the apparent existence of both “sexualities” in single individuals, would seem to argue for a more nuanced approach.)

    But my agnosticism stems not from my yeshiva education (unfortunately, while I do indeed try to “stay in yeshiva”, my presence in the beis medrash is much too infrequent). On the contrary, my understanding of the issue comes from reading scientific studies (in biology, psychology, ethnology and anthropology). There are two basic schools of “gay studies” researchers: the ‘essentialists’ and the ‘nominalists’. The former subscribe to the idea of a “fixed sexuality”; the latter, to an interplay of social, psychological and historical that yields a much more fluid and complex picture.

    But all of that is really moot. There is no question that some people are challenged with homosexual urges (and others with pedophilic ones, and others still with any of a plethora of “paraphilias”), to one or another degree. I don’t presume to judge any human being by his or her desires, and certainly do not wish anyone harm for his proclivities. Actions, however, can indeed be judged, through the lens of Judaism. And homosexual actions (by anyone, whatever he calls himself) are condemned by the Torah, for Jews and non-Jews alike. And I don’t think it warranted that we who subscribe to that judgment of acts be considered bigots for our moral convictions.

    As to what is “normal within” certain communities, I would only point to any of a number of societies where things like “exposing” unwanted babies or the elderly to the elements was considered acceptable practice, or where murder or rape were normative means of human interaction. We Jews are not to establish right and wrong based on what is “normal” in certain circles, but rather from our Torah.

  13. Joe Fisher says:

    The fact that I agree with Hillel’s most simple point–“As of now, this is a losing battle”–makes it very difficult to understand his most complicated point, which I quote:

    “Merely by speaking out against it, they (our Rabbis) run the risk of making it a topic of conversation among our vulnerable youth and bringing this perversion into the mainstream.”

    If, as this fine observer so rightly warns us, “soon it will not only be “immoral” to oppose homosexual indoctrination, it will become illegal, and even criminal,” then the house will have burned down. Our “vulnerable youth” will be getting indoctrinated right and left.

    How insignificant would be the damage to our children from a few press releases to the non-Orthodox public by Orthodox Rabbis–press releases which, incidentally, would condemn this practice fully–when compared to being legally dragged into “rehab!”

    I’m not advocating any statements before kosher audiences. No, just press releases. Top spokesmen like Rabbi Rosenblum will advise the media in very clear terms that Rabbis such-and-such and so-and-so clearly oppose any state-sponsored assistance to this activity.

    In the US it could be framed as a church/state issue, with the Rabbis demanding protection for their “religious” interpretation of the Bible.

    Just an aside–it’s been done before. In Israel we did indeed publicly fight the perverts’ parade, on a bigger scale than I wanted and in the heart of the frum neighborhoods. At least we could try something on a little scale and out of our holy neighborhoods!

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    There are other violations of the Noahide commandments that are common in US society, such as premarital sex or gossip. For that matter, the Catholic belief that a communion wafer is “body and blood, soul and divinity” is probably against the Noahide code, at least as we understand it. (I apologize if I offend any Catholics reading this, it’s not my intent – I’m sure that as Jews who reject Jesus we violate a lot of divine commandments as understood by Catholics.)

    Why is Homosexual behavior any more worthy of public objection than other violations of the Noahide code?

  15. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) says:

    David N Friedman just proved the point about people who can’t tell the difference between who people are and what goes on inside their brains on the one hand, and what people choose to do on the other.

  16. HILLEL says:

    To Joe Fisher:

    I agree with you, but isn’t that precisely what Rabbi Levin is now doing.

    In fact, he was one of the main catalysts for the Israeli resistance to the “WorldPride” abomination!

  17. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Dear Ori Pomerantz,

    I have no idea whether gossip or premarital sex are included in the Seven Noachide Laws (and suspect they are not). In any event, there is no contemporary movement to foster other violations of the Noachide Laws, so there is no concomitant push regarding them.

    But a major reason to opposes efforts to legitimize homosexual unions is simply because the Talmud and Midrash consider the legitimization of such unions in particular to be a societally dangerous thing, something associated with the generation of the Flood (when “they wrote marriage documents for males” — i.e. homosexual unions).

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Avi Shafran, I took my ideas for what is forbidden to Noahide from – I can’t vouch who wrote that site. However, we know that Noahide are forbidden to practice idolatry from the RaMBa”M ( ). Unless I misunderstand what Avodah Zara means, we have plenty of movements to foster it in this day and age.

    I can see your second point, though. Other than Chamas and homosexual unions, are there any other behaviors associated with Dor HaMabul?

  19. David N. Friedman says:

    David N Friedman just proved the point about people who can’t tell the difference between who people are and what goes on inside their brains on the one hand, and what people choose to do on the other.

    Comment by Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) — March 28, 2007 @ 9:00 am

    OK- Steg. You make the distinction so for clarity, please indicate if you believe a lesbian or a male homosexual choose their preferences or does their attractions define them as “who they are” as people? Please speak to the topic.

    My point was that it can surely be stated that a Jew can easily define himself as a Jew and a Chinese person can easily see himself as part of an ethnic group. To discriminate against those two persons based upon their identity is wrong-headed.

    To indicate that a lesbian is defined by her sexuality while my wife, for example, is not, suggests a sure double-standard.

    Some homosexuals see their same-sex attraction as “innate” but this does not at all suggest that it is not chosen. Others see the attraction as purely choice. It curious that for the heterosexual community, our choices are thought to be part of free will but for the homosexual community–there is no free will and there is only the alleged automatic outcome of a defining nature.

  20. HILLEL says:

    Ori and Avi:

    Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L, stated many times that there are thousands of commandments that are not written in the Torah. They are commandments of the logical and intuitive mind that were hard-wired into our consciousness by our Creator.

    The Talmud refers to these commandments many times with the statement: “Lama Lee KeRah, SeVorA Hu!”–We don’t need an expicit statement for this commandment, because it is common sense!.

  21. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL: Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L, stated many times that there are thousands of commandments that are not written in the Torah. They are commandments of the logical and intuitive mind that were hard-wired into our consciousness by our Creator.

    Ori: The problem with common sense is that it’s not very common. “Don’t murder”, “don’t cheat on your wife” and “don’t steal” appear to me to be common sense, yet obviously they are stated in the Torah.

  22. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) says:

    David N Friedman:

    People don’t choose their preferences; they choose their *actions*. I never chose to like the taste of chicken; but it’s my choice whether to eat chicken or not. It’s that simple.

  23. David N. Friedman says:

    OK, Steg–I don’t understand your complaint. It seems we agree and those who argue that one has no choice regarding a sexual act–you seem to agree that it is a choice.

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