The Next Silent Problem After Abuse
There is much more reason for us to feel guilty about the problem of abuse in our community than ever before. A hundred years ago, there was abuse. In a teshuva of the Bais Yitzchok we see an abuser being silently ushered out of a community, free to start over in the next. (The Bais Yitzchok rails against this.) We know that this still goes on today. A key difference is that very few people back then understood the dimensions of the problem back then, nor the depth of the harm inflicted on its victims, nor the likelihood (or lack thereof) of perpetrators changing their ways. We could say the same about our knowledge twenty years ago.
We know much more today. On the one hand, our knowledge creates much more responsibility to address the many obstacles still in our midst in dealing with the problem. We cannot and should not wring the hands of previous generations for what they simply did not adequately know enough about. We have no such excuse.
On the other hand, our knowledge is the first step in creating solutions. We ought to know enough to be able to unequivocally declare that batei din alone cannot deal with the problem without recourse to the authority of the law, and that using such authority fully complies with the description of the Mechaber of the “meitzar l’tzibbur,” for whom there is no issur of mesirah.
We have another problem, and have dealt with it even less than with abuse. Here, too, we should not be overwrought about not yet having come up with an action plan. The problem – at least the scope of it, as we are just beginning to understand – is still new to us. We do not have a good take on the frum Jew with gay leanings. We don’t know how to deal with them; we don’t know whether treatment will help none of them, some of them, or many of them. We just don’t know enough. We won’t begin to develop answers until we learn to look the problem and the people behind them in the face. We can’t until we are equipped with some knowledge.
In the last months, we have witnessed two attempts at dealing with the issue of frum gays. I am personally sympathetic to each of the attempts, while rejecting each of them as flawed and fraught. The YU forum could have been a good idea, had it been accompanied by the proper kind of context – the one supplied in the days after by Rav Meir Twersky, shlit”a. The prepared statement that percolated through the rabbinic community attracted almost exclusively signatures from the left. Those in the center and certainly to the right spotted flaws, and wondered why the statement was not shown to major poskim, instead of well-meaning lesser lights.
We may now have a tool that is forceful, moving, and seems to be free of any agenda. [See Postscript at end of this piece.] It’s only overt message is aimed at other frum gays, those who might be tottering on the brink of despair – or worse. It will get better, they tell them. Perhaps greater people than me will find problems with it; I haven’t yet. I found it quite compelling as a way of fostering understanding, and introducing people to a very painful and difficult parshah that we are all going to have to deal with. The faces of the young frum gay men, representing yeshivos we know and shown in setting we recognize, using their names and telling their stories, will haunt viewers, both for the pathos, and for our vulnerability in not knowing yet how to help them.
Here, too, knowledge will be the first step towards solution.
[Postscript: A good and wise friend found the agenda. The piece is part of a larger “It Gets Better” campaign led by a reporter at the Village Voice. This video is the frum version. While dispelling despair is one of the positive objectives of the campaign, it seems to also include the message that gays should take pride in who they are and act on their urges. The Torah community cannot, of course, in any manner or form undo or minimize a serious halachic transgression. Nonetheless, that particular objective will not be furthered by committed frum Jews watching the video and sensitizing themselves to the nisayonos and the loneliness of many people in our midst.]
Extremely courageous for these young men to go on camera, tell their stories (and even give their names)!
The next step is to find the sympathetic rabbis they refer to (or other Orthodox rabbis) and include them on a future YouTube video. That would be a much more tangible and powerful statement of hope to current closeted Jews.
I don’t think it’s possible to have an agenda-free statement for anything. In this case, the passive message seems to be–yes, you may be abused, stigmatized, bullied, ashamed, etc…hang in there through the rest of your day school/yeshiva time, accept the abuse, but then things will get better.
I wouldn’t accept that message for my kids for any abuse they’re suffering in school, for any reason. It absolves the school and community of any responsibility. And that’s certainly not a pareve message.
do you think anyone is smarter than R’ Moshe Feinstein? R’ Moshe says it is a Taaveh to be bad. Now come along some geniuses and decide it is pre-determined by Hashem that they be this way and I don’t know how they have the audacity to argue with R’ Moshe. (Ayin Igros Moshe).
[The Pnei Yehoshua in Beitza wrote that smoking is permitted on Yom Tov because it is healthy. Do you think that smoking is healthy? Can I send a carton to your kids? Rav Moshe wrote that heart transplants are a double retzichah – both of the donor and the recipient. When he wrote the teshuva, it was. He changed his mind later. After decades of speaking to people with same-gender urges, every frum rav and frum psychologist that I know has a different view than he had twenty years ago. We don’t have much of a handle on what to do, but we’re not so sure of what we used to be sure of.]
not all problems have solutions. aguna comes to mind. ie there will be situations where the nexus of halacha and society will not yield easy answers. in the case of aguna, we don’t live in an era where one can literally beat a recalcitrant into saying ‘rotzeh ani’. here even worse, halacha , no matter how compassionate, can’t allow the sexual expression that would grant gay individuals physical fulfillment they desire….i think an uplifting , compassionate community can only go so far…..and will rabbonim be able to develop policy for ‘couples’ without assuming what goes on in their bedrooms?
While we need to find more compassionate solutions (sorry “lacosta”), I think this is a problem that ought to remain silent. There is a halachic principle of “halakhah ve’ein morin kein — such is the law, but we don’t teach this [publicly]”. There are things, particularly when dealing with finding the least of evils, where making a big deal about it to the masses does more harm than good.
E.g. the Convervative driving responsum. Many kiruv workers will also invite people to their homes for a Shabbos meal, or to shul for minyan, knowing they will drive to attend, using a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. The Conservative CLJS ruling, however, made a public policy that it’s okay to drive to synagogue if that’s the only way they’ll get to synagogue. And within a few years, the entire notion of driving on Shabbos being prohibited was eroded. The next responsum allowed it for other mitzvos, and the whole notion of “otherwise they would have no Judaism or Shabbos at all” was out the window. The public declaration was far damaging than the ruling itself
Compasion for people fighting a yeitzer hara I lack is one thing. But making this a public or communal issue will erode public perception that yes, it is a yeitzer hara.
[YA- I would disagree. The challenge is to create much compassion b’yemin, while using a smole docheh of safeguarding awareness of the chomer ha-issur. I think that this is exactly what R Twersky did in his sichah at YU.]
We would be better off with a video of frum people who have dealt with these leanings, grown up as bnei torah and now live happy family lives.
There are strictly halakhic issues where rabbis should lead and broader religious issues where expertise/guidance also comes from a broader constituency within the community. (those familiar with prof. katz ztl’s work could provide examples.) Beyond some strictly halakhic elements, this issue is of the latter type. It is critical that we allow those with expertise to begin to shape policies. In time rabbis will refine those policies within relevant halakhic parameters.
We face many years, if not decades of struggling to find even a modus vivendi, let alone a policy, if ever a solution. I do not fault those who are trying and it is probably best that they are given more room than normally provided to experiment/err. The one thing we do not need are categorical pronouncements.
I applaud you for raising a painful and difficult issue.
In describing the painful dilemma faced by frum men struggling with sexual desire for members of the same sex as “The Next Silent Problem After Abuse”, R. Adlerstein risks the unfortunate possibility of readers presuming the two phenomena to be of equivalent dimensions & dynamics. They aren’t. Sexual abuse perpetrated on children by trusted adults & then covered up communally so as to supposedly “safeguard” the integrity of our kehilla is a travesty of such awesome proportion that we will be held accountable for years. Perhaps it may even be our own Pilegesh B’Givoh (R’Moshe Soloveichik has compared it to the avodah zara of Moloch). The suffering felt by those in our world who confront the incompatibility of their sexual yearnings with Halachic imperatives is sorrowful, but hardly akin to the destruction of a child’s neshama.
Whatever communal position there may be to the dilemma of homoerotic desires, the problem must be framed and understood in a Jewish context & not be defined by the sensibilities of the general culture. “Being gay” is not a Torah construct. Over the last 35+ years since the mental health profession voted on the removal of homosexuality from the manual of psychiatric disorders a new identity has come into being whereby an individual defines his/her existence by sexual proclivity. Today, gay or straight doesn’t just refer to sexual behavior. It has become a term to describe an individual’s essence – hardly a Torah perspective. Therefore we should be very careful not to accept the false premise that sexual desire is anything more than one aspect of the whole individual. I believe much of the anguish felt by those with these sexual impulses arises from their sense of isolation as they have bought into this notion of “gayness” as personal identity. It then understandably follows, how can one be gay & be frum? But if in Yiddishkeit there is no unique gay identity then there need be no experience of isolation. One can certainly be frum and struggle with the yetzer harah, no matter what the content of one’s urges may be.
It is quite remarkable that of all the challenges we face in adhering to the Torah, this particular struggle has acquired such prominence. I know individuals who are miserable in failed relationship after failed relationship, achieving no intimacy sexual or otherwise & yet they too are mandated to bear their pain in a Torah true manner, and not pursue improper gratifications. What has made the sexual struggles of homosexual desires so unique, so compelling that we must have a tirutz to this kasheh?
I’m not sure what “we would be better off with…” is all about. The point is that there is in fact a population out there that needs to be dealt with in a compassionate way. This is not about everyone else’s “growth”. This isnt about pretending they are not there or can be “cured”. This is about confronting a reality.
>Compasion for people fighting a yeitzer hara I lack is one thing. But making this a public or communal issue will erode public perception that yes, it is a yeitzer hara.
There’s almost no chance that frum people will stop being mean or nasty – even unintentionally – to gay people without making it something that is talked about publicly.
The great unmentioned elephant in the room, when it comes to any discussion of young frum homosexuals, is the all-male environment in which such fellows live. In any all-male environment, be it the Eton prep school, the Los Angeles Dodgers, or the local boys yeshivah, there is always going to be more touchy-feely back slapping than there is in society at large. I imagine this makes some young yeshivah students, whose hormones are exploding, and who do not circulate among girls, wonder about their identity. In a sane world, this turbulent part of the young man’s life would pass, and he would marry and join the rest of society. The trouble is, parts of society are attempting to convince such young men that they are actually homosexuals, when in fact they are nothing more than teenagers in an all male environment.
This is already a problem even in mixed-gender schools. It is not an easy thing for a teenaged boy to approach a girl, and so it is far easier to simply say “well, I’m gay” and avoid learning to deal with girls altogether. It’s especially easy in a culture which not only wants us to tolerate homosexuality [ingrained or created] but wants us to actualy celebrate it. If these are problems within the mainstream society, “kal vichomer” they are problems in a yeshivah society. Thus, I am against any program which attempts to deal with homosexuality by portraying it as acceptable in any fashion. There are indeed persons whose homosexuality is hard-wired, and not produced by outside pressures. But because too many normal – yes, normal – adolescents can be caught up into erroneously thinking of themselves as homosexuals, the risk outweighs any potential benefits that might conceivably exist.
Perhaps it’s true there is “no chance that frum people will stop being mean or nasty – even unintentionally – to gay people without making it something that is talked about publicly.” Are you sure that people who have the ability to be nasty having yet one more target is the worse evil? It’s not like we’re talking about addressing people’s need to attack others to find validation rather than improving themselves. I doubt you’ll even reduce the number of victims of bullying.
In the meantime, the price being paid is a loss of Torah ethics to assimilating those of the zeitgeist. I am afraid of confusing the obligation of rachamim with the Western notion that what people do is only /really/ evil if it causes pain to people other than themselves. For all of the importance of showing compassion to others and the primacy of interpersonal mitzvos, one can’t simply ignore the fact that what we call to’eivah they call “alternative”, and if we don’t keep the wall up, the entire notion of a particularly Torah ethic will evaporate.
(Metaphor: For all our crying for the agunah, we don’t risk the entire institution of marriage to prevent possible agunos.)
Steve, there are many frum people out there that have had these same feelings – yet learned to deal with them in a way that is in concert with Torah Judaism. While I am sure that there is a population that can not find a way to blend in – the messages that we need to be sending is from people who have been able to deal with this and have gone on to create Torah True families. Yes, we need to be compassionate with a group that can not – but we need to hear primarily or at least predominately from those who have learned how to deal with this. We need to provide a way for people who have been successful to share and record there methods. It makes sence that Rabbanim would be eager to have a way to here directly from those who have been able to fight this battle and win. They would then be in a better position to make an evaluation and share advise.
R. Micha Berger writes:
About a year ago, I cited on my blog Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein’s remarkably stark formulation of this point (as cited by his former student Louis Epstein – my translation):
For someone who has very publicly and correctly publicized an agenda against racism as it exists in the frum community, I am surprised at your almost Machiavellian response. It’s not only an issue of adults already distanced from their religion, community and even family. Who will stand up for the 10 year olds or 15 year olds suffering for no fault of their own?
>Steve, there are many frum people out there that have had these same feelings – yet learned to deal with them in a way that is in concert with Torah Judaism. While I am sure that there is a population that can not find a way to blend in – the messages that we need to be sending is from people who have been able to deal with this and have gone on to create Torah True families. Yes, we need to be compassionate with a group that can not – but we need to hear primarily or at least predominately from those who have learned how to deal with this. We need to provide a way for people who have been successful to share and record there methods. It makes sence that Rabbanim would be eager to have a way to here directly from those who have been able to fight this battle and win. They would then be in a better position to make an evaluation and share advise.
First we have to see if the former group actually exists. Let’s say they do: then you’re right, let’s hear their message. But will they be willing to give their message when the totally gratuitous situation of contempt, mistrust, revulsion, etc. of homosexuals persists? Would you? Do you think the community could handle, say, a respected rav or rebbe acknowledging that he is homosexual but don’t worry, he’s worked it out and was successful?
A few weeks ago there was another video, on the same YouTube account as the video you’ve linked to, showing and celebrating a wedding of two “frum” men getting married.
How is it no one has mentioned JONAH, the well-established Jewish organization that has helped many Jews who thought – or were led by society to believe – that they were gay? I might also mention certain well known female celebrities who seemingly change their sexual orientation overnight.
The point is, this video, or any program calling for tolerance of public homosexuality, is grounded fundamentally on the premise that homosexuality is immutable. Yet despite the best efforts of late 20th century American liberalism to establish that claim as a fact, the actual evidence either completely undercuts it, or at the very least casts upon it a great cloud of doubt
>I am surprised at your almost Machiavellian response
I find that the term Machiavellian has experienced what we in the high-tech industry call “scope creep.” Contemporary western ethics have many virtues but in one area – that of balancing communal and individual needs, they have gone more and more to an individualistic extreme. The idea that an individual may have to deny himself a core desire or sacrifice something central to himself for the sake of the larger group is often grouped together with ideologies that adopted the opposite extreme. This ethical orientation makes it impossible to defend certain traditional ethical categories to general society.
I think that public acceptance of homosexuality or of homosexual behavior falls into this category. The left constantly tries to veer the conversation into the realm of technical halacha which misses the boat. Hilchot erva have not been about technical halacha for a long long time. The larger orthodox community (with the exception of a few left wing enclaves) is a traditional community which is largely puritanical in its attitudes towards sexuality. Before one would even be able to publicly discuss homosexuality, one would have to make discussions of sexuality in general part of the public domain. One would have to get people to think of sexuality in terms of one’s identity as opposed to an intimate and private act between two individuals who define themselves based on other criteria. If one was to transform this society to such an extent, it would not be an organic but rather a traumatic shift that would in effect transform our society beyond recognition.
While I feel compassion for these individuals, I simultaneously feel that the price we would have to pay for them to feel emotionally healthy is way too great. I may be judged harshly for this by general society. It may be that general society feels that when a subgroup is caused emotional pain by its host group, the the ethical imperative is for the host to accommodate the subgroup in any way possible. I myself can not agree with this. accommodations may occur, but they must occur within the scope of protecting the core values and identity of the host – which to me is a larger ethical imperative than the feelings of these individuals. Some people would see this as a lack of compassion for the feelings of homosexuals – all I can say is that it is not so. Sometimes we simply have to bypass our natural compassion when accommodating would simply be the larger of two evils.
All this is of course not Machiavellian. It is rather the result of a struggle between two separate ethical imperatives where the result is at odds with contemporary ethical sensibilities.
1. Be very careful of any medical, biological, psychological, or psychiatric studies that may have been conducted with a hidden agenda in mind. Our modern world has been full of such bogus studies done under the “best” auspices. Nearly every social, commercial and political interest group imaginable has tried to use the appearance of science to further its cause.
2. When the Torah forbids something to a Jew, there is a penalty for doing it unless some condition really negated that Jew’s free will in that area. In the latter case, there is still absolutely no justification for allowing the forbidden practice in public.
It occured to me that there is an assumption running around this discussion that we are only speaking of gay males. What of gay females? The issurim there are much less..
Reb Moshe’s teshuva regarding homosexuality being “lehechis” was not based on contemporary research, but on sources in Talmud and Rishonim. Hence, your analogy to cigarrets and heart transplants is untenable and possibly disingenuous.
[No. He would say that those mekoros speak about people who decide to enlarge their arena of sexual activity to include members of the same gender, in line with the Ramban on lema’an sefos haroveh es ha-tzeme’ah. He would not necessarily apply the same words to those who have felt trapped by certain feelings, and spent years trying to fight them.
Your premise is also silly. As much as I personally feel close to R Moshe and follow some of his unpopular pesakim, no one person has an exclusive on halacha. The notion that who could possibly disagree with R Moshe betrays a very sophmoric approach to halacha.]
S: I’m not saying the issue shouldn’t be dealt with, or that rabbis shoudn’t be trained to handle it. However, I think that a public approach violates the notion of “halakhah ve’ein morin kein”. In other words, that suffering 15 yr old needs to have someone he can reach out to. But teaching HS teachers, local rabbis, etc… how to compassionately advise people plagued with this particular yeitzer hara, I still think more harm is done if we make this a public issue. Even though trying to handle things quietly will hamper and reduce the effectiveness of such aid that we can give. Matters of a sexual nature OUGHT to remain “silent problems”, doubly so if publicly preaching tolerance contributes to the zeitgeist of accepting the deviation itself.
I just now noticed RYA added an editorial note to my comment. R Twersky did try to balance compassion with his right hand, while pushing away with his left, showing the strength of the issur. However, if you watch what’s happening at YU, the knowledge of the severity of the sin is wearing away. It’s largely after watching how things are playing out in the YU community that I formed my current opinion that it’s better off being kept privately — even though much less effectively — between a person and their rav.
[YA – No question that you are correct, Reb Micha. The Mishna of ein dorshin is on your side. The problem is that experience has shown that problems in our community left for private discussion (e.g. abuse, fraud) are problems left unaddressed.]
to Shaul and DF,
who assume that there are lots of gay-tended bnai tora who worked things out and live family lives, and lots of JONAH success stories—
1. due to the closeting of so many individuals , there is probably no good data
2. shaul, can that updated video also include the stories of the gay suicide victims who ‘worked it out’ that way? and how manyare in each category?
3. DF let’s see the JONAH statistics— how many families, failures, suicides etc
RYA’s observation that we simply do not understand this subject yet is borne out in these comments. I must say I am surprised at how little of the issue seems to be appreciated here.
The challenge facing frum gays is NOT simply a matter of having desires for forbidden behavior. And arguing that “being gay” is not a Torah construct is completely beside the point. Being gay is real and it is a whole package. As should be evident even just from watching this video, the challenge facing these young men is that they have no way to envision a future for themselves. Imagine growing up with no expectation of ever being a husband or a father, with a sense of being different from everyone else in your very humanity, of having no role models and no idea of who you are supposed to be and how you could ever fit in to society. And making this all that much worse is that frum society’s elaborate efforts to keep sexual desires in check – keeping boys and girls away from each other, etc. – makes it possible for everyone but you to manage their hormones. It is easy to say homosexuality is another desire the Torah forbids but imagine placing a high school boy in a girl’s dorm for four years, telling him what is asur and expecting him to emerge normal and frum. These sort of desires CANNOT be handled, which is why we try to never give them that kind of an opening. With no sense of a future for themselves, no societal help in keeping their desires under control in the short term, no way of understanding their plight or knowing how to deal with in the long term, these young people suffer in ways that are truly tragic. The fact that their numbers are increasing, even just along with our population growth, means that we must develop solutions for them. This is about much, much more than living with challenges of desire – it is about providing scared children a path to being human.
Above, Dovid referred to “no societal help in keeping their desires under control in the short term.” Not only that, but modern society openly encourages the acting out of every imaginable urge, short of violence.
Lacosta – JONAH has a website, I’m sure you can get a lot of info there. And that’s just a Jewish group, there are Christian groups too. These organizations, among other points, effectively rebut the baseless, ideological-driven claim that homosexuality is immutuable.
For those commenters that are so supportive of JONAH, they should research the organization, and their methods. Their founder is an ex-con convicted of fraud. Their alleged methods would certainly shock the readership of this blog.
while reb micha’s points about ain dorshin are relevant, if one uses the frum sex abuse model—where absent the internet/bloggers, etc— the shtuperei would go on unabated [ as we see in the most haredi least open societies , where there are still sharks in the [mikva] water unrestrained] ; and only airing the dirty laundry could force large swaths of , let’s say, haimishe yidden , to even admit there is a problem [let alone do anything about it] — maybe here too , a certain amount of publicity might be the impetus to develop services [which probably always existed , but only for the few very brave individuals , who thought there were rabbonim they could confide in–and doubtless, many were disappointed along the way] for the meek ,hurting individuals, who might be more inclined to offing themselves, absent strong support systems…..
I am surprised that only one poster has mentioned the high suicide rate among gay teens in the general population. The problem that needs to be solved isn’t just that these people are going off the derech. The problem is that a high proportion of them may take their own lives.
There is no way that a halachic community can accept people violating the halacha forbidding gay sex. However, we should do what we can to protect our young — even those who have a draw to some forbidden behavior. We don’t ridicule and keep buried the fact that some people may have a strong desire for lobster or bacon. How is keeping the problem of gays in our community quiet helping anyone?
Finally, I don’t see how anyone who is heterosexual can think that simply publicizing the existence of gay people is going to make more frum folks commit that aveira. Do you really think that you would have been gay if you had seen more gay people? And, do you really think that someone with a homosexual inclination would not find out that there are other gay people just because it is kept quiet in our community?
Finally, I don’t see how anyone who is heterosexual can think that simply publicizing the existence of gay people is going to make more frum folks commit that aveira.
I believe the point was concern that an effort toward openness and acceptance could add to teenagers’ confusion, as they cope with physical changes possibly without any adult guidance. (This might actually be a central point for both abuse and homosexuality – many kids in all communities grow up without good communication with adults on the sensitive but fundamental topic of sexuality.)
And, do you really think that someone with a homosexual inclination would not find out that there are other gay people just because it is kept quiet in our community?
Because a significant percentage of gays were introduced to it by already-practicing gays, there is a question whether the introduction was truly helping someone find themselves, or directing them to a lifestyle that wasn’t “the” answer but just an outlet. Promoting community-wide openness and acceptance will lead some to believe that these introductions are legitimate and helpful, rather than something to be suspicious of.
I find it impressive enough if Rav Adlerstein suggests our communities need to open up this discussion. But we shouldn’t do so without watching out for resultant pitfalls – and the objections to openness can be some indication of what those might be.
[YA – I think this was very well put! (Except the part about Adlerstein’s suggestions, which I personally find unimpressive.) This has been a particularly helpful and illuminating thread, with some excellent comments exposing the subtle pitfalls in going too public. Yet this is one of the positive promises of the internet. You can reach people with information, without surrounding that information with a public splash that can send the wrong cues to people in impressionable positions. So I stand behind asking people to watch this video.]
Dovid: What is the “package” of a sexual self that is directed toward other men? Does one learn Torah differently? Perform mitzvos differently? Engage in daily activites of living differently? Young men with exclusive homosexual impulses have no dreams or aspirations besides the devastating unliklihood of being a husband or father? I don’t discount for a moment the enormity of that void in one’s life. But that is a reality for many in our community having nothing to do with sexuality. The “shidduch crisis” alone has left thousands of men & women in that circumstance. True, theoretically these individuals “could” find an acceptable partner. However, the real world experience is that they cannot and will not marry and raise families.
What would a “role model” in this context look like? Are you suggesting that there ought to be some sort of madrich on how to live a celibate life, as that is truly the singular behavioral distinction in halacha between homosexual impulses and heterosexual ones – having a permissible outlet for expressing sexuality? Does “fitting into society” only involve sexual relationships? What other sources of separation from the rest of the community do you see in the life of one with a homosexual orientation?
“Frum society’s elaborate efforts to keep sexual desires in check” is truly an awesome challenge for EVERY young man & woman living in our current general culture. There is not a corner of the frum world free of the overwhelming bombardment of sexual material of every sort. How any frum teen today manages his/her hormones is a wonder. Unfortunately, many do not & there are any number of young people who live with terrible shame over their sexual misbehaviors, both heterosexual & homosexual. They all deserve our understanding, support & acceptance.
Your observations of the confusion young people experience regarding their sexuality is right on the mark. There is a huge gap in knowledge about sexuality, especially in regard to normal same-sex attraction. Make no mistake, such a phenomenon is also very real & is experienced by a significant percentage of the population, most of whom move on to ordinary heterosexual relationships without inner conflict or sexual insecurity. We need to be more proactive in teaching young people in a safe, sensible, & non-sensational way what sexuality is all about. We can’t afford to allow shame to dominate & take hold of their psyches.
We are not the first generation addressing these life experiences, just the most obsessed. In my yeshiva days we were also aware of certain unhealthy interests some bochurim might have & to manuever around certain friendships. Perhaps it was more discreet then. In any case, the solutions you ask for are necessary for all youth.
I think that we are attempting to mature ourselves, dare I say evolve, in the way we deal with issues that face us. Whether we want to admit it or not we’ve been nudged along, sometimes kicking and screaming, by the greater human community.
Interestingly, with issues that are between man and man, such as abuse, Aguna, pedophilia, this evolution has required us to become less tolerant and more aggressive with the perpetrators in our midst. Conversely, as regards issues between man and God, such as intermarriage,”off the derech”, and homosexuality, we’re becoming more tolerant, accepting and understanding of the person while learning dissociate that person from his sin. The latter category is much more difficult to negotiate as it requires us to manage that fine line between appearing to accept the activity while trying not to completely alienate the actor.
This is obviously still a work in progress, but I applaud Rabbi Adlerstein for raising the issue in a way that has allowed for this constructive discussion.
Without having done research and having no professional qualification, it seems to me that the mass of humanity is broken up into x percentage of people who have and can only have a heterosexual attraction, y percentage of people who have an exclusive attraction to the same sex, and z percentage who could go either way based on what happens in their lives. When kids are baited by their peers and called queer etc., one possible response is to internalize it and think, “that must be what I am” and look for others that are like that and therefore are not enemies. When a child or adolescent is abused, there is a tendency to go the same way, just as girl who has been raped can internalize that she is a “bad girl” and then act out in promiscuous behavior, substance abuse etc. Kids who are at risk in this way should probably be counseled to live at home rather than dorm because of the issues of both fear and temptation. Of course that is the case only when the family cooperates. In addition, it is important that kids in educational institutions be watched and counseled to avoid the bullying nastiness which attaches to the kid who is “different” in whatever way, not just with gay tendencies. I was told that a certain rabbi/therapist had observed that the male homosexuals whom he had treated, both Jewish and non-Jewish, had all been victims of sexual abuse. I am in the process of verifying whether that person really made this claim, so I will not name the rabbi. As for the person who commented on lesbians, there the process is different. The girl was abused by a man, often someone in the family, and her inner conclusion is, rather than exclusively “I’m bad”, also “men are no good” and “only a woman can understand and love me”. These are only suggestions without proof. Those who know, please educate us.
Robert: There are many types of challenges faced by young people who don’t fit in easily. B”H, our community recognizes many of these challenges and makes an effort to understand the problems and the people who face them, to be sympathetic, and to provide support and guidance. An individual might have a learning disability, a weight problem, a social problem, etc. and it is everyone’s job to look out for those who feel there is something wrong with them. Every one of these includes its own package of issues, especially for adolescents trying to figure out who they are. To say “so you have a speech impediment. It’s just one thing. Deal with it,” or “so you’re short and skinny – so what, everyone has problems” reflects the worst midos there are. To young people, these loom super large in their lives.
But do you know what? We’re pretty good at understanding these sort of issues and making these kids feel good about themselves. We are not good at all, however, in the case of those who are gay. We (and, forgive me, especially you) are not good at understanding what they go through and giving them the support they need. This “one thing” of sexual attraction changes everything for them. Yes, they do learn Torah differently because our avos and imahos, for example, whom we are all supposed to emulate, have high profile marriages and live for their children. Adam and Chava were created as a pair and we are told of marriage right in the story of creation. The mitzvah of Talmud Torah is expressed in the words “v’shinantam l’vanecha” – learn to pass on the mesorah to your children, and there is much, much more. You underestimate how powerful these messages are: Being a father and husband is part of the profile of good Jew. Those who try but do not succeed suffer enough but know that at least they are in the parsha and might succeed at any time.
Your reference to the shidduch crisis is therefore a non-starter. We are also talking about young people for whom this is far in the future – everyone can look forward to getting married. And even someone getting on in years, absent other issues, does not feel there is something fundamentally wrong with them. This does not compare to someone who cannot relate to the institution of marriage in the first place and has no idea where that leaves them.
Yes, many people face challenges. But this is one of the big ones and we have yet to appreciate what it’s all about and how we can help those who face it.
Dovid: It is very generous of you to say that our community is pretty good at understanding issues like eating disorders, developmental dysfunction, infertility, etc. and helping these individuals feel good about themselves. My experiences have been decidedly more mixed. We are especially not good at helping child abuse victims and their families feel good & accepted in the community – which was the jump off point for this thread. The pain, suffering, sense of isolation & exclusion these people experience is profound & more often than not life-long.
And yet one of the most therapeutic efforts they can get is help in strengthening their resiliance so as to perceive themselves as whole people who can lead productive and fulfilling lives, not just abuse survivors who are at risk for all sorts of ills and future hardships. Every one of us experiences our world through the prism of our individual uniqueness based on the totality of our inborn characteristics and personal histories. Every one has that “one thing” – perhaps more than one – that stands out. My parents are Holocaust survivors. I can’t possibly comprehend the massive impact of that “one thing” on the subsequent course of their lives. But I have seen the amazing choices and determination they have put forth to live beyond their sorrows.
It’s the question of personal identity that I believe is central to the dilemma we are discussing. We choose how we define ourselves and as such we have enormous power to incorporate all the messages we get about what it takes to be a good Jew in a fashion that raises us up or, tragically, pulls us down into terrible shame and despair. That is a message that young people need to hear constantly.
I don’t believe my reference to the shidduch crisis is quite the non-starter you say. Not everyone can look forward to getting married as you may think. Girls with abuse histories don’t have that confidence, as well as many others. There are many other sufferers who see themselves as fundamentally “damaged goods” and therefore outside the parsha. It’s our nature to see the self-injury as uniquely worse than the injury of the other. It’s valuable to keep in perspective the challenges faced by other groups in coping with their “one thing”.
“No. He would say that those mekoros speak about people who decide to enlarge their arena of sexual activity to include members of the same gender, in line with the Ramban on lema’an sefos haroveh es ha-tzeme’ah. He would not necessarily apply the same words to those who have felt trapped by certain feelings, and spent years trying to fight them.”
Those sources don’t distinguish between different types of homosexuals. (The class being discussed, is the majority of them, based on the contemporary understanding).
“Your premise is also silly. As much as I personally feel close to R Moshe and follow some of his unpopular pesakim, no one person has an exclusive on halacha. The notion that who could possibly disagree with R Moshe betrays a very sophmoric approach to halacha.”
It behoovs me where you see in my comments that I said a reputable posek can’t argue with Reb Moshe. I was responding to your comment regarding the lack of relevance of Reb Moshe’s psak evidenced by your heart plant analogy.
I suspect that you can’t accept the notion that Chazal’s view into the chochot hanefesh of people is superior to contemporary pyscology.
It should be noted that many of the people in the group under discussion are abusers of others.
I am coming to this discussion very late, so what I say may not have much significance or even be noticed at all. Plus, what I have to say about this issue, is not politically correct, but at least I am making this clear right away.
First of all, I do not feel particularly strongly one way or the other, when it comes to a non-practicing homosexual. Perhaps a person cannot help feeling what he feels; perhaps it really is true that a very small percentage of men were born to feel attracted toward other men the way the vast majority of us men are attracted to women. If a homosexual man does not act on his feelings, I see no reason to not include him in the Jewish community.
However, I strongly suspect that especially in this day and age, when we are ordered by force of law to treat male homosexuality as a viable, alternative expression of one’s sexuality, that most homosexuals do engage in that lifestyle. That is their own private affair, not really any of my business, and yet I do not see how such a lifestyle can possibly be compatible with Torah Judaism. The Torah is extremely clear that it strongly disapproves and forbids such behavior; in fact, one is literally supposed to give up one’s life rather than engage in that behavior.
Furthermore, our sexuality is so central to our individual identities. The core of any viable society is the family, which in turn is based on the marriage between one man and one woman, which in turn has sexuality as much of its foundation. In fact, men and women are so different from one another, that the strong sexual attraction that exists between men and women, is the necessary ingredient to draw men and women together in the first place. But the homosexual lifestyle completely disrupts and overturns all that, and since family life and the home is really the focal point of Judaism, I just do not see how such a lifestyle can be compatible with Judaism.
My point is not to make homosexuals feel bad about their preferences, and yet I do not think that just because somebody feels a certain way, means that they must and should realize those feelings. A person may have the urge to smoke, but it would be wise to never smoke even a single cigarette in the first place. Most of us men have had erotic urges for very attractive married women who are forbidden to us, and so we control our urges, letting our thoughts stay in our heads rather than act upon them. If a male homosexual wishes to be accepted in the religious community, perhaps he should consider living a sexually abstinent lifestyle.
Bob Miller: There is no evidence supporting the notion that sexual orientation is related to the liklihood of perpetrating abuse. Pedophiles are pedophiles. Their victims are children. The sex of the child is not the source of the attraction.
Bob Miller: On what basis do you say that? Is there evidence to that affect or do you assume pedophilia from men to boys implies that? To my (limited)knowledge, that assumption is incorrect and exclusively gay adults are not significantly more likely to molest children than others (though I would be concerned about gay teenage counselors, for example, in an overnight camp setting). Data here is vital. Do you have any? If you happened to be right, this would only be an additional reason to help gays “come out of the closet” so we can be aware of such concerns. It would certainly not be a reason to simply hate them more.
I said “many”, without reference to any percentage or any other reference group. Abuse of this type is well-known to exist.
It should be noted that many of the people in the heterosexual group are abusers of others.