Does the Gay Issue Threaten the Continuity of Orthodoxy?

An essay penned by the lead educator at a Modern Orthodox high school warned of possible shock. “This may surprise many adults, but the reconciliation of the Torah’s discussion of homosexuality represents the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today.”

The author’s declaration was every bit as surprising and shocking as he warned it would be. If true, we are looking at a systemic failure of Torah chinuch in significant parts of the Orthodox world. It would be to Orthodoxy what Galileo and Bruno had been to the Church – massive inability to respond appropriately to an intellectual challenge.

Reading on in the essay, the incredulity mounted.

More young people are “coming out” than ever before, and that repeatedly puts a face to this theological challenge…As they go off to college, students invariably face the painful moral dilemma created by the seemingly intractable conflict: believing in the primacy and validity of the Torah on the one hand, and following their hearts’ sense of morality with regard to loving and accepting their gay friends – or perhaps “coming out” themselves—on the other. All too often, this earnest challenge results in our children quietly losing faith in the Torah as a moral way of life.

In my experience, many, if not most, 20 to 40-year olds in the modern Orthodox world struggle with the issue of homosexuality and the divinity of the Torah. They believe in a kind and just God and they want to believe in the divinity of the Torah. But at the same time they feel fairly certain that being gay is not a matter of choice. In the apparent conflict of these ideas, the first two premises seem to be losing ground.

Could this really be? A Jewish people fiercely clings to its love and devotion to HKBH through millennia of persecution, pogroms, penury, ghettos, auto-da-fes, Crusades, exile, religious and racial hatred and a Holocaust – only to lose its faith over the banning of behavior foreign to 98% of the population?

In those rare moments when our adversaries forgot about us long enough not to visit those horrors upon us, we contemplated a world in which suffering, disease, child mortality, ever-present warfare, and the brutish subjugation of the many by the few were the rule, not the exception. And we went right on proclaiming the goodness of G-d, Who gave us the Torah we cherished!

When we repaired to the beis midrash we found respite and elevation. We read about Avrohom pointedly inquiring about Hashem’s mishpat. We tried putting ourselves in his shoes on the way to the Akeidah, preparing himself to slaughter his son for no reason other than Hashem wanted him to. (Not quite figuring it out how he passed his test did not prevent us, daily, from trying to collect Divine favor in his merit.) We listened to the plaintive cries of Yirmiyahu contemplating the vast destruction of the Churban. And we hung on to every word of dialogue in the Book of Iyov, waiting for the eureka moment in which we understood the prevalence of evil in our world.

It never came. But we never relaxed our conviction about Hashem’s justice – although repeatedly given the opportunity. Moshe emes, v’soroso emes.

And the gay issue is the burden that is too difficult to bear, the one that will open the exit door to observance for Orthodox young people?

We could take this discussion in several directions. Some will challenge – perhaps correctly – the “many-if-not-most” assertion of the author. Others will enjoy a moment in triumphalists’ heaven, gloating on how the obviously less-pious Jews of the Modern Orthodox world got it all wrong, just as the “more Torah-authentic” Jews always suspected. This triumphalism is neither deserved, nor helpful.

It might be more fruitful to discuss why the gay issue is a tempest in a cholent pot in other parts of the Orthodox world. Why is it unthinkable that substantial numbers of frum kids elsewhere would give up belief in G-d or the divinity of Torah in response?

In some parts of the community, the question is moot. Gays are not discussed. Even using the word is taboo. What you don’t think about can’t be much of an issue. But this is not the case elsewhere, where people talk about the problem, are aware of families that have children who have come out, and have embraced Rav Aharon Feldman’s now-classic position paper on the subject.[1] They struggle to comprehend the pain and loneliness of people they know about – but giving up on the foundations of Judaism is not part of the response. Why not?

Essentially, we’re asking why Torah chinuch in some parts of the community – certainly no stranger to their own problems – nonetheless is more successful in this area. What does it take to produce loyal Jews rather than emunah-challenged socially orthodox ones?

We should be devoting serious study to this and related issues – meaning the collection of real data analyzed by proper scientific methodologies. Such study remains, at the moment, a pipe-dream. In its absence, I will offer one thought, which should be taken as nothing more than the product of some decades of observation, coupled with personal conjecture.

Two phrases seem notably absent in the conversation in parts of the community, while very much in evidence in others. I believe that they have a profound effect on the orientation of young people. Those phrases are kabolas ole, and avodas Hashem. I rarely – if ever – hear them from my Modern Orthodox students and associates. I hear them often enough in parts of the community further to the right.

Kabolas ole means acceptance of the yoke of mitzvos. It means that a person is prepared to do whatever HKBH asks of him or her. Accepting this yoke means that when established halachic protocols yield prescriptions and proscriptions, we obey them whether or not we find them convenient, whether or not they appeal to our sense of reason, and whether or not they are politically correct.

Avodas Hashem means recognizing that each of us was placed on this earth to serve His goals, not what we perceive are our own. Placing this idea front and center means that we don’t treat the demands of Yiddishkeit as some form of payoff to a Divine boss, and once those demands are satisfied, are free to pursue all that we really want to do. It means that we find the ultimate sense of fulfillment in pleasing Him, no one else.

The combination of these two phrases is a potent elixir, providing those who drink it with the strength to endure many challenges.

I would never suggest that these two concepts describe the inner life and the outer behavior of the majority of the right-of-center Orthodox world. There are indeed many lapses, in deed and in intent. But words – memes – are important. They help define the boundaries of our thoughts, even if they do not linearly dictate their exact content. They create expectations that exert pressure – sometimes consciously, sometimes not – on behavior.

Many of us look with revulsion at some of the memes that are transmitted by popular culture, particularly television, film, and popular music. In doing so, we (correctly) assume the impact that memes encouraging instant gratification, self-centeredness, and coarseness have on ourselves and our children. Should we be surprised if positively-oriented memes have a salutary effect on chinuch?

Kabolas ole and avodas Hashem are phrases in the active vocabulary of large parts of the Orthodox world. Teaching them to young children, repeating them again and again, make them part of Orthodox consciousness. When they are part of someone’s life, he or she has an easier time responding positively to some of their implications. When they are absent from everyday life, those implications often never make it to the conscious mind.

I don’t have the wherewithal to reintroduce these phrases into the everyday discussion of some parts of the Orthodox world. But for those who read the essay by the high school principal with horror, the reaction should be clear. We should ensure that concepts close to our minds and souls remain in sharp focus. Repeating concepts like kabolas ole and avodas Hashem too often is a far better approach than not often enough.

May it be His Will that they rub off on both our children and ourselves.

[1] Among other things, it reminds us that the Torah forbids behaviors, not orientation; that our dealings with those with SSAs should be compassionate and respectful, rather than contemptuous; that Orthodox men and women with SSAs have a contribution to make to the Orthodox community.

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68 Responses

  1. micha says:

    I think the lack of nuanced thought between condemning homosexuality and being able to find a place in society for someone who commits a particular sin due to desire (a mumar letei’avon bedavar echad) does endanger Orthodoxy. Of which this issue is but one symptom. It will unnecessarily create ethical challenges for which qabbalas ol Malkhus Shamayim (accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of [the One in] heaven” is not the answer. This discomfort with branding people who the outer society deems “normal” is part of the general phenomenon of losing kids to unnuanced maximalism who could be retained. It just requires taking some of that critical thought we teach boys when we teach them talmud and consequence halachic opinions (“shas and posqim“) and employing it in hashkafah and day-to-day attitude.

    • I’m all in favor of pushing back against “unnuanced meximalism,” Reb Micha, as you well know. But that is not what the author of the article wrote about. He wrote about what he believes happens when young people have to choose between their personal sense of justice and the strictures of halacha. He said they either give up halacha, or give up G-d. I wrote about the disappearance from the working vocubulary of parts of Modern Orthodoxy of concepts that would push the choice in a different direction. That was my only intention, and you are not providing any reason to doubt my thesis.

      • micha says:

        I am suggestion that “unnuanced maximalism” is much of why this boy is unequipped in this particular challenge. It is a worldview in which there is “accept” or “reject”, with no nuance. And so the boy who finds he is challenged with certain urges, or that his friend admitted he was, has to choose. Do I observe, even though it means staying in a system that tells me to consider myself an inferior human being? Is the system really telling me that Dov — the guy who lent me his car that time and made sure the gas tank was topped off first — is a lesser person?

        When such battles are win-all or lose-all, then yes, many will see the fight as just too big to bother. What they are rejecting is not halakhah — which would order the gay person to try to sublimate to the best they are able, and to the extent they succeed despite commitment to lifelong loneliness, they are downright heroic. They are rejecting this unnuanced system which is asking them to judge people.

      • micha says:

        Tangentially: This Millenial unwillingness to judge people is also a cornerstone of Open Orthodoxy. Their desire to be open to the Jew who wants to affiliate despite not being observant led them to being unwilling to challenge those Jews’ core ideas. (Have you counted how many innovations have R’ Ysoscher Katz justified by asserting that otherwise they wouldn’t come in the door?)

        Judging sins vs judging sinners is emerging as a cornerstone issue. Despite meaning that we need to encourage the kind of critical thought that can maintain such subtlety.

      • Reb Yid says:

        Yasher koach for stating the essence of the problem.  That, plus far too many in the Orthodox are simply uneducated and ignorant when it comes to this issue.  Perhaps some still erroneously believe that sexual orientation is a choice, like preferring Coke to Pepsi.

        One thing is clear–while homosexual Jews will remain homosexual (no matter how diligently others may pray for an alternate outcome), given the social ostracism and biases within large segments of Orthodoxy these homosexual Jews might not remain observant–and quite frankly, who could blame them?

    • micha says:

      I was asked in an email to unpack this comment. I agree with the author that I tried to say too much, with too little. So, I will explain here, as I am sure he is not alone.

      I am saying that the problem of MO youth choosing modern values over Jewish ones is more of a symptom than the disease. The real problems are:

      1- We are teaching them a 2D Judaism, no nuance, and maximalist positions. We therefore unnecessarily create the conflict between how they view their friend David and what they hear about homosexuals. The way we teach, a distinction between sinner and sin can’t be hear.

      IOW, there is overlap between this problem and the people whose cynicism was confirmed by L’Affaire Slifkin. We are teaching simplistic attitudes to non-simple questions, and that is failing the masses.

      We should be able to make a place in society for a gay person, who is after all a mumar letei’avon bedavar echad, without blurring our categorization of homosexuality as a sin.

      Most of O is failing on the person, Open O is giving a message that fails on teaching the prohibition.

      2- Not in that paragraph, but also part of the problem: The world they are in doesn’t simply teach differing values. It teaches that the idea of objective values is itself absurd. There is “your truth” and “his truth”, not “the truth”.

      • Lacosta says:

        couldnt you say that haredi youth even moreso have 2d mywayorhighway approach? The difference is no commitment to PC or social justice, and thus the default is baal toevah who need be disparaged, so youth would not have default empathy?  Also , who in haredi life would dare to be ‘out’ like you could in MO schools?


  2. Sara says:

    I am touched by your shock, Rabbi Adlerstein, and moved at your description of our loyalty throughout the generations. However, I am not surprised by the metzius conveyed in this letter. We live in a culture that encourages, and even idolizes, sexual expression. The right to a full and rich intimate life is understood to be as basic as the right to live and breathe. Therefore, the idea that its expression can be forever denied in some population is untenable to those steeped in that culture–which is more and more of us as technology proliferates. It is akin, in their minds, to saying Hashem made people hungry, but said they could never eat. When looked at like that, it isn’t surprising that people will view this issue as incomprehensible and uncompassionate.

    While certainly an emphasis on the concepts you mentioned is essential to developing true Jewish sensibility, at the same time, education also needs to teach that while important, and even cherished in the proper halachic context of a committed marriage, intimacy is not the most important thing in the entire world, and that it is possible–excrutiatingly difficult, surely, but possible–to live a life devoid of it. Until intimate expression is restored to its proper place in the scheme of values–important, desirable, and cherished as an expression of marital love; not something absolutely essential to a human being at all times and in any form–it will be difficult to uproot the sense of divine unfairness experienced by the youth described in the letter.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I think that intimacy is defined within our tradition within the confines of a Bayis Neeman BYisrael uvToraso.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      “The right to a full and rich intimate life is understood to be as basic as the right to live and breathe…”
      I agree with this that the  contemporary over-sexualized world contributes, but it’s interesting that the “Declaration On The Torah Approach to Homosexuality”, which  A)  believes gays can change through therapy, and  B) holds that G-d  wouldn’t grant  such  a challenge without a solution, accordingly,  C)   doesn’t downplay at all  the conflict, to the contrary–  “The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable…G-d is loving and merciful….Abandoning people to lifelong loneliness and despair by denying all hope of overcoming and healing their same-sex attraction is heartlessly cruel…”
      I would make a distinction  between most of those asking the question, and gays themselves, which as R. Adlerstein noted are only 2% of the population.  I would think for 98% of the population, it’s relevant emotionally partially because it’s current events; unless one  know someone personally, it’s really more of a  detached,  intellectual question, just as why innocent people suffer, which can be detached.  When emphasizing with  2% of the population, there is the concept of a “mechayev”, as the Gemara says about  Hillel or Yosef.  A person emphasizing with a homosexual can agree that he is not in their shoes and doesn’t serve as a mechayev, but can say that others, in general,   had/have nisyonos, similar to what  R.  Adlerstein wrote about Jewish history(“ millennia of persecution, pogroms”).
      Regarding the main point of the post, R.  Adlerstein also wrote about this regarding kiruv and Tisha B’aav  in “He Never Promised Us A Rose Garden”. The opposite is also true, that Modern Orthodox education, or any education for that matter, can’t only have the hardships which could deteriorate into   “es iz shver tzu zein a Yid”, eschewed by R. Moshe Feinstein, similar to what R.  Adlerstein wrote in the Tisha B’aav post as well.

  3. Miriam Haber says:

    Excellent response to this piece by Lisa Liel in Times of Israel:

    • Actually, a pretty pathetic response. Her opening paragraph is a complete distortion and fabrication. It gave her a platform, but it is unethical to seize one by making claims that are outrageously false.

  4. YS says:

    I would respectfully suggest that it’s not only the Torah’s attitude towards homosexuality per se or the anguish of religious homosexuals that is what drives many people off the derech. It seems to me that homosexuality is just one of the most prominent examples, along with the role of women in society, slavery etc., of an issue that causes people to question the ‘eternal nature’ of the Torah.

    When the same founding document that assers male homosexuality discusses slavery as a fairly acceptable social construct and clearly treats women in a way which seems downright bizarre compared to the way they are treated in modern society, is it so unreasonable for a person to ask whether it’s our society that has things all wrong or whether in fact, that document is a little dated?

    So I don’t think it’s relevant to compare the ‘tragedy’ of homosexuals to other tragedies which we’ve overcome and through which we’ve maintained our emuna and bitachon. I believe that for many young people, the thought process is actually much more rational.

    • Jews have long live with questions, and will continue to do so ad bias ha-goel. The issue is what they do with the questions. Rav Soloveitchik used to emphasize that it was wrong of people to think that true religion offers answers to questions. To the contrary, it creats more questions. But Jews live with them, and shake the gates of Heaven, asking for clarity – which may or may not come. But those who were brought up with a sense of kabolas ole and avodas HaShem do not gallop away as quickly

    • Steve Brizel says:

      YS wrote in part:

      “I would respectfully suggest that it’s not only the Torah’s attitude towards homosexuality per se or the anguish of religious homosexuals that is what drives many people off the derech. It seems to me that homosexuality is just one of the most prominent examples, along with the role of women in society, slavery etc., of an issue that causes people to question the ‘eternal nature’ of the Torah.
      When the same founding document that assers male homosexuality discusses slavery as a fairly acceptable social construct and clearly treats women in a way which seems downright bizarre compared to the way they are treated in modern society, is it so unreasonable for a person to ask whether it’s our society that has things all wrong or whether in fact, that document is a little dated?”
      Let me offer the following response:
      1) what the Torah and many pages of Talmud and commentaries call an Eved Ivri or Eved Knanni should never be confused with slavery as practiced in America prior to the abolition of slavery.
      2) Women in the Torah world are not viewed as sex objects or in need of a desire to prove themselves as superior to men. . They are viewed as the anchor of  the family relationship and are on a higher spiritual level than men who need the strong burden of positive time bound commandments because of their roles in the episodes of the Golden Calf, the spies and the revolt of Korach.

      • Reader says:

        “Women in the Torah world are……………… on a higher spiritual level than men”

        Not correct. Don’t be taken in by modern PC apologetics.

        See the sefer Male and Female He Created Them: A Guide to Classical Torah Commentary on the Roles and Natures of Men and Women, by Yisrael Ben Reuven (Targum Press), for debunking of that notion.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I haven’t read the book nor am I familiar with the author and I stand by my statement which is rooted in many Maamarei Chazal and many years of reviewing pastas hashavua with classical mfarshim

      • Shades of Gray says:

        Perhaps everyone is correct!

        To engage in CC chazarah which I enjoy(someone should make an index!),  one of CC’s  writers  mentioned that there is a lot of Maharal on this very book and topic,  to the extent  that  “…all of the Maharal’s statements together might be the subject of a 500-page book.”(see comments to “Where The Boys Aren’t”, 10/23/06). My, how the time has flown by !

        I believe Mrs. Miriam Kosman’s work is relevant here as well.

  5. Mike S. says:

    Kabbalas ole mitzvot is indeed central. However, preaching that someone else needs to exhibit more of it in accepting painful restrictions against behaviors that the speaker finds not tempting in the least is just empty hypocrisy.  A gadol who can describe his own acceptance of the command in face of the same temptation might be able to say that; no one else should.

    However, we can look to the example of Avraham and Sodom; both in arguing with God about the justice of His will, and in accepting His final answer.  Both halves count;neither those who abandon Torah, nor those who unquestioningly accept what seems unjust have it right.

  6. Miriam Kra says:

    Excellent article that states what needs to be stated and declared unabashedly by every Orthodox Jew regardless of where they are on that spectrum.

  7. Alexandra Fleksher says:

    “…we contemplated a world in which suffering, disease, child mortality, ever-present warfare, and the brutish subjugation of the many by the few were the rule, not the exception. And we went right on proclaiming the goodness of G-d, Who gave us the Torah we cherished!”

    The difference is the “gay issue” is personal — it’s about identity and the very fundamental nature of attraction. The events above were imposed on us; the struggles of the gay person is within him or her. And sensitive onlookers struggle theologically and practically in terms of how we grapple with the issue. I think the Modern Orthodox community has it harder because 1. they do a better job of acknowledging homosexuality and addressing it and not brushing it under the rug, and 2. they are generally more exposed to secular attitudes regarding homosexuality via media and entertainment. I find your comments about the lack of ol malchus shamayim and Avodas Hashem as themes lacking in Modern Orthodox education to be on point.


      I would rephrase R. Adlerstein’s question this way:

      “With all the various mitzvos that place boundaries on our personal “freedoms” and selfhood as our Western culture defines them to be, that over the millenia have been vilified and repudiated to the degree that we have been mercilessly persecuted and murdered, yet we have remained faithful to our identity as the people who said “Na’aseh v’nishma” and took on ol malchus shomayim – it seems incomprehensible that the Torah’s admonition putting homosexuality outside the bounds of acceptable behavior should be the one requirement in our children’s lives that would have them abandon their heritage.”

      [Does that sound about right, R. Yitzchok?]

  8. Heshy Grossman says:

    Great article, Rabbi Adlerstein!

    Perhaps I can add a few other terms that are heard frequently only in certain parts of the Orthodox world: ‘Hasmada’ and ‘Yegias HaTorah’

    • Steve Brizel says:

      R Grossman-would you accept as an addition-being Kovea Itim LaTorah?

    • micha says:

      I duno. Go to the beis medrash at YU or a yeshivat hesder. (Or my cousin, who has a hard time remembering to put down a sefer as he drives his tractor around Qibbutz Tir’at Zvi.)

      There are plenty of missing words from our lexicon. More of them name various middos than anything else. How many American Orthodox Jews (of any flavor) would know what perishus, histapkus or neqi’us are — or would want any if they did?

    • C. Rubin says:

      If you have access to  copies of the Jewish  Observer magazine that was published by  Agudas Yisroel  of America  then you can read a book critique of the book mentioned by Reader titled Male and Female He Created Them. This topic mentioned by reader is discussed  in that book critique.

  9. YEA says:

    I suspect that in the Modern Orthodox world, this is all about secular politics. Those who are Democrats and subscribe to everything that comes out of the political Left will struggle with this issue because the Left has declared that the civil rights issue of our day is that someone’s personal inclinations or even self-declared reality, no matter how bizarre or unconventional, must be not just tolerated by everyone else but actively celebrated. “Live and let live” is not sufficient to the political Left. You must not just tolerate or accept but participate, celebrate, and glorify. No matter how you understand the Torah’s prohibitions, participation, celebration, and glorification are not an option.

  10. Sholem Hurwitz says:

    I will not argue whether or not equal doses of kabbalat ol and/or avodat Hashem appear across the Orthodox world.
    However, I think you are missing a very important point that is latent in the “memes” and usage that may seem more common in more right Orthodox circles.

    Emphasizing doing as the Torah commands even if we do not understand the inherent logic can be – and often is – intended and interpreted as “Do not ask questions.”

    I have a feeling – only my own line of thought, nothing empirical to go on – that in those communities where certain questions and/or knowledge are frowned upon, it is easier to uphold moshe emet v’torato emet.

    In circles where the latest medical research on any and every topic is not only freely available but also a topic of conversation, where modern science is respected, and where questions such as “Is mitzvah X fair and just?” are tolerated and even stimulated, certain challenges to emunah are far greater.

    Furthermore, in those societies where more gay individuals have felt comfortable revealing their true selves, the questions will clearly be more prevalent and apparent.

    The age-old education worked very well in the days of old, and currently in those communities who significantly emulate those days. This education, I fear, is found lacking if merely cloned in an entirely different societal enviroment tand milieu.


    • This is largely true. I will remain an optimist that those equipped with the tools of strong emunah and access to thinking, critical talmidei chachamim can weather every ideological storm thrown at us by the Ribbono Shel Olam.

    • Alexandra Fleksher says:

      Sholem, this comment unfortunately rings true and I think you have made an excellent observation. What a fine balancing act: accepting ol malchus shamayim but also finding the voice to ask questions. The role of education and exposure to medical research is also an strong point.

    • Mike S. says:

      While questioning God’s justice and that of some of the commandments poses challenges for faith, unquestioning acceptance that whatever God says or does is just is not the ideal the Torah tells us to strive for; it is, rather, the approach of Iyyov’s companions, whom God sharply rebukes.  We are bound to obey God’s command; not to agree blindly.  The tension between those two clauses is central to Torah.

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Yasher Poach to R Adlersteun for raising this issue.all too often we are seeing pleas for tolerance segue into demands for tolerance and acceptance as well as congratulations to announcements of clearly prohibited relationships that should never be confused with the building of a Bayis Newman BYisrael uvToraso

  12. lacosta says:

    much of haredi youth is not  culturally connected. they clearly have no exposure to an idea that permits/condones/mainstreams SSA activity .  I am not so sure that actual SSA haredim do any better emotionally – i don’t know if their suicide rate is lower ; clearly if they need to be ‘out’ in any way , they will need to leave haredi life and probably their family  [actually i doubt there is any statistics on numbers of  ex- or current SSA haredim–but it clearly wouldn’t be an easy lifestyle. to use your phrase, the ‘ole’ on them may make living impossible….]

  13. lacosta says:

    a commentary by r maryles is here—

    maybe it’s no surprise that the issues are common in MO—after all ‘modern’ comes before ‘orthodoxy’.

  14. C. Rubin says:

    Excellent article!

  15. DF says:

    Homosexuality is the single biggest issue confronting our youth today? Really? Count me among the unbelievers. I don’t see a shred of evidence to support that. Everything about homosexuality is exaggerated, including their alleged numbers (which is constantly changing) and influence. So this basically amounts to more Fake News.

    I don’t see how this could lead to triumphalism among the more “black hat” part of orthodoxy, though, even if was true. All segments of orthodoxy have  problems. Some are common to all sectors, and some are unique to different streams. It would be foolish for someone in Group A to deride Group B’s issues, when Group A has issues of its own and they both have plenty of issues together.  Indeed, I think this is obvious and well-understood. I have ties to many streams and, at least among the masses, I don’t see any such triumphalism.

  16. DF says:

    Homosexuality is the single biggest issue confronting our youth today? Really? Count me among the unbelievers. I don’t see a shred of evidence to support that. Everything about homosexuality is exaggerated, including their alleged numbers (which is constantly changing) and influence. So this basically amounts to more Fake News. POST

    I don’t see how this could lead to triumphalism among the more “black hat” part of orthodoxy, though, even if was true. All segments of orthodoxy have  problems. Some are common to all sectors, and some are unique to different streams. It would be foolish for someone in Group A to deride Group B’s issues, when Group A has issues of its own and they both have plenty of issues together.  Indeed, I think this is obvious and well-understood. I have ties to many streams and, at least among the masses, I don’t see any such triumphalism.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Rambam places Issurei Biah and Maacalos Assuros in the same Sefer in the Yad-Sefer Kedusha, RYBS pointed out that these halachos are a key element in what separates the Jewish People from the nations of the world. RYBS also pointed out that we read the Parsha of Arayos on YK to accentuate that fact even and immediately before we read Sefer Yonah with its universalistic appeal.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that R Adlerstein’s observations can be amended if he consents to apply to a sector of the MO world that many call MO lite-I have been to a number of simchas made by MO friends where you will see chupah vkiddushin albeit with a kallah dressed in decidedly not tznanua attire along with many of her contemporaries, one round of separate dancing and then another round of mixed dancing to the accompaniment of the same band now playing rock and roll, hip hop, etc. When you go to the engagement parties of these couples, you wind up asking yourself whether many of those who are in attendance keep Shabbos, put on Tefilin and have opened a classical Jewish text either since high school or a year in Israel. You just don’t sense a feeling of Kabalas Ol or Avodas HaShem that is present at an average  frum YU/RIETS and/or yeshivishe chasunah.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that once in a while a dose of cautious triumphalism is in order. When I go to a typical chasunah that is the result of a set up-shiduch from my neck of the woods, the same is attended by friends of either side, regardless of age , family and rabbonim, and RY who have had an impact on the chasan , kallah and their families. The entire event is a communal stamp of approval and emphatic and enthusiastic hope that the couple will BEzras HaShem build a Bayis Neeman BYisrael uvToraso. I don’t see those emotions present many MO lite simchos but rather a sense of “whatever makes the kids happy”.

  20. M.K. says:

    I think that our youth would have adeeper appreciation for and commitment to the Torah if they were exposed to the writings of Rav Hirsch. They would also come to appreciate in the context of this issue that the Torah is the only real source for the concept of human dignity in which name they are challenged by by his issue. The Supreme Court decision mentioned human dignity nine times. But we are upholding the Book which is the only compelling source for the concept. We are either created in the Image of God, as the Torah teaches, or we are insignificant specks in the universe. I think it’s tragic that Rav Hirsch seforim are not learned in all yeshivasespecially the modern Orthodox who would benefit greatly from it and,  unlike the Chareidi yeshivas, are not challenged by elements of his philosophy.

  21. BSD says:

    What is evidencing itself as the students’ emotional argument has its roots in a society that adamantly respects and values individualism. This had its beginnings in the Enlightenment and this is just the latest logical devolution. With homosexuality now offered full legal protections, it is not enough to personally have lofty religious standards. US and State laws on this issue will necessarily collide with halachic norms. Can a frum caterer refuse to provide services for a same-sex wedding? Can a yeshiva fire a secular studies teacher who becomes open about his/her same-sex preferences? Can a multi-dwelling landlord whose family lives in the building refuse to rent to a same-sex couple? Should a Jew be willing to go to jail for this kind of discrimination, or lose his livelihood? These are major questions that can affect even the most cloistered communities and have yet to be consistently addressed.
    These students’ questions are simply the result of the cognitive dissonance they and some Orthodox Jews are feeling and experiencing–even those who personally bear the “ole malchus shomayim” and are “ovdei Hashem.” We cannot on one hand fight against the injustice perpetrated against Jews, while sanctioning discrimination against a now legally-protected class. Similarly, we cannot as a community avail ourselves of the benefits and equality this country offers and then deny that same treatment to other legally protected classes. WE may understand and be able to make the distinction, but American society does not.
    Although I disagree with their response, at least Shalhevet is dealing with the issue instead of ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist.


      “Although I disagree with their response, at least Shalhevet is dealing with the issue instead of ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist.”

      I do not agree with the premise that a bad response is better than no response. The former takes us in the wrong direction; while the latter keeps us in place, we don’t have to undo further damage.

      The essay from the Head of School is unhelpful for multiple reasons, but even if one accepts the emotional argument for increased sensitivity and support there is a fatal flaw to his advocacy: His suggestions do not and cannot solve the fundamental problem he has framed.

      ” People today do not feel the need to sublimate those urges and desires to live meaningful and fulfilled lives. In fact, they see it as inhumane and offensive to suggest such self-denial or self-abnegation.” 

      With all the recommendations for openness, affirmation, encouragement, hospitality, and empathy, so long as he remains committed to Halacha he cannot offer the only acceptance that really matters – the permissibility of engaging in a fully-realized homosexual relationship that is every bit the equal of a heterosexual relationship. He acknowledges such at the outset. That being the case, I would suggest the propositions for structural supports he promotes – that seem to come so close to full acceptance but ultimately slams the door in the face of the very individuals he wants to protect and nurture – may actually inflict more pain and alienation, not less.

      When I was applying to graduate school I received many more rejection letters than offers. All of them were aimed at comforting me by praising my fine credentials and telling me I certainly was qualified for the program only I wasn’t one of the chosen. After a half dozen of these letters I told a friend of mine I would be much happier if the letter just said one word: “NO!”. Telling me I was really good enough but I couldn’t be in the program anyway was no consolation at all.

      The essay, however, does illuminate a seeming paradox. Having recognized the fact that the culture at large promotes the antithetical idea of self-pleasure over following the higher-order value inherent in serving Hashem, how does an Orthodox high school establish policies based on those foreign principles? Should it not be the mission of the school and its Head to educate its students in the opposite direction? What might happen if the concept of kedushah was the focus of any dialogue about sexual mores and identity? Would the “data” the Head of School reported be the same?

      The Head of School is absolutely correct regarding one point. Being compassionate to individuals who are struggling with the tension of their most intense desires on the one hand and their love of Hashem and Torah on the other is a Torah requirement. That is not the same as support for an LGBTQ community in their environment. I don’t believe that action has the same character.

      • Dr.L: You may be giving the school too much credit. The word on the street (FWIW) is that there are people in the school who believe that making the offer of unrestricted acceptance of male homosexual behavior is within reach. The argument would be that they are anusim, and therefore beyond the reproach of the Law or of G-d. While no one in the Orthodox community would accept such thinking, there are those beyond its boundaries (i.e. in “Open Orthodoxy”) who have proposed it.

      • ROBERT LEBOVITS says:

        Fascinating. If a homosexual orientation is not a choice – which makes them anusim – then it follows that the only people for whom the prohibition applies are heterosexuals who choose to engage in homosexual behavior. But many in the gay community would say that the act of engaging in homosexual conduct is a priori evidence of a homosexual orientation – thereby making them anusim as well. The net result would be that the Biblical restriction forbidding shichvas zachor is a statement vacant of any meaning.

        Is that why it’s called “Open” Orthodoxy?

      • Rafael Qunoaface says:

        Farber made out such an argument a long time ago, while “dissing” R’ Moshe zt”l:

      • DF says:

        It sounds as though the ultimate  question is whether or not it is impossible (annusim) for someone who feels homosexual urges to control or overcome them. Since I, and millions of others, find that proposition itself impossible (annusim) to believe, how does anyone dare criticize what we do or say about people engaging in it?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        This is what happens when a plea for understanding and tolerance segues into a demand for acceptance as individuals and a community under halachic rationales of at best dubious application.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Unfortunately, one very MO school that has many OO supporters among its faculty held an Asifas Tehilim in the wake of the events in Orlando as a way of expressing solidarity with the members of the LGBT “community.”

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Halevai that the school in question and other similar schools would initiate a dialogue on “the concept of kedushah … [as] the focus of any dialogue about sexual mores and identity

  22. Raymond says:

    Wow.  I do not recall any column on this website eliciting so many responses on the very first day that it is posted.  Maybe this helps to verify what the column itself says about this issue being among the central dilemmas in Orthodox Jewish life.

    I have a view on this that is so much at odds with current political correctness, that some might think that I must have arrived from a different planet.  See, to me, it is not a matter of this issue being settled by adhering to G-d’s Will, even when it makes no sense to us, because to me, the Torah ban on male homosexual behavior makes perfect sense.  In fact, to my way of thinking at least, I regard male homosexual behavior to be a form of severe emotional abnormality.  Two people having sexual relations does not always produce life, nor is it exclusively about that, and yet, producing life should at least be a major component of such behavior.  And no matter how many sex acts two men have, they will never, ever produce human life.  Perhaps I can compare this to the act of eating: food is not only about getting proper nutrition, yet that should play a central role in the act of eating, or else eating food makes no sense.

    Furthermore, if anybody knows human nature, it is G-d.  G-d would not have made such a command against male homosexual behavior, if He did not already know that we human beings are quite capable of adhering to that commandment, just like any of the other 612 commandments in the Torah.  I therefore do not see why there has to be any kind of unique moral dilemma when it comes to the subject of male homosexual behavior.  If anything, the fact that it has become an issue, only goes to show how much we have assimilated into the world of political correctness at the expense of our own Torah values.

  23. Charles Gregor says:

    The greatest threat to the faith of Orthodox Jews as they go off to college is going off to college.  The theory of evolution, the role of women and our view of homosexuality are successive excuses for Modern Orthodox children going off the derech.  Strangely enough each of these theological crises coincides with immersion in a secular university.  If R. Ari Segal were exceptionally brave and honest, he would tell parents not to sacrifice children to Harvard, Yale and Stanford, but make them attend YU or live at home.  He’d also soon be looking for a job.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Maaseh shaya kach hayah time-parents whose daughters have attended a prominent MO single gender high school were told by administrators at a parents orientation night that there are two tracks-one for SCW/Queens College/Touro and another for the Ivies. I can’t verify if the same administrators warned about the risks of sending a student to the Ivies but at least the OU has published a guide to what passes for frum Jewish life on college campuses.

  24. ben dov says:

    “Among other things, it reminds us that the Torah forbids behaviors, not orientation”

    Rabbi Hillel Goldberg disputes this, and I think you are both correct.  No one should be blamed for having an orientation in the first place, but one is obligated to do whatever is possible, naturally and/or spiritually, to reduce or eliminate this orientation.

  25. Steve Brizel says: Can chinuch rooted in what is described in this article produce a sense of Kabalas Ol and Avodas HaShem?

  26. Aaron Emet says:

    Apologies if this is overly pedantic, but the image accompanying this article feels inappropriate. Superimposing a gay rainbow flag over a young boy davening with tfillin on seems a bit antithetical to the points established in the article.

  27. leah yordis says:

    What about those who G-d gave the challenge of being attracted to children? Gay advocates can never answer that one. They say, that’s different, it’s a crime, how can you compare blah blah blah.

    But seriously, be intellectually honest. Say I am an Orthodox Jewsih man. The only sexual attraction I feel is toward young children. Where is your compassion for me? Can I announce my orientation in shul and be welcomed? Could G-d have given me a test that can’t be overcome? Is it possible therapy will help ME change my desire or at least live peacefully and be celibate? Whatever answers you give me, why are the same answers not good for someone who is gay?

    • simon fleischer says:

      It is different. Children cannot meaningfully give consent. Grown ups can. That’s actually a pretty big difference– in the halacha, in the law, and in terms of basic common ethical instincts.

  28. dr.bill says:

    It is rarely one particular issue but the combination of many driven in part by the zeitgeist  that throughout our history major segments have responded to across a wide spectrum from over acceptance to complete rejection.  Today, chodosh assur min hatorah (in its most radical sense) and the choice of particular beliefs as redlines, creates the danger of future schisms. primarily in israel, where there is much greater interaction across the various divides, a thoughtful middle of the road is gaining strength, despite its yet small numbers.  i suggest reading what adherents of that middle road, exposed to ideas from both sides articulate as they grapple with issues like feminism, same-sex attraction, vastly expanded knowledge of (our) history, etc.  finding altogether satisfactory answers will take time; those for whom this is simple are likely not to be the source of solutions.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      The above suggested solution IMO ignores a simple fact-a prohibition of conduct that is Min HaTorah remains such despite all well meant discussion at tolerance and acceptance which presently has led to demands that any and all opposition to such a lifestyle cease.such discussions strike me as doomed to fail and intellectually dishonest

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Like it or not the Torah uses the term toeivah in three separate cannot deny the obvious- a toeivah is and remains such despite any and all attempts to offer rationales to the contrary. We should be emphasizing that we should never engage in or seek to legitimize that which the Torah views with such a strongly condemnatory perspective.

  29. Steve Brizel says:

    For many years Mrs Abby Lerner taught a mandatory class for all would be seniors at Central which was known as Women in Jewish Law. It incorporated a wide ranging syllabus and reading list that challenged the assumptions of the clearly MO students attending on a wide range of issues and was completely faithful to Halacha. I do think that MO has adopted a strategy of coopting certain elements of the feminist critique of halacha without realizing that classical feminist theory was and remains devoted to a hostile view of the conventional family or what we call a bayis neeman by Israel. Feminst supporters have never repudiated the repugnant notion that the conventional family is the equivalent of a concentration can trace the historical and sociological growth of the LGBT movement and agenda to the early feminist agenda and its view of family life. In this respect MO has not realized the Trojan horse like agenda of classical feminists and their agenda in its adoption of high level programs of study for women and similar initiatives which have merely created breeding grounds for feminists within MO.

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    The exact phrase used by Betty Friedan was that the conventional family was a “comfortable concentration camp.”

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