Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The problem with homosexuality (R-rated)

'Facts cannot be wished away by theories, no matter how cherished.' - Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, in the essay I just referenced in the preceding post:

There has been a flurry of blog activity recently regarding homosexuality, triggered in part by the success of Ang Lee's film "Brokeback Mountain" and also by the fact that the Conservative movement is discussing the issue this week. I'd like to take a moment to discuss this issue not from a public policy perspective nor even from a halachic perspective, but to point out from an Orthodox perspective some hashgafic problems that I think have been ignored.

Regarding Rabbi Dr. Lamm's quote above, the hashgafic problem stems from the fact that there are some people who just seem to have been created by HaShem to be sexually attracted only to people of the same sex. Of course, there are many who disagree with that statement, which I'll get to in a moment, but I want to speak first to those of us who consider ourselves open-minded, liberal, and accepting of empiricism.

It is clear that there is a prohibition in the Torah against men having sex with men. Oh, you can come up with some pilpul that might limit it a bit, maybe to anal-genital intercourse, but the fact is, it is there. It has been there for over 3,000 years. There is nothing I can see in the tradition that would limit it much if at all. And it is equally clear from our tradition that Jewish men are supposed to get married and try to have families. It is, according to our tradition, a mitzvah from the Torah. And according to our tradition there is a similar prohibition from the Rabbis against women having sex with women.

This should be a huge hashgafic problem for those who see Judaism as a Way that all should be able to follow. It is a problem for those of us who notice that the biggest Gay bashers tend also to be the biggest anti-Semites. It is a problem for those of us who notice that Hitler was just as adamant to exterminate homosexuals as to exterminate Jews. It is a problem for those of us who see Torah as having no conflict with modern society and modern liberal sensibilities -- and can cite compelling sources in favor of our position. This just doesn't fit.

And maybe that is the point. I am one of those folks whose politics shifted quite a bit to the left as I became observant and discovered the Torah's ethical teachings. I strongly believe that it is the Jews who support laissez-faire capitalism who ought to be troubled by the Torah -- it just isn't a Torah value. But this is the one for us liberals. It isn't easy. It is a challenge. And it has no easy resolution.

This is not a justification for bigotry, discrimination, or even exclusion of anyone from the Jewish community. Yeshiva University doesn't even discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation: But those few of us Orthodox liberals left do understand that this is not easy for us. Torah is indeed supposed to be a challenge and this is the big one for me -- not Shabat, not kashrut, not taharat hamispacha, not believing in God and in miracles.

Now, to the folks who deny the problem: It isn't going away. Homosexuality is as real as evolution, and it isn't going away. Those of us who assume that it is all a matter of choice are in denial about both the facts and this problem. And that there are so many who choose to stay in denial represents to me a discouraging sign for a religion. Denial makes this problem easy. It is *their* fault.

That's not Torah. It isn't supposed to be easy. If we don't get our ideas challenged, what is the point? Making it look like things are always clearcut and that it is easy to always be on the right side of things actually misrepresents Torah. If it were truly so easy there would be no point, no stimulus for growth.

Any feedback is appreciated.


Blogger Ezzie said...

It's a rough issue. The simplest answer is "Too bad. Don't have homosexual sex, even if that's the way you are." Is that right? I don't know.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Mordechai Luchins said...

Gee Charlie, tackle something easy why don't you!

My father often points out that all the people who like to point to the fact that homosexul sex is called a Toeyvah never seem to be bothered by the fact that cheating in business is also. We don't see anyone registering, do we?

In addition, it is my understanding that the Torah assurs the action, not the emotions. Ergo, one could see it as a test.

Furthermore, I don't understand why anyone would hate anyone for having sexual relations with a consenting partner. That is between them, the partner, and Hashem. If someone is a wonderful, amazing Jew who keeps Shabbos, gives Tzedakka, davens with Kavanah, etc... then why should one Aveyrah cancel all that? If we can be civil to Jews who eat treif, then why should we not be civil to Jews who engage in homosexual acts?

4:33 AM  
Blogger judah h said...

There is an interesting piece by Bezalel Naor "From a Kabbalists Diaries" -Collected Essays, where he examines Rav Kook's view of homosexuality.
Naor suggests that Rav Kook was very cynical of modern western European civilization. The so-called enlightened society allows everything under the guise of freedom of expression.
On the other hand, he does say that there is an innate desire in man for the homosexual urge and that the Halakha's reluctant acceptance of heterosexual bi'ah she-lo ke-darkah may be a concession to that urge.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous charedilite said...

For a serious treatment of the issue, see the letter by Rav Aharon Feldman, Ner Yisrael's Rosh Yeshiva, at the following site:,1998

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that you, along with many other people, including Rabbi Feldman, have succumbed to the homosexual propaganda bombardment.

Re the nazi-homosexual connection, to the contrary of what you wrote, see

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Mordechai Luchins said...

Oh G-d, not that "Pink Swastika" nonsense.

If you buy into that pack of lies, nothing anyone says will change what you think.

And I pity you.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous a s k said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous doob said...

I think the question is how far can we go in admitting the limits of Chazal's knowledge about human sexuality.

The issur deoraita has been understood forever as only prohibiting male-male anal intercourse. Everything else, including all female-female sexual activity, is built off of that issur (and pritzut).

If we live in a world where we can see that there are healthy, fulfilled same-sex Jewish couples living devoted Jewish lives and raising loyal Jewish kids, I don't think it's our place to judge anyone for violating what's an equivalent of muktzah just because our Sages lived at a time where they couldn't imagine a person who wasn't heterosexual (Talmudic and Midrashic literature is full of statements which present the assumption that all men will be happy and fulfilled with women, and all wmoen with men).

10:10 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

To Anonymous:

It is an interesting historical fact that many of the worst persecutors of persons who had homosexual desires had such desires themselves. (I refrain from using the term as a noun because that is a more recent social construct.) One of the worst examples was King James I of England, who not only had such desires but acted on them -- and often -- while maintaining a public stance against the sin of sodomy. The fact that some Nazis were Gay does not change the historical fact that they sent thousands of Gays to the ovens for no other reason than their sexual orientation. It may have even contributed to the ferocity of the persecution. (It may contribute to the ferocity of the anti-Gay movement today.)

8:12 PM  
Blogger Uri Cohen said...

There's actually a spectrum of Orthodox rabbinic responses to the issue. Check out the bibliography I put together, at

It needs to be updated (e.g., Rav Chaim Rapoport has since written an entire book on the subject), but it still gives a sense of a spectrum.

3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:56 AM  

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