Homosexuals in the Orthodox Community -by Rabbi Zev Farber

Rabbi Zev Farber was ordained (yoreh yoreh and yadin yadin) by YCT Rabbinical School. He is the founder of AITZIM (Atlanta Institute of Torah and Zionism) – an adult education initiative. Rabbi Farber serves on the board of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and is the coordinator of their Vaad Giyyur. He is also a PhD candidate at Emory University’s Graduate Division of Religion

 

Introduction

Few social issues facing the Orthodox Jewish community are as emotionally charged as that of the place of homosexuals, especially the gnawing question of the place of homosexual couples and families in the synagogue and larger community.  Many rabbis are at a loss as to what to suggest to a gay Orthodox Jew who seeks guidance.

I once suggested the following thought experiment to a colleague: “If, for some reason, it became clear that the Torah forbade you to ever get married or to ever have any satisfying intimate relationship, what would you do?” My own reaction to this question is: although part of me hopes I would be able to follow the dictates of the Torah, I have strong doubts about the possibility of success, and I trust that my friends and colleagues would be supportive of me either way.

 

Not a Moral Issue

Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric traditionally surrounding homosexuality seems to derive from a confusion of categories. For the believing Orthodox Jew, homosexual congress is a religious offense, akin to eating shrimp or driving on the Sabbath. It is not a moral offense, akin to assaulting women or cheating in business. Much of the rhetoric around homosexuality seems to center on moral discourse, and I feel this is a serious mistake.

Although polemics surrounding homosexuality have taken various forms over the years, the driving force behind the current polemic is the changing view of homosexuality and its causes. In the past, the main claims against homosexuality were that the behavior was “deviant” and the act “unnatural.” The latter claim is inherently false, since the phenomenon in fact occurs in nature. The claim that the behavior is deviant is true in the sense that, statistically speaking, it deviates from the norm, but saying that someone has a minority sexual disposition is hardly in itself a moral critique.

Difference breeds fear, especially when that difference is hard to understand. It is difficult for many heterosexuals to imagine that it could be possible for a person to lack any attraction to members of the opposite sex. It is even more difficult for a heterosexual to picture being attracted to members of his or her own sex. This may be one reason why, for centuries, a contemptuous, even belligerent, attitude towards homosexuals was the norm.

An excellent, if sad, example of this is a letter by R. Moshe Feinstein written in 1976 (Iggrot Moshe OH 4:115), where he treats homosexual activity like any other choice. The letter is addressed to a young homosexual man asking R. Feinstein for some words of advice to help him control his urges. R. Feinstein endeavored to do so, informing him that there really is no such thing as homosexual desire. Nature dictates, R. Feinstein wrote, that people are attracted to members of the opposite sex and not to members of their own sex. Therefore, the only explanation for homosexual behavior was as an expression of rebellion against God. If one could only get one’s anger against God under control, one could live a “normal” heterosexual life.  Nowadays we understand that this is not an accurate portrayal of homosexual desire, but R. Feinstein’s views were typical of his day and he could hardly have thought differently.

 

The Declaration and the Statement

The difference between the nature of the discourse in the seventies and the contemporary discourse is clearly demonstrated in the recent Declaration drafted by the right and center-right Orthodox communities and signed by over 150 rabbis, lay leaders and mental health professionals from those communities (www.torahdec.org).

The declaration inspired mixed feelings in me. After reaffirming the forbidden nature of homosexual congress, the Declaration states unequivocally that homosexuality is a curable psychological – not genetic, not hormonal – disorder. It instructs the Orthodox community to treat homosexuals with kindness while guiding them towards reparative therapy.

Partly, I was relieved. The Declaration used phrases like “love, support and encouragement” as a description for how Orthodox people should feel about the homosexuals in their communities. That is a far cry from the bellicose homophobia that many have come to expect from fundamentalist religious groups.

On the other hand, I was also very disturbed. The Declaration advocates strongly for reparative or conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific and medically discredited practice that many professionals consider dangerous; the American Psychological Association goes so far as to say that any therapist who employs reparative therapy is in violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

The Declaration further argues that homosexuality must be both psychological and curable, since God could not be so cruel as to create people with homosexual urges and make it forbidden to act upon them – a theologically dubious argument to say the least. I would venture to say that anyone who is or who knows someone suffering from any of the countless debilitating life-long diseases would be taken aback by the claim that God would never create a person with a biological makeup that could ruin his or her life.

The Declaration seems to be a reaction to the “Statement of Principles” (statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com) regarding homosexuality signed by 200 center and left-leaning Orthodox rabbis and community leaders the year before. Oddly enough, the left wing’s Statement of Principles, although considerably more sophisticated and nuanced than the recent Declaration, has much in common with it.

The Statement of Principles, like the Declaration, reaffirms the forbidden nature of homosexual congress. Unlike the Declaration, it allows that homosexuality is genetically and/or hormonally determined and admits that reparative therapy may be bogus and even harmful. The Statement, like the Declaration, urges the Orthodox community to treat homosexuals with love and respect. On the other hand, the Statement requires gay Orthodox Jews to be celibate. Although it urges understanding towards the non-celibate, the Statement suggests that if these homosexual Jews are open about their lifestyle – and the Statement affirms their right to be open about this – it would be the prerogative of an Orthodox synagogue or community not to accept them or give them any honors.

Although I appreciate the attempt by both groups to make homosexuals feel more welcome in our community and to tone down belligerent homophobia, both documents, in my view, fall short. Ever since I declined to sign the Statement – a document whose purpose I am strongly sympathetic with and which was crafted and signed by many close friends and mentors – I have given much thought to the Orthodox world’s relationship to homosexual Jews, sexually active and celibate alike, and what needs to be “stated” or “declared” about them.

 

The Need for Understanding and the Challenge of Empathy

For homosexual Jews wishing to live an Orthodox Jewish life and integrate into the Orthodox community, much empathy on the part of the heterosexual Orthodox community is required, especially from the rabbis. The signers of both the Declaration and the Statement are predominantly, perhaps entirely, heterosexuals. Many are married with families, as am I. Our families get together with other families for Shabbat meals and celebrate lifecycle events in the synagogue. Many of us receive communal approval for being married and for being good spouses. We have loving and fulfilling intimate relationships at home. Life is rather easy for us.

It is challenging for heterosexual Orthodox Jews to genuinely internalize the dissonance inherent in the psychological world of gay Orthodox Jews. Like all Orthodox Jews committed to a life of Torah and Jewish observance, Orthodox Jewish gay men and women want to participate fully in their communities. They want to come to synagogue and have Shabbat meals with their friends. And yet, the central text of their community – a text they love and venerate – forbids one of their most fundamental impulses, offering no viable alternative.

 

Asking the Impossible

In the documentary Trembling before God, R. Nathan Cardozo boldly states: “It is not possible for the Torah to come and ask a person to do something that he is not able to do. Theoretically speaking, it would be better for the homosexual to live a life of celibacy. I just would argue one thing – it’s completely impossible. It doesn’t work. The human force of sexuality is so big that it can’t be done.”

What we are asking of the homosexual Orthodox community is impossible. It is simply unrealistic to ask or expect normal adults to remain celibate and give up on the emotionally fulfilling and vital experience of intimate partnership that heterosexual men and women take for granted.

 

Oness Rahmana Patrei

My own approach to the matter is that the Orthodox community should adopt the stance of “oness rahmana patrei” – The Merciful One overlooks what is out of a person’s control. This was first suggested by R. Norman Lamm in the 1974 Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook and I believe that this principle should serve as a basis for formulating an Open Orthodox response to the many challenges of accepting and integrating homosexuals into our community.

 

Brief Halakhic Analysis

The principle of oness rahmana patrei originates in a case where the deed in question was physically out of the person’s control. Nevertheless, the Talmud applies it to a case where a person worships idols to save his life (b. Avodah Zarah 54a). Many medieval commentaries ask why such a case should be considered oness, since a person can always accept death rather than violate Jewish law in this way. One answer to this question has been that a person who violates a Torah rule to save his or her life is emotionally compelled to do so and that this compulsion is a form of oness. I would argue that gay Orthodox Jews, earnestly seeking the same kind of emotionally satisfying intimate relationship taken for granted by heterosexual Jews, are similarly emotionally compelled.[1]

Oness rahmana patrei has been applied over the years to a number of different cases in halakha, from permission not to move to Israel out of fear that the trip would be dangerous (Noda bi-Yehuda Tanina, EH 102), to a woman refusing to be intimate with her husband because she finds him repulsive (Tosafot Rid, Ketubot 64; R. Avraham Isaac Kook in Ezrat Kohen 55). Two precedents in particular serve as important analogies.

The first is the fact that many halakhic authorities treat suicide as an act of oness, committed under duress and consequently out of the person’s control (see, for example Arukh ha-Shulhan YD 345:5; Kol Bo al Aveilut pp. 318-321). This sensitive halakhic approach allows the family to mourn the loss of their relative without having to sully his or her memory.

More analogous to the situation of the homosexual is the case recorded in the Talmud (b. Gittin 38a) of a woman who was a partial slave, forbidden to marry either another slave or a free man. Without a religiously acceptable outlet, the woman became exceedingly promiscuous with the local men, and the rabbis forced her master to free her fully so that she could marry. In discussing this case, R. Meshulam Roth (Qol Mevasser 1:25) observes that the woman’s hopeless situation was emotionally intolerable to her, and that her behavior in this case should be considered one of oness. If anything, the situation of Orthodox homosexual Jews who wish to follow halakha is even more intolerable. If they keep this halakha, they have no hope for a loving intimate partnership, ever.

 

A Different Kind of Oness

One of the chief arguments put forth against the oness approach, since R. Lamm first suggested it forty years ago, has been that most cases of oness are cases of an action taken under duress at a specific point in time. This would not apply to homosexuals who, like heterosexuals, can certainly control their urges at any given moment, and should be expected to do so. Nevertheless, I believe this is a false comparison.

Urges are controlled by the calming factor of knowing there is an alternative outlet. Unlike heterosexuals, gay Orthodox Jews have no halakhically acceptable outlet for the vital human need for intimate partnership, and never will. This is the key difference between this case of oness and most other cases. One cannot view celibacy as moment by moment abstinence. The oness derives from the cumulative weight of the totality of the moments of a person’s life, an absolutely crushing weight in this case.

Psychologically, gay Orthodox Jews are faced with one of two options: either be sexually active and fragment this transgression from their conscious minds, or be celibate and live with the knowledge that they will never experience a real intimate relationship. I firmly believe that the latter is not really a livable option for most adults, but a debilitating and life-crushing prospect. Advocating for it is an exercise in futility.

In reality, gay Orthodox Jews who are advised or pressured to be celibate either ignore the advice, hide in the “closet,” or leave Orthodoxy altogether. Worse, if the guilt or dissonance is too great, they may turn to drugs, extreme promiscuity or even suicide. This is not at all what we want to accomplish. I believe we must come to terms with the fact that, in the long run, Orthodox homosexual Jews really have no choice but to allow themselves to fulfill the intense desire for emotional and physical intimacy in the only way open to them.

 

Caveat

To be sure, calling something oness does not make the action halakhically permitted; it is not. Moreover, adopting the oness principle does not mean that halakha recognizes same sex qiddushin (Jewish marriage) – it does not. Finally, the concept of oness does not cover people with a more fluid sexuality; those who are capable of forming a satisfying intimate bond with members of the opposite sex and choose to do so with a member of their own sex cannot reasonably be called “compelled.”

However, the concept of oness does apply to that percentage of the population for whom homosexual love is the only expression of emotional intimacy and sexuality available. Consequently, it is my firm belief that the Orthodox community should accept the fact that there will be non-celibate homosexuals in our midst and we should welcome them.

 

Sociology and Policy Considerations

I would further suggest, if only for considerations of social policy and community health, that we encourage exclusivity and the forming of a loving and lasting relationship-bond as the optimal lifestyle for gay Orthodox Jews who feel they are oness and cannot be celibate (and this is the vast majority). This type of relationship is the closest in character to the choice made by married heterosexual couples in our community. Gay Orthodox couples should not be penalized for forming a committed relationship; certainly their children, natural or adopted, must not be. It is the obligation of the synagogue to think creatively and open-mindedly about how to accommodate these families, especially when it comes to celebrating the children’s semahot.

Certainly, if any homosexual Jewish man or woman feels that he or she wishes to follow the halakha and be celibate and looks to the rabbi for encouragement, the rabbi should give this person all the encouragement he or she needs. However, no Orthodox rabbi should feel duty-bound to urge homosexual Jews to be celibate. This is not a practical option for most people, and advocating this will only cause that person intense pain and guilt.

 

Conclusion

In short, there should be no social penalty in the Orthodox world for being a non-celibate homosexual Jew. Homosexual congress is not a moral violation; it is purely a violation of a religious prohibition, one that is the inevitable consequence of the person’s psychological and even biological makeup. If God overlooks the inevitable, so should we.

 

Rabbi Zev Farber, AITZIM,

Atlanta, GA

 


[1] I am, of course, aware of the position staked out by Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah 1:9, Sanhedrin 20:3; also Maharshal, Yam Shel Shlomo, Yebamot 6:2) that oness never applies to male sexual intercourse since “ein qishui ella le-da’at”, i.e. male arousal is always purposeful. This position is vigorously questioned and debated by a number of Rishonim and Aharonim (see: Tosafot, Yebamot 53b s.v. she-ansuhu; Ramban, Yebamot 53b; Rashba Yebamot 53b; Rosh Yebamot 6:1; Maggid Mishna, Issurei Biah 1:9; Kessef Mishna, Sanhedrin 20:3; Radbaz, Deot 4:19, R. Elchonon Wasserman, Qovetz He’arot 59:3). A full analysis of oness rahmana patrei and its application to male sexual intercourse will have to wait for a different venue.

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70 Responses to Homosexuals in the Orthodox Community -by Rabbi Zev Farber

  1. David says:

    R. Farber,

    I’ll grant that we should view homosexuality as a Halachic violation rather than a moral failing.

    I would treat a homosexual male couple much the same as how I’d treat an intermarried couple.

    I’d be very careful about the message sent to members of the community who may consider entering into such a relationship.

    Do we want people to think this is a Halachically valid life option?

    Or to try their utmost to find a way to live a Halachic lifestyle.

    Of course, we carefully try not to push the intermarried couple away.

    The main difference being that we can encourage the intermarried couple to take steps towards becoming a unit that is fully recognized as Halachic members of the Jwish community one day – something a homosexual union can never be.

    How would we treat an intermarried couple who know their union is not currently Halachically valid & openly state that they will never entertain changing that through the non-Jewish spouse converting.

    Furthermore, this couple want to celebrate their union and make this seen as an option to be considered.

    How would that couple be treated?

    I would treat a openly homosexual couple the same.

    • Jack says:

      False analogy. The very act of intermarriage is impermissible by halachic standards. Whereas, a homosexual couple living together is not in itself inherently prohibited. Unless you know precisely what goes on in the bedroom of their house, their situation is completely incomparable, and you would be obligated to give the benefit of the doubt.

      • Shlomo says:

        How do you know what the intermarried couple are doing in the bedroom? Perhaps you should give them too the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Ephraim says:

    Rabbi Farber, I personally see the Halachic struggle of the homosexual the same way I see the Halachic struggles faced by everyone over their sexual desires.

    I am very troubled by your use of “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei”.

    Consider the following cases:

    A) A man and woman are infatuated with one another & bellieve they each other’s soul mates. After years of dating, they are conviced that niether will ever be able to find a fulfilling relationship with anyone else. The problem is that they are Arayot to one another (choose the relationship). They decide to follow their hearts and become a couple. Should we tell each party “Eizehu Gibor, HaKovesh Et YItzro”, and there is no way for them to be together, and no way to view them being toether as anything less than a violation of the Torah for which they will be held responsible? or do we apply the rule of “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” to them should they decide to create a family together?

    B) A husband and wife have a beautiful Halachic marriage. For reason “Y” though, the wife has not been able to exit he status of Nidah for over a year, and it does not look likely that she will for another year or two (I can come up with a few scenarios how this could be). They decide to follow their hearts and resume being intimate with each other. Should we tell each party “Eizehu Gibor, HaKovesh Et YItzro”, and there is no way for them to be sexually active without violating the Torah for which they will be held responsible? Or does the rule of “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” apply to them?

    C) A guy and girl meet in high school & are in love. The more time they spend together the deeper they feel for one another. It’s not long until their hormones are pushing them to be sexually active. As marriage at this point in their lives is totally out of the question, what do we tell this young couple? Should we tell each party “Eizehu Gibor, HaKovesh Et YItzro”, and there is no way for them to be together, and no way to view them being toether as anything less than a violation of the Torah for which they will be held responsible? or do we apply the rule of “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” to them should they decide to become sexually active?

    In sum, I think a homosexual is no different than any hetrosexual who must struggle with avoiding sexual unions which the Torah forbids.

    One may answer that the homosexual has it worse than the couple in case C) because according to the Torah, he can never act on his desires, but he’s got the same struggle as those in A) and B).

    Applying “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” to the homosexual will have consequences on every hetrosexual striving to keep his/her libido in check (when required) as well.

    Are you prepared for those unintended consequences?

    • Daniel W. says:

      Your case C is actually one that needs to be discussed much more in depth because of its frequency in occurring throughout Orthodox high school, college, and post-college life.

    • Baruch B. says:

      Ephraim,

      I am a Jewish high school educator.

      Powerful points that I had not considered fully before.

      I see you’re point – applying “Onnes Rachmanah Patrai” surely offsets encouraging our total population to live by “Aizehu Gibor HaKovesh Et Yitzro” — especially to our youth.

      Very good point!

      While one can engage in a hair splitting excersize about why Rabbi Farber’s suggestion might apply more to a homosexual than to a hetrosexual fellow caught in a union that Halacha cannot sanction, this distinction will surely be lost on the masses — especially the youth.

      Thanks for expressing yourself Ephraim.

      I also thank Morethodoxy for posting this respectable critique.

    • Jonathan says:

      All of the cases you came up with cannot compare to the case of a homosexual. In all of the cases there are halakhic ways to channel the desire.
      In case A) they are a heterosexual couple, their infatuation with one another is a scenario they caused themselves and it’s only in their mind that belief they’re soul mates. Throw into that scene some betrayal, or jealousy, and anyone of them would despise the other, and could care less if a truck runs him/her over. Where is the soul mate now? That doesn’t happen with a homosexual urge. if you’d give that same scenario to a homosexual couple, after one dumps the other, he would go looking for another same sex partner. The circumstances wouldn’t change his sexual inclination.
      Therefore, you can apply to him oness rahamanah patrei.

      In case B) the couple can still look forward to be intimate in the future. Or, if they think it’s impossible to wait and they decide to transgress anyways, they can do it in the days in which the prohibition of niddah is derabanan. If they still don’t want to transgress, and it becomes impossible to wait, then, as hard as it may be, they can divorce and each one will look for another heterosexual partner.
      Such is not the case with a homosexual. If you tell a homosexual couple that they cannot live together anymore and that they must “divorce”, whom can they look for to share their intimacy after the “divorce”?

      In case C) is the couple shouldn’t have started dating from the beginning if they were not ready for marriage. Each of them should have waited their due time, in which they would fulfill their sexual desire. (The Torah also deals with the case of someone who seduced an unmarried girl, how it is permitted). A homosexual doesn’t have that deadline in which he can fulfill his sexual desire it’s fobidden leolam.

      So in all you case scenarios their transgression is something they could have and should have withheld, since they have “solutions”, as hard as they may be. Not so for the homosexual, who cannot see a viable and halakhic channel for his desires. And after an accumulation of his desires come to the point of explosion, if he does channel it through his intimate relation with someone of the same sex, then I see it as oness rahamanah patrei.

      • Baruch B. says:

        Jonathan,

        This is a perfect example of the hair splitting I mentioned above.

        All of these distinctions will be lost on the masses and especially the youth.

        When it comes to sexual temptation, if the message is anything other than “Eizehu Gibbor HaKovesh Et Yitzro”, you will have opened the floodgates for people who feel that their desire is so strong that they can instead apply “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” to their situations.

        I work with high school aged youth & I totally understand their mind set.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well-crafted scenarios.

  3. Wendy says:

    With all do respect, this approach sounds like the classical Disney movie love lesson of “follow your heart”, etc.

    Pick the movie and you’ll see all romances we’re frowned on by others, but the heroes got over their societal pressures and love conquered all.

  4. Daniel W. says:

    To respond to both of the above: you both touch on a major point that was only tangentially mentioned in the article – children. Jewish continuity. Are we introducing tainted lineage into our holy people?
    This is a major concern of an intermarried couple, and I think the same with Ephraim’s case A (B too?). Not as much so with C, I don’t think.
    How does this work with a homosexual couple? Are their adopted children fully Jewish? Why would that be contingent on the status of the fathers? And a natural child would I suppose be subject to the regular discourse of natural children.

  5. [...] The principle of oness rahmana patrei originates in a case where the deed in question was physically out of the person’s control. Nevertheless, the Talmud applies it to a case where a person worships idols to save his life (b. Avodah Zarah 54a). Many medieval commentaries ask why such a case should be considered oness, since a person can always accept death rather than violate Jewish law in this way. One answer to this question has been that a person who violates a Torah rule to save his or her life is emotionally compelled to do so and that this compulsion is a form of oness. I would argue that gay Orthodox Jews, earnestly seeking the same kind of emotionally satisfying intimate relationship taken for granted by heterosexual Jews, are similarly emotionally compelled.[1] [...]

  6. Aviva says:

    Ephraim,

    With great respect sir, I would like to point out fallacies in your examples.

    Example A: The couple that are Arayot to one another. In their minds they have come to the conclusion that no one else on the planet will do. But despite their conclusions life shows that this is not true. Men and women who marry their bashert and live a life dedicated to the ONLY one for them… are often and unfortunately thrown into situations where their loved one is taken from this life at a young age and as such are forced to remake a life for themselves. A few do choose never to remarry, but by and large most young men and women who are widowed even from the deepest of loves do indeed go on to find another. This couple you speak of will most certainly be devastated at the realization that they cannot fulfill their lives together but are each capable of finding another human being in this world that they can connect with, find emotional intimacy with and a deep love and desire for. I would argue that a homosexual who is wired (for whichever the reason is in the end) in such a way as they cannot find emotional intimacy and connection with someone of the opposite sex and is forbidden from allowing themselves emotional intimacy and connection with someone of the same sex is not in the same boat as the couple that are Arayot to one another.

    Example B: A loving husband and wife find that the wife has not been able to exit the status of Nidah for a long duration. I am aware of one such couple and know that when they consulted their Rav were granted certain heterim. It was clear to their Rav that a loving husband and wife could not possibly go indefinitely without intimate contact. The full details of their heter was not something that was shared with me, but the fact that they were no longer required to be shomer and joined their beds together is information I have.

    Example C: A guy and girl meet in high school & are in love. In this example I refer you to the points I made in Example A. Indeed these two in love will not only get to find someone in this world that they can love and build intimacy and connection with… perhaps with a little patience, they will be able to do so with each other.

    There is a difference between the struggles of heterosexual forbidden unions and homosexual forbidden unions. The difference is that for a homosexual to fulfill the halachic requirements of today’s current understanding of the halacha, they are required to live a lifetime of loneliness that G-d willing you and all heterosexuals will never know.

    • Baruch B. says:

      Aviva,

      I will reply to you exactly as I did to Jonathan above:

      This is a perfect example of the hair splitting I mentioned above.

      All of these distinctions will be lost on the masses and especially the youth.

      When it comes to sexual temptation, if the message is anything other than “Eizehu Gibbor HaKovesh Et Yitzro”, you will have opened the floodgates for people who feel that their desire is so strong that they can instead apply “Onnes Rachmanah Patrei” to their situations.

      I work with high school aged youth & I totally understand their mind set.

      • m says:

        Basing policy on the belief that “these distinctions will be lost on the masses” and *using that to deny a portion of the population the ability to have a satisfying intimate relationship and be part of the religious community* is preposterous.

      • SM says:

        Baruch,

        “Splitting hairs” is exactly how halacha works. Any Orthodox Jew who has been educated in his/her religion knows that halacha is complex and nuanced. R. Farber suggests that when homosexual Orthodox Jews consult their rabbis about the applicable halacha, those Rabbis help them apply the Onnes concept to their own situation. In the other hypothetical situations listed by Ephraim, or the case of your own students, their halachic advisor would be able to help them “split the hairs” and make those crucial distinctions.

        You say that you “totally understand” the mindset of your students. Maybe instead you should be educating them about the complexity of halacha and real life choices. Just because some people would choose to believe that this approach gives them free license for all behavior doesn’t make the approach wrong. Halacha often provides leniency for some people in some circumstances. Your students will either learn to live with that reality, or they will not be Orthodox Jews.

  7. Chanoch says:

    Ephraim, – the obvious flaw in A B and C is that all of those examples have an eventual Kosher way of working out. Not ending up with someone you think is your “soul mate” at one time is completely different than never being allowed to be in any loving relationship. There’s another member of the opposite gender out there for you. For B and C they just need patience. They will wait and their waiting will eventually culminate in a wonderful life with the one they love. No waiting will ever end that way for a homosexual. It’s apples and oranges.

  8. excellent discourse. thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. Pinchas says:

    I am very disturbed to hear such views from the frum quarters. The midrash relates the Mabul (flood) was caused by writing into law the practices of homosexuality and bestiality, not by the practices themselves. At the very best, trying to find halakhic justifications for a clearly forbidden practise, is being a “naval bi-rshut ha-Torah” (degenerate within Torah’s domain). Except, in this case this is not really possible, since mishkav zachar (homosexual congress) carries a death penalty under Jewish law (when the Sanhedrin is reinstituted and is able to adjudicate capital cases). I don’t care how kosher the cholent is, if it is fully cooked before shki’a on erev shabbat, if it has chazerei in it. Finally, it is not true that homosexual activity is not a moral issue, it is. Not because of the forbidden act, but because it is a life of self-gratification not based on the values of raising a Jewish family which is the foundation of Jewish life. It is socially corrosive, it goes against the principle of “kdoshim tihyu” (Thou shalt be holy!). A Jew must fulfill ‘pru urvu’ (“be fruitful and multiply” – i.e. at least one male and one female child), which is the first commandment of the Torah. We are created in the image of G-d, and we can impart it on the future generations – anyone choosing a live of self-indulgence belittles the purpose of creation. Until a man is completed by a woman he is not called a man (‘adam’). Let us daven for all the poor souls that suffer from the yetzer (‘evil impulse’), and give them strength to fight it, rather than cave in to it with the “permission” of the Torah.

    • Jonathan says:

      Just to correct a small mistake: The flood was not caused by writing into law homosexuality, it was caused by THEFT! True, homosexuality helped fill the cup, but astonishingly it was not the reason for the flood. See Rashi on verse 6:13, dibur hamathil “ki maleah haarets hamas”.
      So you have that such an “easy” act, that many of us pay no attention to it, is what caused the decree of the flood, not mishcav zachar. How many times have any of us taken care of not stealing? I’m not talking about outright gun-in-hand, but taking a pen from someone that we think he may not need anymore is in fact stealing!
      I think it’s much more feasible for anyone to transgress this flood-causing aveira everyday, than a minute portion of the congregation to transgress mishcav zachar.

      • Pinchas says:

        This is a good point, but it was communal theft, such as everyone taking one apple from a vendor leaving him with nothing. Otherwise, Torah deals with theft in a simple and rather lenient way – you have to return what you stole with the extra fifth (i.e. a quarter of object’s value). There is no jail term nor any other punishment. Of course, teshuva is required as well.

      • angry jew since seeing this kifrah says:

        he’s right and your wrong Birashis Rabbah 26-9

  10. TGV says:

    I am confused by the author’s use of the argument of “oness” – could someone please explain where an argument that is used post-facto and with regards to punishment can be applied to allow someone to actively engage in a forbidden act.

    In addition, just because someone may be “patur” – ie not liable for a severe punishment – it does not mean that the same act is mutar – totally permissible. The author acknowledges this, then proceeds to ignore it.

    Lastly, if in fact this is an argument to allow a specific demographic of orthodox gay individuals to engage in a particular act, shouldn’t those counseling these indivuals weed out that specific demographic? The author appears to agree to councel all others to be celibate with regards to their homosexual tendencies, while condemning all who suggest celibacy as an alternative.

  11. Eric says:

    Given the long and well-known history of Catholic priests and nuns, I find it hard to believe that lifelong celibacy is “unrealistic” and “impossible”. True, I am quite uncomfortable with the Catholic priesthood as a social institution, and understand why it attracts a disproportionate number of people who for various reasons want something other than heterosexual marriage. But at the same time, I have never heard it suggested that all priests and nuns, or even a majority of them, break their sexual vows. At the same time, there are heterosexual Jews – to the categories mentioned by other commenters, I will add those who have not succeeded in finding a spouse for many years and do not realistically see the situation changing in the future – who are barred from intimacy. Should they too be permitted to go form whatever relationship their hearts desire?

    Perhaps I am assuming too much here (and if so I apologize ahead of time) but it seems to me this article is based on the premise that all people must be able to enjoy life within the halachic system to an equal extent, and if not, there must be a problem with the halachic system. Certainly we should try to make people’s lives as enjoyable as possible, but if all choices were equally enjoyable then there would be no such thing as a “yetzer hara”. And as Orthodox Jews, we believe that difficult choices will be rewarded at some time in the future, whether in this world or the world to come. If so, then homosexual celibacy is not a sacrifice at all. Surely many of us have weaknesses both in behavior and belief, but while failures may be common, I find it hard to believe that they should be encouraged.

    For the record, I am an Orthodox Jew and one member of my immediate family is homosexual.

    • Eric, although celibacy may not be “impossible,” it is “unrealistic,” judging from the actual experience of Catholic priests. Like Catholics, we non-Catholics tend to “dan l’khaf zekhut,” but according to Richard Sipe, a Catholic therapist and researcher who is also a former monk and priest, only about half of all priests (homosexual and heterosexual) are truly celibate at any one time. He states: “Celibacy (religious) can be possible and is practiced by 2% to 10% of vowed clergy over long periods. I, like many others, found it possible and rewarding for an extended period of time. …. Celibacy, however, is not natural. Church teaching recognizes that and calls it a gift and a grace. I know many active priests who say that celibacy is ‘impossible.'” http://www.richardsipe.com/Interviews/2011-01-11-LUXEMBURG.htm. I suggest you browse his website, http://www.richardsipe.com.

      For the record, I am heterosexual and not Orthodox/observant. My position is that homosexual love should be accepted as part of the world as it is, with judgment left to God, but should not be celebrated as we celebrate a Jewish marriage, which we celebrate as part of the world as it should be. Remembering the difference between “what should be” and “what is” is inseparable from the Jewish belief that the world is created according to God’s will, yet not perfected, and I see no way of rejecting Judaism’s unanimous and unequivocal rejection of homosexual activity — which has burdened millions of Jews over millennia — without denying that the Jewish tradition has any connection with a just God.
      Kevin Snapp, Chicago

  12. JB says:

    To Pinchas, regarding Pru Uruvu, what do you say to a couple that can’t have children?? They didn’t fulfill G-D’s Mitzva. Please tell the people in Lakewood, Boro Park & Williamsburg, that don’t have children,—you are not fulfilling G-D ‘s Mitzva—please stay out of our community. No I would show them love & mercy. To Eric & the priests—please do you really think they are celibite???? half are probably child molesters. which but the way our Frum community doesn’t deal with either.

    • Pinchas says:

      If a couple tried to have children but can’t, they have to compensate in other ways (kiruv for example), but halacha allows a Jew to divorce his wife after ten years of childless marriage: I am not saying it is desirable, but the assumption is that a Jewish marriage takes place within the constraints of a higher goal of raising a Jewish family, not for the sake of sexual union. Therefore, the laws of family purity are not just a chok, but a mitzvah with a great deal of rational meaning, which puts a restriction of the yetzer hara, not only forbidding negi’ah (touch) during the niddah period, but even restricting affectionate gestures such as pouring a glass of water for one’s husband. Therefore, a true Jewish marriage is a not a coupling of bodies, but of neshamot (souls). I am sure that Orthodox Jews who experience homosexual tendencies are capable of that kind of relationship with the person of opposite sex and are capable of being loving parents, even if they have to adopt children because they are so averse to being intimate with the person of the opposite sex (even that it is a commandment, upon the male at least). Otherwise, it seems that they have to be celibate rather than go against the Torah. Rav Ashi never married, I believe. To choose a different type of life-style sadly places them outside the fold.

    • Pinchas says:

      Correction: It was Ben Azzai (not Rav Ashi) who never married. However, it was seen as a major anomaly, and he was entirely inactive sexually.

  13. Daniel says:

    Before I respond I would like to preface this comment with the disclaimer that I am not yet Jewish, but am in the process of Gerut via Orthodox means. As such, this issue is extremely personal to me.

    Pinchas: your response is a good one. However, it is tragically devoid of the empathy about which the author speaks. Yes, we are to be holy and yes, we must be fruitful and multiplicitous. However, what is there to say in the case of the homosexual? Does one, by desiring direct intimate contact with another human being, desire a life of “self-indulgence”?

    Your opposition to self-indulgence fails to distinguish between a desire to self-indulge that can be controlled and a desire to self-indulge that cannot be controlled. Self-indulgence is not, in and of itself, an averah. In fact, Torah observance is enhanced by our re-aligning of our desires with those of Torah. For instance, my desire to eat shellfish is something that stems from a more base desire to eat. If I satisfy the baser desire by consuming Kosher food, the desire to eat shellfish disappears.

    However my desire to engage in sexual relations is, in and of itself, a base desire. It, as a desire like hunger, is not solely a physical aspect of our personalities, but draws from our psychology as well. To ask a person to refrain entirely from it is akin to asking such a person to refrain from eating. Yes, he or she may be able to survive for quite some time without food, and others may outlast the person for many years, but ultimately such a person dies of starvation. To ask such a person to engage in opposite-sex relations is, in my opinion, akin to asking a rape victim to try and enjoy it.

    As a homosexual, who tries to live in accordance with a frum lifestyle as I approach my conversion, I often encounter difficulty when trying to explain that the desire ,for us, is not a preferential one like the desire to eat food that is not Kosher, but is more akin to the need to eat itself. Fundamentally, and at the most basic level of my psychology and physical character, I am completely unattracted to the opposite sex. Moreover, the idea of sexual relations with the opposite sex completely repulses me, much the same as my heterosexual counterparts are repulsed by the idea of sexual relations with the same sex.

    What then? Shall we compromise Torah for this? Shall we, in our compassion, forego that which is explicitly and clearly stated in the Torah? I don’t believe so. In fact, the thought of foregoing, changing, altering, ignoring, or violating the Torah in such a way as to accommodate homosexuals is abhorrent to me.

    So what do I want? As a frum homosexual what do I want? What solution can I offer?

    Perhaps, instead of starting with our biases and what we know, we should start with what the Torah ultimately demands of us. Perhaps, before we even begin discussing, we should stop and look at the whole of what a Torah lifestyle presents for us. It presents us with a system, a covenant and a bond to grow closer to HaShem and to one another. It is, unlike any other thing in existence, an object of beauty which should be held with reverence (“etz chaim lamachazikim ba”). With that in mind, we should consider the “eyes” (metaphorically speaking) through which HaShem views us all. Ultimately, we are a treasure to Him, beloved by Him and expected to embody this by living up to the standards set forth in Torah. Standards that are not so much standards as they are expressions of our love.

    When we start there, only then can we move forward to confront this issue (or any for that matter).

    Let us consider what the author proposes: the monogamous homosexual couple that strives, in all other areas, to maintain a righteous lifestyle. Such a couple lives together, participates in the community, and contributes where they can to the furtherance of Jewish living in their communities and in the world at large.

    What, if we strip our biases away and look at the situation clearly, is wrong with that picture? So they are unable to bear children of their own, this places them in a category along with those who are beyond child bearing years, those who are physically unable to bear children, and those too young to do so. Does that mean they are unable to contribute substantially and meaningfully to the development of Jewish youth?

    So they live together? Is it prohibited for two people of the same sex to dwell in one place?

    So they have sexual relations? Do they do so in public? Do they do so in front of two or more Kosher witnesses after having been warned by these witnesses that such an act is toevah and can result in the death penalty? If the answer to that is no, then on what basis do we, as tzelemim HaShem whose focus should be Tikkun Olam, outcast them? On what basis do we treat them as less than human? On what basis do we look down on them? On what basis do we show them anything less than the love and respect that we would show our children, our family, any Jew to whom we are committed with Ahavat Yisrael, or any of God’s creations?

    We do so only on the basis of our biases. Is it a perfect solution? Not at all. Is it preferred? Not at all. But so long as the behavior remains un-punishable by a sitting Sanhedrin (IE if the criteria are not met to convict them and apply the death penalty) then whatever activity they do in private is between them and HaShem. Our duty, in such a scenario is to show them love and support them in their observance of Torah as we would any Jew. Such a solution, so I think, would be agreeable to nearly all gay Orthodox Jews ,and I think it is an acceptable one for the non-gay Orthodox world as well.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Daniel,

      You wrote a beautiful piece, with strength, humility and dignity.

      All I would add is the verse, before Eve is even created: Lo tov heyot haadam levado – it is not good for a man (person) to be alone. And “lo latohu yetzara, leshevet b’ra’ah” – God did not create this world for chaos, but rather to be inhabited with families and children. These apply even in the a case where there is no “pru urvu” – being fruitful and multiplying.

      Rabbi Asher Lopatin

    • Pinchas says:

      I am sorry if my response sounded arrogant or lacking in empathy; in fact, I can only try to imagine how hard it must be for someone to experience a cognitive dissonance between what you are trying to believe and your strong physical urges. However, if you are planning to become an Orthodox Jew, you must know that we believe that the Torah was written down by Moses, but authored by haKadosh Baruch Hu – it is the blueprint of creation, which on some level existed in Hashem’s ‘mind’ before or as he was creating the world. Therefore, we revere every letter of the Torah, and preserve every misspelling or even extra dots that may appear over the text, let alone the something like the prohibition against ‘mishkav zachar’, which has a plain meaning, and a long history of Rabbinic discourse and codification. Furthermore, according to halacha, a convert who rejects even the smallest Rabbinic commandment is to be disqualified from conversion. So if one wants to all 613 commandments except eating chicken with milk or not fast on Tisha b’Av (both Rabbinic), he is to be disqualified. Al achat kama vekhama (how much more) regarding biggies like ‘mishkav zachar’. There is another concept called ‘tovel ve’sheretz be-yado’, which literally means someone going to a mikvah while holding an impure object. Going to the mikveh doesn’t do bobkes in that case – first one must let go of the ‘sheretz’ (impure object), and only then dunk. On the other hand, ‘haba letaher mesa’in lo’ – the one who comes to be purified is helped from Above. You have to choose whether Torah is true or not (G-d forbid). If your problem was eating shrimp, I would just say forget the conversion and just enjoy your food! The problem in this case is that were you to remain a gentile, mishkav zachar would still be forbidden to you as it is one of the 7 Noahide laws. I am sorry it doesn’t sound very reassuring.

  14. Benjy L. says:

    Unlike some sects of Christianity, Halachic Judaism rarely condones celibacy. In fact, before He even created Chava (Eve) Hashem proclaimed that “[i]t is not good for man to be alone.” Gen. 2:18. Since I see no need to reinvent the wheel, I would direct readers to the following link to read a fuller discourse on this topic: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0004_0_04094.html .

    I do not see the author as suggesting that Halacha bend to ensure that every Jew is equally comfortable in their observance. Rather, the author recognizes that some exclusions or prohibitions create a level of unimaginable suffering if they remain unaddressed. Many people observe Halacha happily because, while they might be unable to enjoy every aspect of life because of a prohibition, they are fulfilled in other aspects of their life. For instance, I have a colleague who would enjoy life more if it were permissible for him to get a hot razor shave at a barber shop, but his life remains fulfilled and he remains content with his observance without this superfluous level of enjoyment. For the gay Jew, to be forced into a life where any form of intimate relationship is prohibited and unequivocally condemned would surely force him from a place of peaceful existence to one of life long pain and solitude.

    Additionally, if Orthodoxy does not begin to accept gays within our communities we will be faced with stories like the one that can be found at the following link http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/33513/a-very-painful-lesson-in-the-dangers-of-intolerance/ . There, a woman describes the horror faced by her family upon the discovery of husband’s homosexuality after 20 years of marriage. Her story is not unique. Because factions of Orthodoxy unequivocally condemn homosexuality, countless men and women end up married though they are not sexually attracted to their spouses. Some are able to deny their sexual desires because they find fulfillment in the community they are a part of and the non-sexual companionship they form with their spouse. Others are not so lucky. The individuals that fall into the latter category may seek pleasures of the flesh outside of their marriage. Unknowingly and unintentionally these men and women expose the Orthodox community as a whole to STDs and STIs, including the HIV-AIDS virus.

    Finally, the suffering caused by the fire and brimstone approach to homosexuality affects not only the lesbian or gay individual, but their families as well. I have met a number of gay men who have been kicked out of their parents’ home for being gay. Not for committing a prohibited act, but for being. I cannot image the daily heartache of the parent who rejected his or her child because of this. Even those parents or siblings that accept their family member regardless of their sexuality are faced with the challenge that, at any given moment, a conversation with a neighbor or friend may turn to one of scorn and rejection if said acquaintance discovers the family member’s sexual orientation. Yet another quandary faced by the families is that they earnestly want their family member to try and remain observant, but the gay relative, feeling rejected by Judaism, often finds this impossible. This too causes hurt for loved ones.

  15. gavrielj says:

    Aviva, Jonathan, … and others,

    You must understand that the very basis of R. Farber’s article is flawed.

    He is very mistaken on a number of basics.

    The science that he and some of you now make reference to does not exist.

    I don’t think its you or R’ Farber’s fault after all, this is what we are being fed on a constant basis in the media. Most of us don’t read the actaul scientific literature we assume that what is told to us is true.

    -But its not always true.

    First I would encourage people to look at the actual Torah Declaration website: http://www.torahdec.org
    for a balanced perspective.

    FIND OUT THE FACTS FROM THE SOURCE

    On the left side of torahdec.org are links that will explain the real scientific facts.

    Fact 1:

    According to the APA – American Psychological Association, (as of 2 weeks ago, Dec 25, 2011) there are no scientific findings that a person is born homosexual.

    Excerpt:

    “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors

    http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/orientation.aspx

    page 4

    In other words, they tried very hard to find genetic evidence but came out emtyhanded.

    Fact 2:

    The 1973 APA – American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses (DSM) was not based on any new scientific or psychological findings regarding homosexuality. In addition the APA acknowledged that “a significant proportion of homosexuals” can “change their sexual orientation.”

    The following are excerpts from the official policy document on homosexuality approved by APA Assembly and Board of Trustees. “These are position statements that define APA official policy on specific subjects.”

    “Modern methods of treatment enable a significant proportion of homosexuals who wish to change their sexual orientation to do so.”

    “…We acknowledge that by itself [homosexuality] does not meet the requirements for a psychiatric disorder. Similarly, by no longer listing it as a psychiatric disorder we are not saying that it is ‘normal’ or as valuable as heterosexuality.”

    “…Psychiatrists… will continue to try to help homosexuals who suffer from what we can now refer to as Sexual orientation disturbance, helping the patient accept or live with his current sexual orientation, or if he desires, helping him to change it.”

    “…No doubt, homosexual activist groups will claim that psychiatry has at last recognized that homosexuality is as ‘normal’ as heterosexuality. They will be wrong. In removing homosexuality per se from the nomenclature we are only recognizing that by itself homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being considered a psychiatric disorder. We will in no way be aligning ourselves with any particular viewpoint regarding the etiology or desirability of homosexual behavior.”

    “…Therefore, this change should in no way interfere with or embarrass those dedicated psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who have devoted themselves to understanding and treating those homosexuals who have been unhappy with their lot. They, and others in our field, will continue to try to help homosexuals who suffer from what we can now refer to as Sexual orientation disturbance, helping the patient accept or live with his current sexual orientation, or if he desires, helping him to change it.

    Fact 3:

    2010 peer reviewed study published in The Journal of Men’s Studies found that men experiencing unwanted homosexual attractions seeking sexual orientation change experienced “a decrease in homosexual feelings and behavior, an increase in heterosexual feelings and behavior, and a positive change in psychological functioning.”

    NARTH Summary of a Newly Published Study on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

    Summary Written by Benjamin Erwin, Ph.D.

    Karten, E. Y., & Wade, J. C. (2010). Sexual orientation change efforts in men: A client perspective. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 18, 84-102.

    March 1st, 2010 – Dr. Elan Y. Karten and Dr. Jay C. Wade authored a study published in the Journal of Men’s Studies investigating the social and psychological characteristics of men experiencing unwanted homosexual attractions seeking sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). This study was based on Dr. Karten’s doctoral dissertation at Fordham University, New York, under the direction of Dr. Jay Wade.

    Karten and Wade make both timely and significant contributions to the body of evidence understanding SOCE. They investigated self-reported change, which factors were statistically associated with change, and which treatment interventions and techniques were perceived by clients to be most helpful. The authors specifically investigated whether male identity, sexual identity, high religiosity, psychological relatedness to other men, gender role conflict regarding affection between men, and marital status would be related to self-reported change in sexual and psychological functioning

    Please go to http://www.torahdec.org/FatAPA.aspx#F1 to see more.

    I personally know numerous people who lifted themselves out of this.

    Let’s get the facts straight.

    People CAN and DO change!

    Many, many are reaching out for help – we dare not withdraw our hands.

    • EA says:

      GavrielJ:

      I will refrain from saying what I *really* think of your comment, and will simply correct factual errors of omission.

      The next sentence of the APA statement on the page you quote goes on to say :

      “… factors. Many think that nature and nurture BOTH play complex roles; *most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.* [my emphasis]“.

      The APA document continues (page 8) —
      “What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?

      All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been *no scientifically adequate research* [my emphasis] to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective.”

      Do I need to spell out the implications for the “scientific basis” of the torahdec document? Either you use APA as a proxy for scientific consensus, or you don’t. You can’t just pull out the sentences you agree with and ignore the rest.

      Quoting 1973 APA guidelines is even more misleading. What next, you will suggest giving lobotomies a shot again? We (the scientific community) learned a lot in the last 40 years, hence the new and revised APA document from 2011.

  16. A person who choose to overcome homosexuality says:

    it is an out and out misrepresentation to suggest that there are no treatment otions available for change of sexual orientation. It is curious that a defender of gay coupling like Jay Michaelson, Director of Nehirim, a gay and lesbian organization informs us that gays and lesbians “are like obsessive-compulsives who can’t help themselves and whose sin is therefore virtually excused.” (Jewish Forward, Apr. 30, 2004). This is a surprising argument from a class of individuals who have devoted to much energy to removing homosexuality from the list of psychiatric pathologies. When it comes to the question of psychological treatment they reject the pathology label but invoke it to exempt themselves from the religious prosciption. Inconsistency??

  17. Josh says:

    This is being approached the wrong way.

    Why should we start with the premise that homosexual desires are inherently wrong? There is no viable explanation for this bigotry that is based in logic.

    Culture certainly influences Halacha. For example, the modern emergence in the orthodox community of women being treated somewhat equally (or at least more so than in the past) is accepted by most Orthodox groups. Married women not having to cover their hair is becoming more and more prevalent in the Orthodox community. This shows us that the culture we surround ourselves in influences rabbinical decisions.

    In 50 years (Hopefully sooner), those Orthodox groups that do not accept homosexuality openly, will be on the fringe and viewed by the majority of the orthodox movement as bigots, much like the spitters in Bet Shemesh.

  18. gavrielj says:

    After R’ Farber reads all the evidence I wrote above, I would like to ask R. Farber to please give a reference for his statement in his article:

    “the American Psychological Association goes so far as to say that any therapist who employs reparative therapy is in violation of the Hippocratic Oath”

    – I asked people and I was told that such a statement by teh APA doesn’t exist.

    Please provide a reference as I would like to follow up on this.

    Thanks.

    • APA reference says:

      It is actually from the American Psychiatric Association, although Wikipedia (mistakenly?) quoted it as American Psychological Association.
      “Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or “repair” homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to First, do no harm.” Link to APA quote: http://www.psych.org/Departments/EDU/Library/APAOfficialDocumentsandRelated/PositionStatements/200001a.aspx

  19. 1. The Torah strictly forbids homosexuality.
    2. Unmarried Jews are Torah–bound to remain celibate until they marry.
    3. Homosexual proclivities are a test for Jew and non-Jew alike, a test that one must strive to pass.
    4. All Jews should. Bbe treated with kindness and respect.

  20. I’m not Jewish, just concerned about the well being of my Gay brothers everywhere…and your conversation is fascinating.

    What the DMS-II document said in 1973 said about changing sexual orientations was wrong. It would appear now that the best one is likely to do is nudge one’s orientation on the sexual continuum a notch or two or three in one direction or another, but very seldom from one extreme to the other.

    I’m guessing that gavrielj’s DMS-II statement was contaminated by the same selection bias as the APA’s former position that “homosexuality” was a pathology, instead of a normal variant on the complex theme of human sexuality. Today, the APA discourages sexual orientation change therapy, and says that such therapy has not been adequately scientifically validated. http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/orientation.aspx

    Of course one is not born “homosexual.” “Homosexuality” is an obsolete social construct with considerable historical baggage, somewhat like “race,” for starters. What infant emerges from the womb understanding it’s sexual orientation? However, if a Gay person says she/he was born that way…well, one might ponder the Biblical eunuchs born that way…and the eunuchs born that way likely had fully functioning genitalia, if I understand the historical contexts discovered by the few people who have studied the applicable verses. (To me, the Bible too often doesn’t make a lot of sense if read a-historically.)

    A Gay person might not be able to scientifically prove he/she was born that way, but she/he is certainly not deluded or lying, either.

    As for genetic causation, the lack of a “Gay gene,” it was naive to even try to find a “Gay gene” because we now know that we have a lot fewer genes than was thought when scientists were searching for one. Not only do we not have near so many genes as expected, but there are also epigenetic and Micro-RNA factors that effect genetic expressions. Those areas, especially Micro-RNA, are still fairly knew disciplines.

    In any case, the APA doesn’t deny a genetic influence. Of course, there is one…every thing we think and do has a genetic component somewhere…how could it not? The APA: “Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

    Many people, when they see a phrase such as “sexual fluidity” think that it means that an individual’s sexual orientation is “fluid.” While the sexuality of humankind certainly is…well…inventive, that doesn’t mean that an individual’s sexual orientation…my sexual orientation…is all that fluid, all that changeable. What that phrase really is about is sexual identities. Sexual identities are fluid, sexual orientations…not so much. For example, Gay American seniors use to self-identify as “homosexual,” but not for a long time. Why would one want to let people who want to repress, oppress you, if not make you and yours disappear altogether, label and define you?

    As the APA puts it today: “In the United States the most frequent labels are lesbians (women attracted to women), gay men (men attracted to men), and bisexual people (men or women attracted to both sexes). However, some people may use different labels or none at all.”

    Thank you for letting an outsider join your conversation. I hope that I may have contributed something…but it is you that must determine your community’s consensus on the impact of modern knowledge, modern sexology, what we still don’t know (and may never figure out), todays’ social constructs, and our complex individual and interacting community identities…as Gay people are doing pretty much world wide, I guess.

  21. Sam N. says:

    Let’s cut to the chase:

    1. If you lean to the left and you care about social issues, then you will likely push Judaism to the left. And this article is doing that.

    2. I know gay Orthodox men who are in committed gay relationships. They are doing the best they can. And they are NOT asking for anything more than to be treated with menschlichkeit. Obviously some communities will be better than that than others. But they know where to tread & where not to waste their time

    But one thing is for sure: they are NOT asking for any special changes to Torah Judaism.

    And the non-stop pushing of the left to make these changes undermines people like my friends.

    3. I have dealt with same sex attractions since puberty. I dealt & continue to deal with these in my own way – I personally do not want to live a gay lifestyle. I have found amazing support from Orthodox Rabbis time & time again over the past 2 decades.

    I know you think you are being a caring human being by trying to find loopholes in the Torah for gay Jews. But you are forgetting the many other Jews who have the SAME inclination but somehow, someway….deal with it. What about us? Am I so strong? Am I such a tzadik? Not me. Just a regular Jew.

    So….please don’t get too exciting about how compassionate you are because you are forgetting many people.

  22. Alex says:

    I know that what I’m about to write will come as a shock to any Morethodoxy reader who enjoys watching Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, House, Friends, Seinfeld, etc.

    Halachic Judaism is not at all in the sync with the post-sexual revolution of the the 1960’s that pop-culture does its best to embrace.

    In Halachic Judaism, all humans are pretty much asked to take their sexuality and shelve it. There is but one window of opportunity for anyone to act on this powerful instinct in Halacha – after a man and woman marry — and only when they are permitted to eachother vis-a-vis Hilchot Nidah.

    That’s it.

    While such a lifestyle does not make for a great movie, soap opera, TV show, etc., that’s what Halachic Judaism has to say about giving us fully sanctioned sexual outlets. Not much at all.

    As such, every single Jew is struggling to lead a Halachic sexual lifestyle while confronted with a society that is constantly revving up our sexual appetites.

    We’re all — even us married folks — are struggling to keep our sexuality in check. I’m sick and tired of people making the claim that homosexuals are the first people to have to deal with the challenge of harnessing their sexuality.

  23. David says:

    R. Farber, towards the beginning of your post you wrote:
    ” . . . homosexual congress is a religious offense, akin to eating shrimp . . . ”

    Let’s work with that for a minute & see how we’d treat a shrimp eater in similar circumstances.

    Suppose Bubba – that loveable shrimp afficianado from “Forrest Gump” survived the wounds he sustained in Vietnam and found out he was Jewish.

    Through a long process, he returned to full Halachic observance. That is except for one detail — he just can’t get over his addiction to shrimp.

    After all, Bubba was born into a shrimping family, spent his whole childhood and early adulthood consuming shrimp, and though he’s tried every available method to part with shrimp (including therapy), he’s hopelessly addicted to shrimp.

    How will G-d deal with Bubba after 120? Believing G-d to be all merciful, I’d like to think that G-d would apply the principle of “Oness Rachmanah Patrai” to Bubba. After all, this was a challenge just too great for Bubba to overcome.

    How should other Halacha observing Jews — whose mission in life is to pass on their deep attachment to Halacha to the next generation — and their community deal with Bubba?

    I’d say that depends on how Bubba decides to live his life as a shrimp afficianado.

    If Bubba keeps this guilty pleasure to himself and does not flaunt this aspect of his life which is in absolute contrast to Halacha, I don’t think he should be treated any different than any other Jew. After all, no Jew is perfect. We all try our best to keep all 613 Mitzvot which we fully believe that each of us are supposed to be keeping. If Bubba has a problem adhering to one of those Mitzvot in private, and is not trying to claim that for him there are only 612 Mitzvot, his shrimp addiction is between him and G-d and no one else.

    If on the other hand Bubba insists on wearing a t-shirt to Shul and around the Jewish community that states “Say it loud, say it proud, I love eating shrimp!”, if his car’s bumper sticker declares “The Torah is for me — except for the part about shrimp!”, then everything has changed.

    Now that he’s come out and wants to openly live publicly exhibiting a lifestyle that is in direct contrast to one of the Torah’s 613 Mitzvot, we as a community cannot treat him the same anymore.

    While G-d may still not hold Bubba accountable for not being able to stop eating shrimp, that has no bearing on how a communtiy should deal with someone who openly and publicly celebrates behavior that Halacha forbids.

  24. gavrielj says:

    EZ,

    You are wrong.

    For the document to say that nature and nurture both play a role doesn’t mean anything – I don’t need to quote that.

    An alcoholic is the same – nature and nurture.
    A sexual predator is the same nature and nurture.

    All psychological issues are like that.

    It is ONLY homosexuality that is trying to be passed off as different and somehow unchangeable!

    I am not cherry picking at all. I am showing that it is NO different than all other psychological issues.

    KAPISH?

    Everyone should carefully go through the links on Torahdec.org to fully understand what’s going on.

    LOOK AT ARIE’S COMMENTS BELOW this article: http://www.examiner.com/sexual-abuse-in-chicago/facts-behind-the-torah-declaration

    Arie, was actually helped and he responds to a therapist he knows whow wrote the column.

    Understand what really going on.

    An attempt to not allow people reaching for help to be helped.

  25. SM says:

    R. Farber,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful and evolving approach to homosexuality and halacha. I know a lot of people are leaving criticism, so I just wanted to let you know that there are other readers who are appreciative.

  26. Provocative and carefully written post by Zev Farber.

  27. Dear Rabbi Farber,
    As a formerly Orthodox, currently Conservative, single and non celibate openly gay man, rabbinical student and father of three – I deeply appreciate your words, tone, courage and respect.

    The ‘ones’ criteria is tricky. See link below to Rabbi Dorf’s tesuva from 1990 in which he uses this argument. It was not the defining factor that determined the Conservative decision from 2006 that enabled many, me included, to be welcomed at our shuls as equal members and encouraged to take on leadership positions in the community. But it’s a fascinating argument on the general notion of sexuality – in the context of human dignity in the image of God. I look forward to learning with you and from you in future. Shabbat shalom.

    http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/19912000/dorff_homosexuality.pdf?phpMyAdmin=G0Is7ZE%2CH7O%2Ct%2CZ1sDHpI8UAVD6

  28. Matty J says:

    I just wanted to say thank you

  29. Hillel says:

    Yasher Koach to Rabbi Farber.

    It is unfortunate, although not surprising, how many factually wrong and hateful comments have been made, and disregard Hillel’s teaching: Ve-al tadin et chavercha ad she-tagia li-mkomo (Pirke Avos 2:5) (Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place. Ethics of the Fathers 2:5)

    For more information on the subject, see: http://www.orthogays.org/faq.html

  30. Yoel says:

    “It should be your will, Hashem my G-d, that no mishap should occur because of me, and I should not err in a halakhic matter and my colleagues will rejoice over me, and I should not declare the impure pure or the pure impure, and my colleagues should not err in a halakhic matter and I will rejoice over them.” This is the Prayer upon entering the beit midrash, presumably also uttered by this rabbi as well. It encapsulates what the process of halakha, which ramifies and develops Torah concepts through logic, inference, extension, building fences etc, but never by tearing the fences down, never destroying what the fences are protecting. Let the pure remain pure, and the impure will remain impure even if you invent a million reasons why it is pure. By all means, love every Jew, the stronger yetzer hara, the more they need to be loved, but don’t send them into intentional sin, G-d forbid, just to be “nice.” Do not add “avon” [intentional sin] and “pesha” [rebellious sin] to the “chataah” [hidden sin]. You will be doing them no favor, but hurting yourself by being guilty of “lifne iver” at best, and “zaken mamre” at worst.

  31. gavrielj says:

    I personally know over 20 formerly gay people and three who are married or engaged.

    There are people who put in the work, who wanted to change. For some of them had they given up after a short attempt would not have been successful. It took 4 years for some – just like the struggle for alcoholism or any other difficult issue.

    There is real information – see both sides of the issue.

    There is nothing facually wrong and nothing hateful in the message that change is possible.

    Its hard work and requires a desire.

    Is the criticism that not everyone will change a valid reason not to try?

    The answer is the same as for any therapy.

    It is wrong to stop people who want to change from getting the help they are seeking.

    Reread Arie’s comment in the examiner article I posted above.

  32. Jacob says:

    R. Farber argues above that the homosexual act is not a moral issue. If that’s the case, can he or any other bloggers then explain in what sense the Torah calls the homosexual act a ‘toeiva’ – an abomination?

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      The gemara is also bothered byt he word toevah. Its meaning is apparently not so clear since the gemara says it indicates a combination of words: toeh ata bah-you will make a mistake through it, ie be led to sin. the torah uses the word toevah in reguard to other things also that do not seem to be moral issues per say such as non-kosher animals. See also my post arguing that according to the Rambam forbidden sexual relationships are not necessarily a moral issue (though of course are forbidden): http://morethodoxy.org/2009/07/03/is-the-torah-moral-parshat-chukat-and-taamey-hamitzvot-reasons-for-the-commandments-and-an-answer-to-rick-by-rabbi-hyim-shafner/#more-148

      • gavrielj says:

        Rabbi Shafner,

        Toeh is not the same word as Shogeh or SH’gagah. Shogeg means making a mistake such as forgetting.

        Toeh mean wandering and being wrong – that is more similar to ‘Sar min Haderech’ turned off the path.

        Note that When Yosef was looking for his brothers it says ‘Toeh Basade’ lost in the field [Genesis ] in other words ‘off the path’ as above.

        The words ‘Sar min haderech’ and ‘Lo Tasooroo’ ie “don’t turn after your heart and eyes” in the shema are always used for idolatry and forbidden relations – both terrible sins.

        Thus I believe that it may be a mistake to use that gemarah to imply that it is some sort of shegagah type of mistake.

        Regarding Toevah for animals: Well the word ‘moral’ is an English word and not used in the Torah so I’m not sure why it has meaning in this context.

        The bottom line is that both forbidden relations and forbidden foods are Chukim and are considered to be very wrong – even detestable (Toaevah) or as someone who went off G-d’s path (Toeh atta bah) – even if there is no stated monetary/hurting other people type of reason.

        Does what I am saying make sense?

      • Jacob says:

        Thank you Haym. But I think you are grossly misinterpreting both the intent of the Gemara in Nedarim and the meaning of the word ‘to’eva’. The Gemara there, in its typical style, is not offering a pshat explanation for the word, but rather a homiletical one. This its interpretation of “to’eh ata bah” is in addition to the the pshat, and does not supplant it. It is not ‘bothered’ by the word ‘to’evah’. In any case, I’m sure we can argue that point.

        Second, look carefully at the the closing verses in ch. 18 that contains the warning against the homosexual act. The Torah there uses the term “toeva” no less than 4 additional times and applies it to “all these [aforementioned] abominations”, namely adulterous and incestuous relations, etc. and includes the homosexual act in this list. I read your other piece concerning ta’amei hamitzvot. Is it your position that adultery and and incest are also not moral issues? If not, then once again, I restate my original question – in what sense does the Torah apply the term toeva to all forbidden sexual relations, including the homosexual act?

  33. David Benkof says:

    Three reactions:

    1) Do our sources differentiate between “religious” and “moral” halachot or is it just modern-day polemicists like Rabbi Farber and Shmuely Boteach? I really don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.

    2) Rabbi Cardozo has told me personally that he no longer holds the extreme opinion he expressed during “Trembling.”

    3) “Homosexual congress” is certainly not inevitable. As Orthodox Jews, we expect our teenagers to be celibate, and they generally struggle more with hormones and sexual desires than older adults do. If an Orthodox gay man truly wishes to listen to the voice of Sinai, he can keep his pants on, one day at a time.

  34. Holly Robinson, Cincinnati OH USA says:

    I am appalled that this disgusting question would be asked:

    “Are we introducing tainted lineage into our holy people?”

  35. [...] further points need to be made. First, as I wrote in a previous post, even in the Orthodox world-view, where homosexual congress is considered forbidden, there needs to [...]

  36. [...] further points need to be made. First, as I wrote in a previouspost, even in the Orthodox world-view, where homosexual congress is considered forbidden, there needs to [...]

  37. [...] point and an important answer to my question. First, he clarifies homosexual relationships aren’t immoral. They are indeed a problem for Jewish law but not because they create some sort of moral dilemma. [...]

  38. [...] point and an important answer to my question. First, he clarifies homosexual relationships aren’t immoral. They are indeed a problem for Jewish law but not because they create some sort of moral dilemma. [...]

  39. I could not resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

  40. [...] for the above-mentioned “Mendelssohns”) took the same argument in the reverse direction (http://morethodoxy.org/2012/01/11/homosexuals-in-the-orthodox-community-by-rabbi-zev-farber/): Homosexuality is irreversible; God never puts people in “impossible situations,” one of which [...]

  41. ben dov says:

    Halacha requires giving up your life instead of committing a homosexual act. According to Rabbi Farber’s logic that homosexuals are under Oneiss, it would follow they should commit suicide. I am absolutely opposed to such a conclusion, but that is exactly where his logic leads.

  42. […] of “gay marriage” here and hereand here; to halachically rationalizing the homosexual act and encouraging gay relationships (and see here and here); to attacking statements in Tanach and Chazal and disparaging our liturgy […]

  43. […] “gay marriage” here and hereand here; to halachically rationalizing the homosexual act and encouraging gay relationships (and see here and here); to attacking statements in Tanach and Chazal and disparaging our liturgy […]

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