The recently released Statement of Principles concerning homosexuals within the Orthodox community has gotten a great deal of notice, both here and in Israel. (If you haven’t yet seen the text, it is here: http://statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com/ ) The document was authored primarily by my dear friend Rabbi Nathanial Helfgot, and I am honored to be one of the dozens and dozens of signatories.
The document is significant – historic really – for a variety of reasons. Some are obvious; others less so. Here are two of the latter:
(1) The document repeatedly acknowledges the very real possibility that homosexual orientation is genetically based and is not subject to change. While this is not really news to most of us, its explicit articulation in a document authored by Orthodox rabbis is paradigm-shifting. The true deep cause of Orthodoxy’s decades-long unintelligible stammering about homosexuality is the conundrum presented by the possibility that God is responsible both for homosexual orientation and for prohibiting homosexual behavior. The inadmissibility of either of the possible solutions to the conundrum (that the Torah is not Divine, or that God is terribly unjust) left our community inchoate at best, or championing “change therapy” at worst. The current Statement of Principles offers no solution to the conundrum either. In Talmudic parlance, the question is left as a “teyku”. But the authors of the statement courageously decided that homosexuals should not have to daily pay the social price for our inability to solve the theological puzzle. This is a huge paradigm shift.
(2) The fact that so many Orthodox rabbi and educators, men and women, signed their names to the document, signifies loudly and decisively that Modern Orthodoxy’s dalliance with haredi-ism is winding down. The much-bemoaned “drift to the right” that changed the character of so many of Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship academic, rabbinic and synagogue organizations now has an upright, unafraid, and ideologically passionate counter-force that is determined to reclaim Modern Orthodoxy, and to restore it to its raison d’etre of engaging, rather than running away from, life’s toughest issues. There’s still a long road to travel. There are many complex factors that contributed to the rightward drift, all of which need to be addressed. But the will, the passion, and the conviction to tackle the challenge are all in bold evidence in the long list of signatories to the Statement of Principles.
We need to appreciate the significance of this moment. It is in no way an overstatement to characterize it as a turning point.