The Drift is Over, R. Yosef Kanefsky

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: ) 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.

6 Responses to The Drift is Over, R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    R. Yosef Kanefsky said:

    “The document repeatedly acknowledges the very real possibility that homosexual orientation is genetically based and is not subject to change.”

    EVERY temptation [Yetzer HaRa] is genetically based and can not be eliminated, including the temptations to: steal, murder, rape, slander, eat forbidden foods and argue.

    • Skeptic says:

      Normally, Mr. Cohen, you like to cite sources. In this case, you didn’t, presumably because a significant number of Rishonim hold that we don’t believe in any such original sin (a very Christian concept), and thus there is no genetic yetzer hara. (Granted some do, as in all issues, there is a diversity of views). In which case, if one doesn’t believe in a genetic yezter hara, and thus one believes that the yetzer hara is purely a natural consequence of bechira (free will), then the idea that some people don’t have the same free will in this area is problematic, and hence the issue at hand.

      If you want sources, see the Radak in Bereshis 3:22, and also the Ramban there and at 2:17.

  2. Lisa says:

    Yes, it’s a good thing. But given that a large majority of those who signed it are LWMO/JOFA/YCT/CLAL/Open Orthodox/Morethodox identified, the question is whether the declaration of principles will have any positive effect so long as they continue to push the envelope to its breaking point with Maharats and Rabbahs and Chazanits and the like. A case can be made that support from those quarters might not be entirely to our advantage.

    Go ahead and tell me how ungrateful I am. I’m not, really. I’m glad the declaration came out (no pun intended). But I’m also aware that for some of the signatories, supporting us is simply a part of an ideological agenda they already have, and I’m a little averse to being used.

  3. Yes! Thank you for pointing out the exciting significance of this event. On a more cautionary note, Perhaps calling it “over” underplays the formidable challenge before us. I would suggest that there were reasons for the “drift” that left unheeded will come back to haunt us. Amoung them is the failure of MO to build communities that could compete with the passion, spiritual fervour, and conviction of the right. A more complex world view very quickly “drifts” towards a mediocre spiritual experiance if not tended with attentive skill and wisdom.

  4. Izzy says:

    The basic premise of this post, that the statement of principles embodies a significant departure from charedi idealogy, is inaccurate. Some of those from the charedi side that publicly opposed the statement agreed with much of it, and only took issue with particuliar points in the statement. As was pointed out elsewhere, Rabbi Aaron Feldman (now of Ner Israel and Agudath Israel) published a letter ten years ago, saying many of the things said in the letter.

  5. David S says:

    I love the optimism of this blog. I only wish you all wrote more often so you would get more back and forth on the reply sections.

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