Posted: Apr 8 2008, 06:28 PM Being Gay and Orthodox Q: One of the 4 questions that God asks a person after

he dies is: Did you fulfill your duty in establishing a family? This topic has been on my mind for a while. I am a 35 year old male. I do not consider myself "religious", but I do attend an Orthodox synagogue on a weekly basis. And although I am not happy about it, the fact is that I am gay, and I don't seem to be able to change that. So the prospects of getting married and having children seem to get farther and farther as the years go by. I personally believe that I was born that way, and in no way I "chose" to be gay. As much as I want to get "help", I get the answers that I shouldn't fight it; I am what I am, and I should live that life style. I asked 3 Orthodox/Traditional Rabbis, and I got two different answers, and one that did not know enough, to give me any answer. The Bible forbids homosexuality; does Judaism offer any answers/help to a person like me? And if the answer is that one should not have homosexual relationships, and yet he cannot have heterosexual relationships, should that individual remain single and lonely for the rest of his life? And what about the mitzva of establishing a family and having children? A: A personal note: I decided to repost this article I wrote about 14 years or so ago. It has been cited in numerous books, and I will save my best material for the new Leviticus commentary that I hope to start re-editing after I finish the new Genesis commentary. By now you have heard all the standard run-of-the-mill answers. Indeed my own personal position on this subject has changed over the years. I recall many years ago, when I was the Rabbi of an Orthodox Shul in San Francisco, there was a case where my Sephardic colleague introduced a gay man wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism. Today in 2008, I feel more convinced now than ever that the entire issue is a matter of privacy. At that time, my colleagues and myself at that time felt that so long as the person did not act out his homosexual tendencies, he was in our estimation, a worthy convert. And so, we converted him. Each of us knew that in all likelihood this man could very easily renege on his promise, but as far as we were all concerned, we took him at his word; As far was we were concerned, this issue was a matter between the convert and God. Not one of us could dare assume the role of God's secret police and enforcer. This attitude towards the would be convert, is based in part on the Responsa of Ben Uziel, who took the position the Beit Din should not assume more than it absolutely has to [see my reply to a question someone asked regarding conversion on this matter which I adopted from Mishpatey Uziel Responsa #20] I think within the Halachic world, there has been a remarkable redefinition of many of the more traditional attitudes concerning the congenital homosexual. In earlier times, it was regarded as "an abomination" in the most intolerant sense of the word. The Hebrew word used in association with homosexuality –―toaveh,‖ which comes from the Hebrew word "to'ev," ―to hate‖ or ―abhor.‖ REDEFINING TOEVAH

In addition, it is possible that the term "abomination,‖ toevah, has a distinctly religious and idolatrous connotation. as in Isa 44:19, or even for a specific pagan deity, as in 2 Kings 23:13 where Milcom is called "the abomination of the Ammonites." Historically, homosexual behavior was also linked with cultic prostitution (cf. Deut. 23:18; 1Kgs. 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). I should add that modern biblical scholars are unsure whether there ever were cultic male prostitutes in ancient Israel. Now, if you examine the biblical context where homosexuality is cited, invariably, it denotes a violent and predatory sexual disposition. If the codes from the other Mesopotamian cultures are of any relevance to the passage in Lev. 18:22, we may be able to decipher the Torah's real meaning that the ban against homosexuality may well be referring to (a) father and son incest (as mentioned in the Hittite codes) ( homosexual rape (as spelled out in the Middle Assyrian codes). Indeed, the Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin 54b interprets the word "zachor" to also include male child. The word "zachor" in the Bible frequently means "male child" (cf. Exod. 12:48, Lev. 12:2, 15:33, 27:3 7; Isa. 66:7) If this is indeed the real meaning of the text (and let me remind you that we have no way of knowing for sure), then it is possible that the prohibition was not directed at monogamous male relations, which was not the concern of the biblical writer, but was aimed at male incest and homosexual rape, i.e., those who prey upon others, e.g., one who rapes another man captured in war, or one who preys on children [Cf. Sanhedrin 54b]. This interpretation of the peshat is consistent with the other biblical passages dealing with predatory form of homosexuality. Examples: The story of Sodom (Gen. 19:1 11) and Giveah [Judg. 19:1 21:25] have more often than not, served as a homophobic polemic against homosexuality. Indeed, according to one rabbinic legend, Ham was guilty of sodomizing his own father while King Nebuchadnazar of Babylon was believed to have sodomized captive kings.In fact, I would argue that these texts serve as an intrabiblical commentary on the Leviticus passages that are so often misquoted out of context. One of the most cited modern reasons why homosexuality is forbidden is because it is seen as basically anti family, for the gay person could not reproduce. Indeed, many apologists for the traditional interpretations will cite this explanation for why gays should and ought to change. Today, with artificial insemination and adoption, contemporary science has created ways for the gay person to procreate, besides, gays can adopt children. Actually, some recent scientific studies posted as recent as 2008 indicate that it may be physically possible for a man someday to give birth! Of course, it may be argued that these interpretations are truly novel and have not the slightest bit of evidence in the classical rabbinic texts. This is true. But given what we know about human sexuality, there is something to be said about redefining nature of this prohibition. Maimonides himself was not opposed to speculating about the purpose and rational of many of the Biblical prohibitions and customs. Nor was Maimonides, or his son Abraham, were adverse to using science as a tool for better understanding the Torah. We are not obliged to take a positivistic interpretation that sees the Halacha as 'brute facts' that cannot entertain questions. The simple fact is, the subjective element also plays a critical role in the formulation of the Halacha.

Homosexuality most likely existed even in rabbinic times. Though it was commonly regarded as a taboo, the rabbis were nevertheless sympathetic enough to suggest that if one could not control one's sexual "appetite," he should wear dark clothes and go to a place where nobody knows him and do whatever his heart desires, "rather than profane the name of Heaven openly" [Moed Kattan 17a, Kiddushin 40a]. Let me pose the following question: How do we know that the rabbis were not also alluding to rabbis who were gay as well?! The sexual appetite is not limited to just those looking for heterosexual sex, and this point should be fairly obvious. In Talmudic times, the greater the scholar, the greater was the Chillul Hashem the desecration. It seems to me that the rabbis feared that a gay scholar would prove to be a source of embarrassment and scandal if he acted out his urges within the local community. [Note that according to Tosfos in Moed Kattan, the advice of R. Ilai was never meant as a license to commit a sin, but was merely meant as a safeguard i.e., if he would go to another place wearing dark clothes, his libido would subside (Rabbanu Chananal). However, the Tosfos in Hagiga 16b s.v. Vyeaseh, refutes Rabbanu Chananel saying that R. Ilai's should not be taken out of its obvious context]. Regardless of the specific context one thing is clear: There are people who cannot control their yetzer libido. THE CHANGING PERCEPTIONS OF HALACHIC REALITY When determining the Halacha, a modern Halachic scholar must always take into consideration the person as well as the circumstances he is dealing with. This process is visible in the vast majority of cases. Our Sages teach us: The Torah speaks in the language of humankind" i.e., just as language changes from generation to generation, so too does the Halacha change with the emerging new social conditions. Had this not been so, Judaism would have been incapable of reconciling and resolving the existing social realities with the religious conditions that once governed the past. This process is visible in the Modern Orthodox world. More and more incidents have been recorded and documented since I first wrote this article over 12 years ago. More and more Modern Orthodox rabbis are slowly starting to accept the view heralded by Rabbi Norman Lamm, the distinguished Dean of Yeshiva University, who stated that we need to change our Halachic attitude towards the congenital homosexual (in contrast to the volitional homosexual) in light of what we presently know of science and psychology which states that some 10 percent of the population of both men and women, are born with a sexual orientation that differs from most people's. This is neither an emotional deviation and nor is it a conscious choice; it is a genetic fact, congenital and unchangeable, like eye color. This sexual constitution is not something that is contrived, or to use the analogy: it's not a question concerning software; it is simply a matter of hardware. Computer specialists can easily understand the difference, but to a computer neophyte, he cannot distinguish between a software vis-‫-א‬vis hardware problem. To regard homosexuality as an "abomination," instead of attempting to understand it, can only serve to alienate thousands of Jews. In some extreme cases, the failure to understand can even lead to suicide. By exacerbating the problem of acceptance (which is not to be confused with acquiescence), the Torah observant Jewish community risks distancing many people from everything connected with religion, Halacha and tradition. Perpetuating an attitude of intolerance is in my opinion, ―puts a stumbling block before the blind." The lack of human compassion only serves to further disintegrate the homosexual's commitment to Judaism. Wisdom dictates that we not push the gay Jewish community away. The fact there are Gay Shuls is indicative of how we in the more traditional synagogues have gone out of our way to let

homosexuals know that they are not welcome.

Bad idea!

Fortunately, this trend is changing and the Conservative Movement is bravely considering alternative ceremonies to celebrate two friends' love for one another. It is a pity that we do not innovate new rituals celebrating friendship and love. It is about time we did! IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE What are the implications for those loyal to the Halacha? Rabbi Lamm writes that we need to stop thinking of the homosexual as a deliberate or incorrigible sinner, but rather as one who is sexually under duress; such a concept is known in Talmudic and Jewish legal literature is defined as "ones." In a revealing passage in the Talmud tractate Ketubot [33b] we find a comment attributed to Rab that is indeed, thought provoking. Rab said: If they [the Babylonians] had lashed Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, they would have worshipped the [golden] image." The same reasoning may be applied to someone who is congenitally gay, for such a person is always being coerced by his nature. Even the greatest of Tsadikkim [righteous] of people would fall sway to an adversary who is incessantly trying to assert his will over another. The concept of duress applies to each of the three cardinal sins of Judaism: idol worship, unchaste behavior, and murder when someone is under duress, he or she cannot be held accountable to God or to a Beit Din the All Merciful One excuses those who sin under duress. Maimonides states in Hilchot Sanhedrin 20:3 that if a woman who after she is raped, insists that her rapist be spared, she is exempt from any possible negative ramifications, for she was after all, a victim of rape. In the case of the homosexual, his condition renders him innocent of any wrongful submission. Granted, this attitude doesn't endorse homosexuality as a perfectly alternative sexual preference, but Lamm's approach does remove the stigma of being gay. In effect, this liberal Halachic attitude allows for the observant Jew to be understanding and even empathetic of another Jew's ordeal of being different. In a penetrating article written by Rabbi Eliezer Finklestein in the Journal of the Society of Rabbis in Academia, Vol I: 1 2, Rabbi Finklestein summarizes the Halacha very succinctly A Jew who violates the Halacha is still within the category of Amcha "Your people," i.e., our interpersonal obligations and relationship requires us to return lost objects, ransom him if he is taken captive, visit him if he is sick, include him within a minyan, and even permit him even to function as a shochet [ritual slaughterer]!‖ Again let me state: it seems to me that to continue using the "abomination" metaphor (in the most pejorative sense) against people who have this condition, is to risk distancing many people from everything connected with religion. For those who wish to live an Orthodox Jewish life, such stigmatizing won't succeed in changing the gay person; all it will do is exacerbate the individual's sense of pain, loneliness, and suffering. In the past, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren described homosexuality as an abomination. "The only thing that is specifically forbidden by the Torah is dark intercourse. Other issues, such as board game, are not unique to homosexuals," he said. "There could be a question of modesty [by flaunting homosexuality], but even that is not relevant if you are talking about sex between two people in private." If two men decided to live together as partners, this should not necessarily affect their religious lifestyle, he said. It was up to the men themselves to

decide if they wanted the public to know why they were living together‖ [Jerusalem Post Feb. 12, 1993]. I concur; this is a matter of tziniut – modesty, and every person is entitled to modesty. Goren's approach is a far cry from what we hear in the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel and in this country today. If nothing else, it is far better that homosexuality be a sin of omission, rather than commission. If we lack the tact that is required to offer admonition as prescribed in our Torah, and defined by the Halchot pertaining to admonition, then it would be far more laudatory to not say anything at all especially if we know for certain that the person we are "admonishing" will not,or, more precisely, "cannot" listen. The Talmud in Arachin states in the name of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria, " But I wonder: Is there is anyone in this generation who has the ability to offer tokecha [admonishment]? On the basis of this sentient statement, the Hazon Ish in his commentary to the Maimonides' Hilchot Dd'ot wrote: "Nowadays we do not know how to admonish, as indicated by R. Elazar Ben Azariah, every person is considered as if he had not received tokecha admonition, so that his wicked deeds are regarded as being involuntary, and it is therefore a mitzva to love him." Today is no less true than it was thousands of years ago we lack the ability to persuade. While this perspective does not eliminate the Biblical animus against homosexuality, this approach does make it easier for the homosexual Jew to function more comfortably within a more observant community. Today's society's preoccupation with homosexuality borders at the times, on the perverse. No normal heterosexual man would be that interested in homosexuality. Of course, for many, we fear what affects us the most. In Israel, the Haredim are mainly interested in hiding the fact that homosexuality has invaded even their own religious community. I suspect that the battle over homosexuality is in part, aimed at denouncing the non Orthodox, who have made a serious effort to confront the problem in light of Jewish tradition. The Halacha dictates that we not inquire about a person's sexual habits with heterosexual people, so too it is inappropriate to ask someone about his/her homosexual orientation. To make a public issue of this, is contrary to all the sacred principles of Tzninut [modesty] and a fundamental violation to a person's right for privacy [hezek riyah shimay hizek] and let's not forget the heinous sin of loshon hara. How should the very pious among the religious act towards the gay Jew? I would argue from their perspective, the gay Jew should not be treated any differently than a Jew who fails to keep kosher or the Shabbat if anything, the homosexual deserves genuine understanding and compassion since it is not a matter of choice, his sexuality simply is what it is. But, what are the alternatives for the homosexual observant Jew? To remain alone, and condemned to a lifeless martial relationship? To be bereft of fatherhood? For those who would want to force every homosexual into a heterosexual marriage and fatherhood in order to continue Jewish society, we must ask these meaningful questions: What kind of Jewish society will it be with self denying, unhappy, forced spouses and fathers? What effect will this have on the children? What about his poor wife? Logic dictates a better approach, a wiser approach one which does not destroy Jewish lives through hypocrisy and lovelessness. In response to your original question about having a family, you may want to consider adopting

a child. Please consider the following: according to a number of Halachic sources, there are objections one could raise especially when we consider how imitative children can be. Yet, we must remember also that in a society such as ours, it is impossible to insulate young adults from ever having to deal with homosexual people. As the child grows into an adult, s/he will see that the world is a complicated place. We cannot live in a little Halachic Biosphere where children grow up oblivious to reality. Of course there are a plethora of emotional issues that makes this a particularly thorny problem. If heterosexual parents have difficulty raising children and dealing with their emerging sense of sexuality, how prepared is a gay parent? Nevertheless, if you know in your heart of hearts that you can be a good parent, then by all means, adopt a child and create for him a Kosher Jewish home. It seems to me, in light of scientific data, that most children will follow their most natural sexual orientation. If you are a loving man whose heart is full of compassion, I would not let your homosexuality get in the way of you being a parent. I would have no more qualms of you raising a child than I would with a parent who adopts child who grows up in a nonobservant Kosher home—especially if you dedicate your child to becoming a proud and observant Jew. Indeed, this would be a great Kiddush Hashem. There is a very moving passage that in the Book of Isaiah that may be an allusion to the plight of the religious homosexual: For thus said the Lord: AAs for the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, Who have chosen what I desire And hold fast to My covenantC will give them, in My House And within My walls, A monument and a name Better than sons or daughters. I will give them an everlasting name Which shall not perish. As for the foreigners Who attach themselves to the Lord, To minister to Him, And to love the name of the Lord, To be His servantsC All who keep the sabbath and do not profane it, And who hold fast to My covenantC I will bring them to My sacred mount And let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices Shall be welcome on My altar; For My House shall be called A house of prayer for all peoples.@

Isa 56:4-7 This prophecy concerns the outcasts of Israel, and specifically the sexual minorities of the time, i.e., eunuchs. These were people who were not part of the dominant family/property complex, but people still whom God loves and includes within the faith community.

Since there was no category of homosexual - until very late in the 19th century it seems - these Biblical texts about eunuchs must be read as relevant to gay people. That is not to say that the prophet Isaiah was referring directly to homosexuality, but from what we know about ancient history, eunuchs were often homosexual. According to Nachmanides, the Hebrew term Asarsis@ may have well been a general way of referring to "homosexuals" in the period, although remains merely a suggestion. If this interpretation is correct, then the prophet Isaiah may have been suggesting that there was a place in Israel and in the Temple even for the homosexuals, if they were truly devoted to their God. You may want to read a fascinating book recently published by the Jewish Publication Society entitled, Wine Women and Death, which was written by Raymond Scheindlin, who is a professor at the Jewish Theological Society. In his book, he has published and written a number of erotic gay oriented poems that were composed by some of the greatest rabbis of medieval Spain, including some illustrious names as Ibn Gabirol, Shemuel haNagid, Moses ibn Ezra, and even the famous Spanish poet Judah HaLevi. Even if these poems served merely as literary creations, the content of them takes lightly and indeed pokes fun at the proscription of such sexual relationships as ―sinful.‖ Of course, the implications of these poetic texts are staggering and have great relevance for our contemporary age, for they for these poems force us to reexamine the nature of the biblical prohibitions regarding homosexuality. Every human being has the need to express love for another human and. to frustrate this need, is to destroy a very deep part of what makes us human. Before considering this option, you had better be prepared to deal with the repercussions. If you feel you cannot in good faith, be a parent, then be a good uncle, for there is satisfaction in that as well, as many childless couples can attest from their own life experiences. Change is very hard for a religious community that is struggling to survive after the wake of the Holocaust. Yet, in despite of the fiery rhetoric, changes in attitudes are taking place among the Torah observant community, but change occurs at its own pace. What is important here is, we do not have to yield to ancient attitudes that denigrates and destroys the worth of a human being because of a congenital sexual orientation. I can only surmise that within the next 100 years, the Orthodox Jewish community will be a lot more laid back and tolerant of its homosexual members. I will conclude with a light story that every Torah observant Jew should remember. Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine was once asked, 'Why do you show so much kindness towards those Jews who are truly hateful of their religion?" He answered, 'I would much rather be guilty of the sin of "causeless love" than be guilty of the sin of

"causeless hatred."

Rabbi Michael Samuel Traditional