Friday, September 11, 2009

Ki Tetzei (Zohar - Essay)

The One and the Two: God, Man and Woman -- Supplement

Shall Man Cleave to Man? Four Comments on Homosexuality and Judaism

Although I have addressed the issue of homosexuality and Judaism during the earlier years of Hitzei Yehonatan (HY I: Kedoshim [=Torah]; and HY IV: Ki Tetzei [=Hasidism]), I have wanted to discuss the subject in greater depth for some time. The November 2006 decision of the Conservative movement, through its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, allowing the ordination of homosexuals as rabbis and the conducting of homosexual “commitment” (i.e., quasi-wedding) ceremonies—subject to the decision of the individual seminaries and the local rabbis, respectively—raised a storm of controversy in the Jewish world. I had originally intended to write a close and careful halakhic analysis of the various opinions ratified by the CJLS; however, given the time that has passed since these decisions were announced, it now seems rather besides the point. What seems to me to require discussion is not so much the narrowly-focused halakhic issues, but several theological and meta-halakhic issues which, strangely, I found to be lacking in all those papers, both pro and con, posted on this subject.

The issue reemerged this past year with the renewed discussion in the United States about the legality and advisability of same-sex marriages, and the passing of legislation allowing it in some six states, with others vigorously debating the issue; and, more recently, the reopening of the issue of ordination of gay priests in the Episcopalian/Anglican Church, with a somewhat complex compromise to preserve the unity of that church. But perhaps most poignantly for those of us living in Israel (albeit less keenly felt outside the country): one month ago, on Motza’ei Shabbat Nahamu, a masked armed figure walked into a homo-lesbo youth club in a basement in Tel Aviv and opened fire on those gathered there, killing two young people and seriously injuring another half dozen or so. The general reaction was one of shock and a sense of dread that inter-group hatred—specifically the hatred of gays—has become a plague of our society. To date the shooter has not been apprehended, and hence his motives remain unknown, but the general assumption is that he was motivated by hatred, and possibly by a religiously-motivated anti-gay ideology.

1. A Kind of Introduction: Love vs. Law

As a starting point, let me state that, whatever one’s halakhic and ethical approach to homosexual acts per se, the approach to the individual homosexual must be one of love, compassion, understanding and full human acceptance. Clearly, they are not resha’im (evil-doers or miscreants) in any usual sense; whatever the findings of geneticists and brain researchers may be (and I have suggested elsewhere that these are not as unequivocal as commonly thought), there is overwhelming evidence that the homosexual feels him or herself “thrown” into this situation; that their sexual leaning is not a conscious or deliberate choice, but an orientation, the form that erotic desire takes within their own souls, something at the very root of their being. Hence, the homosexual must be seen, first of all, as a human being who finds him/herself in a difficult existential situation.

And indeed, several of the “pro-gay” or “liberal” responsa in the Conservative discussion (e.g., those of Eliot Dorff, of Simcha Roth, and of Gordon Tucker) began with anecdotal material about young people who wished to live as good Jews, but who found that the existence of halakhic prohibitions which they could not help but violate brought them into unbearable inner conflicts. I might add that I am familiar, within my own circle, with the story of a deeply learned Jew, a true homo religios, who has experienced deep anguish and inner struggle over the conflict between his own deeply-rooted emotional and sexual needs, and his desire to live within the halakhic system with some sort of integrity.

On a certain level, perhaps inadvertently, the debate over this issue seems to reproduce the classical rift between Judaism and Christianity, often summed up as concerned with the issue of “love vs. law”: that is, the conflict between human compassion and understanding of the unique situation of each individual, his feelings, needs, perception of the universe, etc., as opposed to the objective, empirical imperatives of the Divine command. In our case, the liberals within the Jewish camp supposedly come out on the side of “love,” and the traditionalists on the side of “law.”

But I believe that this dichotomy is a false one. Love of the Other and criticizing certain of his actions are not mutually exclusive. One may accept the gay person as a fellow human being, as a fellow Jew, and as a friend whom one has learned to trust and admire and even love, while differing over specific issues. (Indeed, if one cannot argue with one’s friends, if everyone thought the same way, life would be very boring—as Rabbi Yohanan learned following the death of Resh Lekish, his best friend and hevruta who was constantly challenging him and arguing with him.)

I am reminded of a story my mother used to tell. She grew up in an Orthodox Rabbinical home in the Bronx, but during her mid- or late-teens in the 1920’s began, like many of her contemporaries, to break with much of the tradition and to ride on the subway on Shabbat. When leaving the house on such occasions, her mother would say to her, with a combination of irony and love: Setz nisht bist finster. As if to say: I know very well that you’re riding on Shabbat, but at least “don’t sit down ‘til dark.”

There is one more important point to be made. To the average heterosexual, homosexuality seems bizarre, alien, something totally strange. Speaking from my own experience, I can easily understand the adulterer: I know the buzz of desire felt upon seeing an attractive woman, during that moment before either the conscience or the intellect intervenes to say “Forbidden!” But, on that same visceral level, I cannot understand the erotic attraction some men feel towards other men—and I assume that most of my fellow-“straights” feel much the same way. This, I suspect, is at the root of the repulsion, even disgust, many people feel towards homosexuality. But precisely because of this strangeness, it behooves one to exercise a degree of humility and suspension of judgment, and even attempt a certain act of imagination and empathy for the other. Once one has entered into friendship with even one homosexual person, even if the issue as such is never discussed openly, everything looks different. One says to oneself: so-and-so is “gay”; he is bright, interesting, insightful, responsible in the various tasks he performs in society—in short, he is a perfectly normal, positive human being in every area of life but this. At this point, a certain act of imagination is called for, in which one begins to empathize with the homosexual’s dilemma as a real human dilemma—and all the more so, because one knows that one does not and cannot understand the inner world of his erotic imagination. In religious terms, I would see this as a special application vis-à-vis the homosexual of the mitzvah ואהבת לרעך כמוך (“love your fellow as yourself”; which, interestingly, appears within the rubric of the same double parashah as “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman”).

None of which means that we must necessarily change or adjust the halakhah to suit our compassion for such individuals, but that a note of compassion must somehow inform our way of looking at them, and at the “gay issue.”

2. Seven Noachide Mitzvot

Throughout the course of the Conservative discussion, Leviticus 18:22 (and its parallel in 20:13) is cited as the Scriptural source for the prohibition; some people have suggested novel, innovative and, to my eyes, far-fetched reinterpretations of this verse to simply “make the problem disappear.” I ought to add, this being Shabbat Ki Tetsei, that the phrase in Deut 23:18, לא יהיה קדש מבני ישראל, “there shall be no male prostitute (kadesh) among the sons of Israel,” is interpreted by some to refer to one who is available for homosexual activity. But a central point, totally overlooked by both sides of this debate, is that the prohibition against homosexual acts is not simply another prohibition of the Torah, but is part of the rubric of sheva mitzvot b’nai Noah, the Seven Noachide Commandments, the “Natural Law” incumbent upon all human beings as such.

Before discussing the specific application of this concept to the issue at hand, I would like to indulge in a brief excursus on the issue of the Noachide Commandments generally, an idea which strongly informs my own thinking. As Rambam hints in Hilkhot Melakhim 8.11 (according to Rav Kapah’s textual reading; cf. my essay at HY V: Noah=Noah [Rambam] and Eugene Korn’s study in Modern Judaism 14 [1994], 265-287), these commandments are rooted in innate ideas of right and wrong implanted within the human conscience, that may be discovered by rational moral reasoning. Hence, these laws transcend the usual realm of halakhah, in the sense of heteronomous law, obedience to which is based exclusively upon humble acceptance of the Divine fiat, a kind of sacrifice of one’s own will and intellect. In this approach, the desire to do good is seen as innate in the human soul, albeit frequently clouded over by the tumult of inchoate desires and impressions and emotions (what Buber called “the vortex” or “whirlpool”). In this view, the moral and religious life is not primarily about obedience (what might be called the Akedah model, which Yeshayahu Leibowitz articulated in particularly sharp terms), but is rather concerned with a continuous refining of the human character, which at its root is a spark of the Divine, albeit one that needs to be brought into alignment with its Divine source. The distinction between these approaches is very important: in the one, which seems to be predominant in contemporary Orthdox thinking, humanism and religiosity are seen as diametrically opposed, almost at war with one another; in the other, religious humanism is not an oxymoron, but a goal to be sought, the summum bonum.

Now, if one accepts the notion that, among other aspects, sexuality has a certain biological telos, one that combines reproduction, emotional bonding, and mutual pleasuring in one act—than homosexuality clearly falls outside of that framework. Similarly, the concept of sexuality as the uniting of opposites, as I have developed in the series of essays to which the present piece is a kind of appendix (under the heading “The One and the Two: God, Man and Woman: HY X: Bereshit [=Zohar]; HY VIII: Bereshit, Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesah [=Rashi]), whether based upon the myth of the androgynous first human, the conception of the one and the many, or on Kabbalistic concepts of human sexuality echoing Divine zivvugim, must also exclude homosexuality.

The Noachide spirit viz. sexuality is perhaps most succinctly expressed in Rabbinic literature in a succinct midrashic interpretation of Genesis 2:24, a beraita quoted in the name of Rabbi Akiva at b. Sanhedrin 58a:

They taught: “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother” (Gen 2:24)… Rabbi Akiva said: “His father”—this refers to [illicit intercourse with] his father’s wife; “his mother’—his mother, literally. “And he shall cleave”—and not to another male; “to his wife —and not to his neighbor’s wife. “And they shall be one flesh:—one with whom he can become one flesh, to exclude [relations with] animals and beasts, with whom one does not become one flesh.

Within the overall rubric of the seven Noachide commandments, derived midrashically from a word-by-word exegesis of Gen 2:16, the Sages added a specific midrash though which they derived each of the specific prohibitions of illicit sexuality—the major classes of incest, adultery, and the rest. The salient point here, as I see it, is that this is not only derived from exegesis of the verse, but that there is also a kind of common-sense or “Natural Law” rationale for each one, for which the verse serves only as an asmakhta. Thus, Rabbi Akiva tells us, the cleaving of man to man is not commensurate with that of man to woman—whether because there is not mutual pleasuring, as Rashi suggests, or for some other reason.

Of course, the advocates of a liberal attitude towards homosexuality will argue that a modern, broader, more inclusive humanism must include erotic love between two people of the same sex as a legitimate part of the variety of human experience, which we moderns are privileged to understand more fully than our precursors. This is an important, perhaps the central, argument in the pro-gay camp’s intellectual arsenal. A proper refutation of this argument would require a close analysis of this approach, demonstrating that it is based upon an entire series of characteristically modernist (or even “post-modern”) assumptions regarding the meaning of love, family, Eros, the individual and society, and many other subjects that ultimately lead to blind alleys. At the risk of sounding as if I’m avoiding the crux of the issue, I have neither the time nor space to develop these here; if God gives me strength, I hope to do so in the future.

3. Free Will and Determinism

We now turn to the second major issue posed by homosexuality: that of determinism and human freedom. If, in the previous discussion, we related to the normative, ethical realm, here we find ourselves dealing with certain factual claims that are central to the discussion: namely, that if sexual orientation is part of the given or “thrown” nature of the individual—or is at least subjectively experienced as such—then it is unfair and unjust to penalize such an individual by forbidding him from engaging in the one act that might give him, not only physical pleasure, but also a sense of loving and being loved, within the bond of an emotionally intimate relationship.

An introductory aside: what we can say with some certainty that this is clearly the subjective feeling of many, probably most, homosexuals. The jury still seems to be out as to whether or not this is genetically or biologically determined, “hard wired” into the person. My own reading of one of the pioneering research experiments conducted in the early 1990’s, quoted by many gay rights advocates, viz. the human hypothalamus, which allegedly proved that homosexuality is genetically predetermined, says no such thing. The brain researchers Swaab et al, while noting a certain correlation between enlargement of one section of the hypothalamus an d homosexuality, add that their findings are inconclusive and certainly cannot be explained by any thesis related to determination of sexual orientation.

I see no problem, within the boundaries of the halakhah, in stating that the garden variety homosexual is shogeg karov le-ones—that is, that the unintentional nature of the act, the total lack of intention to violate the Torah per se, combined with its driven nature (in the same sense that heterosexuals feel sexual desire and feel themselves driven, sooner or later, to seek coitus—the difference being that, at least within marriage, the act is permitted) is tantamount to a kind of (inner) coercion.

One might deal with this problem, on the personal level, by means of a concept developed by the late Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Mikhtav me-Eliyahu. He states there that each individual has a certain “realm of behirah”—that area in which he or she may meaningfully exercise free will. He compares the choices confronting one who was raised in a pious religious family, sent to yeshiva, and who may choose to study the minimum hours, or to dedicate himself whole-heartedly to Torah study; with one raised in a criminal environment, whose ethical choice may be, say, in the course of a robbery to kill a random witness of the crime or to spare his life. In each case, God judges a person according to how he uses his free will within the particular range of actions realistically available to him.

But our real quandary here is not halakhic, but philosophical. Maimonides, in Hilkhot Teshuvah 5.3, describes free will as one of the fundaments of the entire Torah. Any number of dicta from the classical thought of Hazal can be adduced in support the same idea. Indeed, the entire concept of Torah, with positive and negative commandments, would be almost absurd without free will. If one’s fulfillment or violation of the mitzvot is predetermined, then the whole “game,” so to speak, seems pointless. What, then, does it mean to say that the Torah contains a mitzvah which, given the normal sexual drive of the human being, a certain group of people cannot help but violating? (I am assuming as axiomatic that some kind of sexual outlet is a basic, valid human need, and that life-long celibacy is not a viable counsel for the ordinary person.)

Indeed, we open here a Pandora’s box. Those who argue biological determinism claim that the entire realm of human freedom is far more limited than hitherto thought, and that we are largely creatures of our biological conditioning and “hard-wiring,” i.e., genetic disposition, much like the lower beasts. At this point, the believing Jew confronts an almost unbearable paradox. Theologically, such a position must be rejected, as contrary to one of the fundaments of Judaism, without which the whole package comes unraveled; indeed, not only Torah and mitzvot, but any meaningful system of human ethics, of human responsibility for our actions, from which derives any concept of law, all fall apart. Yet such a response, at least in terms of the view expressed by many scientists expert in understanding the workings of the human brain, seems to fly in the face of reality. Moreover: if one accepts the gay rights argument that sexual “orientation” or “preference” is indeed predetermined, where does one draw the line? What forms of human behavior are not in some sense predetermined? And in that case, as said earlier, how does one make sense of ethics, of religion—indeed, of any conceptual structure of thought or norms which as cultured human beings we wish to superimpose upon the raw, physical reality of our lives?

The conflict might be interpreted as a modern version, coming from a totally unexpected direction, of the age-old conflict between faith and reason, or science: on the one side, the doctrine of free will which, as necessary as it may be to any decent, dignified concept of human life, is ultimately accepted as an axiom; and, on the other, the claims of science, or more specifically what, for want of a better name, one might call biologism. Or perhaps, in this case, between civilization and brute nature. (As I have hinted on various occasions: the old struggle between religion and humanism is passé, is no longer relevant; in our present reality, the true cultural conflict is between religion and humanism, on the one side, against the new barbarism, on the other—and I cannot elaborate.)

I can only summarize, in response to this challenge, by affirming my own faith that, as science advances, a more sophisticated, nuanced, complex view of human behavior will emerge—one which sees the mechanistic view of the mind as only one level, and the least significant at that. Indeed, I understand that much of current thinking is coming around full circle to such a view on this issue. In this context, of course, homosexuality is but one of dozens or hundreds of behaviors that has been variously described as genetically determined or free—and anywhere in between.

4. Havdalot (Clearcut Distinctions) vs. Unisex

Western culture is presently in the midst of a weather change, at least among certain major and influential segments of society, regarding the whole meaning of gender. Traditionally, Judaism emphasizes havdalot: clear distinctions between different categories of things—Shabbat and weekday, night and day, holy and mundane, tamei and tahor, milk and meat, etc. The drawing of distinctions, and at times fine and subtle distinctions between seemingly similar halakhic constructions, lies at the very heart of Talmudic thought (the famous tzvei dinim of Brisker dialectics). In this context, the distinction between male and female looms large as perhaps the most basic distinction of all; as that which the Holy One blessed be He uses as the prime instrument for filling His world with sentient life.

Today, a certain blurring of gender distinctions has become the bon ton in intellectual circles. There is much talk about gender and sex being two distinct categories; thus, a person may have male genitals but feel inside that he is “really” a woman. Not only homosexual behavior, but trans-gender identity, has come out of the closet, and become accepted at least to an extent in much of public discourse. There is a sense that sex and gender are not clear-cut, polarized, binary positions, but locations on a continuum. There can be, e.g., a man who is strongly heterosexual, but “feminine” in some of their cultural and emotional tastes and interests, emotional inclinations, etc., and there may a homosexual who is a “Hail fellow well met” male and look like a beer-drinking football player, but be gay. This is coupled with the view, almost axiomatic in certain quarters, that, like other “private” matters in a free, democratic society, sexual orientation and even gender itself are a matter of individual choice.

Again, we know that in certain “primitive” or pre-modern societies there are three sexes: male, female, and hermaphrodite, the latter serving as a bridge between the two sexes, perceived as holy, with special gifts and powers, as in the figure of Theresias in Greek mythology, or the figure of the hermaphrodite priest or witch doctor in certain African tribes. But historically, all this was part of the package of paganism that Judaism rejected.

To put all this in more abstract, philosophical language, the core issue might be seen as one of essentialism vs. existentialism. Is there such a thing as an “essence” of masculinity or femininity, or are there only individuals, with their highly variegated personal experience of their own gender identity, derived from the facticity of their own existence? Post-modern thinking tends to accept the latter approach, to be very concrete in its orientation, and to eschew any “essentialist” definition. Traditional Judaism, by contrast, is “essentialist”; it sees the mitzvot and the halakhah as archetypal, paradigmatic entities against which to measure and interpret concrete reality.

The crux of the issue was well articulated in an opinion piece in an Israeli newspaper by a pro-gay advocate, Orna Kazin, published the week after the Tel Aviv shooting. She describes the roots of homophobia (a term used to denote not only repulsion from or hatred of homosexuality, but anyone who believes that homosexuality is in some sense an improper form of behavior or a deviation; what I have recently heard referred to as “heterosexism”): “It all derives from the primeval suspicion that homosexuality is [based on] devotion to sexual pleasure that does not lead to the proliferation of the human species. Evidently, something of this anachronistic dread remains common even today, in the age of contraception, sperm donations, and a variety of arrangements for ‘new parenting’” (Ha-Aretz, 7 August 2009, “Hashavua,” p. 5). Precisely! The movement for full acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate, alternative life-style is, perhaps symbolically, at the forefront of the new, post-modern set of attitudes towards family, gender and sexuality; and indeed, speaking for myself, opposition to it is rooted in the sense that the “new parenting” and the “new families” are not all they’re cracked up to be. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s quip that “Democracy is absolutely the worst form of government except for all the alternatives”: the traditional, bourgeois, heterosexual nuclear family is a horrific institution, guilty of instilling millions of innocent children with dreadful neuroses; but for all that it has the virtue of being superior to all the alternatives.

Rather than being an avant-garde, I would prefer the model of homosexuals as being like the canaries in the coal mine. Western society is plagued today by a general dis-ease concerning almost all matters relating to sexuality, gender, family, etc.—from the epidemic of divorce in Western society; through the casual attitude towards sexual relations before and outside of marriage; to the shake-up in the roles of the sexes which, notwithstanding its many positive aspects, has also left many casualties of various sorts in its wake; and including the emergence of homosexuality as a socially legitimate behavior. The image of homosexuals as canaries means that they are individuals who are by-and-large more sensitive than most to certain kinds of social tides, and their new prevalence somehow reflects the problematic nature of our society’s attitudes.

5. Halakhic Aspects

Finally, turning to the halakhic aspect: I had, as mentioned above, originally planned to write a thorough-going critique of the various papers presented to the CJLS, but as completion of this essay was repeatedly postponed I realized it was no longer timely. Nevertheless, I would like to critique one or two central points. The liberal position within the Conservative debate on homosexuality is based upon an interesting and rather delicate distinction. The Torah clearly prohibits homosexual intercourse, “to lie with a male as with a woman”—that is, penetrative (i.e., anal) intercourse; hence, contrary to a widely–held popular impression, even the more permissive view accepted by the CJLS could not and did not permit such acts. However, other homoerotic acts—intimate caressing, oral sex, and other such acts designed to bring one’s partner to orgasm—do not fall under the rubric of intercourse, but under that of kirvah. Now, given that the human need for ongoing loving relations is a fundamental human need, and given that homosexuals can only form such connections with others of the same sex, to deny them the right to marry a partner of their choice (and, by extension, to engage in ongoing erotic intimacies) is an affront to the notion of human dignity.

Here, citing an argument developed at length by Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber in a totally different context —i.e., that of women being allowed to read or recite blessings over the Torah —in which he states that human dignity outranks whatever putative prohibition may be involved in kavod ha-tzibbur—“honor of the congregation,” mentioned in Megillah 23a as the reason for prohibiting women from reading—Dorff et al argue that the imperative of human dignity outranks the prohibition against homoerotic intimacies, which is also “merely” Rabbinic. Hence, the liberal opinion allows for same-sex commitment ceremonies, albeit the rabbi is meant to inform the couple whose union is being thus solemnized that the Torah, and the Conservative movement, do not approve of anal sex between males. A shein’m dank!

I must preface what follows by saying that I have the greatest respect for Elliot Dorff, his deep commitment to Judaism and his great erudition; many years go, when he and his family spent a sabbatical year in our neighborhood in Jerusalem, we even enjoyed a brief friendship. However, in this case he and his colleagues have “pulled a rabbit out of a hat,” as I shall explain.

First of all, their argument, after mentioning the position of the Rambam in passing, goes on to ignore the view of this central pillar of halakhah: namely, that kirvah—erotic acts that fall short of intercourse—is forbidden by the Torah, albeit as a lav and not an issur karet. By this move, they are able to treat the entire question as if it were simply a matter of weighing one derabanan against another. Second, and equally important: even according to those who state that issurei kirvah are Rabbinic—i.e., Ramban and his camp—the strictures against physical intimacy between arayot are not “merely” “another” Rabbinic ordinance, but a real seyag: a restriction imposed by the Rabbis based upon the real fear that people might otherwise easily cross the line into Torah transgression. It seems to me that any person who has had a bit of experience of life knows very well that sexual intimacy is a slippery slope and that, in the height of passion, it is next to impossible to say “thus far and no further”—notwithstanding the 1950’s US culture of “technical virgins.” This point hardly requires elaboration, and to overrule a seyag of that type on the grounds of kavod ha-beriyot seems to me to be stretching matters unreasonably. I might add that I am likewise surprised that Joel Roth, the author of the restrictive opinion, found it necessary to disprove this point by invoking various technical arguments rather than on a straightforward understanding of the nature of this seyag. Moreover, it is worthy of note that the Ramban himself, in quoting Rambam (in his own translation from the Arabic, which differs from that given by Ibn Tibbon on the same clause) uses the words שנמנענו מהתעדן באחת מכל העריות (“that we are precluded from taking pleasure from any of the arayot”; Rambam’s Sefer ha-Mitzvot, lo ta’aseh §353, Hasagat ha-Ramban). In other words, the prohibition of kiruv is not merely a seyag to prevent illicit intercourse, but is based on the conception that these other, less ultimate acts, are themselves seen as improper, for the simple reason that they involve deriving erotic pleasure from the body of a forbidden party. Ramban’s demurral as to this prohibition’s Torah status derives from his reading of the Talmudic exegesis of this rule from its source verse, and does not imply that he sees it as any less serious or grave.

Incidentally, this whole discussion, both of Dorff et al and of other ancillary opinions, such as that of Simhah Roth, seems to betray a profound confusion about the various levels of physical closeness between arayot and the differences between them: i.e., between those prohibitions referred to as harhakot, such as simple touching, or the kiss as an act of greeting, which are arguably Rabbinic by all views; and those known as kirvah, e.g., erotically charged acts, which are unequivocally forbidden. This distinction is very clear in all the halakhic sources; one merely needs to read the Encyclopeadia Talmudica entry on giluy arayot to see that these two areas are presented under separate chapter headings.

* * * * *

In conclusion, while one must certainly accept individual homosexuals as respected and valued members of the Jewish community, one must oppose any attempt to legitimize the phenomenon as such. The entire issue has far-reaching ramifications for the nature of the family, and of our culture generally, which deserve serious and calm discussion in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Many of these issues are rather too easily glossed over in the current atmosphere of political correctness—which, I would note in passing, while adopted by much of the so-called intelligentsia in the Western world, is in fact a highly anti-intellectual approach, shutting off as it does the very legitimacy of open discourse regarding broad areas of human experience.

As for the specific issues considered by the Conservative movement: if one were to ask my opinion (which nobody has, given that I am not a Conservative Jew, and certainly not a member of its intellectual elite), I would cast a “split ballot.” Homosexuals may be ordained as rabbis—simply because, on the basis of those individuals I have been privileged to know, I can see that they have as much to give to the Jewish people, intellectually, spiritually, pragmatically, etc., as their “straight” brethren. Perhaps on that day when the Rabbinate is completely freed of all those individuals who have any stains on their character—such as envy, hatred, unseemly appetites, the pursuit of honor, etc.—and consists entirely of those who are on the level of angels, then the “gays” too must be defrocked—but not before then.

On the other hand, I strongly oppose same-sex “commitment ceremonies.” Much as they may serve a felt human need, they are improper, simply because they give countenance to halakhically illicit behavior, mental somersaults about kavod haberiot notwithstanding.


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