A few months ago, I was asked to sign a letter on the position of homosexuals in the Orthodox community. I considered it, saw that the letter didn’t meet everything I wanted it to say, but decided to sign it anyway. That letter is now posted here.
Among the things I like about the letter:
• It states the obvious explicitly, knowing that it isn’t obvious to all: Everyone deserves respect; This is not sanction of homosexual activity; Halachah prohibits homosexual activity; and so on.
• It states that shuls need to develop coherent halachic policies to address this issue, and not try to duck it or otherwise paper it over.
• It notes the problem of dangerous conversion therapies, without pretending to expertise in the area.
Among my problems with the letter:
• I would like to see an explicit call for clergy to become actively involved in counseling those who want their aid, and an explicit call for Orthodox Jews who feel same-gender attraction to consult with their clergy.
• I would like to see a note that while we oppose “outing,” we acknowledge that as with all cases of lashon hara, there may be rare cases in which outing is mandated by halachah, l’toelet.
• I would like to see some recognition that modesty does mandate we avoid creating public forums dedicated to discussing sexual matters, and I’d like to see a note promoting public forums dedicated to discussing the needs of Jews who are attracted to their own gender and are trying to live halachic lives.
In the end, I decided to sign it.
Since the letter was published on Friday, I’ve received emails accusing me of being a “left-winger.” This comes as quite a surprise for me.
Among other milestones in my “left wing” life -
• I nearly lost a job early on because I insisted on my right to wear my black hat for davening on Shabbos morning (this was before I was married and tallised); I did get passed over in a later job interview for that same hat, plus beard.
• As a rabbinic intern, I refused to participate in an Edah program sponsored by my own employer (who, by the way, was wonderfully understanding of this upstart pup).
• I was recruited by Eternal Jewish Family for their work, as I’ve noted elsewhere.
• I was honored at the Agudah Convention in New York a few years ago (along with other Daf Yomi maggidim).
There’s more I could bring, and of greater substance than organizational affiliation and matters of dress, but I don’t want to descend into proving my bona fides. Let’s get back to the point.
Without doubt, some of the people who signed the letter inhabit the left wing of the Orthodox spectrum. And I know that some serious talmidei chachamim declined to sign, lest they lend validity to those on the left. I thought about that, long and hard.
But I also know that over my dozen years in the pulpit I had the privilege to meet, talk with and sometimes counsel several Jews who felt attracted to the same gender, and who were trying to live halachic lives. I have some tiny inkling of the struggles they experience daily. Thanks to them, I have some small sense of what it’s like to feel alienated by family and Jewish community as well as the gay community, to feel like every natural social outlet is cut off, all while you are trying to do what you believe Judaism says is right.
I have sympathy for all human beings, those who follow my sense of halachah as well as those who do not. And for the Jews who experience same-gender attraction and try to live within my sense of halachah, well, these are remarkable, incredible human beings – those who succeed every time in observing Judaism’s laws, and those who keep on trying.
Of course I signed. With my left and right hands.