Thursday, October 18, 2012

A letter to the Jewish Press, six years later

In December 2006, I saw a letter posted on the Jewish Press website, in a column, "Chronicles of Crises in our Community".

The letter has come back to my mind lately; I blogged about it at the time [on a site that no longer exists], but I wonder whether I would respond the same way six years later. I also wonder where the letter-writer is now.

For those who did not see the letter in 2006, or who also might benefit from re-reading it, here it is:

Dear Rachel,

As a man who has struggled with homosexuality and frumkeit for many years, I take exception to your consistent championing of change being possible and of asserting that there is no such thing as gay. I’d like to offer another perspective.

Let me start by saying that I believe fully in Torah M’Sinai and consider myself to be a fully committed Orthodox Jew whose tafkid in life is to do my best to keep ALL of the Taryag Mitzvot. I am fully versed in both Halachah and Hashkafah and have no issues whatsoever with the philosophical underpinnings of our belief system. I truly believe that every word of the Chamisha Chumshai Torah was given directly from Hashem to Moshe, and that along with those words, Moshe received Torah SheBa’aL Peh.

The prohibition of Mishkav Zachar comes from the same Hashem that told me to keep Shabbos, to keep Kosher and to fast on Yom Kippur, and I will do my best to keep this mitzvah as I try to do the others.

What I do not fathom is how the prohibition of a very specific behavior translates into Hashem not making people whose sexual orientation is homosexual.

From a hashkafik perspective: The mitzvot revolving around Arayot in the Torah address one thing and one thing only − behavior. There is no discussion of desire, of motivation, of what’s normal desire and deviant desire. Even if one translates ‘To’avah’ in the pasuk of Mishkav Zachar as ‘abomination’ – which is by no means a definitive definition based on Chazal − it still refers to the action, not the desire.

Your writers say that Hashem wouldn’t or couldn’t give an orientation to a person and then prohibit him from acting on it. They say that a person’s desire must be able to change if the Torah prohibits an action. In my opinion, this is putting a very Pollyannaish spin on the very nature of nisayon in Olam Ha’Zeh. The fact is that many times Hashem puts people in adverse circumstances that will not change.

I would argue that in those circumstances the definition of success with the nisayon is first accepting the circumstances and then living as rich a life as possible within those circumstances. Would you, for example, tell a person with medically incurable deafness not to accept that diagnosis? That Hashem would not do that to him because there are so many mitzvot, such as shofar, that involve hearing? That his focus in life should center on searching for a cure? Could you imagine a crueler and less productive way to deal with this most challenging nisayon?

My own struggle with homosexuality has come at enormous cost for me. I ruined a marriage and a successful career. Though I’ve been to the best “SSA therapists” (and thereby gained many positive things), one thing that did not change is my basic desire.

Some may say I didn’t try hard enough. Firstly, ‘Don’t Judge Your Friend Until You Stand In His Place.’ Furthermore, which believer in Torah M’Sinai would not want to ‘change’? Certainly one who lost as much as I did would have more than enough motivation.

But all the motivation in the world has not changed reality for me. When I think of the enormous pain men like me go through, I wish that the hope of change could be there. But I also know that at this point I’d rather face reality than embrace false hope.

And I think of the enormous pain of the women who marry these men. Even in cases where the men are up front with their wives – as I wasn’t, and where they control their behavior – as I didn’t, there is an inherent cruelty in a marriage that lacks the central glue of desire, as I learned first hand. A cruelty that NO woman should be exposed to, and a cruelty that no young woman – particularly a sheltered Bais Yaakov girl – can possibly understand until it is too late. There is no way before marriage that a frum woman can truly fathom what her husband’s lack of desire for her will be like. It is the inherent desire of EVERY woman to be desired by her husband, and I don’t think any Bas Yisrael should be exposed to the risk of encountering rejection.

Believe me I understand fully how much any frum man with homosexual desires wants the hope of a “normal frum life” with a wife and children. And I understand first hand the enormous pain of having to accept that sometimes Hashem says no. But I would rather live my life honest with myself and the situation Hashem placed me in than risk building another world of lies – and devastating another woman.

I don’t know if you will publish this – especially because I’ve essentially advocated a life of loneliness and celibacy for men with homosexual tendencies. At the same time I want to make it clear that I am not advocating an acceptance of a gay lifestyle on any level by the frum community, nor suggesting any “wiggle room” when it comes to a lav in the Torah.

I did not choose to be what I am


  1. what did you respond?
    Joel Rich

  2. I'm wondering the same as Joel Rich. And I'm even more curious as to why you might have changed your mind in the intervening 6 years.

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  4. My feeling about homosexuality is largely based on the attitude I saw in Reb Shmuel Berenabum. As the head of a large yeshiva you can image that he had to deal with the occasional personal crisis that came in the the lives of his married and unmarried students. This was outside of his general responsibility of giving a shiur every day with the depth that was known for. a depth I have never seen anywhere else even amongst so called gedolim. His approach was always the same: "learn Torah." And by that he meant only the Talmud. not Musar or chasiudut or Kabala. He had a great faith in the power of the Talmud to cure all problems of the entire universe. I can't say that I share his faith in this issue but I also admit that from what I can tell he might have been right.