Jerusalem – Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Israel and a respected leader in Modern-Orthodox circles, was recently asked to clarify what attitude should Orthodox Jews adopt, personally and communally, concerning homosexuals in the Orthodox community.
The Rav’s words were recorded and transcribed by Dov Karoll, a student of the Rav, who has posted the Rav’s reply on his blog, Pages of Faith (http://bit.ly/VygwDf).
In a thoughtful and lengthy response, the Rav talked about the use of the term to’eivah in the Torah to describe homosexuality, and asks if that term adds “a more serious dimension” to the prohibition against homosexuality. The Rav notes that the word to’eivah is used several times in the Torah, including in a pasuk in Yechezkel to refer to people who do not feed the poor (Ezekiel 16:48-50), and in Parshas Ki Tetzei where honest weights and measures are discussed. The word to’eivah is used there in connection with those who cheat and do not have honest weights and measures (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).
The Rav said, “…Find for me a community which responds and relates to homosexuality as if you are doing something terrible – just like it responds to those who are cheating a little bit on weights and measures. But that’s not the case, and that is because of the revulsion, which, apart from its being called to’eivah – the revulsion which is felt by the Western world toward homosexuality probably would have existed in large measure nonetheless. . . .”
He continued, “But to be fairer and more honest with ourselves and our communities, let us understand that if you deal only with the use of the term to’eivah, you can only push that particular envelope as far as you push the cheating on the weights and measures – so all the revulsion, the moral energy, that you bring against that, you should bring against this, too.”
The Rav cited the annual Israeli Day Parade as an example, where Jews from all over and of all different sects, march in support of Israel. But a number of years ago, when the gays said they wanted to participate and march under their banner as Jewish gays and lesbians, the religious high schools which normally participate threatened to bow out if the gays were permitted to march. The threat worked and the Jewish gays were prevented from marching.
“You ask yourself, wait a minute, we don’t like homosexuality, but we don’t like chillul Shabbat either – all the mechallelei Shabbat of America could have marched in that parade and no one would say boo, because we are very liberal Jews, and we like to not be judgmental, and be friendly to people to the right and the left of us,” the Rav said. “So, mechallelei Shabbat – we wish they would be shomrei Shabbat, but if that’s what they are, that’s what they are. We accept them as they are and we don’t pass judgment.”
The Rav went on to ask if it is fair then to single out Jewish homosexuals for communal condemnation and make the gays a scapegoat when we do not show such disdain for all the sinners among the Jewish people.
“Leaving aside the term to’eivah – what is a more serious aveirah, chillul Shabbat or homosexuality? Or, for that matter, there are people who worship avodah zarah who march in the parade, too. Is it proper, is it fair, and I say this without relenting in our position to homosexuality – to decide that all the sins which the whole entire Jewish community has – all of that we can swallow and march with them, with pride and with their flags and everything they want, but this [homosexuality] is the scapegoat – dispatched to Eretz Gezairah. . .(Leviticus 16:22)?
Admittedly, the Rav said, part of the backlash against homosexuals on the part of the Orthodox community is because the gays are “very aggressive,” causing many Orthodox Jews to be equally aggressive in response. “That’s something which I think should be avoided,” Rav Lichtenstein said.
Though homosexuality is primarily a personal aveirah according to the Rav, today it has become a matter of public debate. “Do you let him into shul? Do you give him an aliyah? Do you let him daven for the amud? If he adopts a child, do you let the child attend your yeshiva? You could give many other examples….”
The Rav said his own response is that while he does not approve of homosexuality in any way, he thinks that “the fire that burns in many hearts today, and the fears which go beyond the revulsion, are beyond what I think is proper. . . .My own feeling is: It’s a very unfortunate development and one that will hopefully pass, though that’s hard to say.”
Rav Lichtenstein continued, “But, for people involved: I certainly have criticism, disapproval, but tempered with an element of sympathy. These are people who are very unfortunate. I said to one of them who came to talk to me: you are thrice punished. First of all, you are punished in that you can’t have a normal life: one of the great joys of my life is my children, my family, my wife – and children you can’t have. Secondly, you are punished in that you have no one to whom to turn – you come out, risking your own situation, taking a position. Thirdly, the disapproval generates further disapproval.”
The Rav said that psychologists are “divided on this issue”, and are not sure whether homosexuality can be controlled. “But the material which they send me. . .reflects a readiness on the part of many, and they would be very happy if you could cure them. There are some, who are very militant, who wouldn’t want you to use the term cure – they are not sick any more than the heterosexual people are sick – that’s how they regard it – that, I think, is pushing it a bit too far. You might assume they are not to be held fully responsible if it’s a genetic development, but, certainly it is not something which we want to see become more rampant,” Rav Lichtenstein concluded.