Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gay avek!

I saw an article this afternoon on Jpost, and I thought I'd blog about it a bit. Here, first, is the article in full, by David Benkof.

With the High Holy Days coming up, I thought I would offer my own Rosh Hashana drash with reference to my fellow gay men and Torah Judaism.

Many gay and lesbian Jews have argued that since God made them gay, He must certainly want them to express that sexual orientation in their family and bedroom lives. Even Steve Greenberg, who has rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, has made this argument. Now, I believe on most levels that God does not give people sexual orientations, but that's a subject for another column. For now, let's assume that being gay or lesbian does come 100 percent from God.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, the Torah reading is from the book of Genesis, the story of the akeda, or the binding of Isaac. One of the most famous and challenging stories in the whole Bible, it goes something like this, at least if you have my subject in mind: God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. So what did Abraham do? He did not reply, "But I'm not the kind of father who is able to sacrifice his son. Maybe you should give that mitzva to one of the Molech worshipers down the street. Every bone in my body resists your commandment that I sacrifice Isaac. I'm not 'oriented' toward child sacrifice. In fact, I think it's a mitzva not to kill one's own child."

Nor: "I have no other heir. Preparing Isaac to be a forefather is my entire life's work. You're asking me to cancel everything I thought my life was about. No!" He didn't say that either.

Instead he replied, "Hineini," which means "Here I am," and he brought Isaac up the mountain, prepared to sacrifice him, and in the end God made it all okay.

Now, over the centuries there has been a tremendous amount of commentary, creativity, energy and debate over just what the akeda means - albeit probably never making this kind of reference to gays. There have, however, been some gay-related interpretations of this story, including a 1995 homoerotic photograph called "Akeda," which shows a shirtless man wearing tefillin and a Band-Aid, as a commentary on the AIDS crisis.

A 2003 Rosh Hashana sermon by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld (of the Jewish Catalogs) at the Conservative-Reconstructionist congregation Society for the Advancement for Judaism said: "The clearest place where the tradition's voice is overruled is when we have concluded that the tradition is out of step with contemporary moral values. The values of equality, inclusiveness and pluralism then lead to creating new traditions related to women and gay people."

BUT FOR me, the story reinforces my decision nearly eight years ago to stop having same-sex relations and to eventually pursue traditional Jewish family life married to a woman.

The idea that we should avoid following one of God's mitzvot because we're not oriented that way is inconsistent with my understanding of Torah beliefs. For example I know some men who feel they're oriented toward being attracted to non-Jewish women, yet the Torah has no exception for them. Many, many men will admit they are honestly oriented toward loving and being aroused by more than one woman at a time, yet polygamy was never encouraged by Judaism, and since the 11th century it has been forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews.

Conservative activist and perennial candidate Alan Keyes got in a lot of trouble for calling lesbian second daughter Mary Cheney a "selfish hedonist." But the term is not so far off the mark. A person who believes in God and the Torah but overrules one of the commandments because it doesn't match his internal sexual makeup is basically saying, "It's all about me, me, me. My pleasure, my identity. Me." Judaism believes - and Abraham believed - that life is primarily about God and what God wants, not what we want.

Now, some Jews don't believe that the Torah comes from God. That's a much larger discussion. But what if my akeda drash can convince such people that if the Torah comes from God (assuming Leviticus 18:22 means gay sex is wrong - another larger discussion), then gay men should be celibate or marry women? If it can, this essay will have done its job.


After reading this article I forwarded it to LtD, who called me up and offered an explanation that he himself heard. Many Christians believe that it's impossible that people should be genetically gay; after all, if G-d had meant for people to be gay, then how could he have possibly forbidden it? This argument is a rather stupid one. G-d forbid people to steal. Does that mean that G-d didn't give people the desire to steal? Of course not! G-d forbade theft specifically because he implanted this tendency within people. Same goes for homosexuality. If no one wanted it, then why would G-d forbid it?
And yes, I know that it's a perversion, but so is the Milwaukee Brewers play the in the last two weeks, and we still see people paying good money to see them lose. It's a perversion to mate with animals, but people still do it.

This seems a perfect time to bring up the topic of child-abuse in the Jewish community. I live in Minnesota, and I'd love to be able to say that my community at least is safe from this. After all
we're so small, so tight-knit, nothing could possibly happen here, right? Now, I've heard nothing, and I'm not suggesting anything, but I honestly have a hard time believing that nothing has ever gone on here. Yes, I hope nothing has, but at the same time, is it possible? Definitely.
In New York, we know for a fact that a lot of kids have been hurt, and a lot of adults have done some seriously evil things, and it really makes me sick when nothing is done about it. Dov Hikind tries to do something about the situation, and all he gets is a bunch of stupid Rabbis stonewalling him. If a guy walked up to me, and said that the reason he left Judaism is because he was abused, and no one did anything about it, then I would have nothing to say to him. I understand that bad things happen; but to refuse to acknowledge that, and continue on playing the same stupid games? Wasting your time on banning music is great, if there are no other problems in your community, but the fact is that our community has a lot of issues.
In the meantime, I suppose we'll survive, the same way we've survived for thousands of years, but I sure as heck would hope that someone does something soon. I suppose we could draw a paralell to Rabbeinu Gershom's era. I highly doubt that no one opposed what he did, and I'm sure that many people refused to obey. Eventually, people did listen, for whatever reason. And yet, there are still orthodox men out there who justify their actions by saying that what they're doing is okay, because after all, polygamy is only a Gezeirah, right? Hopefully, something will be done here, and a proper ban can be enacted to stop abusers and protect children. Yes, people will still do it, but at least they'll be punished and censured.

62 comments:

Nemo said...

Happy to see a Conservative voice will a little bit of honesty.

His mesirus nefesh is commendable too, though it's definitely a much larger discussion if we should be encouraging gay men to drop everything and marry a woman.

S.Z.B. said...

A. With all due respect Mr. David Benkof, the assertion that homosexuals (or anyone else for that matter) choose their orientation is ludicrous and potentially offensive.

B. Aside from that i believe the man makes a valid point albeit subject to 'larger' and more critical discussion.

C. I highly recommend Rabbi Chaim Rapoport's "Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View" for anyone who would like to educate themselves on Judaism's view of Homosexuality. It is sensitive, and informative and authoritative.

Nemo said...

What are you talking about? Where was there an assertion that people choose their orientation? The point of this article is that people don't choose their orientation -- that it's from G-d.

An please, let's leave offensiveness out of the equation ... this is TRS blog after all.

S.Z.B. said...

"Now, I believe on most levels that God does not give people sexual orientations, but that's a subject for another column."

When all else fails, read what the man actually wrote...

David Benkof said...

SZB-

When did I say choose? I never said it. I don't believe it. Don't put words in my mouth. I think sexual orientations mostly come from society, but it will take a longer column to explain how and why.

I also like Rapoport.

Nemo said...

SZB: There are myriad factors which contribute to one's orientation. Some people certainly do chose to be gay. Some people develop the habits and desires. Some people feel that they were born with it.

S.Z.B. said...

I don't mean to get into the spiraling debate of nature vs, nurture, but if there is even one person who's homosexual orientation is entirely beyond their control free will the point is moot. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of homosexuals are so by no decision of their own.

As we are straight [if you indeed are...] so are they gay.

David Benkof said...

My views on this (imperfectly written) can be found at isjudaismhomophobic.com, but I'm going to write a full column at jpost on this issue. But SZB - I don't think being straight comes from G-d any more than being gay does. Judaism knows no sexual orientations, because they are not an essential part of who we are, they're socially constructed. See my essay referenced above.

Nemo said...

SZB: What's your point? Some people are; some people aren't. Judaism tells both classes of people to keep it under wraps.

Nemo said...

*Are or aren't gay by choice.

Nemo said...

Benkof: I don't have a perfect argument to postulate for this, but both science and Torah recognize mans need to procreate and the sexual attraction/desire/need for the opposite sex. Orientation isn't entirely arbitrary. Even someone warded away for a lifetime (but with basic biological understandings) would presumably, upon release, discover the attraction/desire/need to copulate.

S.Z.B. said...

"But SZB - I don't think being straight comes from G-d any more than being gay does."

I don't think it's on or the other, but yes, people are born with their sexual orientation.

Can societal and educational circumstances [nurture] alter and even transform that? Perhaps. Nonetheless, sexual orientation is hardwired into the ones DNA one way or another [nature].

(No Nemo, that doesn't mean every queer is born that way.)

Nemo said...

Your honor, I move for a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Anonymous said...

The Rebbe says, it's an illness. Is the question now, was he born with that illness or not. However as most illnesses this too can be cured. (Gam zeh ya'avor)

Tp2 said...

Where is my partner TP1/E? Wanted to ask him something. OHHH probably tzaddik that he is, is at a chai elul farby....

cee said...

Gay avek! Ha. Good title.

Cheerio said...

this article stresses a point which can often be forgotten when we get caught up in our presentation of judaism to the masses: being frum often means doing stuff you REALLY don't want to do, but do anyway. or vice versa.

and trs - terrifying but true, even in very small communities, there are problems. i have seen this in my community.
but when using the term "child abuse", are you lumping molestation and physical abuse together?

szb: whether you're born with a certain sexual orientation or not, you still have a choice concerning your actions. your orientation may beyond "control/free will", but the point is not moot; you still choose what to do with what you're given.

S.Z.B. said...

Nemo,
Oh no! A wanna-a-be lawyer threw some courtroom jargon at me. That must certainly make him right. Someone help me.

Anonymous,
The Vatican called it an 'objective disorder' - so what?

Cheerio,
I don't remember saying otherwise.

Nemo said...

No, courtroom jargon would've skipped the verbosity and called that a "12(b)(6)." ;)

I just don't know what, or if, you're arguing.

The Real Shliach said...

SZB, Nemo, and David Benkof: Good to see that we can have a (relatively) intelligent discussion here on TRS, and I'm quite impressed that Mr. Benkof was a part of it.

TP2: Little do you know...

Cee: Thank you, I'm glad someone noticed.

Cheerio: Good point; the whole point is "Iskafia Yikarah Kudshah Brich Hu B'chulhu Alma", or something like that, right?
Also, I am lumping child abuse and molestation together here, though obviously they aren't necessarily one and the same. Still, our community seems to have done little about it, though a big kudos must go the blogging community which is certainly making this issue known.

S.Z.B. said...

Yeah, i was wondering what an article about Religious homosexuality had to do with covered up stories of molestation?

Nemo said...

Eh. A little molestation never hurt anybody ...

The Real Shliach said...

SZB: Seems to me that sexual molestation is one form of repressed homosexuality.

Nemo: Anything you want to share with the class?

S.Z.B. said...

TRS,
That's a truckload of horse-shyt!

tp1 said...

TP2,

What did you want to do? Discuss our next jihad initiative? Scheme how to hack into blogspot.com and make therealshliach.blogspot.com automatically redirect to www.chabad.org/ki1590? Perhaps arrange to have some of this pritzus forwarded to all the shadchanim in CH? Listen gal, I'm game for any type of religious coercion and random acts of cyber-terrorism.

The Real Shliach said...

SZB: Why else are people doing it then?

TP1: You know, making these kind of statements can get you arrested.

tp2 - lol'ing said...

TP1 - I think I like you. You crack me up!

The Real Shliach said...

Do I detect a little flirtation going on here? Seeing as this was an article about gays...hmm?

Tp2 rofl'ing said...

:)

The Real Shliach said...

Am I that funny?

tp2 :)'ing said...

Yes, you people are that funny.
Could be it is the late hour and/or combined with the fact that we don't know each other.

The Real Shliach said...

Yeah, it probably is the late hour. Meanwhile, why let anonymity get in the way of a good time? Email me at therealshliach@gmail.com today!

tp2 - getting serious said...

Are you kidding me?? As soon as I loose my anonymity the fun is over.

But you know what scares me? That there is no hiding. One day it will all be "out on the table" everything we did, even the most embarrassing acts. Especially, there are no secrets from G-d.

The Real Shliach said...

Whatever floats your boat.

And what do you mean, "especially G-d"? Do you mean to say that eventually people will find out what you did or did not do, and even if this doesn't happen, at least G-d will always know?

tp2 (freshfromafarbrengen) said...

Yeah, for sure G-d will always know, but He will also make it known for all to see. Doesn't THAT scare you? Think of all the misdeeds, okay not all, how about the last couple of days only... OYYYY...
Teshuva... is calling my name...

The Real Shliach said...

Funny that your fresh from a Farbrengen-my next post, being written in between responding to your comments, is all about the one I attended tonight.
Anyway, we had this discussion on Nemo's blog already; you're taking this whole "reveling" thing way out of context. Regardless, I've been quite clean, pure, and virginal the past few days, stam lehaar, so my Cheshbon Hanefesh in this case reveals nothing amiss.
And if Teshuva is calling your name, then why aren't you answering?

a very tired TP2 said...

What's "reveling"? No idea what discussion you mean.

"And if Teshuva is calling your name, then why aren't you answering?"
I'm trying, I'm trying to answer but then you, I mean, but the Yetzer Hora keeps getting in the way...

The Real Shliach said...

Sorry, I meant to say "revealing". You threatened me that G-d will reveal all my transgressions, which will presumably give you much delight. I'm here to tell you that you're foul plans will not succeed.

So you're blaming me for you not doing Teshuva? You know, there is no Shliach for an Aveira, especially considering that I am the real shliach. You've got to take responsibility for your own actions.

'goodnite' TP2 said...

Oh and tfs re your virginal purity.

The Real Shliach said...

What is "tfs"?

tp2 snoring said...

Oy, I must to go to sleep.
BUT...
no, no I was saying about the revealing of MY secret foolishnesses.
Chas V'sholom to the umpteenth degree would I wnat to hear sins of anohter yid. Chas V;sholom.
I was just farbrenging with you, krechtzing kinda out loud about it...

Did I say YOU were distracting me...? Sorry I meant to say the Y.H.... :)

saa said...

Thanks For Sharing.

The Real Shliach said...

TP2: I see. Next time, tell me when you're Farbrenging, so I can switch from snarky and cynical to receptive mode.

Anyway, enjoy your sleep. Make sure you wake up on time for Krias Shema...

saa: Thanks for enlightening me. You wouldn't by any chance be TP2, eh?

AHHH tht's TP2 yelling said...

I MUST TO SLEEP!

But...

saa stands for Same As Above.
(was quicker to write that, well not anymore! :)

The Real Shliach said...

Oh wow, this knowledge adds whole new vistas to my blog.... Anyway, enjoy your sleep.

Cheerio said...

now we know tp2 is a girl... i've never met a guy who used acronyms.

The Real Shliach said...

Why, TP1 uses acronyms and is a guy. Still, you do have a good point. I wonder what game this guy/girl is playing? BTW, no posts in a week? A shandeh!

Nemo said...

Shandeh is such a stupid word.

tp2 said...

Since when is Cheerios a maven on the jargon of boys and girls?

The word "stupid" is a shandeh.

T P 2's Boyfriend said...

Shandeh was not a stupid word until it was hijacked by practitioners of bagels-and-lox Judaism.

The Real Shliach said...

Bagels and lox Judaism rocks! Judaism is food, and don't you ever forget it.

tp 2's Mashpia said...

Woah, tp2's boyfriend - hitting it below the belt, aren't we?

I am here to announce that TP2 is off... doing Teshuva. (How time appropriate.)

The Real Shliach said...

Yes, I agree that TP2 has sinned grievously against the good L-rd, and he should repent immediately of his evil ways.

TP1's mashpia said...

What do you think Ellul is? LOcking yourself in a room and letting the blogosphere go to hell? If God himself can come down to the field to raise up the sinners, can't you lower yourself to TRS and try to save the nebachs on this blog?

The Real Shliach said...

TP1's Mashpia? Who's that, the Divrei Yoel?

tp2 said...

tp1's mashpia - (What a mashpia you are)You literally crack me up.
First of all - G-d comes to the field so that if someone WANTS to be raised He is there with a smiling countenance... Aval Ma na-ase if TRS does not WANT to be raised? G-d I ain't. Miracles I cannot do.
And second of all - which is the real reason and seriously speaking, I am scared to lower myself so much lest I be influenced to join the fun and hoilelus...and not recognize the dangers myself.

So ta ta (which means, good-bye)and stop being funny, for that is always the way to my heart.

The Real Shliach said...

TP2: I love how you're so quick to judge me. May you be judged with the same alacrity by the big Guy in the sky this Yom Kippur season.

Danger? What fun is life without danger?

onionsoupmix said...

Homosexuality has nothing to do with child molestation. Kind of like heterosexuality has nothing to do with child molestation.

Your whole post was confusing. How are gays related to the akeida again? You wish for them to become celibate even though that would be against human nature? Eh.. maybe get back to me after you are prepared to sacrifice your only child because you think God is talking to you.

Mottel said...

The question of choosing to be gay and a genetic link to homosexuality are not one and the same. I doubt that most out there choose their lifestyle, yet there is no conclusive proof that there is indeed a gay gene -for extents and purposes it is a combination of many complex factors.
Could it be treated? Yes, but not with the current highly charged political climate . . . Any self-respecting scientist that honestly wished to look into treatment for these issues would be ostracized by the scientific community, find it difficult to receive the needed grant money, and would have his studies, even if correct, lumped to some fringe group . . .

The Real Shliach said...

I didn't write the thing about the Akeida and gays, I merely copied it from the Jerusalem Post. I don't quite understand what you don't understand. The article stated, quite clearly, that the whole point of Judaism is to go against human nature. That would seem to imply that yes, when G-d demands it, we do sacrifice our children, and yes, when G-d demands it, we do sacrifice our perfectly natural desires.

Mikeinmidwood said...

You really showed me a different way of looking at the akeida.

Mikeinmidwood said...

You really showed me a different way of looking at the akeida.