Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jewish Gay Pride

There seems to be a lot of talk about choice in the frum gay world.

It's not a choice. I was born this way. I can't help it. Therfore I should be accepted for who I am.

I admit that I used to ascribe to this position, and halachically it makes a lot of sense. As gay Jews, we do not fulfill the mitzvah of reproducing. And for those of us who have chosen to not be celibate, we violate Rabbinic, if not Biblical sexual prohibitions. So in order for us to be considered upstanding Jews, we must disclaim our sexuality as beyond our control. For if we had the power to choose and we chose homosexuality, we would be considered heretics! Who would choose to violate these mitzvot?

On the other hand, offering the disclaimer of not having a choice is apologetic. "I'm sorry I'm gay, but I couldn't help it." The disclaimer puts homosexuality into a b'dieved (not ideal) category, with heterosexuality being the l'chatchila (ideal) in Judaism.

But this is not what I believe.

It's true that I cannot change my sexual orientation, but who says I want to? I'm happy being gay, and I don't need to disclaim anything to anyone. Hashem -- in His infinite wisdom -- created homosexual and heterosexual creations. Does Hashem view some of His creations as "ideal" and others as "second rate?" Chas V'Shalom! G-d forbid! Hashem created all people in His image. How could someone created in His image be a "b'dieved" creation?

From this perspective, gay pride takes on a fascinating new meaning. We should be proud of ourselves as gay Jews because that is who Hashem created us to be.

ברוך אתה ד' אלקינו מלך העולם משנה הבריות
Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who varies His creations

Monday, November 17, 2008

Make For Yourself a Rabbi

The B train to Flatbush on Friday afternoons is quite a Jewish experience, with all the Brooklyn Jews returning home for Shabbos. I was sitting on the B on Friday, reviewing the Torah portion on my way to Shabbos by my cousins. An ultra-Orthodox man sat down next to me and we spent most of the ride learning our respective seforim (Jewish books). After a while he asked me what I was learning. When I told him "Kli Yakar," he asked me for a Dvar Torah.

This could only happen in Brooklyn!

As we began talking, he asked me who my Rav was. I told him that I went to many synagogues on the Upper West Side and didn't have one Rabbi who I considered my personal Rav. He responded with words of mussar: "You need to get a Rav, someone whom you can ask questions and with whom discuss big life issues. It'll change your life." He reminded me of the phrase in Pirkei Avot: "Make for yourself a Rabbi" (עשה לך רב). I nodded politely and smiled. We soon arrived at the Kings Highway stop, and dozens of Jews filed out of the train.

I thought about what the man said. Yes, it would be nice to have a Rav. But could I find an Orthodox Rabbi who shares my hashkafa (religious outlook) on all issues, including homosexuality? I could not have a Rav who told me to marry a woman. Nor could I have a non-Orthodox Rav who does not view the Torah as fully binding. So for now I am without a Rav. Yet paradoxically, I feel that it is especially important for gay Jews to have a Rav, someone to help them navigate the uncharted waters of homosexuality and Judaism.

I don't have an answer to this conflict. Just food for thought...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lech Lecha

In this week's Torah Portion, Lech Lecha, G-d commands Abraham to circumcise himself and all the males in his house. G-d then commands that every Jewish male be circumcised when he is eight days old.

What is the significance of this commandment? The commentator Radak gives an amazing answer. G-d commands us to circumcise ourselves because a person's animalistic lustful urges emanate from the penis. By circumcising this organ, we demostrate that we are subjugating our animalistic urges to G-d's will. In doing so, we make our penis into a holy object. Indeed, we will see in a few weeks that the circumcised penis is so holy that a person can take an oath by it (just as a person would take an oath by a Bible in secular court).

Thus, Judaism does not believe in suppressing sexuality, but rather in channeling it to holy pursuits. For heterosexuals, this means getting married and reproducing. What does it mean for us? There is no one right answer, but I would suggest it means eschewing the promiscuity of "gay culture" and establishing a monogomous, loving relationship.

May we all figure out -- in our own way -- how to infuse holiness into our sexuality and into every other aspect of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prop 8

"In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite pernicious" -- dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson case, which upheld "separate but equal" from 1896 until Brown v. Board of Ed. in 1955.

Judge Harlan's words, though over a century old, perfectly describe my feelings following the passage of Proposition 8 -- the gay marriage ban in California. Even more disturbing than the passage of Prop 8 is the fact that several Orthodox organizations, such as Agudath, endorsed the measure.

Agudath's endorsement of Prop 8 is prejudice thinly veiled in halacha (Jewish law). As I wrote in an earlier post, nowhere does the Torah prohibit two men living together; the Torah merely prohibits one sexual act. I believe that the Torah actually wants gay men to live together and establish a loving relationship, for "It is not good for man to be alone." If only Agudath would realize that gay people exist and cannot change their sexual orientation. Perhaps then they would be more compassionate.

Another point: If Orthodox Jews are going to push for a ban on gay marriage, they should also push for a ban on intermarriages, as well as all marriages in which the couple will not observe the laws of nidda (ritual purity). All of these relationships could result in Biblical prohibitions. I know what you're thinking: "Banning intermarriage and nidda relationships is ridiculous! How could halacha govern secular American law?" You're right. It shouldn't.

Agudath: No one is asking your rabbis to perform gay marriage ceremonies under the chuppah. But let us have our rights in American society. Jews of all people should understand the harm caused by discrimination and hateful legislation.

"Separate but equal is inherently unequal"

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"The Straight Path Home" is a great website that normally publishes informative, well-researched articles on Judaism. However, in two recent articles, Aish presents a twisted, biased view of homosexuality, insisting that homosexuality is a "dysfunction" that can be "cured" with proper treatment.

The two articles can be found here:

While there are many factual inaccuracies and flawed arguments in these articles, I would like to focus in on the most egregious:

1. David claims that the homosexual lifestyle is one of "compulsive promiscuity." When this assertion was challenged, David points to statistics of homosexual promiscuity in San Francisco (statistics that probably do not generalize to the rest of the country) and declares that most homosexuals live such a lifestyle.

Since when do we as Jews do what "most" people do. Most people in America eat pork. Most Jews do not. Most heterosexuals in America have premarital sex. Many heterosexual Jews do not. Why then should we generalize from the overall population to Jews on the issue of homosexuality?

I'm fine with being in the minority, both in terms of not eating pork and in terms of not being "compulsively promiscuous." The stastitics David cites mean nothing to me. I plan to live a monogomous, Jewish life with another Jewish man.

(I do not mean to imply that non-Jews are inherently promiscuous; they're not, and many non-Jewish gay men also lead monogomous lives. I am merely highlighting the fact that Jews often behave differently than the general population.)

2. In both articles, David states that homosexuality is caused by a dysfunctional childhood environment.

"Yes, there are many causes of homosexuality. My path is one that is common -- the triadic family and detachment from father, the missed opportunity to bond with other men. Other formative experiences common to those with same-sex attractions include physical or sexual abuse, and peer rejection. Others are responding to what they perceived as threatening relationships with mother or other women."

Thank G-d, I have not experienced any of these dysfunctions. Yet I am still gay. Clearly David's theoretical basis is lacking. Indeed, he cites the primitive theories of Sigmund Freud to support his argument that "homes like [his] are common among men with homosexual urges." He neglects to mention that the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry has repudiated Freud's theory. "As the origins of homosexuality are attributed to factors beyond the patient's conscious or unconscious control, they are no longer considered a subject of analytic inquiry" (J. Drescher, "A history of homosexuality and organized psychoanalysis," 2008).

David cites a 2003 study by Robert Spitzer, in which the majority of the participants successfully "became" straight. David neglects to mention that only 40% of the viewed themselves as exclusively gay before they attempted to change. David also fails to inform his readers that Spitzer himself said that the number of homosexuals who could successfully become heterosexual was likely to be "pretty low."

3. David's articles are laden with numerous weak arguments. What do they all have in common? They all mask David's true intent: to use the Torah's commandments as scientific proofs. The Torah prohibits sex between two men and commands man to reproduce. It is very difficult to theologically accept that the same G-d who gave such commandments also created people who can only achieve sexual and emotional fulfillment through a same-sex relationship. Therefore, many people argue that the existence of these two commandments proves that homosexuality is a dysfunction and is "curable." However, G-d never tells us that gay people can become straight; such a thought is a human invention. G-d does not mention sexual orientation in the Torah at all, but merely speaks about a specific sexual act. Thus, in light of the Torah's silence on the issue and the overwhelming scientific evidence that sexual orientation is NOT changeable, we should abandon all attempts at reparative therapy and instead have an open dialogue in the Orthodox community on the theological quandary that is so difficult to understand.