Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Burning Fire and a River of Tears

The following article was recently posted in a Yeshiva University newspaper: http://www.yucommentator.com/home/index.cfm?event=displayArticle&ustory_id=3e858e60-b231-466d-a887-f2e001da6cb2

It details the struggle of a closeted frum student. He views homosexuality as his test in life and compares it to the tests of keeping Shabbat and learning Torah. In other words, just as we must fight our Evil Inclination that encourages us to break Shabbat and not learn Torah, so too must we fight our Evil Inclination for homosexuality. Accordingly, the author takes solace in the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, as the Torah only prohibits the latter.

I take issue with this ideological approach to homosexuality. From an Orthodox perspective, breaking Shabbat and shunning Torah study are inherently evil behaviors. It therefore makes sense to attribute these sins to the influence of the Evil Inclination, an evil impulse taking over body and mind.

Yet no one identifies as a Shabbos Desecrator or as a Torah Learning Nullifier. These sins do not define one's sense of self. However, individuals with an exclusively same sex attraction do identify as gay. Homosexuality is a large part of their identity, as it determines their romantic and sexual attractions. To view the thought -- the fantasy -- of a deep emotional and physical bond between two men as a manifestation of the "Evil" Inclination is to view oneself as inherently evil. Thus, in the course of "winning" the battle against the Evil Inclination for homosexuality, one's sense of self worth becomes a casuality of war.

I would like to thank the author of this article. By framing homosexuality in the context of the Evil Inclination, he enabled me to realize that leading a celibate life is a recipe not only for loneliness and isolation, but also for depression and G-d forbid suicide (as the author alludes to in his article).

What do I do with the two verses in Leviticus? I still don't know, but it's becoming increasingly less important to me. The Torah tells us to בחור בחיים, to choose life. In order to do so, we must accept ourselves -- our whole selves -- for who we truly are.


Tampa Zephyr said...

Your last paragraph says it all, Justin. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

baruch hashem! hope we'll see you at a nehirim event sometime. regarding 2 verses: here's my shita - http://www.zeek.net/jay_0409.shtml -j

Anonymous said...

A really exceptional post, Justin. Shkoyach!

tokugawa smile said...

This post made me so happy!!!! You seem to be a thoughtful soul-searcher and I'm learing so much from you.

Anonymous said...

justin that is truly a beautiful thought! thanks for sharing it.

i read this article a while back and i felt the crux of the article was essentially was a place for this young man to vent about the tremendous pain he felt surrounding his homosexuality. it was his truth and his reaction with his feelings and in turn his surroundings. i think it should be respected as such!

Jeanne said...

I admire your determination to being a good Jew and being true to who you are.
I think you are coming to realize that no matter what, at the end of the day you are gay and a Jew and the most satisfying thing to do is to embrace the totality of who you are.

Anonymous said...

Justin, you came from a non Orthodox background. So did Rabbi Steve Levado. This seems to make dictating gay realities to Judaism easier.

Jay Michaelson in ecstasy at Burning Man, speaks for himself, shita.

Norman Lamm speaks from both sides of his mouth, but Moses, the lawgiver, was uncomfortable with sexuality. Tsaddikim aspire to transcend physical drives, to conquer desire, lust, materialism.

The gossip of Miriam was that Moses stopped having sexual relations. Who should be our role model, Siegfried and Roy?

Be Breezy! said...

Hi Justin,
I can definitely identify with your dilemma--I'm also observant and gay. I belong to a modern ortho congregation here in Chicago that is very welcoming to gay people, regardless of halakhic issues. As you probably know, there's a gap between halakhic practice and ortho practice, and my experience has been that the second has far more bearing on my religious life than the first. As you said, the verses in Leviticus are beginning to matter less to you, and I think that is a good direction, not because the Torah is irrelevant, Gd forbid, but because Torah is what it is only because of the people who live it and take it seriously. Halakhic practice in matters of marriage/relationships are, as far as I can tell, something that is largely between you, your partner, and hashem. No one asks heterosexual couples if they keep nidah, for example. I've found that if you're in a welcoming community that is also a halakhic community, that ipso facto will provide you with a framework in which to live a same-sex relationship. A good part of ortho practice to me is that being married is the ideal, and so I don't think it is more difficult for me than for all the girls in my congregation who can't find any good guys to date (now I realize why most of my friends are single girls...). In my view, if you're single--regardless of orientation-- it's not the halakhic issues that matter, it's being able to fit into a community where being married is supposed to be the status quo. On the other hand, when I was in a relationship I did not feel the need for a specifically gay halakhic framework beyond ortho practice, and in my case we ended up with a particularly gay ortho practice spontaneously and not by design. Sofo shel davar, it really depends on what kind of community you find for yourself.

Victor said...

What a very sad piece. The boy is so full of hatred of himself, it's really sad. Even to the degree of being concerned for his health and life. Personally, it doesn't seem to me like he'll be able to have a happy married life if he already spends nights crying AND has been pulled from the brink of depression.

I once was on the way to Orthodoxy, so I can identify. It actually allowed me not to deal with my sexuality for several years. All attractions were dismissed, while issues that may be problematic for a guy, like dating girls, were quickly dismissed with - after all I was going for frum.

Clearly, I've abandoned Orthodoxy since (I am typing this on a fine Shabbes morning, after all). I also agree with the second Anon that it's "easier to dictate gay realities" for us but only because we have been inculcated with ideas that the text of the Torah does not reflect 100% of reality. We are more comfortable using other other props to interpret Torah. It's clear to me that even the majority of the M.O. world is not ready to do that.

I was surprised - although probably I shouldn't have been - by how much self-hatred there was in that boy... Rather not self-hatred but hatred of that image of what "being gay" means that he picked up from around him.

Anonymous said...

If the boy is sad it is because he is a ma-amin, a true believer in the One True Gd Who we believe dictates and commands. Flesh, carnal love, are not the means to know a spirit. Is what defines a Jew gender and sexual identity? The boy is sad, but not heartbroken. He will marry as his conscience dictates. He may sin, but his voice is authentic. Do you pity him for not being mechalel Shabbat? Those who feel close to the Ribbono shel Olam accept their fate. Those who do not are not.

Joshua M Hamsa Berkowitz said...

Thanks a lot! I am sure I am not the only person who finds solace in your work.

chenyok said...

No, there is no inherent difference between one inclined to violate Shabbos and one inclined to commit an act of sodomy. The simple reason that you identify yourself so closely with your sexual identity is that that is the prevalent attitude in modern western culture. It didn't used to be like that.

Daniel said...

This last Shabbat was the Acharei-Kedoshim Parasha. It has always been a difficult one for me to sit through. Thanks for your posts which have helped me keep things in perspective. I particularly appreciated Jay Michaelson's observation,

"- Leviticus 18 is only about sexual violence and humiliation. In the misogynistic culture to which the Torah was given ("The Torah speaks in the language of man"), to be sexually penetrated was a form of degradation. Leviticus 18 demands that this degradation never be visited upon another man. This explains the use of the word et and the strange locution mishkevei ishah: it refers to doing something humiliating to a man. If the prohibition meant something other than degradation, it would have said im adam - "with" a man, rather than et adam, which means, roughly, "to" or "at" a man. Thus only male-male sex acts which can be characterized as being done et adam, "at a man," are forbidden. As Rabbi Steve Greenberg develops in his book, where penetration has none of the earmarks of violence or humiliation as in a loving relationship between men in our culture the prohibition does not apply."

My gay relations have always been "im adam" So I will continue to be a proud jew and a proud gay man.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I know this is allot "lighter" than any of your normal posts, but this clip gave me a well deserved laugh..