Protecting those with challenges and providing them with counsel: true Jewish values, and who could object?

Unfortunately, in Gay and Orthodox: An oxymoron no more, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz castigates Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein and more than a dozen other well-respected and compassionate rabbis of the Lower East Side for their letter of opposition to a recent Eshel LBGTQ+ shabbaton at two neighborhood synagogues.

The inherent halachic and theological issues with such an event were addressed in detail here, and there is no need to restate them. Readers are encouraged to consult the linked article for important source quotes and explanations from some of the generation’s greatest Torah authorities. However, I would like to briefly address Rabbi Katz’s contentions.

Rabbi Katz writes:

‘We did not spill the blood of the wayfarer,’ the town elders say when bringing the eglah arufah sacrifice and pleading with God for forgiveness. ‘We made sure to provide companionship for the lonely sojourner in our midst.’ After what transpired this past weekend, when some Charedi rabbis from the Lower East Side publicly denounced the Stanton Street Shul and Sixth Street Community Synagogue for hosting Eshel, one is left wondering whether they could, with a clear conscience, stake the same claim… Members of the Eshel community were guests of the Stanton Street Shul and Sixth Street Community Synagogue this past Shabbos. These two shul communities invited them to spend tefilot and meals together. My own shul also has hosted them. It is a small gesture of recognition and support: a mainstream community welcomes Eshel members and treats them with love, dignity, and acceptance. Instead of celebrating this heartwarming example of hachnasat orchim, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the area chose, tragically, to stridently denounce their neighbors… Halacha has specific guidelines for how to adjudicate such cases. The Charedi poskim repeatedly make a mockery of those rules.”

Let’s now see what these Lower East Side rabbis wrote, and to what they objected.

Here are some salient words from the rabbis’ letter:

Those struggling with homosexual inclinations deserve our full attention and concern. We need to do everything in our power to uplift such fellow Jews, and help them in their struggle to live in accordance with the Torah. At the same time, no one and no entity committed to the Jewish mesorah (tradition) can sanction what the Torah forbids. Eshel is such an organization committed to creating acceptance of “LGBTQ” unions in the Orthodox world. The group seeks shuls that “celebrate (same-gender) unions”, ideally create “commitment ceremonies” for them, and at the very least “acknowledge their union or celebration of their union if they choose to have one”… All Jews, whatever their challenges or levels of observance, are welcome in our shuls. However, the basic mandate of the Orthodox synagogue is to promote fidelity to our Torah and our mesorah. Sadly, Eshel demands that we change the Torah’s timeless standards to accord with prevalent secular attitudes. We are saddened that the Stanton Street Shul and the Sixth Avenue Community synagogue have unilaterally chosen to associate our community with an organization which we cannot to be Orthodox…

This gentle and restrained yet resolute letter is hardly worthy of the disparagement and insult penned by Rabbi Katz. And to accuse the letter writers of violating the Torah by way of the letter is way, way over the top.

It is clear from Eshel’s Welcoming Shuls page that Eshel seeks for Orthodox synagogues ideally to celebrate homosexual commitment ceremonies and homosexual family milestone events (e.g., two male partners getting engaged or adopting a baby), as well as to recognize homosexual partners as couples or families in official Orthodox synagogue membership. While these things may seem innocuous to secular and non-Orthodox Jews, they are wholly inconsistent with Torah/Orthodox Jewish values. The Torah’s opposition to celebrating and honoring homosexual unions may be politically incorrect and may not sit well with those who identify with contemporary social values, but such is the Torah’s position, and Orthodox Judaism respects, accepts and embraces it and all of the laws and values of the Torah, whether or not they are in sync with popular attitudes. Judaism, since the time of Abraham, has always been a counterculture, and taking unpopular stands is often what the Torah requires of us.

It is thus totally unreasonable to expect Orthodox rabbis to concur with Eshel’s mandate, and it is likewise totally out of line to condemn them for disagreeing with it and deeming it not Orthodox. Whereas a few Open Orthodox rabbis have articulated views that accept homosexual marriage (please also see here), such is not the position of normative Orthodoxy.

People need to be welcomed, to be understood, counseled and helped, but not by sending messages that violate the Torah.