Can a Gay Man Be Accepted as an Orthodox Jew?

Rabbi Ari Segal is right. At least mostly. But so is Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein. The issue is how the subject of homosexuality is viewed by our youth today in the Modern Orthodox world. They have difficulty reconciling the Torah’s perspective with what many people feel is a sexual orientation that is in direct opposition to it. An orientation homosexuals have through no fault of their own.

Rabbi Segal, who is Head of School at Shalhevet, a Modern Orthodox high school in Los Angeles, has written a heartfelt essay on the subject that addresses this issue. A conflict he says causes many students to abandon the Torah’s perspective in favor of what they believe to be a more compassionate modern attitude. Rabbi Segal believes this is the greatest challenge of our day and has asked that today’s rabbinic leaders address it lest the floodgates open completely to the abandonment of the Torah.

I agree that this is a huge challenge. Rabbi Segal is sounding the alarm and although not sure what the ultimate solution is, he suggests a number of ways to better deal with it. And proposes several suggestions along those lines. Rabbi Adlerstein has a different approach. But in my view this too does not do enough to solve the problem.

First let me re-iterate my views on this subject. Which in perhaps overly simplistic terms boils down to ‘hate the sin, love the sinner.’ The devil is of course in the details. We must accept the Torah’s directives and at the same time we must accept the reality of homosexuality in the Orthodox world. How should we  treat people with this orientation? To what extent does that acceptance go? This is where it gets dicey.

Briefly my view is that we must accept homosexual people completely as human beings and treat them with the same dignity we treat anyone else… judging all human beings on the content of their character and not on their sexual orientation. It is not the orientation that is forbidden. It is acting upon it in ways the Torah forbids that is. This should be a given to an observant Jew.

But  there are additional questions. What is a homosexual individual supposed to do if he is attracted only to members of the same sex? Do we have a right to expect him to be celibate? Is there some way he can deal with his orientation that would satisfy his desires — which is permitted and has a basis in Halacha? I am not qualified to answer these questions.

What if a homosexual does violate the Torah’s prohibitive act — and chooses not hide it? Do we shun him? Do we embrace him? Somewhere in-between?

My view is that as long as he does not promote a lifestyle filled with sin, then we treat him like anyone else who sins… as we all do. We are not God’s accountants. It is for Him to be the ultimate judge. Not us.

This does not mean we abandon the Torah’s prohibitions. We must still speak out forcefully about the Torah’s requirements of us — and not shy away from them because they are no longer politically correct. That said, if a homosexual does not flaunt what he does in the privacy of his bedroom we should treat him the same way we treat any other human being that  does not flaunt what he does in the privacy of his bedroom.

Which leads me to one of Rabbi Segal’s suggestions which I see as problematic. I do not believe we should tolerate any organization or group that identifies as a gay rights organization. Like LGBT. That’s because I believe they have an agenda that goes beyond human rights. I support human rights. But I do not support an agenda to normalize what the Torah forbids. Which I believe is part of the LGBT community’s goal.

Advocacy groups like LGBT see the Torah’s prohibitions as archaic, unenlightened, irrelevant to the modern mind, and even unethical.

For an Orthodox Jew societal attitudes — no matter how enlightened they appear to be to the modern mind — cannot and  do not trump the Torah. One cannot look at what general society accepts and call it ethical and just while looking at the Torah and say that by default it is neither.

Rabbi Adlerstein frames the issue the following way:

Essentially, we’re asking why Torah chinuch in some parts of the community — certainly no stranger to their own problems — nonetheless is more successful in this area. What does it take to produce loyal Jews rather than emunah-challenged socially orthodox ones?

He then posits his own theory of the problem. He says that what is missing in the Modern Orthodox world is something that is ever present in the world of the right: Kabolas Ole (accepting the ‘yoke’ of Halacha) and Avodas HaShem (serving God as our primary purpose in life). These terms are not heard in the lexicon of modern Orthodoxy.

I can see his point. If those terms are never heard then they are never used in defining an important part of our mission here on earth. I agree that there ought to be a lot more emphasis on this if there is even any at all. But that is not enough.

The constant barrage of societal ethicists of ersatz quality on the subject — one hears and sees in virtually every corner of American culture is the reason that so many young people lean away from the Torah’s point of view and toward the cultural one. The entertainment and news media in all of its forms have promoted the idea that every possible type of sexual behavior is to be celebrated. Gay – straight  it doesn’t matter.  As long as there are consenting adults, anything goes. This is the constant message in our culture reinforced in a plethora of ways.

How can a young person whose developing mind is flooded with this type of thinking on a daily basis — not believe it? Especially when there are so many respected or popular news and entertainment figures saying it? All the time.

It is not hard to see why so many young people question a Torah that the the rest of the world sees as an obsolete man-made object that is not in touch with the times. Those that give any reverence to the biblical directives are often ridiculed.

Add to this that some rabbis on the extreme left of Orthodoxy have twisted Halacha to such an extent, that for all practical purposes, the Torah’s prohibition against Homosexuality no longer exists. They have applied talmudic rationales like ‘Oness Rachmana Patri’ (The Torah absolves us of any guilt when sinful acts are forced upon us.) The claim being that homosexuals are forced by their nature to act sinfully. Thus scrubbing the sin away from the act.

I find this untenable. This is not to say that a person’s psychological makeup is not a factor in ameliorating sin. But clearly the Torah’s serious prohibition against homosexuality cannot be so easily wiped away.

Is isolation from the culture which is the right wing approach the solution? No. As an advocate of participating in the culture, I am loathe to advocate that approach. It is also my firm belief that this does not always work.  The culture we live in is pervasive. But even though I am an advocate of cultural participation we must at the same time be aware of its negative influences in many cases. And this is clearly one of them.

So instead of trying to isolate ourselves from something which is nearly impossible to do in our day, we need instead to face it head on. I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein that modern Orthodox schools could do a better job of teaching their young about Kabolas Ole and Ovodas HaShem. But that is not enough. It is important for educators, and perhaps more importantly parents to know the kind of influences their children are involved with. And to make sure that they teach their young to evaluate everything in the light of Torah.

Children must be taught that the Torah is the ultimate ethical and moral document – and not the prevailing cultural attitudes. They must be taught to respect their fellow man no matter what their sexual orientation. But to reject the sin no matter how society looks at it. It would be a far better world for all if we did that. Both in the eyes of man and in the eyes of God.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.