In a post to the Cross-Currents blog on January 11, 2017, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein writes about how young Modern Orthodox Jews are increasingly accepting gay people as just regular people, and how this represents an unprecedented threat to the continuity of Judaism.
I’m a little bit at a loss here. There’s a certain mindset present in this article that seems unwilling to imagine that there’s more here than just the frum community acting properly and their children being polluted by a foreign idea like homosexuality. It’s almost like any other possibility is impossible.
But that’s not the case. What’s causing the problem here isn’t the acceptance of gay people in Western society. It’s a parochial attitude in the frum community that has taken real prohibitions, real halachic issues, and expanded them into a general rejection of human beings who are gay in a way that Halacha simply does not justify.
There’s a false dichotomy here. On the one hand, we have the position of a frum society that says gay people should be ashamed of being gay, or at the very least keenly aware that their being gay is a Bad Thing that needs to be quashed. That gay people can be accepted in the frum community only if they come with bent neck and tear-filled eyes and cries of “I know what I am is awful, but puleeze! let me live among you because I recognize that!”
On the other hand, we have the ludicrous anti-Torah positions of the so-called “Open Orthodox,” which demand that frum Jews set aside any part of the Torah and Halacha that goes against Western views of 100% acceptance for everyone, everywhere, in everything. That we abolish laws against things the Torah prohibits because “they aren’t nice.”
It’s a false dichotomy, and in the middle, we have people who think that compassion is a Torah value. Who recognize that we no longer treat deaf people as incompetent half-people because we’ve learned a little something that maybe Hazal weren’t aware of, but who realize that yes, deaf people still have certain halachic limitations, even if it may hurt their feelings. Who refuse to throw out the Torah, but who realize that throwing away good Jews for being born different is foreign to Halacha, and is actually a case of Christian asceticism and intolerance of differences that have insinuated themselves into our frum culture.
Of course “mishkav zachar” is forbidden. Of course “nashim ha-mesollelot” is forbidden. Of course kiddushin and nesuin will only ever apply to opposite-sex couples. Of course same-sex relationships aren’t the same as opposite-sex ones. These views are obvious to any frum Jew, and anathema to the so-called “Open Orthodox.”
But, at the same time, of course being in a relationship with a member of the same sex doesn’t necessitate violating Halacha, and of course accepting same-sex couples as different — but not dirty — is no attack on Judaism, and of course allowing same-sex couples to participate fully in the frum world (with the understanding that what’s forbidden is forbidden and that we no more bend on that than we do on kashrut or Shabbat or any other area of Halacha) is an appropriate way of behaving towards fellow Jews. And of course their children should be allowed in our schools. These views are just as much anathema to many in the frum community as the others are to those outside of it.
And frum kids are growing up and looking at the two sides, and they are unwilling to perpetuate the hateful way in which gay people have been treated. And they have been given no framework in which to accept gay people as people without throwing out the Halacha. Do you not get that? When you present them with this false dichotomy and demand that they either accept treating gay people like dirty things or just ignore all of the prohibitions about homosexuality, of course vast numbers of them are going to choose the latter. And who is responsible for that? Gay people, for existing? Or frum leaders, who refuse to back down from a non-halachic hostility? Who refuse to create a framework which maintains our halachic standards without behaving abominably to people who are gay.
Rabbi Adlerstein correctly notes that this isn’t a problem in the Haredi community. But that’s because that community has no qualms whatsoever about expelling anyone who does not toe the line in every way. Because gay people in the Haredi community mostly leave before they can be thrown out, or learn to hide as well as crypto-Jews in Inquisition Spain. Neither of these is a particularly healthy solution.
A friend of mine on Facebook once posted: “You can’t make gay Jews straight, but you can make them non-religious.” I would add that this applies just as much to young straight Jews. You can’t force them to treat their gay friends like dirt, but you can teach them to disrespect rabbinic authority and the Torah. But why would you want to do that?