Evil Amalek and Homosexuals
Before going to the juicy part, let me first stress that Judaism denies a notion of “evil people”. All people are created in G-d’s Image, and endowed with an Evil Tendency (imposed upon them) and a Benign Tendency (“the Soul”), and Free Will to choose for the latter (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Someone who consistently opts for Good will get a good name and is called good, but is not fundamentally different from someone who does the opposite all the time, Heaven forbid. True, one can become so ingrained in thinking and doing Good that it’s almost impossible to choose Evil, but it never becomes totally impossible (Avot 2:5 – Don’t believe in yourself until your last day). And the reverse is true too — steeped in Evil, it’s hard to escape it (Exodus 8:28) — hard but not impossible!
Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jews, the archetype of Evil, also can repent, individually or as a People (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 6:1-4, based on Joshua 11:19-20). Inherently Evil creatures would be innocent and not responsible for any wickedness they’d commit. But Judaism holds everyone responsible. Therefore it is also not a good idea to regard oneself as bad (Avot 2:18), because that would give us unlimited “permission” to commit all Evil in the world, Heaven forbid. Until here the intro.
I have a good friend who is a religious Jew (dati) and homosexual (gay). He was born into a religious family and he’s very spiritual and enthusiastic in his observance. He has known he’s a homosexual since he was eight years old. His mother is a lesbian, so he didn’t have a hard time figuring out his own orientation and that he’d better keep it a secret. Not only is he still in the closet regarding most people to protect himself; he’s also not a rabble-rouser — he guards the atmosphere in the Community and around him by being discrete about it.
This friend yesterday sat in a lecture (shiur) where the teacher said: We can’t figure out through genealogy anymore who is Amalek (Purim is coming up — the wicked Haman was an Amalekite via their King Agag – I Samuel 15:9, Esther 3:1) — we now identify Amalek through its actions. When we see real Evil, we know that we deal with Amalek, like the Nazis and homosexuals. He should have said: the Nazis and ISIS. Now, can you imagine how my friend felt?
He was very angry and actually told me something very sharp: “As far as I’m concerned, this rabbi is Amalek, because we know from Amalek that it always attacks the weakest ones” (Deuteronomy 25:18). Who could blame him for such rage?
Rejection of homosexuals by Orthodox Jews refuted
1. “Homosexuals act against Jewish Law (Halachah).” The Halachah for men not to have any sex with each other works perfectly for heterosexual men. Don’t do it, or it will make you leave your wife (Talmud Nedarim 51a). This advice is still valid today. However, for homosexuals this Halachah does not work at all. First of all, typically they don’t have a wife. Secondly, very religious pious Jewish homosexual men who would never “dream” of seeking a man for a spouse, their lives are a mess. They can’t distance themselves from sex and are secretly overwhelmed with sexual obsession all day long. These are the sweetest and holiest people you’d know! What a disaster, what a heartbreak! Thirdly, the homosexual guys who do seek a same-sex partner, generally find one, are happy, live wonderful balanced connected lives and have no need for any sex scene. That all should humble us so that we don’t just blame homosexuals for a law that apparently is counter-productive. Most Orthodox Rabbis are not bold, knowledgeable, realistic or honest enough to admits that we should be baffled, that we don’t understand this issue – Rabbi Dror-Moshe Cassouto apparently is.
2a. “Homosexuals are on an un-Jewish path.” In the past, the Rabbis noticed that Jewish men generally do not have sex with men as we do see among the Gentiles – except in lewd times (Shulchan Aruch, Even ha’Ezer 24). From this comes the notion that it’s a non-Jewish thing. However, that seems only true for heterosexual men. There are plenty of homosexual Jews with nothing Goyish about them, also in pious times. So, stop talking about Judaism as a parrot, teaching life from manuals. Look at reality, as Jews have always done. G-d wrote the Torah and used it as a blueprint for Creation. That means: who wants to understand Torah must look at Reality, or he’s just a fool who will come to sin trough a printing error.
2b. There’s a second meaning to the argument that homosexuals are on an un-Jewish path: that they don’t keep Halachah. Well, you can’t push people out of the Community and then blame THEM for being outside. In fact, you should be careful not to corner homosexuals, because I don’t think that you want to be responsible for their lack of religious observance or suicide, Heaven forbid. Instead, you should be amazed with and absolutely admire all the very religious homosexual Jews who stay faithful and enthusiastic to any Halachah they can. Would you have so much love for G-d and Judaism if you were generally despised and talked about as if very crazy or very wicked? Some serious humbleness is in order here.
3. “Homosexuals are addicted and should control themselves like all of us.” Nice theory, but it failed. No total restraint therapy or gay-cure therapy works. There is only one way to refrain from sex: to reserve it for the future. One can say – against modern ideas that deny that – I’m not going to have sex until I’m married. What one cannot do is forgo sex altogether – as the Talmud (of course) already tells us (Gitin 43b). And the Torah tells us that we must bond with a partner (Genesis 2:24) to overcome unbearable loneliness (Genesis 2:18). Trying to forgoing sex altogether leads to a serious sex addiction. (Don’t blame people for being sex obsessed after you denied them sexuality.) The only way out is to wait for this special person to have an exclusive sexual relationship with. Celibacy is a lie and leads to sexual obsession (see above) to a degree you never saw in your life – hopefully, Heaven forbid.
So what should we conclude?
A. Present Halachah for homosexual men does not work. Saying or pretending that it does is unhelpful, to say the least, and makes you seem not pious but rather a fool – sorry to say. As Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo teaches: One can be wrong by being right. Trying or pretending to be a saint at the expense of others is not being saintly at all.
B. Homosexuals are a vulnerable group; make sure not to add to their agony. G-d hates attackers. So much so that when a righteous person victimizes a wicked person, the Sages teach us, G‑d still sides with the wicked (Midrash Yalkut Shimoni on Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiates 4:1.)! How much more so will He be on the side of a helpless and innocent victim. I don’t think you want to square off against the Almighty.
C. If you want to make the traditional point against homosexuality – be my guest but speak for yourself. Say: “It is a terrible thing for heterosexual men – but about homosexual men I’m not talking because I don’t know them and don’t understand them and it’s below me to condemn them for anything.”
D. Orthodox Jews and especially Rabbis must speak only nicely to and about homosexuals, just like they are taught to talk just gently towards women. Some of them have no idea what a desecration of G‑d’s Name any other tone is. There are plenty of humanists and atheists out there who would never embarrass or insult homosexuals (and would keep any uncomfortableness to themselves) – and very learned Jews could not match that?
E. Don’t let any fascination or fixation that you may have with sexuality dominate your vision on homosexuals. Sexuality relates to homosexuals as religion relates to Jews. Their brand of it may define them, but they are much more than that. Jews are also a People, often kind, leaders of civilization and in science, and … firstly human, each of them a unique splendid individual. Homosexuals generally are also very good at friendships (have one help you with your marriage), empathy, understanding kids, and … firstly human, each of them a unique splendid individual.
What made me speak out so forcefully here? Today, my friend started contemplating leaving the Orthodox Community and moving to a less religious neighborhood. I hope that me speaking out on his behalf may help him to hang in there. Don’t lose hope. It gets better.