Gary Schiff
Former Conservative Synagogue President of Board and new oleh

How Can Observant Jews Counter LGBTQ Advocates?

Many observant Jews are quietly breathing a small sigh of relief. Gay Pride Month (June 2019) has passed. Many are hoping the issue will just go away. Many observant rabbis are intimidated to speak up and directly address the challenge the LGBTQ movement presents to the Torah observant world. Instead they choose to retreat into religious communities and try to block out the dominant culture. A very few have joined their Christian counterparts arguing for the merits of a traditional family.

Yet, given the momentum and funding which the gay movement has garnered (In 2017, funding continued to increase to $185 million for LGBTQ advocacy from US foundations alone.), and the burgeoning political support across the Western world, the challenge is likely to accelerate. In addition, LGBTQ advocacy (some might call it bullying) is intensifying in Israel and in Jerusalem, as this is the world’s spiritual battleground. This year, more cities than ever in Israel, held gay pride events. One small heavily guarded demonstration in Jerusalem was the only visible opposition. In light of those efforts, the observant Jewish world needs to stand up and develop a direct Torah based communication strategy.

But first of all, from a historical perspective, let’s appreciate how rapidly cultural change is occurring within Judaism.

Here is a case in point. Thirteen years ago, Judaism’s Conservative movement’s law committee voted to allow for the ordination of clergy who identified as gay. At the time, there was considerable turmoil over this decision. In response, some synagogue presidents from the more traditional synagogues were debating whether their congregations should leave the movement. The movement dispatched a rabbi with traditional perspectives to try and hold on to these congregations. By contrast, the rabbi leading the effort to change the Torah law was featured in a video justifying the decision and comparing Torah to the bones of a fish which had died. He noted the bones were merely taking a different form.

In response, a trickle of members left the movement, but most stayed. Thirteen years later, finding a rabbi in the Conservative movement who questions the dominant culture’s approach to social issues would be nearly impossible. From a historical perspective, in the relative blink of an eye since the Jewish people received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, the validity of Torah law was upended for a huge segment of the Jewish people.

One should also note that this is not an insignificant law. It is read in synagogues on Yom Kippur and is also one of the seven laws of Noah which, per the Torah, everyone, regardless of faith, should try to observe.

Yet, the underlying challenge to the Torah is clear, if identifying as gay is akin to one’s skin color and is immutable, then this is a civil rights issue and the Torah is asking the impossible. And one will naturally ask, if the Torah is wrong about this then where else is it wrong.

If it is not immutable, are there environmental conditions which encourage a gay identity? Abuse is sometimes cited as an important contributing environmental factor. Just last month, we heard that Ellen DeGeneres, perhaps one of the best known and proudly gay celebrities in the US, came forward and confessed to having been sexually abused by her stepfather as a teenager.

There is no doubt predisposition as there is in all human attributes; e.g., anger, joviality, addictive behavior, etc. Because sexual drive is so powerful, it is very difficult to control and direct. Yet any objective review of scientific literature shows no conclusive evidence to suggest that “gay” has a genetic basis in the same category as skin color. Additionally, there is literature that suggests a number of environmental contributing factors including abuse, overbearing or distant relationships with parents and social environment. Social environment can be quite significant for a young person who can’t find a place to fit in and finds a welcome and celebrated home in the gay community. Lately, some in the LBGTQ movement, perhaps sensing the lack of proven genetic causation are promoting “gender transitioning,” taking the argument, it doesn’t matter how we were born, it’s how we identify.

All of this is the basis for an understanding, compassionate, yet Torah-based approach. Many who identify as gay, believe they had little choice because of environmental factors or choose because the current culture celebrates their choice. Observant Jews need to appreciate these factors and have compassion, but must also respond directly. The observant Jewish perspective is that the Torah is truth. The Torah clearly says we do not encourage this. The Torah clearly says we do not legally authorize or celebrate this. And again, the Torah demands we be compassionate.

The counter movement to gay pride, has been focused on the definition of a family as their key argument against gay marriage: “one man plus one woman equals a family.” It is an argument that says, “a traditional family structure is better for you.” It is a nice slogan and is valid, but it is in some ways akin to saying that we should keep kosher because kosher food is better for you which is true but not the point. The family definition argument may be helpful but it is not an argument that stands up for the validity of the Torah.

The argument needs to unabashedly stand up for the Torah as our instructions for Jewish life. Like minded Christians and Muslims respect a more direct, Torah based advocacy. We clearly see that appreciation with people of faith regardless of religious affiliation, when public figures reference the Torah in their public speeches on topics such as support for Israel. When the president, Ambassadors Haley and Friedman, and many others reference our holy text in their speeches, we stand proudly and our fans in the non-Jewish world do so as well.

The world is looking for leadership on this issue. Many are tired of being bullied by LGBTQ advocates which will only increase if not confronted. Observant Jews need to stand up, speak up, albeit with compassion, directly referencing our holy Torah. Observant Jews need to fill the void and provide that compassionate leadership.

About the Author
Gary Schiff is a former Conservative Synagogue Board President and new oleh.
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