A prominent member of the Lau dynasty, Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem, has been a long-term ally to Gay Men in particular. Lau is a prominent religious Zionist rabbi, nephew of former chief rabbi Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and first cousin of the current chief rabbi, David Lau. He served as rabbi of the Jerusalem Ramban Synagogue for 18 years until last year, 2019.
For years, a group of religious Gay Jews met monthly in this synagogue. The group officially supported and advocated conversion therapy but not all of its members and attendants did so. As far as I know, the rabbi never interfered in what the meetings would be discussing.
Rabbi Lau also sat in many forums debating homosexuality and Jewish Law. One of his most memorable statements is that a closet is for the dead, not the living, making a Hebrew pun because the coffin Joseph was put in in Egypt (last verse of Genesis) is in Hebrew an ‘Aron,’ a closet.
The greatest scandal of the last 50 years of Orthodox Judaism (also lasting the full 50 years) is no doubt the denial that the Injunction of homosexual intercourse must only be applied to heterosexual men. This disgrace is greatly compounded by the blanket hatred (in its worst form: a lack of any empathy or interest) for homosexuals among most Orthodox rabbis–except behind closed doors of those poor communal rabbis who feel for the Gay congregants but stand empty-handed when they want to help.
For all these reasons, it is a festive day that Rabbi Lau has produced a paper sharing the pertaining subjects and his ideas, calling for discussion.
The mere interest Rabbi Lau displays already sets him apart. That his ally-ship lasts decades, even more so. And that he speaks up publicly makes him stand out as a true hero. He obviously has listened to many non-straights for many years and therefore unquestioningly has a beginning of an understanding of the issues and problems involved.
On the other hand, the number of fellow rabbis he was able to consult with who speak with knowledge and integrity is small and it shows. He clearly has listened to rabbis (still) advocating conversion therapy, which has a little bit watered down his otherwise potentially revolutionary paper.
Also missing are the fruits of discussing this with more extreme left-wing homosexual Jews. Men cannot be allies to women just to help them (a sexist concept). They must be motivated too by a wish to be proper men. Likewise, a sound motive to mend any tension between Jewish Law and homosexual Jews (and Gentiles) must also be to repair Judaism.
Yes, on the one hand, one should not be so callous not to care about homosexuals. On the other hand, one should care, not for homosexuals’ sake only. But too to be proper human beings and Jews.
Not by his own fault, he too fell victim to our nation-wide assimilation. He begins his paper by explaining that at times, Heaven (the ideal) and Earth (practicality) differ inexplicably. This is of course not the case in Judaism. That is a Christian concept (“This world is not His World”). The Creator of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 1:1, Judaism 101) made a perfect fit between His Mind and His world. The obvious truth staring one in the face is that the mistake doesn’t lie with homosexuals, not with G^d having written a Law not fitting reality (Heaven forbid), but that the rabbis made a mistake of not understanding what is written in the Torah exactly (see above).
The worst omission, in my opinion, is that he does not apologize for the hundreds of thousands of lives of Gays and their loved ones ruined, for the so many young Gay Men who committed suicide, for forcing Gay Jews out of Orthodox Judaism, for forcing them into serial anonymous sex or fake marriages or celibacy, nor does he decry the guilt and complicity of his fellow rabbis. He just notes, diplomatically, that he wants to fill a dire need since a proper guide to homosexuals and their families is tragically lacking.
I have not read his paper yet. I’m going to discuss what the JPost has published about it. Let’s not blame him (or the journalist who wrote this fine report) for the nonsensical headline mentioning “religious LGBTQ+ Jews.” He noticeably focuses on Judaism’s biggest problem: Gay Men.
He shows his insight into the subject by opening with G^d’s observation that It is not good for a (hu)man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Although, he could have chosen any other quote from four dozen Biblical verses and Jewish principles to show the bankruptcy of the modern ‘vision’ of Orthodox rabbis rejecting the sexuality of homosexual men.
The rabbi stresses that this is merely a collection of recommendations clarifying not to permit prohibitions and not to prohibit the permitted. This is not all that a rabbi can do. A great rabbi struggles to permit what seems forbidden. That is the task of our greatest rabbis. And, our Sages mention finely, there where there is no leader, be [the] leader.
He mentions that going public, “coming out of the closet,” is a good thing but should be left at the discretion of the individual. I would add that someone must be ready and have the support and safety to do so.
He feels a need to stress that the heterosexual family is definitely the Torah ideal. Why he does so is unclear because he states further down that no one will choose the alternative identity unless one is Gay. One doesn’t say to someone who dreams of being a doctor “Obviously, the Torah ideal is to sit and learn Torah all day.” That’s not for everyone.
Instead, he should stress that the Torah ideal is to influence the next generation. This could be by having or adopting children, being a teacher, working as a marriage counselor, or in a fertility clinic, or improving the community or society as a whole. That is the relevant Torah preference.
He stresses that a homosexual may not deceive his future partner if he still wants to try a heterosexual marriage. Missing here is the opinion that no woman should agree to such an arrangement. Also missing is that we should not blame the victim. Instead of stressing that one should not hide such a thing to one’s bride-to-be (and one shouldn’t!), he should stress that we should make it safe for any Gay person to be open about it.
He opines that those repulsed by the opposite sex as a partner should not try and force it. That is an important statement but it is not complete. Also men who feel greatly excited at physical closeness with a man and not with a woman should not marry a woman. Because in the end, he will leave her because he needs that intense feeling she can’t give him.
For those who are blind to the obvious, perhaps it is good that the rabbi states that the need for intimacy and closeness for most homosexuals is no different from the same human needs for most heterosexuals.
He mentions that negative judgments should be cut out and parents of homosexuals should seek help in peer support groups. Was it a bridge too far to not only recommend cutting out the criticism but also advocating to supply love, endorsement, closeness, and celebration of the child?
The rabbi still cannot envision a Gay marriage ceremony but admits that many very much feel a need for one and that it is impossible and wrong to ignore or alienate this need. I applaud not only his clarity but also honesty.
Lastly, the rabbi states that Jewish Law does not prohibit members of the LGBTQ+ community from raising children and building a family. This is much too weak a statement. Given the failure of heterosexual marriage and parenthood and the much greater success of Gay parenthood (ever heard about incest by Gay parents?!), Gay parenthood is not just “not prohibited” — it should be preferred. Or should he not write the truth if that makes people feel uncomfortable? I learned that religion is to comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable. He should not affirm problems in Jewish Law concerning surrogacy, conversion (and in-vitro fertilization?) but rather tell Rabbis and the State to end any obstacles.
He should have added that single parents and same-sex couples often have people of the other sex being close to their children, so objections by people who disagree with single-sex parenthood should be rejected.
He says that Gay families and their children should be equal members of the community and should be allowed to play an active part, including in religious roles, while also practicing the same modesty customs of their community. The last remark is a curious one. It should rather say that decently outing oneself is not indecent for either sexual preference.
Inclusion won’t cause people to drift or be confused. I’ll add, it’ll also end much dishonesty, hypocrisy, and unhappiness. He should add that seeking closeness with one’s own sex isn’t the same as wanting sex with one’s own sex. Heterosexuals need closeness to their own gender too. But he should warn that the legitimacy of homosexuality for Gay men doesn’t translate to heterosexuals being allowed to have sexual intercourse with (any) man.
There is a gigantic problem of liberal Orthodox Jews in general and liberal Orthodox rabbis in particular being liberal towards Gay Orthodox Jews. The latter are often not only much more spiritual but also much more Orthodox than most of their heterosexual family and co-religionists. That means they don’t want to and can’t live by anything less than the greatest form of religious passion. So, being ‘nice and understanding’ to them won’t work for them. But, if you show that you believe in the Torah, and so, will not condone Straight men seeking sex with men (because it’s so easy to find some), you show that you not condemning homosexuals and their sexuality is not based on being less committed to G^d’s Word. Then, your acceptance of homosexuals and their sexuality becomes relevant to them and gives them a path to life as the super-Orthodox Gay Jews they are.
I must say that he has well spent time that no doubt freed up when he took leave of his congregation. What I’ve now seen of it is by far the best piece ever written about the subject by any leading Orthodox rabbi.
For me, always first in my mind about whatever is communicated about this subject is, will it save lives? I’m sure that both this document and the ensuing discussions will do so. There is no greater virtue than stopping suicides and the wasting of countless lives that has hit so many Gay men.
A coalition of religious Jewish LGBTQ+ organizations welcomed Rabbi Lau’s “choice to address an issue that is like breathing air for all of us – love, relationships and family.” It called it “a courageous, empathetic, scholarly and sensitive discourse on the subject that can ensure many more homes to combine a complete and present LGBTQ+ identity, alongside a religious, faith and community life that revolves around the world of Torah. G^d willing, we will continue to work for the existence of such a discourse even among rabbis, and just as we began the reading of the Torah at Genesis, so we hope that Rabbi Lau and the blessed discourse he promotes will be the lead for healthier and better religious perceptions of light and acceptance, towards the LGBTQ+ religious community,” they said.
As always, much too sweet, but maybe earned, given the rabbi’s heroism.