Michael Berkowitz

Over the Rainbow

Since Obergefell there’s been a lot of squirming in the Orthodox community over its attitude towards homosexuality which, pace R. Shalom Carmy’s essay in First Things, is almost impossible to separate from its attitude towards homosexuals.

In fairness to many of my friends and teachers, their discomfort predates the recent decision by many years.  It’s hard not to shudder under the dissonance between Jewish law’s unyieldingly and unsparingly-negative view of homosexuality and our experience of acquaintances, neighbors, friends, coworkers and family who are both gay and upstanding citizens.  In fact, for the purpose of this essay I will stipulate that there’s no perceptible difference in any measure of character between gays and straights, that their unions are as solid (with extra points for degree-of-difficulty) and that they’re sincere in their affections.

Many of us Orthodox – most, in my experience – retreat into thinking of the Torah’s attitude as a Mystery.  I would like to remind them, simply, that Western society has not recently discovered that there’s nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality; it has recently decided that there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality.  R. Carmy may be correct (in my experience he usually is) in denigrating the popular psychological treatments  for homosexuality, but I doubt that we know enough about the matter to say that there’s nothing to “treat” because it’s not an illness or aberration.  And while I know little of current academic trends in Psychology and Biology, I doubt there’s any chance of serious study into the matter in the near future.  It would provoke deafening outcries – and why not?  Merely raising the question implies that there may be something the matter with a whole community of people; that they may need to be “fixed”.  Why should anyone put up with such innuendo?  Would you?

If the idea that being gay is inferior to being straight seems outrageous, let me direct you to those deaf people and parents of deaf children who oppose such treatments as cochlear implants because they imply that there’s something wrong with being deaf.  They’re a betrayal of “deaf culture”.  This strikes many of us as weird and wrongheaded, but that’s only because we’re accustomed to thinking of the ability to hear as part of the ideal human state.  Once, we were accustomed to thinking of being attracted to the opposite sex as part of the ideal human state.  It wouldn’t surprise me if some of the deaf-culture advocates make the linkage explicitly.

Myself, I’m taking the position that God was actually onto something and, despite my earlier stipulations, homosexuality is somehow pernicious – although perhaps no more so than the general licentiousness to which we’ve all grown accustomed.  That’s a theological stance; nothing to do with Obergefell.

It would be intellectually satisfying if there were some real investigation into the matter, but I suspect the next big scientific foray into this field will show up as documentaries on The Nature Channel featuring cross-dressing pandas and transgender marmosets.

About the Author
Michael and family moved from NYC to Alon Shvut in 1986. He works in Software; blogs sporadically on education, public policy and whatever else comes to mind; chairs the boards of two educational institutions and practices philosophy in the ancient tradition of corrupting the minds of youth.
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