To tell you the truth, I’m getting a bid tired of the whole issue. It seems to be taking forever. But there is so much material that I did not discuss or bring yet, that I feel obligated to present some of it, with my commentary, to serve those who do not have time or the commitment to listen to or read it all themselves.
Some wider news outlets can’t help reporting on it, albeit late: Hundreds back rival petitions in rabbis’ ‘gay revolution’ spat, Top UK rabbi says gay acceptance is ‘fantastic,’ sparking controversy.
Many Rabbis in the UK felt driven to criticize Rabbi Dweck’s lecture. I already critiqued one of them: here. Let me bring a few more. (I’ll restrict myself to Rabbis within the UK Community.)
NB: When I quote the speaker, the quotation marks only indicate were the citation ends, to differentiate it from my commentary – not that it is a verbatim reflection of what was said. I may have summarized his words, only trying to convey what he intended to say. If you want a literal quote, click the link and hear for yourself. My comments are mostly chronological.
- Rabbi Eli Mansour
His lecture was removed from the web before I could listen to it. It’s unclear if Rabbi Dweck’s clarifications after his lecture’s storm sufficed him, or showed this response to be too weak, or if it was taken down because with others up it was redundant or was removed for the sake of peace. Any of these reasons seem worthy. It’s a bit a pity that we can’t hear precisely the reaction of someone who possibly was wise and humble enough to remove it.
He calls Rabbi Dweck “he” and “him” and homosexuals “them” and “those people” who do “such a thing” throughout. He also mentions mishkav zachur [?] and mishkav zachor [sic] next to the proper mishkav zachar.
“Rabbi Dweck should not have used exclusive words.” No doubt he means: explicit terms. He’s very upset, but it’s not clear (of course) by which terms. Just like the ultra-Orthodox Rabbi whose presentation I discussed before and who did not even say the word homosexual (let alone gay), causing a lot of confusions by not calling a spade a spade, but worse: that Rabbi had no qualms about speaking furiously the whole time – although the Jewish Tradition teaches that anger is idol worship, no less. I think a soft-spoken Rabbi who is sometimes explicit – but not vulgar – like Rabbi Dweck is to be preferred.
“Rabbi Dweck did not make clearly enough that all acts that may easily lead to homosexual congress, also when they in the end do not lead to it, are Torah prohibitions.” True. Rabbis Dweck has agreed to this too.
“It doesn’t matter much what to’evah actually means.” I agree. “But it must mean that it’s worse than the other sexual sins, because with that it adds this qualification.” One could easily argue the opposite. The Torah calls all these sins to’evah, but some of them have extra qualifications (with one’s brother’s wife it is loathsome, with his daughter-in-law it is a perversion), yet with another man is simply a to’evah.
“There is a Midrash that says that homosexuality and bestiality are worse than all the other sexual sins.” “The Sefer haChinuch says that homosexuality is spilling of seed because it has no purpose.” This is a well-known but un-Jewish position, in stark contrast with almost every other Jewish source and not supported by Jewish Law. Jewish sexuality is not just for procreation. One is allowed to have any sexuality with one’s wife that the two of them agree with, also if it cannot lead to having kids.
“The Midrash says: what sealed fate of the Flood was homosexuality and bestiality. G-d is very patient but for this sin He destroyed the whole world.” Actually, G-d is never patient with any sexual immorality (Genesis Rabbah 26). It’s possible there that the problem there was not the sexual equation of men with women but rather of humans with animals.
“One doesn’t say that the Sages were wrong. We say: Nowadays, maybe we need to be more strict.” I agree. I don’t know yet if Rabbi Dweck said that they were wrong. Maybe he meant that he thinks that there were already practicing homosexuals back then, and the Rabbis didn’t know? I would doubt that too.
“Love only comes after one got married. Before, all one feels is lust, infatuation.” The propaganda exactly they give the newly religious. The truth is that if there isn’t already some love before the wedding, big chances are that it won’t get there afterwards either. True love before marriage can be delight to meet this unique person and gratefulness for the chance and honor to team up, to unite and to have one’s life enriched forever by such a fabulous person. Sounds very real, not like impossible, lust or infatuation. When things go well, love deepens over time, but to deny it before marriage is strange and worrisome to me.
“How can Rabbi Dweck say that fathers did not love their sons and men not other men, as love is the core of Judaism?” Still, most fathers are too distant and cold, like it or not, to their sons – especially often failing their homosexual sons – though it’s not clear to me if the latter need more or the former have their homophobia kicking in. Homosexual men propagate that love between men is possible. That has nothing to do with sex. The Rabbi doesn’t know what hit him. “Love is not the issue.” But cruelty is – see my last comments on his lecture – and that is lack of love.
“How can Rabbi Dweck assume that everyone is sinning? Anti-Semites talk like that, our worst enemies.” He does not understand that Rabbi Dweck just wants to say that there are no pious people who do not sin, to get everyone to be more humble. And possibly too that everyone’s sexuality is tainted by rubbish. “Most people who sinned, surely already regret it at night, so how to accuse anyone?” If that’s true, why accuse Rabbi Dweck, who sure repented any unfortunate word uttered?
“You can’t say that no one nowadays is fit to be a chazzan or be counted for a prayer quorum; we have rules for who is and who isn’t. When no one is good enough, one takes the best.” Yes, no one is fit seems an overstatement.
“There is no basis to say that Jews always had a problem with male prostitutes.” Right. For millennia, heterosexual Jews did not seem to have a custom to engage in random homosexuality, so most likely we never had such a thing – different from Gentiles. “Not only the main points but also all the fine points of Jewish Law are one package.” Right. Rabbis Dweck has stressed this point too in the later written additions to his lecture.
“Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed [3:34, as hinted to by Rabbi Lamm in his famous peace], seems to say that Law by necessity can only serve most people, but some exceptional people will inadvertently but inevitably fall between two stools. Yet, this cannot mean that some people simply can’t obey some Commandment, or that obedience then would not be good for them. It could be hard, a bit of a challenge, but it must be good for us. So Maimonides must mean here that sometimes our Jewish options do not look good for us, in out limited vision, but that must be just appearance.”
Now, this is what we should call wishful “thinking.” Present Jewish Law seems to obligate homosexual men to live without sexual partner and sexual actions. It demands from homosexual men until they die: no sex with a man, not with a woman, not by themselves. They should not even hug, sleep, joke or get together with other men innocently. No kids, no family life, but an existence of utter loneliness and isolation. And the Rabbi calls that “only a bit of hardship appearing not to be so good but actually a good life?” That’s a stretch if there ever was one. Especially because most homosexual men have very big hearts, and therefore would be excellent partners and fathers. But the Rabbis say: no, actually it is better for you to stay on your own? To demand of anyone such a “life” sounds pretty uncaring to me. G-d would never do that. But then this cruelness must come from the Rabbis. How can we accuse such refined people as Rabbis of such cruelty? I don’t. The Rabbi here himself says that such a non-life should be taken as the ultimate worthy “good.” If you think that this kind of existence is a bummer and not worth living for, go to a shrink, because you see things very wrongly – such a life is a shower of G-d’s love. Really? How can any slightly intelligent and honest person believe in this utter nonsense and sadism unless talking against one’s own better judgment?
No Rabbi before has ever explained so well that the common gift from Jewish Law to homosexuals must be off. Humbly acknowledging that, would go al long way, would be a good start for the Rabbis turning over a new page.
- Rabbi Abe
The Rabbi begins by discussion mishkav zachor [sic] which means the lying of memory, but no doubt he means mishkav zachar, the Talmudic euphemism for homosexual intercourse. Throughout, he calls Rabbi Dweck whom he disagrees with “someone.”
He stresses the known principle that the “simple meaning” of a Torah text is always the most important. He then declares that idea identical to: the conventional understanding. That is a mistake. Rather, “simple meaning” is the simple meaning as defined by our Sages and Rabbis. To call to’evah abomination has never been the simple meaning. The simple meaning is given by the Sages, with no dissent: that which leads one astray – like it or not: Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 51a. Compare Proverbs 3:32, which also talks about straying from the path being a to’evah. Abomination, in contrast, is popular for generations but comes mainly from the King James Bible – a very fine book but unworthy for Jewish exegesis. Maybe one could find one or two Commentators who translate to’evah as repulsive – but that is not “the simple meaning” or even the common meaning for Jews, and certainly not for generations and even thousands of years. Great rhetoric – total lack of argument.
He first says that there is no difference of opinion about this and then he quotes Rabbenu Yonah as the greatest expert on Hebrew. If he is the greatest expert on Hebrew, then any difference of opinion with others is not important, and if there is no difference of opinion it does not matter who is the greatest expert. And then he’s going to prove this point (why, if there is no dissent and the greatest expert says so?) by showing that in one cherry-picked case out of the 122 places where the Hebrew Bible uses the word to’evah, that there it must mean repulsive. And that is just what Rabbenu Yonah says that to’evah [generally (!)] means, though it clearly means different things in different places. It’s like a murder suspect who says: I didn’t kill him, I didn’t hate him, I didn’t know him and I never met him – doesn’t that sound suspect? Or as Shakespeare put spotting insincere overacting: The lady doth protest too much, methinks (about Hamlet’s mother in Hamlet, Act III, Scene II).
Rashi, our prime Commentator, the King of the simple meaning, explains, basing himself on the Sages (Deuteronomy 14:3, Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 114b, Avodah Zara, 66a, Yalkut Deuteronomy 891) that when food is to’evah, it means unfit because it was prepared in violation of Torah Law. To’evah just means forbidden.
Some suggest that G-d reveals in the Torah His disgust with homosexuality. Yet, it does not say what He feels about it. Rather, it says that it is to’evah; not, for Me this is a to’evah. Moses reveals G-d’s true feelings rather towards the end of the Torah, when he sings that G-d is angered by to’evot (wrong actions) – not disgusted. The Sages teach that G-d is angered by sexual misconduct in general (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a).
The Rabbi totally bypasses that the Torah calls all the forbidden sexual relationships to’evah, and also many other things, which most people today do not consider particularly unnatural or immoral, including wanting to remarry one’s divorced wife after she went with another man already, having sex with a woman who beforehand did not emerge herself, possessing improper scales, weights and measures, witchcraft, idol worship or jealousy. We should assume that the Rabbi knows all of this too, and we should suppose that he’s honest, so how can this be?
It must be that fear to be seen or branded a heretic pushes some people (not just this Rabbi) towards toeing the line where no one can. Any 10-year old can see that the present understanding of Jewish Law about homosexuality does not fit homosexuals, and pretending it could, should and would, wishful “thinking” it its best, only makes fun of Jewish Law, Heaven forbid. Admitting present incompetence and confusion, a little humbleness, instead of playing the devil’s advocate, would go a long way.
He then “explains” that violating Shabbat prohibitions is not repulsive because it concerns “natural” behavior that is just at that time not allowed. Never mind that the Torah calls all the sexual sins to’evah and most of these activities are supposedly “natural.” This is what I believe Germans call hineininterpretieren: to reason is such a way that you get not a logical straightforward simple answer but rather by twisting and turning arriving at exactly the contrived conclusion that from the start you set out to reach.
Now, worst of all, all this discussion about to’evah is largely irrelevant! How so? The Rabbis famously teach us that if something is not kosher we should not say: how gruesome is this bread or meat, but rather: I would like it, but what can I do? My Father in Heaven has forbidden it to me (Torat Kohanim 9:10 on Leviticus 20:26). In this light, Jews should say, homosexual sex appeals to me, but what can I do? It is forbidden to us.
Then the Rabbis quotes Maimonides but translates him wrongly as if it reads there that any form of closeness is forbidden between people that should not have intercourse. Rather, in fact it says that anything that draws people closer to such a sexual deed is forbidden. That is something different.
Lastly, the Rabbis is incensed about the accusation that we do not know sufficiently what is love and could learn some from the Gentiles. However, I did not hear him say one word of warmth, affinity, fondness, affection, let alone love for Jewish homosexuals. His anger here is understandable as the saying goes: if the shoe fits, wear it: he does seem in need to learn being more loving. One of the greatest problems of Orthodox Judaism at the moment is not only the lack of empathy for homosexuals, but the hatred and the anger and the harshness. Homosexuals will find Divine mercy, but who is going to defend the smart people who disgrace Judaism for all to see, and who exhibit with pride and loudness their heartlessness?
- Rabbi Dov Levy
Also this Rabbi repeatedly talks about mishkav zachor and zachur [sic], instead of zachar. Maybe it’s because they all live outside of Israel and Hebrew is still a foreign language to them, Heaven forbid?
“I’m not trying to take a position. I just want to clarify what the issues are and what are those that we should talk about. The upheaval is tragic because Rabbi Dweck is a Sephardic Rabbi who is so charismatic and did a lot of good work and is so needed. His lecture series is very popular and many Rabbi are not out to shut them down, but there are problems.” The calm beginning of the presentation is a relief.
“We should be more open to discuss the issue [of homosexuality], not necessarily in public, with people who have these tendencies, sensitively, not shaming them or treating them as freaks or scary.” A major issue almost completely missing in the reactions so far.
“However, no one said that that is not important, that we should not connect, help and include more.” Still, rejection is default and needs to be proactively contradicted. Silence here automatically means condemnation.
“The upheaval however was about that some people felt that certain principle were breeched in the lecture. After the uneasiness about the lecture, senior Rabbinic Judges of three communities sat with Rabbi Dweck, gave him a serious warning and started listening to his other lectures in the series, which are now all removed from the Spanish-Portuguese website. They found a number of areas that bothered them. I will now present a few examples of a mountain of problematic things that he has said, in ascending severity.”
“1. There seem to be inaccuracies and mistakes where discussing Jewish Law. That is not unusual, everyone makes mistakes, but there seem more mistakes here than normally.” I find the examples not convincing. So many great Rabbis see questions on Jewish Law their own way.
“2. He describes the development of Judaism towards being more humane over time, the Torah being the most cruel text, Heaven forbid. That is not Orthodox Judaism.” That seems right but I don’t know if Rabbi Dweck really meant to say that.
Sorry to point out, and not to embarrass this Rabbi – who I’m sure he is so humble that he will appreciate this – but rather to call attention to something that many great Orthodox learned Jews are too sloppy in. Mind you the irony that this learned gentile Rabbi was criticizing Rabbi Dweck on all kinds of fine points, when he decides to make a Blessing over a drink (33:57-33:59) that should be nine words of Hebrew but is pronounced no more than six at the most, skipping the middle three, leading to three serious sins: saying G-d’s Name for nothing (the third word, violating one of the Ten Commandments), drinking without blessing (stealing (from G-d), the last sin we plead to avoid to sum up all our repentance on Yom Kippur) and others saying Amen (which is a grave violation of a Rabbinic degree if the fifth word [King] was absent from a Blessing, which is the Biblical offense of putting a stumbling block for those listeners who are not careful or knowledgeable enough). I guess the Satan has a great time trying to have us make mistakes while we point out other people’s mistakes.
“3. His clarification after his lecture does not withdraw much and seems full of spin written by a PR firm.” It’s one thing to disagree – it’s quite another thing to accuse someone of insincerity. This Rabbi does not even allow for stubbornness to admit mistakes – it should be incinserity?
“Rabbenu Yonah does translate to’evah as repulsive. Everyone of the Rabbis was quite alarmed when Rabbi Dweck rejected homophobia having its base in the word to’evah. He made that up.” See above. Other than the tree other Rabbis I heard about this, he doesn’t seem to twist and turn to get to his conclusion that to’evah is disgusting. But he doesn’t seem to know all the sources and sounds rather rudely awakened by an idea that he could always have had it wrongly. I don’t think that his alarm is a solid proof that he is right – it only proofs that he’s scared.
“A lack of disgust for homosexuality means a change in Jewish Law.” His is completely wrong in this baseless conclusion. There is no Commandment to be disgusted with it or them – to the contrary as I showed above – and lack of disgust does not breed acceptance of homosexual intercourse at all either.
“4. One can’t say that the development of general acceptance of homosexuality is a fantastic thing. It’s intrinsically bad.” His unspoken assumption is that the essence of homosexuality is sex. He misses that the essence is a love relationship. And love between men is not only intrinsically good – it is obligatory to us Jews.
“5. He puts down other Rabbis constantly. He’s the only one who knows.” This does sound serious. Yet, I know an Orthodox Rabbi who attacks his regular Orthodox colleagues on and on but gets away with it, meaning: he is widely revered (and feared) and not put down. So are Rabbi Dweck’s criticisms provoked by his style rather than his words?
My conclusion: most of what this Rabbis is pointing out as problematic still seems much ado about nothing. He might be truly upset, but why blame Rabbi Dweck for that? He’s angry at the messenger rather than the message. Maybe if I listen to the lecture, I’d be upset too? We’ll see.
In any case, I don’t think that all this energy should be spilled on finding out who is right and who is wrong here. Instead, how about admitting that Jewish Law for homosexuals is a mess and needs work? Now, that would be a worthy cause. Maybe these Rabbis won’t succeed to come up with something worthwhile, but as the great Rabbi Tarfon in Sayings of the Fathers 2:16 already points out: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.
- Rabbi Dweck
Next installment I hope to discuss the actual lecture by Rabbi Dweck – not as reported and not as (mis)heard by others, but (straight) from the horse’s mouth, from the original tape itself. Stay tumed.