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Sorry, Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Greenberg – Homosexual relations are not permitted by the Torah

A response to Rabbis Riskin and Greenberg: No, the Torah does not permit Homosexual relations
Illustrative: In this 1986 photo, the Ten Commandments are flanked by two lions. (courtesy)
Illustrative: In this 1986 photo, the Ten Commandments are flanked by two lions. (courtesy)

In an interview (in Hebrew) that was sharply criticized even by some rabbis who generally identify with him, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin opined that the Biblical prohibition on homosexual relations only applies to one who voluntarily chooses homosexuality, but that one who considers himself wired as homosexual and feels that he can only experience intimacy with another man is exempt from the prohibition. Rabbi Riskin applied the Talmudic axiom of “ones Rachmana patreh” — that the Torah does not hold one accountable for an involuntary act — as his source for this whopper of a “heter” (halachic leniency).

Rabbi Riskin’s position was celebrated by Rabbi Steven Greenberg, who refers to himself as “the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi”. In a new Times of Israel post entitled Homosexuality and the Human Condition, Rabbi Greenberg quotes Rabbi Riskin’s words from a 1993 Jerusalem Post article:

How can we deny a human being the expression of his physical and psychic being? If there’s a problem with the kettle, blame the manufacturer. Is it not cruel to condemn an individual from doing that which his biological and genetic makeup demand that he do? The traditional Jewish response would be that if indeed the individual is acting out of compulsion, he would not be held culpable for his act.

Other liberal Orthodox rabbis have suggested the same approach as Rabbi Riskin; his idea is not new. But it is fatally flawed and is squarely invalidated by the Talmud itself.

In discussing intimacy under compulsion, the Talmud (Yevamos 53b) states that one who plays an active role in such relations (i.e. the “male role”) is not deemed to be in a state of Ones (involuntary action) and is thus fully subject to the sexual prohibition at hand. This principle is undisputed and is the codified Halacha. (See Maimonides – Hil. Isurei Bi’ah 1:9.)

Hence, Rabbi Riskin and others who invoked “ones Rachmana patreh” to permit homosexual relations are wholly in error and are contradicted by the Talmud and all halachic codes. This important point needs to be made.

Furthermore, how could Rabbi Riskin and others sincerely believe that this gaping-hole exception exists, in light of the fact that it is totally absent from the Talmud, all subsequent halachic codes and all writings of rabbinic commentators? Such a massive exception would surely have appeared in large print, so to say, in the canonical sources of Jewish Law.

Another liberal Orthodox rabbi this week penned Why This Orthodox Rabbi Marched for Pride in Jerusalem, in which he defended his participation in the Holy City’s “Pride Parade”. In an attempt to divorce the homosexual act from the Torah’s classifying it as a To’eivah, an abomination (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), this rabbi quoted one of the homiletic interpretations of the Talmud (Nedarim 51a), which explains that the Hebrew word “To’eivah” signifies “to’eh atah bah” – “you are going astray with it (the act of homosexual intimacy)”. It is crystal clear from the Mefarshim (Commentators), and from a reading of the Talmudic passage itself, that the homiletic play on words does not at all replace the Torah’s branding of the homosexual act as an abomination, but that it rather comes to provide additional insight.

Several other liberal Orthodox rabbis likewise endorsed and/or marched in the recent gay pride parade; please see here and here. These rabbis are all members of Torat Chayim, the Open Orthodox clergy organization (Facebook page), and most of them are connected to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT – the Open Orthodox rabbinical school), either as members of its Advisory Board, as lecturers at its programs, or as graduates.

The balance between unapologetically standing up for the Torah’s position on homosexual acts while at the same time embracing the Torah’s mandate of compassion is beautifully captured by Rav Aharon Feldman in his famous letter about homosexuality; please click on the link and read the letter. Please also see Rav Feldman’s comprehensive analysis in his article, The Torah View of Homosexuality.

Continuing along its trajectory of attempting to impose the values of secular society onto the values of the Torah, liberal Orthodox/Open Orthodox clergy has sadly blown away a major section of the fence of Halacha by effectively canceling the Torah’s prohibition on the homosexual act and the Torah’s value statement thereon. Open Orthodox leadership has already lobbied for legalizing gay marriage, and has suggested that sensual gay acts other than intercourse, and marital unions that do not use the word “marriage”, may be acceptable (in contravention of Halacha and Torah values). This latest development of actually permitting homosexual intercourse was predictably the next major breach.

It’s time to say to Open Orthodoxy, “to’eh atah bah” – you have gone astray and should seek to return. Torah values must be derived from the Torah and not from secular society; Torah observance must come from an objective commitment to the halachic codes and their traditional interpretation rather than from creative suggestions that contradict Halacha; Torah life must be one of surrender to the Will of God and not to the will of man.

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar.
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