When “Inclusion” Equals Exclusion – of the Torah

Pushing away Jewish children from Torah tradition is one of the worst things a person can do. Regardless of the child’s background, every effort should be made to include the child in the Mesorah, the heritage of Torah.

Sadly, this concept is misapplied in Rabbi Hayim Leiter’s An unconventional covenant, in which Rabbi Leiter, representing and with the endorsement of the Torat Chayim “progressive Orthodox clergy” organization, sings the praises of homosexual couples’ commitment to Torah tradition in the course of explaining why he performs Bris Milah for the male children of such unions.

Don’t get me wrong – every single Jewish boy should receive a kosher Bris Milah and should not be penalized for the acts of his parents or guardians – but we dare not conflate this holy responsibility with the path taken by the child’s parents or guardians.

Rabbi Leiter writes:

You see, a good number of my last Britot were for same-sex couples who wanted no more than to give their baby boys Britot on the eighth day… The women I’ve worked with have not only desired to be part of the tradition, but they have requested that the text of the naming ceremony be amended to better reflect their family arrangements. They wanted the text of the ceremony to have no mention of ‘fathers’ because their sons do not have one. These behaviors show me that the Jewish LGBT community is not forsaking anything. In fact, it shows me that they want to be active members of the wider Jewish community, provided that we don’t reject them.

When we view how each community relates to Jewish tradition, it varies across the board. And to each his (or her) own. Thankfully there is a group of Orthodox rabbis working tirelessly on progressive issues from a traditional framework. Torat Chayim consists of over 250 rabbinic figures from all over the globe, committed to forwarding many liberal issues, among them, being inclusive to the LGBT and other communities. And inclusion is the key.

To square the idea of openly conducting a lifestyle and structuring a home in a manner that the Torah condemns in quite harsh terms with the idea of “not forsaking anything” in the Torah is quite a stretch; I don’t think that the greatest of logicians could explain it. And how one can accept and laud the emendation of a sacred text so as to include that which Halacha considers to be a desecration is equally challenging to the mind.

While there is an imperative to draw every Jew near to his tradition, there is a proscription to distort that tradition or compromise it.

Two weeks ago, we read (yet again) about a specific congregation claiming to be Orthodox and openly welcoming to homosexual couples. Some other congregations which identify as progressive Orthodox have likewise been classified as “gay-friendly synagogues”. These congregations, led by Torat Chayim clergy, are unlike most Orthodox shuls, which will give a man an aliyah or another honor without looking into his private level of Torah observance; on the contrary, these congregations seek to openly recognize and respect conspicuous homosexual identification, be it in the form of granting family memberships to homosexual couples, or allowing a biological male who identifies as a female to consider sitting in the women’s section of the shul, or other non-traditional practices. To quote the rabbi of one of these congregations:

I can’t wrap my head around a refusal to wish a mazal tov to a gay or lesbian couple following a same-sex commitment ceremony.

There are many things that we cannot naturally wrap our heads around, be it rejection of intermarriage between two sincere and loving people, be it some of the Torah’s commandments which challenge contemporary values and sensitivities, or be it the God-granted Jewish right to the Land of Israel, when other people seem to lay prior claim to it and declare that they are occupied and are the real prisoners of Zion.

God is aware of this all, as was He aware of Abraham’s intense love for his son, whom He commanded to subject to the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac), and as was He aware of the immense sense of anxiety of our ancestors as they stood at the banks of the Sea of Reeds, about to be killed after having fled Egypt, yet were now commanded to plunge into the Sea, which would thereupon miraculously dry in an instant. As uncomfortable as it may seem, the Jew is bidden to go against the grain, to defy the perceived norm, and to be the countercultural individual in fulfillment of God’s Will.

Reforming or tempering our values – the values of the Torah – to conform with the values of modern society is in truth an abandonment of the Torah. Let us strive to draw every Jew close to the Torah, but to make sure that it is the authentic, original Torah to which we are drawing close our brothers and sisters, rather than something else, for our attempts at inclusion of others can very well thereby turn out to be acts of exclusion – of the Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
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