DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe

gay_marriage_scotusGrowing up in an ultra-Orthodox family in Brooklyn in the 1970s, Moshe struggled with his homosexuality. “I went to yeshiva and there were no gay characters on television,” said Moshe, who asked that we not use his real name. There was no discussion of gay issues at the yeshiva, either, he remembers: Everyone was implicitly taught that the only way to channel their sexuality was to get married—to women, of course. At 22, Moshe did just that, hoping he could “marry the gay away.” “We dated for 12 days,” he recalled. That was in 1994, before the popular advent of the Internet. At the time, Moshe didn’t realize there were other Orthodox men grappling with their sexuality, too.

-Michael Orbach
“For LGBT Orthodox Jews, Growth of Social Media Creates a Safe Space Online”
Tablet Magazine

I would be remiss if I ignored the historic happenings of today. That is, that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down both Prop 8 and a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This is huge. Finally, the “land of the free” is beginning to honestly recognize a neglected portion of its population. We are at a time when 12 states within the nation allow for same sex marriage and more are following suit. (Except for my state, Indiana, with its regressive HJR-6.) The ruling that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional is a step in the right direction for everyone. Hello, 21st century! While the whole thing needs to be scrapped, at least it allows all citizens who are legally married to be recognized at the federal level.

One big reason I left Christianity was its position on LGBT rights. I plan to write more about this in my post about my spiritual journey to Judaism, however I am going to bring it up here because, well, it is a big deal for me.

“Historic Day for America”

I’ve been debating on whether or not to even speak to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that relate to the LGBT community and what has been called “marriage equality.” This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged on the intersection (or collision) between faith and homosexuality but I seem to do so sparingly (which I’m sure is a good thing).

I actually started to blog on the Supreme Court’s decision and it’s impact last week, but finally decided against publishing my comments and, uncharacteristically for me, deleted the entire blog post. However, I subsequently read Michael Orbach’s missive at Tablet and it took the hoopla, liberal marketing spin, and mainstream news media hype out of the equation and presented instead a human face full of human pain.

At least as far as the Torah goes, homosexual acts between two men in the covenant are prohibited (the section I emphasized is important) while Torah seems to be silent on sexual acts between two women (Torah has more to say about prohibiting sex between a man and an animal or between various relatives).

The New Testament relates prohibitions against sexual immorality, but some say it’s up to interpretation to determine if this includes sexual acts between two men or not (but they may not have read 1 Corinthians 6:9 along with other such verses). Given that what we call “morality” in the Bible tends to survive intact between the testaments, I’m willing to accept that if the prohibition of sexual contact between two men under covenant is valid in the Old Testament, it’s valid in the New.

I know what you’re going to say. Eating pork and shellfish is prohibited in the Old Testament of the Children of Israel, but it presents no problem at all for Christians. In addition, more liberal elements of both Christianity and Judaism have chosen to reinterpret and reapply older sections of the Bible to mean now what they didn’t seem to mean previously.

But I always get a creepy feeling when churches and synagogues do this, as if those communities are made up of people who don’t really want to give up “religion” but don’t want to appear contrary to the social imperatives of the 21st century either. The “safe” bet is to turn down the Biblical rhetoric and to rev up political correctness. Then everybody’s happy, right?

I’ve spoken before on the question of just how far we can stretch hermeneutics to accommodate human needs and frankly, human wants and emotions. Any Biblical purest would rein in such hermeneutics considerably, but while I’m conservative, I’m not entirely rigid.

lgbt-safe-zone-jewishIf we must maintain a prohibition against same-sex sex within Christianity and Judaism, let us admit that it is within Christianity and Judaism. We can’t hang our morals around the necks of those people who choose not to join those religious traditions, and having said that, we don’t generally complain about men and women living together and having children without the parents being married, Christians don’t complain about unbelievers who choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday (although many Christians choose to mow their lawns and go shopping on Sunday as well), and observant Jews don’t complain if the goyim choose to enjoy a big, hot, steaming plate of scrimp scampi or devour a (pork) pepperoni, (pork) sausage, and cheese pizza (mixing meat and dairy along the way).

But Christianity and Judaism tend to go out of their way to hold homosexual acts as a special sin that somehow is more “icky” than opposite sex unmarried sex or just about any other sin we can think of.

But what about “Moshe” (not his real name) who is an Orthodox Jew and who has struggled with his homosexuality most of his life?

The Episcopalian church and the Reform synagogue would have no problem with a gay person being in their midst, being openly gay, being in a relationship with another gay person, and worshiping within their communities. Moshe would find a home within Reform Judaism, but Moshe is Orthodox. His life would be a lot easier if he chose a different religious path (or no religious path at all), but as far as I can tell from the article, that is not who he is.

Gays may be celebrating in San Francisco and in Hollywood, but not in Crown Heights (Brooklyn). The Tablet article states that the Internet has provided a semi-safe haven for Orthodox Jews to discuss their homosexuality, but for Moshe, that wasn’t enough.

Surprisingly, the outing wasn’t as bad as Moshe feared. While there was a backlash, it was nowhere near what he had expected. He doesn’t physically live in that community anymore, but he still considers himself Orthodox. When he returns to visit, Moshe said, he’s greeted with kindness and respect. “What ended up happening is I broke the stereotype,” he said. “People started seeing me as Moshe who happens to be gay, not as the homosexuality defining me. … I feel honest. I feel whole. I feel like I’m done hiding who I am.”

I suppose that’s why I’m writing this now. Moshe (who happens to be gay) has a human face. He’s not a monster. He’s not evil (depending on your point of view, I suppose). He’s a person, just like you and I are people.

And Moshe isn’t an anomaly in his environment.

At last count, there are several Orthodox LGBT support groups with an online presence, in addition to Keshet, including Eshel, which was started by a collaborative effort that included Rabbi Steve Greenberg, the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi; the Dina Listserv for Orthodox and formerly Orthodox transsexuals; Tirzah: a community of Frum Queer Women; and Temicha, an online support group for Orthodox Jewish parents of gay children. There are countless blogs, from teens writing about their experiences being openly gay inside a Modern Orthodox environment, and a blog from an openly gay Orthodox man living in the Syrian Jewish community, the melancholy It’s Like Disapproving of Rain blog, to an Orthodox teenager writing about her life with gay parents. A quick search on Facebook with the words “Jewish” and “gay” will lead to several pages, from a gay pride minyan on the Upper West Side to small group called Orthodox Jews Against Homophobia.


One of my sons has two close friends who he’s known from childhood who are gay. I’ve had next door neighbors in my suburban community in southwestern Idaho who are gay. People of faith, like it or not, encounter gay men and women, perhaps every day. We can’t keep treating them as if they are walking, talking sin. We can’t keep treating them as if they are not human beings. We can’t keep treating them as if they weren’t created in the image of God.

We live in a nation of laws. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted a portion of the constitution to mean that within particular contexts, men married to men and women married to women have certain rights. The State of California is very likely to join twelve other states in our union in offering same-sex couples the opportunity to marry under state law. But while gay couples in California start making wedding plans and while the married spouse of a same-sex partner who works for the Federal government is arranging to be put on his or her spouse’s medical insurance plan, what are we planning to do in the church…if anything?

Or should we be planning to do anything at all?

The apostle Paul spent a great deal of his time crisscrossing various portions of the Roman empire, which was a legal structure that permitted or commanded a wide variety of activities that violated his personal and corporate ethical and moral code. Did Paul arrange protests in Rome to demand that the empire change their laws? Did he make homosexual activities between non-believing Romans and Greeks the main focus of his letters or his preaching?

We don’t see any of this. It is true that he focused much of his time on what he saw as immoral actions within the community of faith. I think that’s as far as we get to go as religious people, but having said that, it would mean the Orthodox Jewish community does have rights to hold members of that community to certain behavioral standards, just the same as the church, and just the same a Paul held his churches to the standards he considered right and proper as a disciple of Jesus.

But to the degree that Paul didn’t try to lead a revolution to change the laws of Rome relative to homosexual behavior or anything else, what should we religious people do once the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution to say that the laws of our nation cannot interfere with what are considered rights between two same-sex individuals who want to be legally married?

jewish-traditionMoshe seems to have found a space that he can live inside of and still be an Orthodox Jew. Whether you or I agree with that doesn’t really matter because we aren’t Orthodox Jews (well, I’m not, anyway) and we aren’t in charge of Moshe’s life. If he’s accountable to God, then it is God who will judge, just as God will judge you and me. If being gay is a sin, then God will judge that sin just like the sins of sex between opposite sex couples outside of marriage, theft, murder, tax evasion (another form of theft), cursing at the person who cut us off in traffic last week, and all of the other sinful things that religious and non-religious people do on a more or less daily basis.

I’m not willing to get all worked up because something happened in the U.S. government that I may not personally agree with. If I did, I’d constantly be upset about something (and I know people who are constantly upset and just for that reason). As my wife recently reminded me, I’m pretty good are reading about religion and writing about religion, but truth be told, I could be better at doing religion.

Blogging is like complaining about gay people: it’s easier and safer to do than to actually live a life that is consistent with our high-flying morals. I…all of us, can either curse sinners or live righteously. Which one do you think will matter more to the people around you and to God?

However, I have a few parting thoughts. Although you may think what I am about to say is not specifically related to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the shifting of laws and perceptions as related to the LGBT community in our nation and around the world are sending now and in the future, wide reaching ripples that we should not ignore

I am deeply concerned (if it is true) about the relationship between adult clergy at the Vatican and underage boys. This is an unsubstantiated allegation, but regardless of what the LGBT community may perceive as its “rights,” one of those rights is not to impose its political, social, or sexual imperatives on children. One of its rights is not to compel underage children to have sexual contact with adults, regardless of “orientation.”

coy-mathis-story-transsexualSpeaking of children, while the LGBT community may be celebrating a victory in terms of six-year old Coy Mathis, a child born as a boy but who now lives as a girl (Coy’s parents sued their school district and Coy is now allowed to use the girls restroom at school), I can’t imagine how any sane and responsible licensed clinical psychologist can determine that a child, at age four years (which is when Coy’s parents took Coy to the psychologist), is “transsexual.” I would definitely like to see the clinical research studies and the battery of testing involved that even makes this diagnosis possible.

I am deeply concerned that the adults involved in Coy’s life, that is Coy’s parents and the aforementioned psychologist, are imposing their own personal, social, and political agendas on a child who can not possibly understand the implications of such a decision. I know that adults impose decisions on children all the time “for their own good,” and most of the time, those decisions are necessary for the child’s well-being, but I do not understand how supporting this sort of identity shift on one so young is at all reasonable, responsible, and healthy.

I’m willing to exceed my own stated limits and the limits of the Bible in defense of children. The rights of adults relative to sexuality, lifestyle, and the legal and social bonds of marriage are one thing, but projecting such profound needs, wants, and desires on vulnerable and easily influenced children is quite another story.

And I wish they’d just leave Bert and Ernie out of it.

19 thoughts on “DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe”

  1. First of all, you live in Idaho. Me too!

    Second, this is a great post. There are a few people I went to high school with who have subsequently come out as homosexual, one of whom I only found out about a couple of months ago. For whatever reason, his story suddenly put a face on the issue. Paul’s words “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory” took on a deeper meaning. We all need the same grace for the diversity of expression of sin.

    Personally, I don’t care what the government does regarding marriage. As a pacifist, the government is constantly sanctioning things that are against my convictions. I don’t expect anything else. I think that we would all do well to look to the example of the early church, who don’t seem to have spent their time lobbying their governmental officials, but instead addressed the needs of society by providing for the outcasts and sharing the message of the Gospel with everyone.

  2. Thanks, Marie. I was a little nervous when I saw someone had commented since this sort of topic has a tendency to attract “hate mail.”

    It is true we live in a nation (and a world) that doesn’t map well to our morals and ethics as disciples of Christ. In fact, the only nation that ever existed which did so was ancient Israel, and part of the gospel message assures the Jewish people that Israel will be restored as the nation with laws directly created by God when Messiah returns.

    It is true that we must continue to fight against injustice. Just because, for example, the Bible doesn’t directly command us to oppose child abuse or domestic violence, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do so. That said, we aren’t called as believers to primarily make other people’s marriage choices for them. We are called to live Holy lives ourselves, yes, to encourage others to do the same, but always by example as well as by preaching the good news.

    See ya around, fellow Idahoan. 😉

  3. Is there a ‘sin’ that has hurt our nation with more ramifications than Divorce? And, because the statistic for divorce in the ‘god-fearing world’ is equal to or greater than(depending on which article one reads) that of our secular society not much should be said. One could suggest, and not be out of line, it is time for ‘people of faith’ to clean up their own act. .. Perhaps a law making Divorce illegal until all children reach age 18 should be passed !!

  4. Hey Jim. Hope all is well with you and with your family, since we have not spoken in a while. I’m glad you took the time and the courage to write on this very controversial and potentially divisive topic. In the recent past, I have had numerous conversations with my rabbi concerning this issue. The Torah is pretty clear about this, as HaShem repeats Himself no less than three times, calling a sexual relationship between two men an abomination. Very strong language in Hebrew and in one case, something worthy of death. Saying that this act is worth of death for men but OK for women just doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s just me. Even the NT states that those who practice homosexual relationships (among other immoral acts) will not inherit the Kingdom of G-d. But the problem I get into when having this discussion with my liberal and gay friends is drawing the distinction between the act and the person. I honestly believe G-d loves gay people. He simply hates what they do when they act out their urges and is calling them to repentance. Then, we get into the argument, is it orientation or is it life-style? Are guys and gals born this way or is it more a matter of choice or perhaps a result of being raised in a sexual abusive environment as a child? I can’t provide proof, other than a recent study of twins, where one was gay and the other not, indicating that it’s a matter of environment, not genetics. In any case (either way) repentance means changing our character, not just changing our minds. G-d doesn’t care what we happen to think about sin: He just wants us to stop sinning. So, it’s my humble opinion, if a gay person chooses to follow HaShem in t’shuva (repentance) and commits to remain celibate, he / she will be totally acceptable before G-d and within the congregation of fellow believers. G-d doesn’t hate gays: He makes it crystal clear, He hates the act, not the person.

  5. We live in a day where God’s Holy Word is no longer relevant. Accordingly, every thing is relative. Jesus asked that when He returns would there still be any faith left of the earth.Do we still have the faith to actually believe that God’s Word is truth? My comment will probably be deemed controversial by many. The truth is not hate. God is love.

    1. G-d is a perfect balance between loving kindness and perfect Justice. He cannot tolerate sin, and sin is defined in the NT as “lawlessness” or to paraphrase, sin is the blatant or casual disregard for G-d’s teachings and instructions. We will receive in direct proportion to what we put in.

      1. We all need a savior. We need to blood of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Grace, however, does not give us the right to ignore God’s Word. I take your point.

  6. @Pat: Well said. I’ve read Rabbi Shmuley Boteach make the same comment on numerous occasion within just the same context. I doubt anyone will make divorce illegal, but it used to be a lot harder to get a divorce. I think the laws were originally loosened to make it easier for women in abusive marriages to legally end the relationship, but I agree, marriage is now assumed to be temporary by a lot of people.

  7. @Cliff: I agree that the practical issues regarding why one person is straight and another person is gay are complex and not well (if at all) understood. Why would God create a person to be gay and then ban them from having gay relationships? It doesn’t make sense.

    Either the plain meaning of the Biblical text is wrong, or something is wrong about how we see the LGBT community.

    All that said, I have to return to my point that we religious human beings don’t have the authority to tell the secular world how to live. God will judge the world, but we are in a position where we need to be looking at ourselves and improving our own lives. Yes, we can witness to the secular world including gay people, but anyone we witness to still have to make their own decisions.

    If we live in a nation that makes laws contrary to our morals and values, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The only nation that was a fully functioning theocracy in the history of the world was Israel. When Messiah returns, Israel will be a nation under God again.

  8. @Bolling Bryant: The world became “broken” after the fall of Adam and Eve, so humanity has never been totally receptive to the Word of God from that point in time onward. Even among people of faith, there has been sin (just look at David and Bathsheva).

    Our world seems to be getting worse all the time, but then Paul lived in an era that included the Roman empire, which was also depraved and decadent. If we can take our cue from Paul and his activities within such a culture, then what should our priorities be?

  9. You could even make an argument that Paul’s world was much worse given the prevalence of state sanctioned prostitution and idolatry. I definitely agree with Cliff and separate between the mindset and actions of homosexuality. I honestly fail to see the difference between heterosexual men who are hard wired to appreciate physicality and who often struggle their whole lives to keep themselves pure and a man who struggles with the opposite tendencies.

  10. @James: Speaking of the Apostle Paul, he said: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” 1 Corinthians 5:12

  11. Speaking of the Apostle Paul, he said: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” 1 Corinthians 5:12


  12. You could even make an argument that Paul’s world was much worse given the prevalence of state sanctioned prostitution and idolatry.

    That’s probably true, Sean. Of course, the world has been broken since the fall, so nothing that human beings create in and of themselves is going to be all that good, at least from God’s point of view.

    1. hey Jim, I guess my present struggle is with an old friend who has become very liberal in both his religious view as well as his political view, given the latest supreme court rulings. He is rejoicing. My comment to him was, you can’t re-write the Bible in order to suit your own liberal world view. When we do that, we are saying that G-d did not know what He was talking about and we are wiser and more compassionate, therefore, we have the right to re-interpret the Bible according to how we view His Grace and compassion, while forgetting about His perfect Justice. But when we do that, we venture into idolatry because we put ourselves over the Creator (may it never be). Very dangerous. This fellow, who is a former church pastor, has become a Trojan Horse, as his words are sweet and appealing and have attracted many followers, but lead to destruction. The words of the Master are clear. “Repent, for the Kingdom of G-d is near you.” True repentance is changing one’s character, not just changing one’s mind. Stop sinning, keep Torah, for the Kingdom is not up in the sky in the great by-and-by, but He is right next to us, encouraging us to follow Him and to walk in His ways.

  13. That’s the real problem in our midst, Cliff. When we bend our understanding of the Bible so it “fits” with the prevailing political and social imperatives of modern, western culture, then we’ve lost our focus on the will and Word of God.

    In my “meditation” for today, Removing the Garments of Torah, I take a look at different opinions on Biblical hermeneutics, including Michael Fishbane’s, to examine (very briefly, since whole books have been written on this topic) how reasonable it is for us to reinterpret scripture across time.

    To some degree, we must, otherwise as Fishbane states, the Bible becomes a “dead letter,” hopelessly locked into the pages of ancient history. On the other hand, Fishbane laments whether we can extract the sacredness of scripture from our perspectives on God’s Word to even approximate a “pure product.”

    We may not understand everything that the Bible is telling us, but God had His Word recorded in human language because He wants His commandments to be understood by human beings.

    “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

    Deuteronomy 30:11-14

    We may not be mandated to judge the world by God’s standards but we are certainly commanded to live by them. We love the world and hate God’s mitzvot at our own peril.

  14. If the Hebrew ‘komokha’ means “like yourself,” and loving your neighbor is actually loving someone “similar to yourself,” that is, a frail human being subject to sin, it seems that we see all human beings similarly. Lois Tverberg makes this point in her book “Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus,” using Sirach 28:2-4 as a rabbinic support:

    “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy toward another like himself [komokha], can he then seek pardon for his own sins?”

    I’m glad you wrote on this subject, James, as I am trying to understand this situation with the ayin tovah, that is, with the “good eye,” which, as I understand it, is God’s view of the whole thing. I have known many lesbian and gay folks in my lifetime. I lived and worked in Greenwhich Village for a time and socialized regularly with a group that included many in the LGBT community. I chime in on this because, for me, the frustration comes in when a certain aspect of this issue comes into play: when believers seem to adopt a, shall I say, “overly aggressive” attitude of “us” vs. “them” when in comes to “the world” that they emphasize is “outside of the church.” Of course, there is a difference to be acknowledged between those “set apart” and those not… I speak of an attitude that sometimes emanates from those who are “set apart,” particularly, it seems, toward the LGBT population, which often seems to inspire a very emotionally charged response. While separating the person from the sin, I also work within myself to not denounce the entire world while sequestering myself from the world, sending messages of intolerance, know it or not, out into the world. I look at it this way: How can we hope to retain the respect of outsiders—as, it seems, the first Jerusalem messianic congregation did at its inception—if we are attitudinally unaccepting of the attitude that the Jewish sages seem to support, which is, the “komokha view” of sinners who have not yet been saved?

    This is my outlook today, for now, at least, at the inception of the new legal conditions now in place: perhaps with the democratic-political conditions we now have before us in this nation, we can, as believers, not celebrate as such, but view the new secular rulings AS AN OPPORTUNITY to accept the inevitable from the secular world around us and move with optimism and faith to communicate our position better to this population of human beings who, like us, are in need of salvation. Perhaps, with the legal precedent of ‘legal discrimination’ gone, the perception of discrimination that erects invisible and social walls will gradually dissolve and the pathways of communication will be more open to sharing the Besorat HaGeulah, the tidings of redemption, with those who, like us, need to hear it.

    The Master, Yeshua, as we know, was also criticized for “hanging out” with sinners for the purpose of bringing redemption to those who need it most. Like us. (Luke 5:30)

  15. “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord? If one has no mercy toward another like himself [komokha], can he then seek pardon for his own sins?”

    That brings up a very good point, Dan. Does the LGBT community sin against us (the body of believers) simply because they exist? If a thief doesn’t actually steal from us, does the fact that he exists constitute a sin against us?

    Of course, we can’t always look at situations that way. For example, if citizens in a nation ruled by a dictator are enslaving thousands, should we stand by idly just because we are not being enslaved? Millions died in Hitler’s holocaust while the world, including the vast majority of Christians, did nothing.

    I’m not comparing gay people to dictators and certainly not Hitler (since gay people were victimized during the Holocaust as well), but I am saying that there are times when people of faith must act, even if we are not personally or corporately being sinned against.

    And yet, are we called to point a finger at a gay person and cry “unclean” just because the person is gay? If so, why don’t we do the same thing to other sinners, such as a man and a woman who have sex outside of marriage? Why don’t we point fingers at women who wear mini-skirts? Why don’t we point fingers at prostitutes, at people who cheat on their taxes, on men who view pornographic websites?

    What makes homosexuality such a “special” sin that we have to give it exclusive treatment?

    As I recall, Yeshua hung out with sinners in order to win them to repentance. They were Jewish sinners so, by definition, they were born into the covenant and therefore, already subject to the commandments in Torah.

    Yes, an association with people in the LGBT community is an opportunity, but that same opportunity exists any time we encounter someone outside of the faith. The good news of Messiah is good news for all.

  16. The liberal says One big reason I left Christianity was its position on LGBT rights.” the implication, I guess, being that she left because they Christianity is against homosexual-‘marriage’. But I think in the long-run more people are going to leave because of the churches’ acceptance of it, and because of the churches’ acceptance of rogue sexuality overall (including living together and hooking up and the like). A big reason why I left is that church morality doesn’t affect anyone’s life anymore. I don’t see the point of religion as mythology and ritual without morality. When the person who misses a Wednesday night worship service gets a worse chewing out than the person who goes out clubbing and commits fornication, its time to call it quits and just live a religious life apart from the soiled community.

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