Growing 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.
“For LGBT Orthodox Jews, Growth of Social Media Creates a Safe Space Online”
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.
If 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?
Moshe 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.”
Speaking 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.