This was my Shabbat morning sermon this week:
I’m going to concentrate and speak about a very complicated, sensitive and difficult issue: Homosexuality and Judaism. To speak out or to stay shtum.
This little talk has been instigated by one or two friends in the community who have said that we’ve heard so much in the media in the past few weeks about this topic but we haven’t heard enough from our Rabbis.
The Catholic Church has been very forthright in their views on the proposed legislation to allow Gay marriages- It was fascinating to watch the Newsnight Jeremy Paxman interview of Archbishop Vincent Nichols as he defended the traditional interpretation of marriage.
But where has been the response of our Rabbis?
Indeed the JC recently has been full of it. Six weeks ago they ran two stories on their front page knocking the Orthodox position on the matter. One about the Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands; Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag who had made a statement about Homosexuality being an illness and that it could be cured. He was asked to resign by the President of the Community. After a week; peace on both sides was resumed, and he was reinstated to his position.
The other article was about a class in JFS on the topic of homosexuality-where the students were allegedly taught about a group called JONAH which is set up to cure homosexuality. The next week JFS issued a statement saying that JONAH was part of a general discussion and that they were not necessarily promoting that viewpoint.
So why the silence by our rabbis?
There’s been nothing that I know of coming out from the Chief Rabbi’s Office. Although, I must hasten to add that Chief Rabbi Lord Jacobovitz Z’L was never afraid to speak his mind on all of these issues.
So this I think is what is going on in the minds of many Rabbis:
We are cognisant of the admonition from Ethics of the fathers: “Chachamim hizaharu bedivreichem”- Rabbis need to be careful with their words… perhaps people will get the wrong message and we will transmit a faulty set of values to our followers.
It’s very easy to make a statement and to be misinterpreted. Don’t I know, I’ve been misunderstood many times on things that I’ve said or I’ve been reported to have said.
On the other hand I am aware of the Talmudic principle “shtikah kemodeh dami”- If you are silent on an issue then it is as if you agree. So, if you don’t make a stand then people will think that you hold of that particular viewpoint.
And also we have to be mindful of the Biblical injunction “HOCHEACH TOCHIACH ET AMITECHA”- You shall surely admonish- rebuke your friend. In other words if there is something that is going on around you and it is wrong and you don’t say something about it then you become a silent accomplice in the crime. If it’s wrong you’ve got to stand up and be the one to speak out.
So how far do you take that? If you know for example that when it comes to Gay marriages this is part of the sweeping trends, the winds of our times, and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes mainstream, does it help for me to speak out on an issue if I am not going to change anything? Also, do I really want to be involved in a shouting match on a subject which is so obviously against the ethics of Judaism?
In addition, this is something going on in the non Jewish world – does what or how I practice my Judaism in a particularistic way have anything to do with something that is sweeping the world?
It could also be that we are afraid of coming across to the outside world as being homophobic, meaning we hate gays-
My responses are as follows:
There is a Yiddish saying: “Vie es chriedilt sich yiedilst sich”- which means; whatever goes on in the non Jewish world will eventually hit the Jewish world. Indeed it already has. Gay marriages have already been performed in American synagogues and in the UK. Therefore, it becomes not just a challenge to the non Jewish world but to our world as well. It must be that there has to be a Jewish take on this issue.
And never mind the fact that it might not change anything. At least people know where we stand on this matter!!
And we have a duty to be “OR LAGOYIM”- a light to the nations and state very clearly what the Torah says.
We know what the Torah says. Leviticus Chapter 18:22
You shall not lie with a man as with a woman- “ki toevah hi”- for it is toevah. Toevah is translated as abomination.
I looked up abomination to find other words similar to that: I came up with detestation, loathing, revulsion, dislike.
Immediately one might jump to the conclusion that the fact that the Torah uses this word: toevah – abomination means that homosexuality is singled out as this act which is so bad that a person who indulges in it has to be written off – full stop.
However- the word toevah is used in many instances in the Torah.. In regards to Kashrut, eating creepy crawlies, idol worship,even keeping Shabbat, the word Toevah is employed.
Bar Kapparah explains- Tooevah is made up of three words toeh atah bah- you are going astray because of it. Means that in all the instances where the word toevah is used, the prohibition concerned turns you away from Torah, but not that it is specifically singled out as an extra bad one.
It means as follows: in all of the communities in which I have served I have met some people who may have been inclined toward homosexual practices. They didn’t make a big deal about it. They didn’t define their identity as being homosexual- and they did not go about with a big sign on their backs saying what they do. They are accepted people in the community. Yet they might have an inclination to do something against the Torah, it’s like ….eating non Kosher or breaking Shabbat- does that mean I have to write them out of my community? If I did – then I would probably need to write off everybody because we all do things wrong.
So from that perspective we come from a position of tolerance. We understand that we are not perfect. I remember in a former community a particular young man who confided in me that he was a homosexual. I met him recently and he is happily married with his second child on his way- could he have been cured? Or was he really a homosexual to begin with?
However- the problem comes when I try to make kosher that which is treif.
The Torah says in relation to the first man: “Therefore a person will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife-and they shall be of one flesh.”
The default view of marriage in Judaism is the one of a man and a woman living together as husband and wife. We believe that marriage is a Divine institution. We believe that it is a great mitzvah to get married, man and woman, and be together, not just to procreate. But then there is also the additional mitzvah to procreate.
So therefore Homosexual marriage is a misnomer- it can’t be- marriage is Divine.
In the Shema we read – “You shall love the Lord Your G-d with all your heart with all your soul with all your might.”
Our every being should be directed to following His way- His Holy Torah