Friday, April 25, 2008

"And you shall teach your children on that day, saying..."

The last days of Pesach are rapidly approaching as I am sitting in Jerusalem with my family. We have spent the entire Pesach together. This is the first time that we are all together since my son announced to us that he is gay.

We spent a meaningful Seder together with another family. For this first time in many years I was a guest at another person's Seder rather than being the leader of the Seder. This allowed me the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the Seder, and the questions that are posed to all the generations present at the Seder. It also allowed me time to think about freedom, not only the freedom from slavery, but some of the personal freedoms we work towards in our daily lives.

There are no answers. There are only questions. The answers change from year to year and from generation to generation.

Before my daughter left her yeshiva for Pesach vacation she was handed a note from her madrichot. It read as follows.....

On Pesach we go out on a journey to find freedom. Not only the traditional general exodus from Egypt but our own personal exodus. In the searching for our personal freedom we must choose to leave the known and familiar - for something better and new. In one way or another we are all still slaves. We each have something we are enslaved to. Something that tells us what to do, what to think, how to feel. Only once we know what that thing is, only if we can define it, then we will be able to overcome it.

On a personal level, I started writing this blog a short while after my son told us he is gay. I felt it was necessary to start a dialogue with other parents who were finding themselves in the same situation. In setting this blog in motion I also set up an anonymous email address so that people who did not want to share their stories with everyone, could communicate with me personally. I have stressed many times that I am not a professional, just an ordinary father navigating uncharted waters.

I have been a little disappointed in the response and I have even considered shutting down the blog.

But maybe some good will come from this.

A few weeks ago, a young man started to email me. We discussed my son, how I felt as a parent and how I was able to handle and cope with the news. He was struggling with telling his parents. He had been finding the Chagim to be a trying time for him and he was searching for help in sharing his sexual orientation with his parents.

We had numerous emails back and forth and many hours spent chatting on IM. I left for Israel and wished him luck. I received an email from him yesterday telling me that he shared his news with his parents. A few minutes later I received an email from his mother thanking me for helping her son.

From slavery to freedom.

Saul David

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right - by Brad Hirschfield

I recently received a book from a friend. The title is YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE WRONG FOR ME TO BE RIGHT, by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield. As I usually do when I read non-fiction, I turned to the index to see if the author writes anything about homosexuality. Please read some excerpts from the book.......

Here's another example of two competing truths. There's truth to the gay person's experience of opening the Bible and reading, near the beginning of the Book of Genesis, God's words, "It is not good for man to be alone." The Bible is telling us that loneliness, for most of us at least, is an unacceptable state. We could go even further and say the Bible is telling us that loneliness is a sin. It violates the story's fundamental understanding of what it means to be human, even to be a man. We are created to be in relationship, and that fact is taught before there's any discussion of whom we are to be in relationship with. The need for relationship is so fundamental that it supersedes all else. Before we knew that Leviticus believed it was a sin for a man to enter into a sexual relationship with another man, we learned that it was a sin to be lonely, so big a sin that God reordered creation to overcome it.

If loneliness is a sin, how can some of my fellow rabbis tell a gay man who is in a loving relationship with another man that what he's doing is wrong? Well, they can, and often do, point to Leviticus, where homosexuality is prohibited. The Leviticus prohibition is based on the truth that the ideal state of human relations is for people of different sexes to come together and build families. Leviticus is very clear about telling us how life should be lived so that we maintain order and things fit together in their right and expected places.

Leviticus is also concerned about the ways in which people coming together will lead to the possibility of their making more people. It is more concerned with the role that people play in being like God (creating human life), while Genesis is focused less on being like God and more on feeling like God (having a new creation to keep from being lonely). Leviticus plays out the possibility that we humans can act like God in creating new life and organizing it on the planet. Genesis seems more interested, at that moment anyhow, in our ability to feel like God, to look around and sense the incompleteness of things and yearn for someone with which to connect.

Leviticus understands sacredness as a function of things being in their rightful places, not of how individual people feel about where things are being placed. It's the difference between the classically trained French chef, for whom everything must be done according to plan because following that plan assures the best product, and the short-order cook who knows that as long as the customers are happy, it really doesn't matter if everything was done according to what she learned at cooking school.

While it's easy to be impressed with the chef, most people are more at ease with the cook because they know that in his own way he is genuinely concerned with making a meal that is right for them. The chef can always hide behind the rules, even if the customer hates the food. After all, he will reason, it's been prepared according to the rules, so it must be the customer's problem. We need both the cook and the chef, and I suspect that's also true of the insights of Genesis and Leviticus.

Some people will say that using Genesis to justify homosexuality is obscene, while others despise the so-called truth of Leviticus. But, like the two cooks, each possess wisdom.

Perhaps we need to stop pretending that there are positions that will satisfy everyone and get used to simply doing our best while admitting the price of the position that we have taken.

As we approach next week's reading in Vayikra, I think that Rabbi Hirschfield's comments may be quite appropriate.

Thank you.

Saul David

PS. Rabbi Hirschfield can be reached at