Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities..."The Declaration of the Rights of Man" 1789.

While I commend the rabbis who signed the Statement for doing so, the more I read the statement, the more I have problems with it.

Bear in mind that my perspective is as a parent of a child who is gay.

Allow me to break it down.......

We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community:

1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.

This is a fine preamble along the lines of the Declaration of Independence and The Declaration of the Rights of Man, both composed in the late 1700s. It is always good to begin a statement in broad, glowing terms.

2. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to our obligation to treat human beings with same-sex attractions and orientations with dignity and respect.

I question why this had to be inserted at all, but it becomes more clear a few points later on.

3. Halakhah sees heterosexual marriage as the ideal model and sole legitimate outlet for human sexual expression. The sensitivity and understanding we properly express for human beings with other sexual orientations does not diminish our commitment to that principle.

With this point, the rabbis are making it clear exactly where they stand.

4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition. While halakha categorizes various homosexual acts with different degrees of severity and opprobrium, including toeivah, this does not in any way imply that lesser acts are permitted. But it is critical to emphasize that halakha only prohibits homosexual acts; it does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them. (We do not here address the issue of hirhurei aveirah, a halakhic category that goes beyond mere feelings and applies to all forms of sexuality and requires precise halakhic definition.)

Once again the question of whether or not sexual orientation is genetic is raised again.

Back in January, NoPeanuts made the following comment:

The thing that these Rosh Yeshivahs, particularly Twersky keep talking about is that the issues surrounding homosexuality, particularly its origins and transitionality are an ongoing debate in the medical community, very much up in the air.

I have never heard this from a certified healthcare professional.

5. Whatever the origin or cause of homosexual orientation, many individuals believe that for most people this orientation cannot be changed. Others believe that for most people it is a matter of free will. Similarly, while some mental health professionals and rabbis in the community strongly believe in the efficacy of “change therapies”, most of the mental health community, many rabbis, and most people with a homosexual orientation feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.

We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject
therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.

Again, the issue is raised. But this time there is a discussion of the "efficacy" of "change therapies". In spite of the affirmation that homosexuals have a "right" to reject "therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous". This is not an unequivocal statement. This affirmation does not recognize the declaration made by the American Psychiatric Association that reparative therapy does not work.

There seems to be "a reasonable doubt" casting a shadow over this statement. There is a disproportionate amount of discussion around genetic causes and choice.

6. Jews with a homosexual orientation who live in the Orthodox community confront serious emotional, communal and psychological challenges that cause them and their families great pain and suffering. For example, homosexual orientation may greatly increase the risk of suicide among teenagers in our community. Rabbis and communities need to be sensitive and empathetic to that reality. Rabbis and mental health professionals must provide responsible and ethical assistance to congregants and clients dealing with those human challenges.

Thank you for that.

7. Jews struggling to live their lives in accordance with halakhic values need and deserve our support. Accordingly, we believe that the decision as to whether to be open about one's sexual orientation should be left to such individuals, who should consider their own needs and those of the community. We are opposed on ethical and moral grounds to both the “outing” of individuals who want to remain private and to coercing those who desire to be open about their orientation to keep it hidden.

Again, thank you for this point.

8. Accordingly, Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community. As appropriate with regard to gender and lineage, they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion and under the same halakhic and hashkafic framework as any other member of the synagogue they join. Conversely, they must accept and fulfill all the responsibilities of such membership, including those generated by communal norms or broad Jewish principles that go beyond formal halakhah.

We do not here address what synagogues should do about accepting members
who are openly practicing homosexuals and/or living with a same-sex partner.
Each synagogue together with its rabbi must establish its own standard with
regard to membership for open violators of halakha.
Those standards should be applied fairly and objectively.

I can live with this point.

9. Halakha articulates very exacting criteria and standards of eligibility for particular religious offices, such as officially appointed cantor during the year or baal tefillah on the High Holidays. Among the most important of those criteria is that the entire congregation must be fully comfortable with having that person serve as its representative. This legitimately prevents even the most admirable individuals, who are otherwise perfectly fit halakhically, from serving in those roles. It is the responsibility of the lay and rabbinic leadership in each individual community to determine eligibility for those offices in line with those principles, the importance of maintaining communal harmony, and the unique context of its community culture.

It goes without saying that any baal tefillah should live up to a high standard. However, there is a political reality to every organization and this usually manifests itself in that any minority, including a sexual minority, will more often than not, not find a place there.

10. Jews with a homosexual orientation or same sex attraction, even if they engage in same sex interactions, should be encouraged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability. All Jews are challenged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability, and the attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.

The "all or nothing" attitude does not stem from the homosexual but it comes as a result of his or her rejection from the Orthodox Jewish community.

11. Halakhic Judaism cannot give its blessing and imprimatur to Jewish religious
same-sex commitment ceremonies and weddings, and halakhic values proscribe individuals and communities from encouraging practices that grant religious legitimacy to gay marriage and couplehood. But communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting, and we encourage parents and family of homosexually partnered Jews to make every effort to maintain harmonious family relations and connections.

This sounds like the statement is advocating celibacy and a life without intimacy.

12. Jews who have an exclusively homosexual orientation should, under most circumstances, not be encouraged to marry someone of the other gender, as
this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined
lives. They should be directed to contribute to Jewish and general society in
other meaningful ways. Any such person who is planning to marry someone of
the opposite gender is halakhically and ethically required to fully inform their
potential spouse of their sexual orientation.

This is the one case where a person should be "outed" to protect the other party.

To sum up, in spite of their best efforts, this statement is lacking.

At first glance, I liked the statement and I was glad it was written, but after a second reading, I had issues with it. It loses its lustre and it does not go far enough. Had it been written as soon as possible after the symposium and after the nasty remarks by the Rabbeim, then it would have had more of a meaning and more of an impact.

By the third reading it seems apologetic and uncertain.

It is clear that they have not come to terms with the fact that homosexuality is not a choice.

More to come....

Be well.

Saul David

1 comment:

DB said...

This sounds like the statement is advocating celibacy and a life without intimacy.

What is wrong with this?