Rabbi Spolter on the “Statement of Principles”
Recently a petition called the “Statement of Principles” has gone around the Orthodox Jewish community about the status of homosexual members of Jewish congregations. The petition makes a number of good points. For instance, it reaffirms the obligation to treat one’s fellow with dignity and respect. It also reaffirms the impossibility of marriage redefinition according to Jewish Law.
Rabbi Reuven Spolter responds to that petition. He correctly points to some of the flaws in its reasoning.
First and foremost, I agree with the vast majority of the statement. I take issue with some of the language in the section about the children of openly gay couples which states that,
…communities should display sensitivity, acceptance and full embrace of the adopted or biological children of homosexually active Jews in the synagogue and school setting.
Of course the children did not make their parents’ choices. But how does a shul “fully embrace” a child while at the same time rejecting that child’s parents’ relationship? What is the rabbi supposed to say at the Bat Mitzvah? Does he acknowledge the parents (and laud them for their chessed, kindness, activism, what have you – common rabbinic practice), and indirectly project an approval for their family structure? (You could argue with that assumption of indirect approval, but I feel it would be there. You could also argue that we do precisely the same thing for parents who are not Shomer Shabbat. Fair point, but I see a difference.) I am not comfortable with the language in the statement, and probably would not have signed it for that reason alone. Or maybe they would have softened it if I had asked. Who knows?
One point the Rabbi does not mention is this: What happens when children ask why their schoolmate has two mommies? Don’t children in our communities deserve to have their innocence left intact? Why should parents have to explain the relevant information to young children? I’m not saying that the objection I have pointed out is enough to discredit the petition. Nor am I saying that such people should necessarily be excluded from a Jewish community. But I am saying that it is a problem. And it’s a problem that may have some unintended negative consequences. It cannot be brushed away with wishful thinking or the normal tactics of intimidation and cries of “HOMOPHOBIA!”
Rabbi Spolter points out still more problems:
Yet, I won’t sign the statement for a more nuanced reason: I don’t want to single out homosexual people at all. We live in a culture where a person’s homosexuality is, by definition, a defining attribute of their identity. Every gay person, Western Culture says, should “Come out of the closet” and express their sexual identity with pride. Torah Judaism obviously sees things differently, and views homosexual tendencies as a spiritual challenge that one must struggle to overcome. That being the case, a paragraph like this troubles me.
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.
Mima Nafshach [either way]: If a Jew keeps his or her sexual orientation private, then she or he should of course be welcomed as a full member of the community. Who doesn’t struggle to overcome sinful inclinations, be they the desire to surf porn on the internet or cheat on one’s taxes? That’s why we come to shul. But if a Jew has declared that lifestyle to be part of their identity, then they also insist that the community embrace their unacceptable behavior as part of the communal norm. That I cannot accept.
The statement bothers me because the very notion of singling out people with homosexual tendencies and their place in the community highlights the very thing that I feel is no one’s business but their own. I (community member) don’t want to know. I should not know, and should ask the single man to daven for the amud, lein, give shiurim, and live a full and productive life. I don’t want to treat him as a “male with homosexual tendencies.” I want to relate to him like a fellow Jew. To do that requires that he keep his personal struggles, as strong as they are, private.
Note here: I am not speaking as his rabbi. If he seeks spiritual guidance, he should turn to the rabbi who can offer counsel, advice, and listen to his pain. He might tell his parents, so that they don’t nudge him about getting married. But the private should remain so, and must not become an aspect of a person’s public persona, especially in the context of a Torah community.
This is where we digress from today’s popular culture. It was once acceptable to promote a policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” (That’s pretty much what I’m advocating.) But gays in broader society wonder, justifiably so, why they should hide a core component of what they view as their identity. It’s a fair question.
But Judaism cannot view homosexual tendencies in this way. It absolutely prohibits homosexual behavior, and demands that we fight to overcome those tendencies. It can never view these inclinations as a core aspect of one’s identity. So to release a statement of principles which seems to counter this attitude is, in my view, counterproductive.
Rabbi Spolter is also rightly worried that the petition will cause a schism in the ranks of Modern Orthodox Jews.
There is another, more sinister element to the list. It will now create a split in the Orthodox community between those who signed, and those who will not, for whatever reason. “Why did Rabbi So-and-So sign? Why did Rabbi Such-and-Such not sign? What if I was still in the pulpit but did not want to sign the statement for the reasons I outlined above? What would a congregant struggling with homosexuality think of me? Am I now “against” him – despite the fact that I’ve been very public about how we should respect and admire people who struggle with homosexuality (link). The very appearance of this list, while well-meaning, will undoubtedly cause rifts between community members within communities and between rabbis and their congregants.
Is it worth it?
I really don’t know.
What I wonder is this: Is it a coincidence that this Statement was issued nowadays? Why was it not issued, say, right after the Stonewall Riots? Or, for that matter, why was it not encoded in the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative Code of Jewish Law? Surely it was as relevant then as it is now. Isn’t it?
The reason, I would guess, is because of politics. Gay rights groups have achieved unbelievable levels of success in the past few decades. The appetite of the radicals has grown with the feeding.
In the comments section of this blog, I have often had the displeasure of reading histrionic nonsense about the “dehumanization” of gays and the relegation of gay people to the status of “second class citizens” for the refusal of most states to comply with their latest demand: the conferral of the term “marriage” upon certain of their unions. If such a minor slight can be met with such overwhelmingly inappropriate vitriol, one is left to wonder what their next demand will be once the current demands are met. I am certain the demands to follow will be yet more onerous on our religious institutions.
None of this is to say that gay people, as individuals, are implacable enemies of all that is good and holy. Far from it. However, I have no doubt that the political Left, entirely hostile to traditional religion, has been using and will continue to use gay people as a baton to beat religious groups into submission. It is these Lefty groups who continuously whisper into the ear of our young people that they have been horribly mistreated by the powers that be.
Lest you think this is an example of paranoia, Google, (gee, let’s pick a one name among many) how about “Herbert Marcuse.” Get back to me on whether you think I’m being paranoid after reading some of his writings.
It’s hard to say what I would advise any group of rabbis as to what to do on this issue. There is a fine line to be walked between treating individuals with the appropriate kindness and compassion and opening the doors of our synagogues to corruption.