Sunday, November 27, 2005

Homosexuality and Judaism

UPDATE: See Steg's comments on the distinction between "being homosexual" and engaging in homosexual intercourse. I don't want the point of this post nor the questions I pose to be dismissed because of that distinction, so I changed the post to specifically address dealing with those who engage in homosexual intercourse. Thanks, Steg.

How are we supposed to treat Jewish homosexuals Jewish people who engage in homosexual intercourse?

I suppose the answer to this question will depend on one's view towards homosexuality in Judaism.

I'll leave analysis of the torah view of homosexuality to others like Gil (UPDATE: I didn't have to leave it for Gil because he already dsicussed the issue here, here, here, here and here; thanks, Gil) and the debate about homosexuality to other bloggers from the right and the left. What I want to discuss here is the practical results of the halachic analysis and debate: when all is said and done, what do we do now?

How are we to view those who willfully engage in such activity or alternatively, are genetically disposed towards such proclivities? Do we treat them disdainfully as sinful or do we view them compassionately as ill? Do we shun them and keep them out of our communities and synagogues or do we pity them and welcome them?

If we view homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse as sinners, what is our obligation? Are they worse sinners than those who cheat on their taxes who seem to have carte blanche in Jewish communities when it comes to gaining forgiveness (especially in the Orthodox community where standards should be higher) or do we view homosexuality engaging in homosexual intercourse as a sin involving "moral turpitude" which carries with it a much higher price? We don't have a system in place in our time where we punish violators of halacha. We don't punish cheaters and embezzlers. So should it be our responsibility to "punish" homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse by excluding them from our communities?

If we view them as "sick", do we not have an obligation to help these people? While I am the last person to suggest how to do so, exiling them from our shuls and families certainly can't be the way to go.

What about our children? How do we protect them from the influences of homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse? I would imagine that most people would have some level of discomfort allowing homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse to teach our children in schools. But how far does this go? Do we allow our children to speak to them? Do we invite them for Shabbos meals and have our children get to know them? And how do we explain to our children why it is that we don't allow them to be alone with these individuals?

If you are one who takes a harsher view towards these issues and the treatment of homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse, what do you say to the families of these people? Are they to disown them?

These are tough questions. I don't have the answers but have been looking for some.

31 Comments:

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

How do we protect them from the influences of homosexuals?

?

Sexual preference doesn't catch, dude, it doesn't work that way.

 
At 10:21 AM, Blogger Gil Student said...

http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2004/05/homosexuality-in-halakhah-v.html

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

steg--

so you have no problem with gay teachers? camp counselors? babysitters? little league coaches?

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

Sexual preference doesn't catch, dude, it doesn't work that way.

I refer you to Gil's posts.

Here is a blurb on the issue of "defiant homosexuals"....

"....That is, those who believe that the Torah is wrong for prohibiting homosexuality and try to recruit others to their cause. These people are distorters of Torah, sinners lehakh'is, and are deserving of our condemnation. However, we must be incredibly sensitive not to give the impression that we are condemning the struggling homosexual who truly wishes to follow G-d's word. Nevertheless, I believe that lehakh'is homosexuals are extremely common and are, unfortunately, casting a negative shadow on struggling homosexuals...."

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The Gabbai:

I have no problems with them as long as — just like anyone else — they're upstanding halakha-observant people. Depending on the individual Jewish culture's comfortability with inter-sex interactions, of course. If a school doesn't want to hire a woman to teach boys because of inter-gender impropriety, then maybe they shouldn't hire a homosexual man either.

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I fail to see the relevance of R' Student's posts to my comment. He's discussing the halakhic issues involved in homosexual intercourse (and related issues such as hashhhatat zera‘). I was simply stating that, as is well known, sexual preference is a very hard thing to change, and in many people impossible to change. The chemicals that flow in people's brains are uncontrollable, and hence — unlike action — unlegislatable.

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

as is well known, sexual preference is a very hard thing to change, and in many people impossible to change. The chemicals that flow in people's brains are uncontrollable, and hence — unlike action — unlegislatable.

I agree. So does the science behind it determine how we as Jews should respond? Not worry about a possible influence or the (rare?) "defiant" homosexual? I'm simply exploring the issues. Like I wrote in my post, I don't know how to feel or act.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Ezzie said...

Steg - I'm not so sure you are correct. The more society shows and has other homosexuals, the more younger children/teens may convince themselves that they are gay themselves. Teens sometimes comment that their friend convinced them to "try" it, and now they're not sure what they like better, etc. I'm not sure that they are homosexuals, but they may convince themselves they are.

OTOH, I'm not sure what to say about having one as, say, a teacher. As with any teacher that acts in a way one would not want their children to learn, it seems difficult to have a[n openly] homosexual teacher for one's children in a[n Orthodox] Jewish school. You teach a child that homosexuality is not allowed, but here's their gay teacher.

The best, though not necessarily practical, way would be to work with them to "overcome" their issue - to at the least not act out on it. One homosexual I know receives medication to do just that; however, he sometimes chooses to not take it. In a case where they refuse to stop their wrongful actions, then perhaps being shunned by family is necessary - just as if they were an unrepentant thief.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The Gabbai:

I'm saying that the science behind it shows that there's not much to actually we worried about, influence-wise.

Ezzie:

What you're describing is called bi-curious, people who are [primarily] sexually attracted to the opposite sex but are curious about their own sex, and experiment with it.
What do you mean "the more younger children/teens may convince themselves that they are gay themselves"? What people need to worry about isn't heterosexuals thinking they're gay, but homosexuals thinking they're straight because they're too afraid of the consequences of "coming out the closet". Remember, people don't actually care about the halakha. All the halakha says is "don't do certain acts" — Jewish society, on the other hand, judges and expells its own members solely based on the contents of their brains. And that's terrifying to gay Orthodox Jews who want to keep halakha and remain in the community. After all, they're doing nothing wrong — but that doesn't stop other people from hating them.
Remember. There's a difference between homosexuality — the state of being attracted to one's own sex — and homosexual intercourse. One is perfectly mutar; the other is asur.

 
At 1:00 PM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

Remember. There's a difference between homosexuality — the state of being attracted to one's own sex — and homosexual intercourse. One is perfectly mutar; the other is asur.

Who said (that homosexuality is mutar)?

 
At 1:11 PM, Blogger Ezzie said...

The Gabbai - Then again, who said it's assur?

Steg - Homosexuality vs. intercourse: Granted. I do think that in the discussion here homosexuality was including homosexual intercourse.

However, I would disagree with your previous statement. It is more worrying to have those who are not gay acting out on bi-curiousness (which is assur) than homosexuals not coming out of the closet (muttar). I'm right with you on the problems in contemporary Orthodox society, but that is a very different issue.

I would also be curious as to the frequency of Orthodox Jews whom are gay but do not act upon it. I would think it rare.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

ezzie--if we're basing the distinction on what is in their minds as opposed to how they act, is it muttar for someone to fantasize about thy neighbor's wife all the time as long as thou doesn't act on it--even if the person cannot help buy think of his neighbor's wife?

 
At 1:33 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Remember, don't equate attraction to intercourse, and don't equate attraction to fantasizing.

Ezzie:

I feel that bicuriousity-based homosexual intercourse is a worse violation of the prohibition than intercourse between homosexuals is; real homosexuals have an "excuse" or a "mitigating factor" or a "taava" or whatever you want to call it. People who just try it for kicks have no such excuse.

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Robbie said...

First: Let's use the real term: Sexual Orientation. Preference implies it's a choice, which, it's most definitely not.

Second: A question: What then, do you do with the halakhic Jews who, despite their efforts, realize that they cannot change and simply want to find happiness and love like everyone else?

And some more, but without listing them:

- Take me, for example. I'm an observant, gay Jew who works with kids primarily in educational settings. I've worked (still work) as a camp counselor as well. Many of the kids know, and many of my supervisors have known. It's never been an issue - at least there.

In my view, it's my responsibility to teach that Hashem, as we're taught to believe, created us in His/Her own image, so we're just as justified in our lives. For us, in many cases, it's harder to live a moral and halakhic life while still searching for love (in whatever form Hashem gives us).

I'm not sure that I can honestly argue this halakhically, for me this goes way beyond halakha and goes into the emotional issues. It's much more about creating a fulfilling life and finding love than restricting one of our most innate needs.

That, and, I'd go so far to say - pikuach nefesh. If I didn't come to terms whith who I am, I can guarantee that I wouldn't be here today. I had the alchohol and pills stockpiled and ready to go.

 
At 5:52 PM, Blogger Ezzie said...

Gabbai: There is an issur of lo sachmod; regarding homosexuality, the Torah only restricts the action...

Steg: I feel that bicuriousity-based homosexual intercourse is a worse violation of the prohibition than intercourse between homosexuals is; real homosexuals have an "excuse" or a "mitigating factor" or a "taava" or whatever you want to call it. People who just try it for kicks have no such excuse.

I agree with that.

Robbie: Let's use the real term: Sexual Orientation. Preference implies it's a choice, which, it's most definitely not.

A question: What then, do you do with the halakhic Jews who, despite their efforts, realize that they cannot change and simply want to find happiness and love like everyone else?


I have no clue if it is a preference or not; but if we are looking from a Torah perspective, the implication is that a choice is made. It may be particularly difficult, to the point of near impossibility - much like (sorry, it's not a great example - first thing in my head: ) kleptomania. A person can be a kleptomaniac; they just cannot act out on their urges. The same would apply to a homosexual: It makes for a very crappy life, but from a Torah perspective I would think that is how we'd have to understand it.

Quick note on pikuach nefesh: I don't think that would apply here. Isn't it a subsection of giluy arayos?

 
At 6:10 PM, Blogger Ezzie said...

I also think Gil covered much of this far better than I could.

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger Robbie said...

Ezzie -

Yeah, I'm not sure that I'm able to separate out the Toraic from the Emotional - to me it's such an intertwined issue that to function normally, for now, until I find the answers to justify it from both sides, I have to disregard one or the other.

I understand your comparison - and I think that it may be unfair to ask someone to ignore their natural desires for love and companionship (I use desires, even though I know it has a bad connotation - but that's not what I mean.) simply because the life they're pre-wired for can't be fulfilled in our society.

I think this all leads to a larger question about the Torah itself - one which I'm sure we don't really want to get into here....

 
At 10:16 AM, Blogger DovBear said...

You were doing great until you got here:

What about our children? How do we protect them from the influences of homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse? I would imagine that most people would have some level of discomfort allowing homosexuals those who engage in homosexual intercourse to teach our children in schools. But how far does this go? Do we allow our children to speak to them? Do we invite them for Shabbos meals and have our children get to know them? And how do we explain to our children why it is that we don't allow them to be alone with these individuals?

I really don't understand your haava mina. Do you think children can be recruited into homosexulity? Do you think every gay man is a pedophile? Do you think gay men are unable to go five minutes without discussing sex, and don't know enough to be descreet in front of a child?

Seriously, man.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Habib said...

The chemicals that flow in people's brains are uncontrollable, and hence — unlike action — unlegislatable
Yet Judaism is full of Halachic imperatives in the realm of thought. Look at Rambam's Hilchot D`eot!!

real homosexuals have an "excuse" or a "mitigating factor" or a "taava" or whatever you want to call it.
Are you arguing that people with a definite homosexual attraction are anusim (no pun intended), and not really hayyavim? Or are you arguing something less?

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger Habib said...

(that should be Hilchot De`ot)

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Ramading said...

Yet Judaism is full of Halachic imperatives in the realm of thought. Look at Rambam's Hilchot D`eot!!

You don't see a difference between affirming a dogma as true, and attempting to change drives and feelings built in by nature/nurture into a person's chemo-psycho-biology?

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Habib:

I'm arguing that non-homosexuals who willfully engage in homosexual intercourse 'for kicks' are performing a more serious violation of mishkav zakhar than homosexuals who engage in homosexual intercourse is, since the non-homosexuals have no yeitzer to fight against or give in to; they're just violating the law for the hell of it.

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Ramading said...

We should also be extremely clear what we're discussing here. The single Torah prohibition which applies to homosexual sex acts and falls under the category of "arayot" is anal intercourse between men.

No other act of affection or sex between two people of the same gender is "arayot", and no other is spoken about by the Torah.

If you want to discuss the ideas and psaks of Chazal, that's another issue. It seems like you (The Gabbai) are being driven a little hysterical - you're conflating gays, lesbians, bisexuals, pedophiles, a number of different areas of halacha with different applicabilities and authorities, and many different sex acts under this bogeyman rubric of "homosexuals".

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger Habib said...

You don't see a difference between affirming a dogma as true, and attempting to change drives and feelings built in by nature/nurture into a person's chemo-psycho-biology?
I'm not saying I see no difference; rather, that we can't make a blanket statement that halacha can't legislate attitudes, thoughts and reactions; for it surely does (but I want to avoid a rehash of the Marc Shapiro vs Rambam argument).

I'm arguing that non-homosexuals who willfully engage in homosexual intercourse 'for kicks' are performing a more serious violation of mishkav zakhar than homosexuals who engage in homosexual intercourse is, since the non-homosexuals have no yeitzer to fight against or give in to; they're just violating the law for the hell of it.
I see the point. But the issue is not so much the comparison. I think we have to say that gay people who avoid actual mishkav zachar deserve respect.

 
At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Ramading said...

I think we have to say that gay people who avoid actual mishkav zachar deserve respect.

So are you saying you'd tolerate/respect a lesbian couple as is, and a gay couple who refrains from anal intercourse?

That's pretty far to the left of most Orthodox individuals, no matter how otherwise frum these lesbian and gay Jews may be.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger Habib said...

So are you saying you'd tolerate/respect a lesbian couple as is, and a gay couple who refrains from anal intercourse?
I didn't say that I think it's OK -- but it's certainly a lot better to avoid an issur karet.

Anyway, shouldn't we aim to be tolerant of people (esp ahenu Bet Israel). Doesn't mean we shouldn't want to lead them to shemirat mitzvot.

 
At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Ramading said...

I believe in being nice. Just clarifying your opinion. What if these same-sex couples are complete frum in all other aspects of their lives, but knowing with a certainty they are incapable of living the heterosexual life, and live with a partner of the same sex whom they love, and build a home full of yiddishkeit and raise children who are bnei and bnot torah? Would you feel comfortable telling someone putting in the effort to live a Jewish life (within a community that most likely shuns them) "hey, you know maybe you should actually be a real shomer mitzvot and stop being gay...hashem will like you better"?

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I think we have to say that gay people who avoid actual mishkav zachar deserve respect.

I agree!

 
At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Ken said...

what r u people talking about, wake up and smell the coffee. look at the Times on sunday. THEY ARE GETTING MARRIED! with chupa and all. Most shocking of all I read that Leslie Gore is a lez

 
At 8:03 AM, Blogger The Gabbai said...

ken--

let's say we wake up and smell the coffee. then what? what do we do about orthodox gays?

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Ramading said...

So Ken, I have an easy challenge for you: Explain to me, in halachic language, what same-sex marriage has to do with what we were discussing.

 

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