Two Cheers For Orthodox Statement On Homosexuality
Wed, 09/15/2010

A deep Jewish ethical value is not like the piercing, intermittent light of a laser, cutting through hard metals, but it is like the diffuse, continuous light of the sun, warming our planet, a source of energy and life. “God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them…” (Genesis 1:27). In the Jewish tradition, one of the main human values understood to be inherent in this verse is the aspiration of kavod habriyot, variously translated as individual honor or human dignity. According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book, “To Heal a Fractured World,” “Judaism represents a highly distinctive approach to the idea of equality. … A society must ensure equal dignity … to each of its members.”

It follows from this that those members of society who are at its margins have an ethical right to invoke kavod habriyot in order to awaken their society to ensure that they are treated with equal dignity and honor. In turn, Jewish leaders, and the community at large, possess a corresponding obligation to respond to such a request. In many cases, perhaps even most, leaders and others may choose to simply ignore the marginalized group. The felt power of a deep Jewish value like kavod habriyot, however, makes this strategy unlikely to work over the long run. Like the light of the sun, kavod habriyot energizes those on the periphery, as they struggle to gain a degree of respect to which by virtue of their humanity alone they are already entitled.

A timely example of the power of Jewish ethics is the recent give and take between Orthodox Jewish gays and a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis and educators. Last December a panel discussion on the experiences of being gay in the Orthodox community took place at Yeshiva University, attended by about 700 people. Openly gay students and alumni from Yeshiva University took part in the conversation, which was moderated by YU administrators. The focus of the evening was on personal stories and not on Jewish legal issues. It marked the first time that an Orthodox Jewish institution was willing to listen to the unique difficulties faced by gay Orthodox Jews in a public forum.

A little more than a half a year later, a group of about 60 Modern Orthodox rabbis and educators have issued a “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community.” This statement is one of the most tolerant documents towards gays ever published in the Orthodox world. While reiterating the prohibition of homosexual acts, the principles state that Jewish law “does not prohibit orientation or feelings of same-sex attraction, and nothing in the Torah devalues the human beings who struggle with them.” Further, the principles also note that “various homosexual acts” are categorized in Jewish law “with different degrees of severity and opprobrium.”

The principles leave the decision to be open about one’s sexual orientation to the individual and see no prohibition in publicly acknowledging one’s homosexuality. Importantly, the document specifies in clear and unambiguous language that: “Jews with homosexual orientations or same sex-attractions should be welcomed as full members of the synagogue and school community … they should participate and count ritually, be eligible for ritual synagogue honors, and generally be treated in the same fashion … as any other member of the synagogue they join.”

In addition, it is up to each synagogue, together with its rabbi, to determine whether or not “openly practicing homosexuals” should be accepted as members. Synagogue standards must be applied fairly and objectively to all “open violators of halacha.” This last phrase clearly implies that if a synagogue has non-Sabbath observant members it must allow for the possibility of openly practicing homosexuals to become members.

Tellingly, the first paragraph of the document states, “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kavod habriyot).” What emerges from this process is a new understanding of what toleration implies in the Modern Orthodox world. And, while it is clearly something new, it is, in the end, merely a specific application of a piece of ancient wisdom, deeply grounded in the Jewish tradition.

Do these principles go far enough? Or, are the principles themselves subject to additional interpretation? In light of the Jewish call for universal human dignity, it is impossible to answer these kinds of questions with certainty. Nevertheless, I believe that it is the case that kavod habriyot represents even more than a demand for mere toleration.

A society must insure equal dignity to each of its members. With this document, are we there yet? Let us use our moral imagination to feel what it might be like to be taught over and over again that your sexuality is deeply flawed through no fault of your own. Let us imagine what it is like to be told that your community will not recognize or accept the one personal relationship in your life that most defines who you are as a person. Imagine being told that you can be a member of a synagogue as long as there are already members of the synagogue who violate the Torah. Beyond toleration is a pluralism that recognizes that everyone possesses part of a larger truth. Beyond toleration is an acknowledgement by the majority that what it takes as self-evidently true may in fact be wrong.

The last paragraph of the statement of principles introduces three additional Jewish “qualities of being: mercy, modesty and acts of loving-kindness,” qualities that prod us on beyond toleration. This is not meant as a criticism of the statement of principles but rather to see the document not as a still life but as a dynamic set of principles to guide us along on a new path towards new relational modes.

Moses L. Pava is a professor of business ethics at Yeshiva University.
 

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Let us not forget the Torah Reading tomorrow at Mincha: The Torah referers to homosexuality as a "TOAVA" or as an "abomination". Living that type of unnatural & decadent lifestyle is counter and a flagrant violation of Torah Law. That so-called document which was signed by the "left-leaning Modern Orthodox" rabbis" is nothing more than a pathetic act of political correctness. These liberal-left rabbis have done damage by signing that "piece of fluff"; it will cause much confusion & misinterpretation. Its unfortunate that these rabbis had succumbed to the disease called political correctness.

I have already requested from the RCA to put together their version of what a document like this should read. They should have a response more than just that it is a toava. That's cowardly and intellectually dishonest knowing the real issues at hand.

While major metropolitan cities have the luxury of being exclusive in their membership, many modern orthodox and orthodox communities throughout the rest of the countries do not. They have a diverse, ecclectic membership that serves a wide-raning community. There is often an element of kiruv-lite as well involved, that is the community seeks to invite members from the broader Jewish community to experience orthodoxy (shabbat, yom tov, etc.). However, to do that, some institutions allow for non-shomer shabbat men to receive aliyot, etc.

The challenge becomes how do give aliyot to non-shomer shabbat Jews and open/not-open gay Jews. It is often said in halachik sources that Shabbat is like all the other mitzvot. It is often said that not keeping shabbat is akin to being a worshipper of the starts. So much so, that one who does not keep Shabbat cannot be trusted with kashrut supervision. Do I allow such a person to say the brachot for the communal reading of the Torah?

This is the crux of the question!

Yelling Toava in this crowded theatre failes to address the reality of the situation on the ground. Outside of kivoodim, it fails address a group of people that have been been mistreated as human beings for their feelings. Perhaps, we should have such high expectations for the abominations that we call lay and rabbinic leaders in the Orthodox community are constantly found engaging in appropriate relationships with congergational members, children, etc. as well as their inability to stop midhandling money.

The Jewish community has no problem acting with impunity against homosexual people, but don't say a word of lashon harah about that person who committed some "lesser sin". Since when did we know the difference b/w lesser or greater. I have asked Rabbis of the traditional camp this question numerous times to get one answer only, we do not know.

So why, in this case, do we all of a sudden have the chutzpah to be fully in the know???

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