The problem with discussing homosexuality from a Jewish perspective is that firstly people’s emotions quickly stifle any rational debate, and secondly that it is impossible to reconcile textual edicts with free choice.
I was asked today what I thought about having a Jewish float (“Jews for Pride”) in the annual pride parade that will be held in a few weeks time in Northbridge. Following in the footsteps of Sydney and Melbourne, it appears there is now an active group in Perth that advocate for Jewish community support of gay rights.
As it happens, I have no problem with gay rights. But I do have a problem with Jewish community level representation that publically “celebrates” a gay lifestyle and displays this on the float of a Mardi Gras.
All aspects of sexuality within Judaism are very intimate and private. Observant Jewish people prescribe for themselves strong standards of modesty in a public setting, so as not to disturb the sanctity and intimacy of their sexual relationship. Jewish heterosexuals that prescribe to the laws of taharat mispacha, (ritual family purity that separates a husband from his wife for a week following the conclusion of the menstrual cycle) keep their status well guarded, as part of the marital relationship. They don’t “flaunt” their sexuality, or hint as to when they are or are not sexually active as a matter of public discussion.
So too, it is wrong for Jewish people to flaunt their sexuality with respect to sexual orientation.
There is no question that Torah law explicitly forbids homosexual relationships, and that from a halachic perspective homosexuality cannot be sanctioned. However, as with all considerations in our pluralistic world, the way in which we relate to the issue is not as clear cut. We cannot ignore that some people have homosexual desires, or carry on without being empathetic towards Jewish homosexuals. There are people who have very strong individual challenges, who find themselves mentally conditioned (as is often claimed, through no fault of their own) towards tension between their quest for spirituality and their quest for sexual gratification.
I have personally had to counsel a friend in this position, and her dilemma was very real. My approach was not to attempt to reconcile her lesbian relationship with a Torah lifestyle, or to pretend that the two can be compatible. Halachically and contextually they are at odds and cannot co-exist. However that is no excuse to be homophobic. Inclusiveness and tolerance of people’s differences is a virtue that can be espoused by the Jewish community without fear or shame. This is the approach that we took, and it worked, at least for the person concerned. Within the community some were open minded and some were not mature enough to move beyond their personal prejudice.
This all occurred a long time ago. Around that time an Orthodox perspective on the topic was published by Rabbi David Sedley, in the UK Jewish Chronicle. Rabbi Sedley was a congregational Rabbi in Leeds at the time, and the article caused a great stir within the Jewish community. In the article, Rabbi Sedley called for Jews to be more open-minded towards homosexuals and accepting of the personal dilemmas of people.
He explored the halachic perspective and focussed on the distinction between same-sex relationships are not consummated and those that are. He writes in the article that “We can acknowledge homosexuality and same-sex relationships without accepting these as Jewish values. Surely we would do better to encourage stability and long-term commitment than to force people to live a lie…. So I call on everyone to be more open-minded….. We must reach out to every Jew in our community and train ourselves to see only that which is positive and good in one another. Let us recognise that homophobia is as destructive as any hatred based on religious or ethnic differences”. He also noted that “we must, above all else, be tolerant. It was hatred that destroyed the Second Temple; and intolerance of others is the reason we are still in exile”.
A person’s sexual tendencies and orientation is a deeply personal matter. It is innate and essential to one’s self, and sensual between a person and the partner to whom they are attracted. It is not my business, or anybody else’s business as to what a person does within the privacy of their own home, so long as they are not harming other people. In a public context, Judaism espouses the values of the family home, defined as (and only able to function as) a heterosexual domain that has a focus on education, Torah prescribed morality, and of holiness. Therefore, in the same public context it is hypocritical and wrong at a communal level for Jewish people to sanction, far worse promote, a GLTB lifestyle as a cause for celebration.
There are a number of Jewish people, for reasons of their own choosing, do not keep many Jewish laws. They do not keep kosher, or do not keep Shabbat. Those Jews are not shunned or ostracised from the Synagogue on the basis of their non-observance. So too, Jews who do not hold to the Torah laws of sexual conduct should not be discriminated on the basis of who they are, or what observances they practice. The challenges that these people have sometimes lead them to gut wenching decisions regarding their future relationships with their partners, friends, family and community. Heterosexual people will naturally struggle to relate to this difficulty as most do not reach a point in their lives when they discover that they need to deal with their interpersonal relationships with people they care about as an ethical dilemma.
There is no achievement in participating in a pride parade under a Jewish flag, in as much as there is no value in lobbying for Orthodox Judaism to sanction same sex marriage, or endorse homosexual relationships. This stands against the Jewish ideal, and will not find Rabbinic sanction. But the Jewish ideal is exactly that – it is what we strive towards. For some people that journey is far more complicated and involved than it is for others.
I appeal to those people posting comments to this article to be respectful. Posters will not agree on many views expressed, and passions can become inflamed. There are many resources and discussions on the web regarding Jewish orthodoxy and homosexuality. Jofa is one example.
To conclude, my view is that I am against Jewish communal representation at the gay pride parade. Jewish communities need not discriminate against homosexual people, but it needs to be acknowledged that Judaism does not tolerate a homosexual lifestyle within its remit. To pretend or represent otherwise is patently false, and brings discredit to the Jewish community as a whole.