The recently released Statement of Principles concerning homosexuals within the Orthodox community has gotten a great deal of notice, both here and in Israel.
The document was authored primarily by my dear friend Rabbi Nathanial Helfgot, and I am honored to be one of the dozens and dozens of signatories.
The document is significant – historic really – for a variety of reasons. Some are obvious; others less so. Here are two of the latter:
(1) The document repeatedly acknowledges the very real possibility that homosexual orientation is genetically based and is not subject to change. While this is not really news to most of us, its explicit articulation in a document authored by Orthodox rabbis is paradigm-shifting. The true deep cause of Orthodoxy’s decades-long unintelligible stammering about homosexuality is the conundrum presented by the possibility that God is responsible both for homosexual orientation and for prohibiting homosexual behavior. The inadmissibility of either of the possible solutions to the conundrum (that the Torah is not Divine, or that God is terribly unjust) left our community inchoate at best, or championing “change therapy” at worst. The current Statement of Principles offers no solution to the conundrum either. In Talmudic parlance, the question is left as a “teyku”. But the authors of the statement courageously decided that homosexuals should not have to daily pay the social price for our inability to solve the theological puzzle. This is a huge paradigm shift.
I have a few thoughts.
One. The Torah does not categorize people by either sexual orientation or practice. The Torah does not divide between homosexuals and heterosexuals. It does not divide between people who like to have sex with teens and those who like to have sex with those their own age. It does not divide between people who like vanilla sex and those who like raunchy sex. It does not divide between people who like sex through a particular entrance and those who prefer another opening.
The Torah says man-on-man sex is forbidden, but it does not classify those who have such sex as “homosexuals.”
The idea of dividing people up based on the sexual acts they do is profoundly anti-Torah.
Two. The rabbi writes: “The document repeatedly acknowledges the very real possibility that homosexual orientation is genetically based and is not subject to change.”
Whether or not certain sexual preferences are genetic, or any behavioral choices are genetic, is irrelevant to the Torah. There is no basis in the Jewish tradition for cutting people a break on the observance of G-d’s commandments because they might have a genetic predisposition to doing certain things. On the contrary, the Torah assumes that the will of man’s heart is nothing but evil from his youth and therefore people should not follow their predispositions when these predispositions clash with G-d’s directives.
In this week’s Torah portion (Deut. 12:8), Moses warns the Israelites from doing what they think is right. Deut. 13:9 instructs the Israelites not to be compassionate when their compassionate feelings lead them to act contrary to G-d’s commandments.
Every healthy man is genetically programmed to inseminate as many woman as possible. This is as least a powerful a drive as the drive of homosexuals to have homo sex. Yet I don’t hear these liberal Orthodox rabbis calling for us to feel compassion for the average Joe hetero who wants to screw around. They only call for compassion for the homos.
Every healthy man is genetically programmed — much of the time — to want to bang 15-year old girls 100 times more than his own spouse. Just check the rape statistics to see who men really want to have sex with — girls 12-24 years of age. After the late twenties, there’s a dramatic drop-off in the likelihood of a woman being raped.
Should we therefore have compassion for those men who commit statutory rape?
…very few of us are physically appealing after our salad days, which in the case of women I pegged at ages 15-20. While the storm was raging, biologist Razib Khan over at Gene Expression (forget philosophers, theologians, and even novelists: the only people with interesting things to say about human nature nowadays are the scientists) decided to look up some actual numbers. Reasoning that a rapist is inspired to his passion mainly by the physical attractiveness of his victim, Razib went for rape statistics.
He found a 1992 report (Rape in America: A Report to the Nation) from the National Victim Center showing the age distribution of female rape victims. Sixty percent of the women who reported having been raped were aged 17 or less, divided about equally between women aged 11 to 17 (32 percent) and those under eleven (29 percent). Only six percent were older than 29. When a woman gets past her mid twenties, in fact, her probability of being raped drops off like a continental shelf. If you histogram the figures, you get a peak around ages 12-14… which is precisely the age Lolita was at the time of her affair with Humbert Humbert. As Razib noted, my own “15-20” estimate was slightly off. An upper limit of 24 would be more reasonable. The lower limit really doesn’t bear thinking about. (I have a 13-year-old daughter.)
The rabbi writes: “The true deep cause of Orthodoxy’s decades-long unintelligible stammering about homosexuality is the conundrum presented by the possibility that God is responsible both for homosexual orientation and for prohibiting homosexual behavior.”
I find this sentence so obnoxious. First, he provides no examples of Orthodox Judaism’s “decades-long unintelligible stammering about homosexuality.”
Judaism has nothing to say about homosexuality because Torah literature does not recognize any such way to divide up people (by the sexual acts they perform or want to perform).
I am unaware of Orthodox Judaism being unintelligible in its clear condemnation of same-sex sex.
That G-d would give people an inclination to act contrary to His commandments is no conundrum. We would not need divine commandments if we just naturally oriented in their direction. We need divine guidance precisely because if we were to follow our hearts, we’d often destroy ourselves and those around us. Following the heart with regard to anything beyond personal taste (such as in music, favorite sports team) is a recipe for disaster.
Rabbi Rabbs emails: “How is anything that the long laundry list of rabbis, doctors, and others — none of whom I’ve ever heard of — agreed upon different from what Torah has always said, that all of us are inherently bisexual, that G-d gives us a drive for the same gender, that there is nothing wrong about having that drive, but that we must not act on it?”
Only those rabbis who have more of a secular liberal orientation than a Torah orientation would ever see the need to publish a statement of principles regarding any orientation contrary to Torah.