Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robert’s Rules

Having participated in the leadership of numerous organizations, I have always found Robert’s Rules (Parliamentary Procedure) to be useful in maintaining decorum. These rules were developed in the mid-19th century by a military officer who sought to offer a system of order to be used by organizations. I suggest you purchase the book if you seek out more information.
I’m trying to have some fun with this blog and will therefore use structure offered by Bobbie’s Rules (as I fondly refer to them) in this post. I also think it will help emphasize a point I would like to make. This is my blog so I’m by default on the speakers list.
I recently attended a lecture on the topic of Judaism and homosexuality (what else is new?). I agreed with much of what the presenter said, but not everything. Here I am explaining my views and the rationale behind them.
I always argue for acceptance of homosexuality within a Halachic framework. This would, in a Robert’s Rules debate, beg the following motion:
“I move to divide the question.”
The debate centering on the acceptance of homosexuality within Judaism must be divided into two issues. The first is acceptance of gay and lesbian community members (with no distinction to be made between singles and couples). The second regards the actual act of anal sex prohibited in the Torah. I am purposefully not equating this with differentiating between the sin and the sinner because this assumes that the gay community members are sinning. The line to be drawn is between a homosexual orientation and one specific act.
The first issue is not actually a Halachic question. As Jews we are commanded to love our fellow human beings regardless of any aspect of their personality with which we disagree. Halacha offers no opportunity for the exclusion of an individual because of whom an individual loves. There is no tradition in Judaism that prohibits love and affection between members of the same sex.
Halacha does prohibit specific sexual acts, among these anal sex between two men. I cannot claim that I have an answer to how/if this Halacha should be applied to gay men. In fact, I am very torn. Traditionally the Torah has been read to prohibit anal sex between any two men. End of story.  I have heard a number of arguments (including at the recent lecture) proposing a limitation of the prohibition so that it would only apply to rape; men with both heterosexual & homosexual tendencies; cultic situations and others. These arguments are based on the context and terminology of the prohibiting verse (Leviticus 18:22 “Though shalt not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is an abomination.”). An example of one such argument is that when the term Toevah – abomination—is used in the Torah it most often refers to Idolatrous acts (those performed due to belief in other gods). According to this view, two men engaging in anal sex that is not directed towards the worship of a false god would be permitted.*Note Ultimately, we are left with a question regarding the extent to that this prohibition is to be applied.
I see no space for debate in regards to the first issue. Gay men and women must be accepted as full members of Orthodox society. I am not a Halachic Posek (jurist) and will not offer a solution to the second issue, but I do have some thoughts on the topic.
I recently suggested, to a rabbi, the idea that the prohibited act of anal sex be viewed in a light similar to Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity; requiring limitations of relations between a man and a woman during the woman’s period). Judaism permits the union between a man and a woman and does not further inquire into the purity of their sexual relations. We are prohibited from assuming that anyone is sinning and in this case do not assume that the couple has violated these laws. These matters are between them and G-d. I argued for homosexual anal sex to be viewed in the same light. I proposed that a gay union be respected and that we offer no assumptions as to violations of the Halacha. The rabbi hearing my claim rejected it flat out. Simply put, he preferred to insert an assumption of violation into any relationship between two men. I disagree with him completely. Such an assumption is prohibited by the Jewish tenet of Dan Likav Zechus—giving every man the benefit of doubt . Furthermore, if we assume that heterosexual couples are capable of practicing restraint from sexual activity for nearly half a month, why do we not assume that a homosexual couple can practice restraint from one sexual act?
I am confused regarding the prohibition of anal sex because of the numerous voices on the subject and because I have yet to hear any rabbi address all the arguments surrounding the issue. If there is any issue to be debated it is this one. BUT, I think that everyone take their mind out of the bedrooms of others and examine their own lives before they cast stones.
Between the two questions posed to Orthodox Judaism, the first should be a non-issue and the second is a private matter best left to private discussions between a rabbi and his congregants.

*Note: I have not conducted my own survey of the use of Toevah—abomination—in the Torah nor am I endorsing this view.


  1. While I agree 100% with your proposition that the issur of lo tishkav zachar should be viewed just as with taharas mishpacha, I would like to propose one potential explanation for why some cannot accept this approach and a potential argument for the other side for conversation's sake.

    Firstly, heteronormative sexuality is defined by two stages: foreplay and penetrative intercourse. Cunnilingus and fellatio, along with hugging, kissing, and other forms of sexual touching, while themselves sexual activities, are seen by many heterosexual individuals as lesser than or lead-up to penetrative intercourse. As most or all heteronormative sexual behavior must eventually lead to penetration in order to be considered fulfilling, many assume the same of homosexual behavior.

    Secondly, it could be argued that the concept of Dan Likav Zechus is superseded by maris ayin. For instance, I should, under dan likav zechus, assume that a frumishe yid entering a McDonald's is just going in to buy a coffee or use the restroom or ask for directions, but because of maris ayin, it could be thought that he is going in to sin, and therefore he is transgressing simply through creating the potential for incorrect assumptions. Similarly, if two gay men are known to be in a relationship, under dan likav zechus, one should assume no inappropriate behavior, but due to maris ayin, they are transgressing even by creating the impression that they may be participating in forbidden activity. Just some food for thought.

    Finally, careful using red-letter quotes ("let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone") lest you piss off your Jews for Judaism and frummy readership. ;)

  2. QY,
    Thank you for pointing out the issur of MaAras Eyin. This really just adds to a point I was trying to make about why this topic is so confusing and ultimately must be dealt with by the rabbanim. For instance, what one community might consider a violation of MaAras Eyin, another may see as perfectly fine. I do not have the answers, but it is a good mental exercise to come up with more questions!