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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Watch this.

I find the video below to speak volumes. I'll be publishing a new post soon In the interlude I recommend you consider the message this man is relaying.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unwelcome Exposures

My original intention for this post was to write about the unique challenge of dating as a gay-Orthodox Jew (something that stemmed from a conversation I had with my father in the aftermath of my last post). Plans change. Tonight I had a conversation with someone very dear to me, Shane. This post will be about the subject matter we discussed.
A few short days ago one of my best friends, Devorah, told me that a friend of hers (an acquaintance of mine), Becky, had asked if I was aware that Shane is gay. I relayed this story to Shane, who had not come-out to Becky. Indeed, I knew of his sexuality. Not only have I been aware of Shane’s sexuality for a long time, he is my ex-boyfriend and someone who’s friendship I value dearly.
Shane and I both believe in something that is best termed “exclusive-coming-out.” We are aware of our sexuality, we live our lives as gay-Orthodox Jews, but we do not feel the need to share this fact with the entire world. We tell our families and others with whom we are close. This decision, one we had both come to before we were introduced, is based on concepts of Tzniut (modesty)—the lack of appropriateness in inviting others into our intimate lives— and the reality that many people in the Orthodox world are not prepared to accept our true identity. In some situations, announcing the truth could harm us in positions we hold. Our sexuality is the business only of those whom we decide to inform.
Shane was shocked when I told him of the inquiry. He had not told Becky and knew not from where she had heard. More disturbing was the fact that she felt this was a topic about which she could gossip. I do not suppose that Becky intended Shane harm. To her the conversation was probably no more than social. What she did not realize was that had her words fallen on the wrong ears Shane could face some very real, very harmful repercussions.
I have had similar incidents happen to me. Some time ago I was outed by someone I do not know to a family member of mine. Another time a friend inadvertently outed me in a conversation that followed her laughing at the suggestion of my being set up with a girl.
You may pose the following question: How if I, or Shane, intend to live my life as a gay-Orthodox Jew and perhaps one day settle down, do I intend to maintain an exclusive roster of individuals privy to my sexuality? Would this not become public knowledge? I speak for myself when I say that I am under no false impressions that there will come a point at which I will be able to exercise no control over who knows and who does not know of my sexuality. On some level I have already reached that point. This reality does not award people the right gossip about my private life and struggle. In fact, such a conversation is Loshon Hara.
Even if you, the reader, are accepting of the fact that a Jew can be both gay and Orthodox, sharing this information regarding an individual without the certain knowledge that this individual is completely out-of-the-closet is inappropriate, hurtful, potentially dangerous to this person in many ways and against Halacha.
Did Becky mean harm by her words? Probably not. Did harm occur in this instance? In some ways no, but in many ways yes.  Having yourself unwillingly outed is an intense emotional shock because of the violation and invasion of privacy that accompanies such a disclosure. The best way I can describe the situation is by calling it an emotional rape.
I urge you all to think long and hard before you discuss the private lives of others.