Monday, December 12, 2011

Some much needed Mussar

I had earnestly hoped that that when I had the time to post it would be a Dvar Torah filled with inspiration and warmth.  Thanks to a bit of commotion in the Jewish world (and a bout of insomnia) I’m again writing before I intended on not exactly on the topic of my choice. 
A few weeks ago R’ Steven Greenberg, author of Wrestling with G-d and Man, director of Trembling Before G-d and self-proclaimed gay Orthodox rabbi officiated at a gay orthodox wedding.  In the aftermath of this occasion a group of 100 orthodox rabbis from across America organized the signing of a latter condemning the ceremony. Source .   R’ Greenberg, in response, claimed that the ceremony was not a wedding and was not intended to be one because it lacked KiddushinSource .  Yet actions speak louder than words and the circumstances fo the ceremony place it within the context of a wedding.  The ceremony contained a chuppah, both men exchanged rings, smashed glasses and wore kittles . . . looks a lot like a wedding to me. Source .
I’m not against gay marriage—I plan on getting married myself.  I’m against people trying to find loopholes in halacha and wordsmithing their way out of a difficult situation.  I also believe that other strains of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist) are free to do what they want with gay weddings.   Source.   I, however, do not subscribe to that interpretation of Judaism and don’t think anyone would try and label it as “orthodox.”
The next even of significance was the presentation of letter—shall we say a contra-Statement of Principles—that held nothing back as it blasted Jewish gays in demanding that they undergo reparative therapy and seek Teshuva for their misdeeds.  Source (you can ignore the op-ed and read the actual letter at the bottom).  This made my blood boil  for a number of reasons:
1)       Its suggestions are ignorant and scientifically rejected
2)       It seems to have been in the works for well over a year but cowardly kept separate until enough signatures were gathered (note the date on R’ Kamenetsky’s signed copy as well as the request that the contens be kept secret until enough signatories were amassed). 
3)       One of the primary supporters—R’  Shmuel Kamenetsky—is a man I was raised to revere and this causes me to question his status as a Gadol HaDor.
(UPDATE, 1/5/12 the complete list of signatories can be found here)
After all this I stumbled upon yet another article, this one from a rabbi at Brown University I had previously not heard of.  source .  While I don’t agree with all of what he writes, his main point is striking and I place 100% of my support behind it: Orthodoxy is shattered.   As the bearers of Hashems eternal truth in this world we—via our rabbinical leadership--  are failing in our mission as we hide behind letters, allowing ourselves to flee from confrontation as we fail to establish a uniform response to the issues that plague our society—or in many cases, any response at all.   I weep for the days of the Sandhedrin or the Shoftim.   Even if those scholars of old would chastise me, or worse, for my sexuality, I long for the days when G-d’s will permeated every aspect of Jewish life as it found embodiment on the lips of men and women wiser and more spiritually connected that I can ever hope to be.  Orthodoxy has failed.  We have succumbed to the divisive effects of Galut and are a flock of lost sheep.  
I believe you can be orthodox and gay.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay and a rabbi.  I believe you can be orthodox, gay, a rabbi and celebrate the companionship of a same-sex couple.  I don’t believe that the tradition of orthodoxy was meant to be bastardized by and vast number of rabbis who would seek to use the Torah to promote their own points of view that they dare not challenge. 
A man whose wisdom and guidance I cherish and view as a return to the tradition that is all-but-lost recently told me that, to him, the sexuality of the man davening next to him is irrelevant.  I hope we can all relate to the message in his poignant and simple truth.


  1. I, too, have been following the commotion in the Orthodox world surrounding this issue. However, I had not seen the R' Kamenetsky declaration until now. How many other rabbis have signed it? Are their signatures or endorsements public yet? This is the first I've heard of it and the link you posted only appears to name R'Kamenetsky.

    I'm not sure if you're aware, but it seems that the more prevalent "counter statement of principles" circulating around the internet and shul offices is this one: Apparently over 100 RCA rabbis signed a piece reaffirming their stance that a gay wedding is not a gay wedding, and that

    "On the subject of reparative therapy, it is our view that, as Rabbis, we can neither endorse nor reject any therapy or method that is intended to assist those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. We insist, however, that therapy of any type be performed only by licensed, trained practitioners. In addition, we maintain that no individual should be coerced to participate in a therapeutic course with which he or she is acutely uncomfortable."

    I'd be interested to hear what your views are regarding this last declaration.


  2. BJK,
    Thank you for your comment. I did in fact recently hear about the RCA letter and considered editing this post to include an additional paragraph about this policy statement. Thankfully, you've done half of the work for me.
    I do not find the RCA statement to fall into the contra category exemplified by the one signed by R'Kamenetsky. Wisely, the RCA statement recognizes that the signatories are not mental health professionals and cannot provide a generalized statement about a form of therapy. While it doesn't outright condemn reparative therapy, the clause "insist[ing] . . . that therapy of any type be performed only by licensed, trained practitioners" has a similar consequence. I have, B"H, not had personal experiences with this "therapy." From my understanding, the majority of individuals conducting it are not well regarded in the psychological community. Again based on second hand knowledge, the methods in use are unorthodox (pardon the pun) and at times near on the illegal.
    Additionally, the RCA statement recognizes the distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual attraction (something lost on the Kamenetsky signatories). A reader comparing the Statement of Principles and the RCA Statement will note that the statements are actually similar in content and policy: both condemn the sanctification of same-sex unions under an umbrella of religion yet recognize the importance of welcoming and supporting individuals facing challenges due to their sexual orientation. The primary difference is that the SoP is more articulate and open to additional public signatories.
    In response to your other questions, I do not know how many other rabbis have signed or intend on signing the letter endorsed by R' Kamenetsky. I have not yet seen a list of signatories. In light of the recent negative media, some may be adverse to publicly signing on. I suspect that the Jewish Week or the Hamodeia newspapers will carry more information if and when it becomes available. If you see more information before a subsequent post, please feel free to bring it to my attention. Unless the letter is drastically revised my viewpoints will remain unchanged.