AUTHOR: Howard Morton
(Posted May 2013)
When my son attended an orthodox middle school not too long ago, one of his classmates invited him to his home. This boy brought my son into his room and said, “Let’s play a game. I’ll be the king and you’ll be the peasant. As the king, I command you to take your clothes off and get on the bed.”
My son was shocked. He said, “I’m not gay.”
The classmate then asked my son to join him in another “game” where they both had to remove their clothing and get in bed. My son refused. The classmate finally threw my son onto the bed and then jumped on top of him. My son kicked his classmate off him, ran home and told my wife and me what happened.
My son had just turned 13. The would-be sexual attacker was 14.
I live in a Torah observant community in a large American city. And an incident like this, I believe, isn’t talked about much. But with the secular society infiltrating our community (especially as it continues its moral breakdown that began with 1960s “sexual revolution”)—it’s now becoming increasingly common to hear about a neighborhood teen “coming out of the closet” or a mother of four leaving her husband to live an openly lesbian lifestyle.
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rosh Yeshiva of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of America, said in a 2011 article in Ḥakirah (The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought), that same-sex attraction “is no longer a subject that can be swept under the rug.”
In the American popular culture that surrounds us, it’s now cool to be gay. It’s the in thing. Did this happen because our generation is more “enlightened” and “tolerant”? Peter S. Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., feels this is the result of the more than 40-year old homosexual activist movement. He wrote that “Homosexual activists have a clear agenda that demands the universal acceptance of homosexual acts and relationships—morally, socially, legally, religiously, politically and financially. Indeed, it calls for not only acceptance, but for affirmation and celebration of this behavior as normal, natural, and even as desirable for those who desire it.”
The fact remains that through the media and current events, we and our children are now exposed to the secular world’s celebratory attitude towards homosexuality more than ever before. So how are we as Jews supposed to react?
In other words, what’s the Torah approach to homosexuality?
A document entitled “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality” was recently released and signed by more than 150 prominent Orthodox rabbis (including Rabbi Lazer Brody), community leaders, and respected mental-health professionals representing the broad spectrum of the Torah-observant world.
The Declaration emphatically cautions us from castigating the individual suffering from an unwanted same-sex attraction. It says:
“We must create an atmosphere where [a] teenager (or anyone) can speak freely to a parent, rabbi, or mentor and be treated with love and compassion. Authority figures can then guide same-sex strugglers towards a path of healing and overcoming their inclinations.
“The key point to remember is that these individuals are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds. They deserve our full love, support and encouragement in their striving towards healing.” However, the Declaration makes a critical distinction, saying that “Struggling individuals who seek health and wellness should not be confused with the homosexual movement and their agenda…. It reflects the difference between what G-d asks from all of us and what He unambiguously prohibits.”
Unlike the beliefs of popular culture, the Declaration states that same sex attractions can be modified and healed—and rejects the idea that someone attracted to the same sex can’t overcome his or her inclination. “Behaviors are changeable. The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid,” the statement says.
Therefore, the Torah perspective rejects the concept that people are “born gay”; rather, same-sex attraction is a condition that can be successfully conquered through therapy and teshuva. "The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a Biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable," the Declaration states.
The Torah prohibition the Declaration is referring to is the posuk in Vayikra 18:22 that says: “Do not lie with a male as you would with a woman; it is an abomination.” The Hebrew word for “abomination”” is “to’eivah”. Arthur Goldberg, co-director of JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing)and author of Light in the Closet: Torah, Homosexuality, and the Power to Change, points out a deeper, Talmudic meaning to the word “to’eivah”. He says the Gemara in Nedarim (51a) understands “to’eivah” to mean that a person with same-sex attraction (or one who violates the prohibition expressed in Vayikra 18:22) has been “led astray.”
Goldberg says this is especially relevant since “childhood emotional wounds are a primary risk factor causing homosexuality.”
He goes on to say that the Gemara’s understanding of “to’eivah” can mean that “something went wrong in the process of a person’s development or that his psycho-social or psycho-emotional development either stopped or was distorted at an early age; hence, he was led astray. Corrective action is, however, available. Such corrective action can be done in a manner similar to the process of teshuva. Rambam explains that teshuva is a process in which one first understands the past, then focuses on changing patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in the present, and finally internalizes those new practices as part of his or her future. The psychological process of gender affirmation and healing follows the same pattern.”
In Likutei Eitzos (Bris), Rebbe Nachman of Breslev said, “Confronting the sexual desire is the main trial one has to face in this world. Happy indeed is the one who wins the battle.” Though Rebbe Nachman said this more than two hundred years ago, he seems to be talking directly to our generation. He seems to be saying that all sexual desire—either heterosexual or homosexual—can be channeled despite the current secular trend that believes it’s innate and unchangeable.
The reason why I’m writing about this topic is because my son encountered an attack by a homosexual male. (Though by no means am I insinuating that anyone with same-sex attraction is a potential sexual predator.) For me, this incident brought home the increasing visibility of homosexuality within our various communities—and our confusion on how to handle it. The drafters and signers of the newly released “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality” should be commended for providing Jews with much-needed guidelines on the proper approach concerning this Torah prohibition.
What’s more, there are several resources to help educate us on this topic.