Wednesday, May 25, 2005

How Orthodoxy Causes Good Men to do Evil

As I see it, the biggest problem with Orthodoxy (or orthodoxy) is its inflexibility. Although some maintain that some rigidity is essential in preserving a culture, I argue that the cost is too great.

Most of us are familiar with the verse from Leviticus:
20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.


If you believe that the Torah was dictated by God and you believe in your heart that homosexuality is perfectly moral, then you have a real dilemma. Either God is wrong, you are misreading the verse, or your belief about homosexuals is wrong. Many Rabbis on the bleeding edge of Modern Orthodoxy attempt to argue that it's our understanding of the Torah that's at fault. Because of the clarity of the verse, however, they don't have much wiggle room.

They start with the obvious step: God doesn't have a problem with homosexuals themselves, but only with males having sex with each other. This has the advantage of being a literal reading of the verse, but it isn't very satisfying. Why would God feel so strongly ("an abomination") about an act of love between two people whom God has nothing against?

The Rabbis often proceed to argue that there is no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual behavior. The only problem with this argument is that it is clearly untrue.

The more intellectually honest Rabbis recognize that and argue instead that being a homosexual is analogous to being a person with constant urges to commit theft or pedophilia. As long as he doesn't act on his urges, he has done no wrong. This argument seems consistent with the rest of the Torah but it's a retreat to a stance which we cannot reconcile with our modern belief that homosexuality is moral. It's one thing to command people to resist urges which, acted upon, would harm others; it's quite another to command someone to go his whole life without a love-relationship.

A few, unsatisfied with this result, argue that the verse refers only to anal sex, and that other forms of homosexual lovemaking are acceptable. However, this interpretation makes little sense. If we were to extend this logic to the previous verse, should we assume God allows having a relationship with your daughter-in-law, as long as you don't have vaginal or anal sex?

These bleeding-edge Rabbis are by and large good men*. They sympathise with (or in at least one circumstance are) gay men and they are trying to make the reasonable ruling. They are constrained, however, by their inability to make the obviously correct but Orthodoxly-untenable argument about the verse: it was written thousands of years ago by mortals. As a result, many homosexuals from Orthodox families run away from home, develop emotional problems, are ostracised from their families and communities, or commit suicide.

In this way do good men commit evil.



* A note for my readers unfamiliar with Orthodox Judaism: all Orthodox Rabbis are men.

I highly recommend the documentary Trembling Before G-d, which tells the story of Orthodox and formerly-Orthodox homosexuals.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

orthodox = (adj)Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion.

from www.dictionary.com

hayim said...

You might be interested by this book :

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0853035016/qid=1079452556/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-6922807-8686513?v=glance&s=books

Also, recently in the Jewish press :

http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=3346

Jewish Blogmeister said...

"it was written thousands of years ago by mortals." As a result, many homosexuals from Orthodox families run away from home, develop emotional problems, are ostracised from their families and communities, or commit suicide."

Are you implying the Torah was written
by man and is not the word of g-d?
Just making sure.

Jewish Atheist said...

Yes.

Orthoprax said...

LOL! Musicyid, did you really feel the need to ask a Jewish Atheist if he thought the Torah was not the word of God?

Chana said...

My view on homosexuality is accessible here: http://www.silvergleam.modblog.com/?show=blogview&blog_id=609487

I don't believe in apologetics for one's religion, and hence I don't see these bleeding-heart Rabbis as noble people. The verse says what it says, and that is what we follow; that is the law, in the same way that the other commands/ mitzvot are the law.

Many people take homosexuality and the use of the word "toevah" out of context. The word abomination is used in many places throughout the Torah. Devarim 17:1, where it speaks of animals with blemishes. Unkosher animals are termed an abomination. Idols are termed an abomination. There are many uses for the word.

None of these connote hatred or disgust, as the word is commonly used, but simply that of a balance. After all, I believe it is the Rambam who clearly states that we are not to say "Pig is disgusting, that's why we don't eat it" but rather "Pig may taste very good, but we make a conscious choice not to eat it." As it is with everything throughout the Torah. There are certain foods we eat, others we do not eat. Certain sexual relationships that are permitted, and others that are not permitted- and that is not just homosexuality. When a woman is a niddah, her husband cannot touch her either, and then he is also forbidden from the sexual act. And elsewhere. Certain times when we are considered clean/pure and other times unclean. Etc. Always the balance between what one may have and what one may not have.

My view on 'Trembling before God' - this is unfortunate and somewhat hearbreaking. But as you will read in my above-mentioned post, I believe in the nobility of man, not that he is forced into situations beyond his control. He has power over all things, himself included. To view oneself as a failure and unable to rule oneself, to be subject to certain things and be totally unable to change them, should one desire it- I do not accept such a fatalistic attitude. I think the people who suffer from it have oftentimes been told about it to begin with...

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana, my post was speaking about people who believe strongly that homosexuality should be allowed yet cannot reconcile that belief with their Orthodox Judaism. If you don't have that belief, as it seems you don't, this particular example does not apply to you.

What I was trying to get at is what happens when someone feels one thing in their heart and is commanded another by their religion? Suppose for example, some new genetic test combined with some archaeology proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that your best friend is a descendant of Amalek. Your religion orders you to kill her, but your heart will likely rebel.

Perhaps a more realistic issue is organ donation. I haven't followed the halakhic discussions about it carefully, but from what I understand, most Orthodox Rabbis oppose it unless you know that your organs will likely be going to a Jew. I don't know about you, but my heart tells me this ruling is wrong. If I believed that my religion commanded me not to donate my organs, I'd have the dilemma I was trying to get at with the homosexuality example -- if I refused to bend or break my religion, I'd be a good person doing evil because of my Orthodoxy.

rh said...

Hey I have just been reading your blog and I really like it. I am a reform Jew living in the UK. It's a shame that you became an athiest but I understand why someone would become like that out of orthodoxy.

A woman in the class I go to at my synagogue is going to marry a gentile (most of the people in that class are or are themselves converting, or else they want to get back in touch with their heritage - like me - if they were never brought up to be like that). However she is orthodox and there are some people in her family who will not speak to her any more because of the guy she is marrying, who is actualy one of the nicest people ever. It is very sad because she is one of the best people you would ever meet and very proud to be a Jew.

She said that once she was at a synagogue with her husband to Be and a whole lot of the guys there moved away from him that were sitting down and would not talk to him. I can't believe that and I feel ashamed when I hear that coz my experiences have been completely different to that in the shul I go to.

I don't think orthodox Jews are that bad in regard to homosexuality. They are not as bad as Christians from my general impression (And beleive me I have had enough of Christian type homophobia to last me a Lifetime). But from what I've heard there are some screwed up things.

I am bi so that issue is rather important to me.

I wont tell you to start believing in G-d again coz I know that that is probaly the last thing you will want to be told and I understand. But I just wanted to say that I liked your blog and keep up the good work. :) Shalom

The Jewropean said...

You say all Orthodox rabbis are men. Not true. A dozen or so females have Orthodox smicha.

Possum said...

My first thought was to give you the basic tennants:

1) God loves you
2) God hates sin
3) God can love you and not like what you do, just as a parent loves a child but does not permit violating the parent's rules
4) Yes, I agree, homosexuality is one of those things God does not permit at all.

Then this occured to me: you must not be a parent. For if you were a father you would better understand the nature of the relationship of the heavenly father to the individual. As a child, you do not always understand why the father's rules are so, but you hopefully understand that they are based in love for your good. As a father, you issue the rule regardless if the child wants the rule. "No candy for breakfast" may be a horrible rule for the toddler, but for obvious reasons the father enforces it.

Perhaps instead of pursuing your arguments from a Judiastic standpoint, you should try it from a protestant view. I think you will find the new law very refreshing as it does answer some of your protestations and calms some fears. Not that there aren't some very ignorant Christians out there that have twisted this argument to hate the person, but a true Christian does understand the difference.

(If you can't separate the misguided Christians from the true God then there is another issue completely.)

Jewish Atheist said...

As a child, you do not always understand why the father's rules are so, but you hopefully understand that they are based in love for your good. As a father, you issue the rule regardless if the child wants the rule. "No candy for breakfast" may be a horrible rule for the toddler, but for obvious reasons the father enforces it.

IF Abraham were convinced that God were moral and omniscient, then I would agree that Abraham should listen to Him. However, there's no way for Abraham to know that God is moral since all he has to go on so far is that God told him to leave his home and promised him a nation. When God tells him to kill his freaking son, Abraham should have said, "Whoah, there, God. Something's obviously wrong here. How do I know that you are moral?"

As for your metaphor, "Kill your beloved son" is a little different than "No candy for breakfast," isn't it? :)

I think you will find the new law very refreshing as it does answer some of your protestations and calms some fears.

Eh. The "new law" has its own contradictions (e.g. the accounts in each book of Jesus' last days don't match up) and immorality (See Paul on women and gays, etc.)

I believe that in order to decide whether God is moral (assuming he exists, which I don't) one would have to look at God's actions and decide if they are moral. From the OT, they certainly appear immoral. Since a malevolent Creator seems at least as plausible as a benevolent one, especially given human history, I don't know how everyone can be so sure that God is good.

moyehuda said...

Today the issue of homosexuality is a major problem that some people have with the Torah. Today we live in a society which is essentially a free one where man is free to act as he wishes as long as he does not harm the others around him. The society we live in Today has come to condone homosexuality and as jewish people living in America we have a major problem reconciling the two differing viewpoints.

You mentioned in your article that homosexuality did not harm others and a ban on doing so would ruin the chance of a person having a love-relationship. American society today would certainly not forbid an action which is personal in nature and doesn't hurt anyone however one thing that must be understood is that the Torah is based on a very different philsophy. The Torah isn't necessarily a legal guide which serves the purpose of making sure people don't hurt each other. It's quite simply the word of G-d and a lot of the obligations imposed by the Torah aren't understandable by Western codes of morality. So it's pretty irrelevant wheter homosexuality hurts anyone. As for ruining someones love life that question is as complicated as the concept of love. After all people who are homosexual don't necessarily lack any drive not to be. Homosexuality for most people might be a choice which if it was unavailable would not bother them a great deal. As for the ones that have a lot of difficulty with being heterosexual all I could say is that there might as well be people who have a great deal of difficulty controlling their intense desire to violantly attack someone and modern society hasn't allowed that yet.

I'm not always a big fan of orthodox people. A lot of them are very close-minded and there are alot of problems in their culture. I've been struggling with some of the negative parts of orthodox judaism my whole life. But I do still think it's what will win out in the end.

jjew said...

JewishAtheist said,

"This argument seems consistent with the rest of the Torah but it's a retreat to a stance which we cannot reconcile with our modern belief that homosexuality is moral. It's one thing to command people to resist urges which, acted upon, would harm others; it's quite another to command someone to go his whole life without a love-relationship."

Herein lies the internal structure, if you will, of the Torah. While doing something harmful to someone else, such as murder, is harmful in and of itself, it falls into a larger system of rights and wrongs. Homosexuality doesn't harm someone per se, but it falls into that same system of right and wrong.

Therefore I seriously doubt that homophobia is the root for (many peoples') disagreement with homosexuality, which means that if homophobia is not the root, then something else must be the root.

Abraham did argue with G-d about killing the people in the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. As the rest of the binding of Isaac goes,
G-d's intent was for Abraham not to kill Isaac, but the opposite.