Addressing the Real Issues
How can Rabbis and the Jewish community, as a whole, halakhically defend anti-homosexual bias when it is not supported in the very source of halakhic tradition – the Jewish TaNaKH? To answer this, we must once again return to the modern social “discomfort” towards gay people within Jewish community. Specifically, the realization that people in general and males specifically need a distinct set of moral obligations to function and progress effectively as a community and nation. This is Judaism’s most unique gift to the world of human civilizations, and is the most significant factor that led to the rise of the Western world. That marriage is a moral obligation, not a natural inclination, that must be socially conditioned into males from birth and consistently emphasized from generation to generation. Elsewise, as is demonstrated again and again in every society, men simply would not get married – make babies yes, but the burden of child raising would be nearly solely on the mother. Further, that sex must be kept within the boundaries of who you are married to, which is another moral obligation that must be consistently socially conditioned into the psyche of males. And, that the primary purpose of marriage and sex is to form families and beget children. This is what makes a sexual relationship one that is in kedusha, a state of sacred holiness.
Lastly, because of the biological make-up of human beings, the ideal relationship for achieving just this set of obligations is a marriage between a man and a woman. There is no denying this. Same-sex relationships can achieve most of the requirements of this enlightened purpose towards the sacredness of sexual expression and marriage, but the biggest stumbling block is the man-woman issue, which doesn’t exist in a gay marriage. Thus, in the majority straight world, no real and serious effort is placed upon insisting that gays get married to their lovers. But, this very insistence of marrying each other is exactly what it is that we must as a social community and society place upon gay males who clearly are not going to form the “ideal” relationship, if we ever have any hope to alter the promiscious “bathhouse” lifestyle that is so common among gay males and that has had such disastrous ramifications upon the public sexual health of modern civilization. It is the failure to appropriately address the moral issues of sexual fidelity in a manner that edifies the natural bend (orientation) of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals that has led to the sexual crisis modern society has experienced through same-sex behaviors.
Now, to be fair, we must note here the failure of straight males to keep their sexual behaviors within the boundaries of marriage. This has had an equally negative affect upon the public sexual health of modern society. And, it is a subject worthy of its own discussion. So, with the number of homosexually oriented men seeking same-sex marriage being on the rise, I raise the question that is at hand: How do we address this societal discomfort in general and more specifically the traditional Jewish discomfort with same-sex relationship, to help regain a level of tsedek/justice towards Jewish gay and bisexual males who want community recognition of their same-sex relationships? And, how do we address the relationship issues and needs in ways that sanctifies the relationships and fulfills the community’s need for these relationships to continue the survival of the Jewish people? As Rabbi Nilton Bonder would put it kabbalistically, how do we properly tax gay and bisexual partnerships/marriages with the responsibilities to the Jewish people that are expected in heterosexual Jewish marriages?
The Halakhic Proposal
First and foremost, we must morally insist that sexual behavior is only holy when expressed within the boundaries of marriage. And, for males who for one reason or another are simply incapable of forming a heterosexual relationship and bring holiness into the world through the responsibilities that come with this marriage (because they are clearly outright gay), that they be still yet obligated to get married to either another gay male or (addressing the socially hidden, but very common issue of bisexual male behavior in society) to a man and a woman who are mature enough to handle a polyandrous marriage arrangement. Meaning, she is okoge, attracted in an intimate friendship way to gay men, and he is the typical socially hidden bisexual that make up most of the male population – and together the gay man, the okoge woman, and the bisexual man form a marriage relationship that emphasizes the same goals and desires, to include the birthing of children, that is expected and is attractive about heterosexual marriage. There are more of these kind of relationships occurring within marriages and without the bonds of marriage than is socially realized and recognized. The point being made here is that we must find ways to resolve these halakhic relationship issues that are simply not going to be going away. We must provide sanctified alternatives.
Another possible addition to this answer is to strongly emphasize the need for individuals engaged in a same-sex marriage to take up the role of being a Big Brother or Big Sister to children in need of strong role models, and there are plenty of these children in every society and country. Another possibility is requiring that gay same-sex marriages or bisexual marriages (the committed morally responsible version of the ménage-a-trio) that for some reason do not naturally lead to procreation, take on the responsibilities of adopting children and raising them in the way of our people. Maybe this should also be a requirement for straight marriages that for one reason or another are unable to procreate children. As I’ve mentioned earlier, tradition emphasizes the need of a child to grow up in an environment that possess both a father image and a mother image (physically speaking as much as in ideal). And, preference in adoption should go to opposite-sex married partners first. But, there are always the children in society who heterosexual families simply do not want to adopt. Hence, the reason to consider committed same-sex partners as potential adoptees.
Further, maybe it should be the community’s responsibility to assist and insist, but not force, these “families” in achieving such a noteworthy and desirable goal. To fully include homosexual and bisexual Jews in the responsibilities of maintaining the Covenant by which our people continue to find life. The benefits of this to both the traditional Jewish community and societal community at large are clear. By avoiding the issue of alternative relationships, we as a people have only hurt ourselves and questionably lessened our numbers over the years. There is a saying in the Talmud that to save the life of one Jew, to keep him/her and his/her abilities-to-benefit within the Jewish tribe, is as if we’ve saved the world. This is how important every single Jew is to the Covenant between G-d and Yisra’el. To say it from the perspective of the TaNaKH, by accepting and involving the foreigners and “eunuchs” – non-heterosexuals already within our midst, we encourage kedusha and increase our numbers upon the land. Shall we listen to the words of the prophet?
As with whether orientation is chosen or mandated, we will not get into a discussion of what is the proper family structure for raising children in this essay. Our own history as a people demonstrate a variety over time on what is culturally the ideal marriage arrangement. But, to start your own exploration into the hows and whys of including alternative lifestyles as acceptable expressions of tradition, I highly encourage you to read Rabbi Artson’s article Gay and Lesbian Jews: An Innovative Jewish Legal Position (see bibliography). Another very informative source of study is the Jewish Renewal manual Points to Consider in Counseling Same-Sex Couples for Marriage/Commitment Ceremonies, written by Susan Saxe and obtainable through ALEPH: Alliance For Jewish Renewal. Given the obvious that same-sex marriages are a growing reality throughout the world among those who are sexually oriented in this way, isn’t it time to open our eyes and our hearts as a covenanted community and really address these issues in a spiritually thoughtful and physically practical way?
Sof sof, we are here. It is now time to fulfill the objective we have set out in this article to achieve. I would like to propose a potential halakhic ruling for discussion by the Jewish community at large:
We recognize as a halakhic community that the Torah’s concern regarding sex between men is a specific disapproval of abusive sex, sex that leads to inhospitableness towards others and to idolatry of the heart. And, that in Vayikra 18.22 and 20.13 the Torah very specifically forbids two forms of sex between men – that of male rape and male prostitution. We learn that this is so through the Talmud, where the rabbis point out to us that the use of mishk’vei (the plural form) teaches us that the Torah has two specific modes of lying with a woman in mind when commanding us (males) to “no lie down” with a male. We recognize that beyond this, the Torah itself speaks no further – other than to reiterate the sexual prohibitions binding upon all Jews, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. We further learn through Torah and Talmud that, though the ideal relationship is between a man and a woman, it is necessary and imperative that we instill the moral obligation to embrace marital relations that are not the “ideal,” but still achieve the symbolic impression necessary to maintain consistency in the social life of civilization at large and the Jewish people in particular. Further, we will sanctify same-sex marriages through the Laws of Moshe as we do with heterosexual marriages. And, to ensure that the continuity of passing our language, traditions, and way of life through childrearing is not lost in partnerships where procreation is near unlikely, we will as a People strongly emphasize the important need of either symbolically adopting a child, as in the manner of big brother/big sister role model (preferably), or legally adopting and raising children within these non-procreative marriages when suitable male-female couples are in short supply. This will encourage Jews who are committed to a non-procreative marriage to take full advantage in participating in the most crucial task within the community – the raising of future generations of the Jewish People.
Teasing Out a Hiddush
I would like to close this article with a quote from Orthodox Rabbi Stephen Greenberg, the first openly gay Rabbi within the traditional communities:
“Within the living Halacha are voices in tension, divergent strands in an imaginative legal tradition that are brought to bear on the real lives of Jews. In order to know how to shape a halachic response to any living question, what is most demanded of us is a deep understanding of the Torah and an attentive ear to the people who struggle with the living question. Confronting questions can often tease out of the tradition a hiddush, a new balancing of the voices and values that have always been there. There is no conclusive psak halacha (halachic ruling) without the hearing of personal testimonies….one wonders what the impact might be if Orthodox rabbis had to face the questions posed by traditional Jews, persons they respect and to whom they feel responsible, who are gay.”
It is in this light that what is here has been written. The valid question is posed and it does need an open, honest answer. The TaNaKH teaches that the Jewish people are to be a light unto the nations. As a covenanted people, we have the opportunity to once again in this new area to set the example for the rest of the world. To ensure everyone in our communities is afforded the opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities to G-d, Torah, and am yisra’el. Shall we continue to turn our backs on individuals who inner desire is to be a real participant in such a blessed opportunity? Shalom u’vrachah.
Originally written on 13 Tammuz 5761 – July 4, 2001.
Revised to add further clarity on 6 Adar II 5763 – 10 March 2003.
Translation of Torah from The Schocken Bible: Volume I, The Five Books of Moses
Translation of Nevi’im from JPS Hebrew-English TaNaKH
Translation of Talmud passage, Mas. Sanhedrin 55a, 1-2, from Soncino Talmud
Translation of Talmud passage, Mas. Sanhedrin 54a, 28-32, from Gay and Lesbian Jews: An Innovative Jewish Legal Position*
*The Soncino Talmud translates Mas. Sanhedrin 54a, 28-32 in the following way:
“GEMARA. Whence do I know that pederasty is punished by stoning? – Our Rabbis taught : [If a man lieth also with mankind, as the lyings of a woman,29 both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,]30 A man – excludes a minor; [that] lieth also with mankind – denotes whether an adult or a minor; as the lyings of a woman – this teaches that there are two modes of intimacy,31 both of which are punished when committed incestuously. R. Ishmael said: This verse comes to throw light [upon pederasty] but receives illumination itself.32 They shall surely be put to death: by stoning. You say, by stoning: but perhaps some other death decreed in the Torah is meant? – Their blood shall be upon them is stated here, and also in the case of one who has a familiar spirit or is a wizard.”
And, a very special thanks to Rabbi Gorman who unknowingly seeded deep into my other-than-conscious awareness “The Torah does not cough! Every word in there is in there for a reason, folks.”
The Stone Edition Chumash, Artscroll Series, 1994, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary, 2001, The Jewish Publication Society
The Soncino Talmud, 1991, Judaica Press, Inc., Brooklyn, NY
The Schocken Bible: Volume I, The Five Books of Moses, 1995, Schocken Books Inc., New York
JPS Hebrew-English TaNaKH, 2000, The Jewish Publication Society
Gayness and G-d, Author Stephen Greenberg, 2001, Independent Gay Forum Inc.
Points to Consider in Counseling Same-Sex Couples for Marriage/Commitment Ceremonies, 2000, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Philadelphia, PA
Gay and Lesbian Jews: An Innovative Jewish Legal Position, Author Bradley S. Artson, Winter 1990, Jewish Spectator
Biblical Literacy, Author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, 1997, William Morrow and Company, Inc.
The Jew and the Christian Missionary, Author Gerald Sigal, 1981, KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
About the Author: Joseph T Farkasdi is an Irish-Magyar Jew who is happily married with children and who loves differently. His interests include writing, the study of ancient history and sacred writings, and tackling the big issue of religious indoctrination. He is a two-time military career veteran, and has a record of service that is more than honorable. Having been inculcated deeply in it as a youth, his first love is wrestling with our sacred scrolls. He is a firm supporter of eco-friendly and vegetarian lifestyles, and an advocate for equal access to justice under the law. Civil-religious rights is the heart of Jewish tradition! As such, Joseph openly has been openly supporting correct public understanding of Jewish mitzvot since 2001, and advocates for all who are suppressed in their expressions of love and marriage equality, despite their “orientation,” due to injustices in the application of religious teaching and ritual law. It is very important to Joseph that wrong interpretations of what ancient text teaches be eradicated through individual learning of our sacred writings. “Read it on it’s own terms” is a teaching that was imparted to Joseph many long years ago by those steadfast on the path, and this is a message he still teaches to others this very day.
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