Cross-Currents: Response to “First Step: LGBTQ+ and the Frum Community”
September 27, 2021

by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, Cross Currents

Several years ago, I was sitting with an adam gadol – an internationally-renowned rosh yeshiva and posek, who said that he had just privately spoken on the phone with a man who confided that he is attracted to males yet has fathered and raised a beautiful Torah-observant family with his wife of many years, as this man controlled his SSA urges and would never dare act upon them. This great rav broke down crying several times as he told me that the anonymous caller was such a tzaddik and a gibbor (hero), who painfully overcame his indescribably strong impulses his entire life in order to comply with Halacha.

Although, as Rav Aharon Feldman posited, it is not expected that every person with homosexual urges marry, and such people can live Torah-true lives as they serve Hashem with sincerity and contribute to Klal Yisroel in numerous ways, in none of these cases do the people under discussion consider themselves to be part of an “LGBTQ+ community”. In fact, these individuals, in their ever-challenging and saintly quest to remain loyal to the Torah, would never define themselves by their SSA impulses, much less seek to be designated as part of an SSA community, as it were, just like Orthodox Jews with other impulses that the Torah forbids acting upon, even if these impulses are in no way as strong as SSA, would never want to label themselves as part of a community which identifies with those acts. (And if it makes a difference, I personally know Orthodox Jews who struggle heroically and successfully to control their SSA urges, and who shun and are repulsed by the notion of their being part of an “LGBTQ+ community”.)

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With this in mind, which I believe is the authentic Torah attitude, I was troubled to read Rabbi Yisrael Motzen’s article A First Step:LGBTQ+ and the Frum Community. Rabbi Motzen continually refers to Orthodox Jews who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and in effect downplays the objectionability to open identification with this community. While of course not endorsing the homosexual act, Rabbi Motzen waters down the stigma:

Is there any justifiable reason that many shuls do not hesitate before giving aliyos to people who are not Shomer Shabbos, but there is an uproar if a gay man is given the same honor? I cannot imagine Hashem loves such a person any less, and neither should we.

Rabbi David Rosenthal hit the nail on the head regarding this sorely inaccurate analogy:

The comparison between active members in the LGBT community to those that desecrate Shabbos is flawed. The author fails to make the distinction between behavior which is not according to Halacha and an ideology which is against the Torah. For example, if a group of Shabbos desecrators would proclaim that they proudly violate the Shabbos laws, belong to a chilul Shabbos society, and declare that they have no intent to change their behavior, would the author not reject them?

I must add that even if it is technically permissible according to Halacha to give an aliyah to a mechallel Shabbos b’farhesia – one who publicly and knowingly desecrates Shabbos, understanding exactly what he is doing – a shul that gives such a person an aliyah, absent a special kiruv situation or the like, should seriously reconsider its policy. A person who is mechallel Shabbos b’farhesia is deemed by Chazal to reject Hashem’s authority over the world and thereby commits a very conspicuous act of kefirah (heresy); for this individual to be publicly honored in Hashem’s house with reciting a blessing on the Torah, which he desecrates and essentially denies, is the height of hypocrisy and perhaps chutzpah. And this is where Rabbi Motzen’s comparison ironically has a tinge of legitimacy, as one who publicly identifies as part of a group that defines itself as maintaining a position that is extremely contrary to the Torah should likewise not be honored with the Torah.

With this in mind, Rabbi Motzen’s rhetorical remarks thus strike me as odd:

Is there any justifiable reason that many shuls do not hesitate before giving aliyos to people who are not Shomer Shabbos, but there is an uproar if a gay man is given the same honor? I cannot imagine Hashem loves such a person any less, and neither should we.

I must absolutely emphasize that a man who privately has SSA urges yet remains loyal to the Torah in public and in private (to our knowledge) should indeed be called up to the Torah. In contrast, Rabbi Motzen refers to people who openly identify with a movement that runs counter to Torah values.

Rabbi Motzen advocates for gay people to speak openly with their rabbonim about their struggles, and for rabbonim to have an open ear. This is not an issue of dispute; individuals with SSA impulses and self-identity questions should of course privately seek and receive guidance from their rabbonim and rebbeim, as should everyone else with personal struggles and challenges. But contrary to the message that readers of Rabbi Motzen’s article might receive, this is not something that shows a change in policy or is a “first step” for “LGBTQ+ and the frum community”.

Similarly, Rabbi Motzen’s call for being kind and compassionate is not new and does not represent a change in what should be communal conduct; but again, discussion of these issues must be on a private, discreet basis between individuals and their rabbonim/rebbeim (and rebbetzins, for women) – it is not something for public consumption.

We must be ever so careful not to give the impression (even unintentionally, as I believe is the case here) that we are committed to Halacha on a technical level yet do not fully embrace the Torah’s value system. In no uncertain terms does the Torah twice refer to the homosexual act as to’eivah (an abomination), and we publicly read this description on Shabbos and on Yom Kippur – not to mention Chazal’s words about homosexual relationships, as found in the midrashim about the generation of the Mabul (the Flood) and elsewhere. While those individuals about whom Rabbi Motzen writes assumedly do not act upon their SSA urges, any effort to craft a new position regarding public homosexual identity, especially as a community, is flawed and will lead to widespread deviation from the Torah and abrogation of its values.

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