by Rabbi Dov Fischer, Israel National News
Almost daily, my inbox and RSS news feeds bear LGBTQIA+ advocacy articles, often from sources labelled “Reform Judaism,” “Open Orthodoxy,” “Conservative Judaism,” and “Reconstructionist Judaism.”
Only a week ago, two “Conservative lesbian rabbis tied the knot,” celebrating the first-ever such desecration in their contra-Torah movement that now is no different from “Reform Judaism.” This week, “Open Orthodoxy” proudly announced it was adding to its seminary’s Board of Directors a therapist who is quite focused on his Gay identity. In Israel a colleague whom I knew once to be an Orthodox rabbi when he practiced in Southern California thirty years ago, stepped beyond everything that normative mainstream Orthodoxy holds dear when he ordained a fellow whose homosexuality-centric public writings, focus, and public behavior even transcended what the “Open Orthodox” ordaining body could bear.
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Contemporary sensitivities are such that the LGBTQIA+ subject barely can be discussed safely in the secular world from a Torah hashkafah (perspective). Ironically, I probably have pastorally counseled and stood by more LGBTQ men and women than have 99% of my colleagues in the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), where I served six years on its Executive Committee and continue to be active Most of those whom I have counseled have been non-Jews who have approached me in venues varying from law school where I teach to actual law-firm practice where law associates have approached me confidentially.
Because most non-Jews, at least in Southern California, are not acquainted with the nuances of Orthodox Judaism, just as the typical Orthodox Jew does not know a Presbyterian from a Methodist to a Lutheran — and certainly not a Missouri Synod Lutheran from a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran — and because people like me do not discuss or reveal our religious views at secular work because of cancel culture (and also because of simple propriety and rudmentary common sense) — many in pain just naturally assume that a rabbi would be more sympathetic than a regular law professor or big-firm litigation associate. They are correct. Then word of mouth spreads from those whom I helpfully have counseled, giving rise to more individuals privately seeking my guidance and caring.
Let us assume (a datum I do not accept) that five percent of the general population are homosexual. That still would mean that fewer than that would come Orthodoxy’s way. Of 100 homosexuals, more of those supposed five will be inclined to steer clear of Orthodox clergy and congregations, no matter what. It kind-of is obvious: the lifestyle, the perceptions. So, if the starting point is that five out of every 100 begin at that place, we Orthodox do not get approached by anywhere near five out of every 100 — unless we happen to be the outlier marketing to that population. Few, if any of us, are.
I think of “percentages,” and I ask my rabbinic colleagues and normative mainstream Orthodox laity to think about the other issues that come our way and need our help:
. . . What percent of people do we encounter in our lives who are religious teens within our rubric who, all data show as do empirical results in America, will become non-observant in the United States in a few years after the American secular colleges have finished with them? . . .
. . . And what percent are “Modern Orthodox” adults who do not regularly daven or wear tzitzit, do not regularly learn more Torah, who tell dirty jokes, watch dirty TV and movies, have nothing of substance to discuss so fall back on loshon horo, and create a home where their children are destined to end up in the line above? . . .
. . . And what percent of people do we encounter who are Torah-observant women (long-term singles, divorced, widowed) over age 40 or 45 who desperately want to marry, but cannot find a husband, so (i) live desperate lonely lives, and (ii) sometimes ultimately will marry a non-observant guy and give up their Orthodoxy because they can’t take the loneliness anymore, even as foolish “friends” tell them they are developing wrinkles and that the odds are more probable for a woman to get blown up in a terror attack than to marry over age 50 or 60? . . .
. . . And what percent of people do we encounter who are non-observant but deeply Jewish-conscious women over age 40 or 45 who desperately want to marry, but cannot find a husband, so (i) live desperate lonely lives, and (ii) sometimes ultimately will marry a non-Jew and give up their Jewish home altogether rather than face later years alone? . . .
. . . And what percent of people do we encounter who are non-Jews seeking to convert to Judaism properly according to halakha (Jewish law)? . . . .
. . . And what percent of couples do we meet who once had been two non-observant secularists when they married, but now — ten or twenty years later — one wants to become Torah-observant while the spouse is holding him or her back? . . .
. . . And do we encounter people going through divorce, needing gittin (bills of divorce) that are being disrupted by recalcitrant and intransigent spouses? . . .
. . . And do we encounter people diagnosed with terminal diseases like cancer, needing incredible amounts of chizuk (encouragement) and reassurance just to go on? To do their chemo, overcome the psycholigical impact of their hair falling out, sitting for hours during infusions, living with bouts of nausea, doubting the time they have left? And what of their families and loved ones? . . .
. . . And people who have lost their jobs or incomes or never really have had enough income, and maybe never will, and face losing their homes or marriages for financial reasons? . . .
. . . And people with someone autistic in the family among their kids . . . or other illness? . . .
. . . And people with all kinds of other needs — physical, spiritual, emotional — that deserve and demand at least as much of our time and focus as do the LGBTQIA+ population who basically do not occupy much of our orbit?
We live in a world of chesed (kindness) and of so much goodness, but life includes pockets of hurt and pain. College professors and The Woke and “Influencers” throughout the social and cultural Left have decided that the “LGBTQIA+ cause” one of our society’s priority issues in this generation’s fight for what it considers social justice — along with the “oppressed victims” of “Palestine,” the Marxist-founded-and-based “Black Lives Matter” organization, the fight on campuses and in Ben & Jerry’s board rooms against “Zionist Apartheid,” and the need to defund police in America’s inner cities while securing rights for undocumented people who break into America illegally unlike the way my grandparents entered at Ellis Island.
No matter the personal cost, we must not allow others to coerce us to adopt their alien values and priorities.
The Torah repeats so very often that we must be especially sensitive to the ger (the “stranger” or “alien” who either jons the Jewish people as a “ger tzedek” convert or at least lives among us as a “ger toshav” accepting Jewish sovereignty in Israel) because we once were gerim (such “strangers” or “aliens”). But nowhere in Judaic literature are we told — not in Tanakh (our Bible), not in the Talmud, not among other Rishonim (earlier leading rabbinic authorities) nor among Acharonim (later leading rabbinic authorities), to be sensitive to homosexuals because we were homosexuals.
Instead, the Torah speaks of homosexuality as it does in Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:22 and 20:13. It tells us that such behaviors were the way of Egypt where we found ourselves for centuries, are the way of Canaan where we are destined to enter, and that such behavior must be rejected and avoided if we do not want to replicate upon ourselves the end result of Canaan: exiled and spit out from our Land, soil that is too holy to abide such behavior. Lev. 18:3, 20:22-23.
So the compassionate thing for us is not the way of the Nations. When it comes to kindness and compassion to the individual, we act — quietly, often outside the klieg lights, person by person. Mere virtue-signaling is not our way. We do (i) what is right (ii) when it is right (iii) because it is right.
Among the vast overwhelming majority of normative mainstream Orthodox Jews, ranging from Haredi Agudists to Chabad Chassidim to Modern Orthodox Religious Zionists, from America to Europe to Israel, most of us would never incline to organize at our shuls or in our associations a night of “Gay Activists” ruefully discussing their “plight.” That kind of programming is tres chic, “woke” and intersectional — but it is not our way.
Founders of Eshel, of “Orthodykes” (their term, not ours), therapists whose predominant life focus is on their own homosexuality? They are in pain, but we are not there to provide a forum or public validation for the phenomenon. Some issues are for private, just as almost all rabbonim (Orthodox rabbis) do not publicly pasken (pronounce rabbinic rulings) for an individual when someone asks a question after a public event, inquiring publicly whether she may proceed with an abortion. Rather, we compassionately invite her to set an appointment to discuss the matter privately. Does she ultimately receive a heter (permissive rabbinic ruling) in private? No one but the rav and she, and whoever she shares with, will know. Some things in Judaism are private.
We are so immersed in coarse liberal Western culture that we lose sight of how alien so much around us is from Judaism. Today I read of a “music” band that staged a sold-out concert three days ago at which the lead woman “singer” invited a man onto the stage so that she could urinate on him. And a man came on the stage. And she did it. It is on YouTube: 896,762 hits at the time of this writing (3.4K likes vs. 4.3K thumbs down). It was at 256,000 a day ago so it will be over a million when you read this.
Similarly, someone who goes by the name “Cardi B” has emerged in America as a major “influencer,” did a Zoom session with Joe Biden during his 2020 presidential campaign to help him attract younger voters, and recorded a song called “WAP” that was the #1 hit-song in all of America in 2020. It debuted atop the US Billboard Hot 100, with the largest opening streaming week for a song in country’s history, topping the digital, streaming, and hip hop charts, and giving Cardi B her fourth number-one single in the U.S. The “song” has been met with widespread critical acclaim, as though it were Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony composed while he was deaf. I was directed to the song and its lyrics by one of my co-contributors at The American Spectator, where I am a Senior Contributing Editor, and I could not believe my eyes.
I am not a prude, have been quite “around the block” in my life — four years undergraduate at Columbia University, three years at UCLA Law School, a year clerking in the federal appellate court in Louisville, Kentucky; a decade-long career as a civil litigator, sixteen years as a law professor — but was quite taken aback that the culture now has descended to this depth of coarseness. I am not even embedding the hyperlinks here — not to the micturating band singer nor to the lyrics of the “WAP” Number One song. There was a time when such a person with such a “song” would have been sent to reform school or had her mouth washed out with soap. Now, instead, presidential candidates vie for her endorsement, and she is lauded as an artist with vision, an “Influencer” among college and teen-age students.
This is the alien culture that surrounds us.
Those who are LGBTQIA+ deserve our compassion and our sincerest deepest love for their souls, not a stage at a shul or public audience accolades and hands clapping. They should be seeking rabbinic pastoral advice privately and confidentially rather than marching on the streets in “pride parades.” Pride? In being homosexual? Or, alternatively, in suffering from the mental illness of gender dysphoria — transgender desires?
As of this writing, Mayo Clinic still lists gender dysphoria as a mental illness with symptoms and complications: “Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a manual published by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose mental conditions. This term is intended to be more descriptive than the one that was previously used, gender identity disorder. The term gender dysphoria focuses on one’s discomfort as the problem, rather than identity. A diagnosis for gender dysphoria was created to help people get access to necessary health care and effective treatment.”
In Orthodoxy, do we have “pride parades” for people who transgress Shabbat? No. They seek pastoral chizuk (rabbinic insight and strengthening) for navigating their Torah commitment with the challenges that burn inside them..
In Judaism, homosexuality among the relatively few so afflicted always was personal, not in the open — but so was and is “straight” heterosexuality. We are private about when mom goes to mikvah. We literally hide the entrance and exit of the mikvah and ask husbands not to park in front to pick up or drop off their wives. We avoid touching people of the other gender, dealing even with the awkwardness of someone extending his or her hand in a welcoming gesture at a business meeting. We are a world apart from “Open Orthodox” non-Orthodox institutions like “Torat Chayim” having “Gay Picnics” on Shavuot.
We understand what “pride events” are. “Black pride” events celebrate racial Blackness. That indeed is an appropriate theme. “Jewish pride” events celebrate Jewishness. Likewise, we understand that “Gay pride” events celebrate homosexuality and transgenderism. That is outside Judaism’s “four cubits.”
When that once-normative-Orthodox rabbinic colleague of mine, who promoted the mainstream Orthodox Judaism thirty years ago in Southern California from which he now has moved on, ordained that homosexuality-obsessed “Gay married rabbi” whom even the Chovevei Torah Academy would not ordain, he was ordaining a fellow whose pre-ordination public articles included those focusing on why men should entertain being pretty like Joseph of Egypt, putting on make-up and fingernail polish. It is not our way.
Take careful note the next time you read of an “Open Orthodox” sort, a Reform or “Conservative” or Reconstructionist sort, advocating for LGBTQIA+. The “B” in that acrostic says so much about the advocates. Do the “Open Orthodox” really endorse or support bisexual conduct? How could they? After all, a bisexual person, by self-definition, is born with a perfectly kosher outlet within his or her natural make-up. To be “bisexual” and to ask for rabbinic endorsement to “go both ways” is like asking for rabbinic endorsement of adultery; it is devoid of the argument that such person is constructed with no other outlet.
And yet “Open Orthodoxy’s” advocacy for “LGBTQ,” never is limited solely to “LGTQ.” Because, really, such advocates and virtue-signalers are driven not by a Torah perspective but rather by parroting the passing “woke” trend that dominates today’s coarse secular Western culture. So they advocate for the woke cause, not individuating among the various letters in the Gay alphabet soup. Indeed, literally every few months, a new dimension is added to the acrostic that began once simply with “Gay and Lesbian.” Soon, “T” and “Q” — “transsexual” and “questioning” — were added, along with “bisexual.” Then the “T” was modified also to include “transgender” and the “Q” to include “Queer.” This website is one among many that now explains for newcomers and outsiders what else has been added to the acrostic:
LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Two- spirit, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, A-gender, Bi-gender, Gender Queer, Pansexual, Pangender, and Gender Variant. Keep an open mind because this is continuously evolving.
Not for us, it isn’t.
This is not for our agenda. We still must be respectful of all people. Never use derogatory language, certainly no epithets. Know that many in our orbits may have a close relative or coworker or neighbor or acquaintance who identifies among the LGBTQIA+ population. Those whom we may be able to help will find and seek us because we have done nothing to alienate them. If they do not seek us, our plates always will be full with so many other Jews and others who have so much other need for our focus and time.
Not every cause is our cause. The right of women to drivers’ licenses in Saudi Arabia is a good issue, but not ours. Political freedom in Venzuela, another compelling issue, does not draw us from our daily thoughts. The price of milk in Lebanon is closer to home for an Israeli that must be ever-vigilant regarding developments in the Hezbollah-occupied north, but the Lebanese economy otherwise is not our issue. Aboriginal rights in Australia and Maori rights in New Zealand are compelling but not our predominant issue. Similarly, the LGBTQIA+ cause is not our cause. It never has been in 3,300 years of Judaism. It very possibly never will be, regardless of what the coarse Western culture around us tries to preach. Individuals always should have access to our pastoral care when they approach us privately. But it is not our cause célèbre.