by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in The Israel National News
“The opposite of this is an equal problem: to show so much “love” that you are misrepresenting the real love of God, and are forsaking God’s truth in the process. You are so afraid of saying something that might push away the one to whom you are speaking that you cease to say anything at all controversial or potentially disagreeable.”
So writes the American religious and cultural commentator Eric Metaxas in his recent book “Letter to the American Church,” of which 95% could be co-opted (dare I say, converted) and applied to the American Orthodox Rabbinate. Metaxas’ starting point was the anti-Nazi German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who tried to arouse the German church in the 1930s to oppose the Nazi persecution of the Jews. After spending several years in America, he returned to Germany in 1939, was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943, and executed in April 1945, just one month before the war’s end.
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Bonhoeffer failed to convince his clerical colleagues to challenge the Nazis for reasons some of which should sound familiar to us. They were afraid of antagonizing the Nazis, they were not that sympathetic to Jews in the first instance, they saw the big picture and wished to focus on teaching religion, or they just did not want to get involved in politics, controversies, or cultural issues. Bonhoeffer was horrified by this spiritual neglect and condemned them for their failures and the emptiness of the Christianity they preached.
While the Nazi horrors are sui generis, Metaxas sees a similar dynamic at play today in his denomination’s reluctance to tackle the cultural and moral issues currently roiling American society. He mentions a number of such issues. One, certainly not as weighty as the Holocaust, stands before us as we endure yet another “pride” month. For how long will we remain silent? The easy road is to say nothing, ignore it, move on, focus on other matters, and wait it out, even as a society built on certain moral (and biological) assumptions collapses around us. But it is because of that collapse and the effect that it is having on our children that silence is not an option, a simple protest needs to be registered, and a new path forward recommended.
There are no illusions, at this point, that we can have any influence on secular Jews, Israelis, or Americans on this issue. The “pride” agenda is one of the few things in which they actually believe as dogma, absolute and unquestionable. Dialogue, although not impossible, is difficult, for they have fabricated their own system of sin and virtue unmoored from traditional morality.
For almost two decades now, any open discussion of these matters has been stifled by the well-funded activists, with the now familiar litany of accusations: any dissenting voice endangers their lives, encourages bullying and suicide, is cruel and unkind, insensitive and a waste of our time and energy. Those who oppose the agenda are, by their definition, haters, and bigots, suffer from a phobia, and are all “obsessed.”
Some of these contentions are risible, others dubious, and some debatable, but together serve the purpose of suppressing any free and frank discussion of what this movement has engendered in broader society. This is the linguistic playbook they use. A complicit media serves its purposes and advances its agenda.
It should be stated openly. The LGBT movement, especially in its Orthodox incarnation, is the modern rebellion against Torah, no different than any other rebellious movement against Torah in our history beginning with that of Korach. It makes no difference whether the rebellion is conscious or unconscious; rebellion it is.
The Conservative Jewish movement first strayed by abolishing the mechitzah in shuls, as part of its general conception of an evolving Mesorah. That revolution pales before the LGBT insurrection, which seeks to literally excise a prohibition from the Torah, mocks the very definition of marriage, denies the reality that God created human beings “male and female,” and not three or six or sixty-four genders, as some would have it. It is the very essence of a heretical movement.
Rather than be challenged and distanced, if necessary, as the non-Orthodox movements were, they are coddled, especially when they threaten to “leave Orthodoxy.” We then distort the Torah, and in the process cheat our children who think the Torah is cruel, incomprehensible, malleable, or man-made, and they soon lose respect for the Mesorah and create their own. Our youth are being raised to think that what is abnormal is quite normal, that what is unnatural is quite natural, and that what is a sign of mental illness is just self-actualization that should be encouraged, patronized, and subsidized. No wonder there is such mass confusion, dysfunction, and unhappiness.
It is all one big game of pretend, in which no one is allowed to state the quiet part aloud: the emperor has no clothes! It is not that he is wearing alternative garb.
Do we even take a moment to consider that a four-year-old girl who thinks she is a boy needs her parents to take her to a competent mental health professional – not a surgeon?
It is hard to imagine a greater act of child abuse to which children – teens and younger – are being subjected, and all in the name of the golden calf of compassion.
Can’t we just admit that the pronoun game (individuals thinking they are plural) or the therian game (people thinking they are really animals) – is silly, and disturbing? Can’t we state publicly that an obvious-looking man or woman who claims to be non-binary is nonsensical? We help no one by mainstreaming mental illness or by egging on people who need therapy. And those who do not protest are accomplices to a rebellion against Torah.
For too long we have been playing semantic games, such as “it is no sin to be a homosexual, but only to commit homosexual acts.” That is a distinction without a difference and a vacuous one at that. Just reflect on how inane it sounds in other contexts. For example, it is not against the Torah to be a thief, only to steal. It is not against the Torah to be a murderer, only to murder. But what makes one a thief or a murderer? Only by stealing something or murdering someone. But we would not say that a thief is always stealing, or a murderer is always murdering someone, nor would we term someone with larcenous tendencies a thief or homicidal tendencies a murderer.
Deeds matter more than thoughts or fantasies. But why then do we dance around the issue that a homosexual is one who has committed homosexual acts and not one who just has tendencies? No one’s tendencies are proscribed, only actions, as we all have sinful tendencies. But it is because the “pride” lobby – the only sin which has such a lobby – is purposely trying to dilute the gravity of the sin and excuse the sinner.
There is an impasse in any reasoned discussion of these matters, given the threats, litigation, and cultural dominance, and because we have split into two camps. One camp fully embraces the new immorality as sacred and inviolable and demands legitimacy and acceptance from the Torah world – or else. They wish to control public discourse and impose their will on our schools, shuls, institutions, culture, and children. They have intimidated into silence most rabbis and opinion shapers in Jewish life.
Is there a way out of this morass? Yes, but it requires an honest conversation heretofore lacking.
In the public discussion of these issues, we must revive the language of sin, right and wrong, objective truth, morality, and G-d’s will as embodied in the Torah, as well as the Torah’s immutability.
We owe nothing to a group. But the individual is different. As rabbis have always done, to the individual struggling privately with same-sex attraction, and to their families who rightly love them and want to help them, we must offer safe counsel, sound guidance, and compassion without indulging or celebrating sinful behavior. There must be assistance provided to those who desire to overcome these passions or are otherwise plagued by gender confusion or some other dysfunction, if and where possible.
We should reiterate that no person has the right to blackmail family, friends, or communities into violating the Halakha or their consciences. No child has the right to say to a parent, “Prove your love for me by eating this ham sandwich with me.” Privately we should encourage the parents to love and guide their wayward children, as we would privately encourage those children to observe as many mitzvot as they can – but never, ever, compromise a Torah value, eradicate, or celebrate a prohibition or make a mockery of all that is holy by sham ceremonies.
Cancel culture is a travesty – but it is also a two-way street. We should respond, without fear or rancor, by eschewing platitudes (compassion is a value but it is not the only or even primary value in Jewish life; misplaced mercy has always been a bane of Jewish existence) and by reinforcing the Torah’s morality at every opportunity in a pleasant and winsome way without compromising one whit. That would be courageous in today’s environment – and that would also be what once defined leadership.