Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality
JIFGA Overview: Introduction
The Seven Noahide Laws: A Blueprint for a Better World
The Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA) teaches that by understanding, internalizing and following a set of Divinely-ordained moral imperatives and universal ethics known as the Seven Noahide Laws, the world can produce more just societies, which are better able to receive and retain G-d’s** Presence. We seek to inspire our fellow human beings, because we are all descendants of Noah who, together with his family, is described in the Hebrew Bible as the survivor of The Flood and who thus became the ancestor of all of humanity. However, not only do we seek to inspire everyone who follows the Abrahamic religions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) to follow these Noahide laws but also those of every race, color, or creed.
Our foundation is rooted in Biblical principles and expresses a Biblical world-view. Some may refer to this code as representative of a “Judeo-Christian” worldview because it includes the moral values initially set forth in the Hebrew Bible (the Torah) and shared by the Christian traditions that historically shaped much of the western world. Given to us by G-d at the dawn of history, (as recounted in the book of Genesis and documented in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 56a-b -- the Oral Law), these seven principles, if followed, permit us to establish a harmonious world in which diverse peoples can live together peacefully.
JIFGA seeks to globally provide humanity with greater awareness of the existence of these universal values, principles that are dependent upon Biblical teachings. These are root ethical values that Jews, Christians and Muslims, who represent more than 50% of the world’s population, can act upon within their own religious traditions. The great Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, also have, at their root, a primordial link to these core values. In fact, going back to Noah, these values are part of a legacy for all humanity.
Jews Have a Special Obligation to Spread Knowledge of the Noahide Laws
Orthodox Jewish tradition states that these moral imperatives were given by G-d as a binding Code of Conduct for the children of Noah, i.e., for all of humanity; further, that Jews (as the original recipients of the tradition from Sinai) are obligated to teach people about the Code's existence and to encourage them to observe these laws.
Maimonides (1138-1204), a great rabbinic sage, said, ‘Moses, our teacher, instructed the Jewish people, having been authorized from the mouth of G-d, to bring all of the inhabitants of the world to observe the commandments given to the children of Noach [Noah]. It is the Jew’s duty to see to it that all peoples lead the righteous and decent life which comes from compliance with G-d’s Laws.”
Rabbi Daniel Levy currently from the United Kingdom explains: “The Jew has a crucial role to play. He cannot be a by-stander remaining aloof from the world’s conduct.”
And Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the revered deceased leader of the world-wide Chabad movement, in urging Jews to inform non-Jews about the Noahide Code of Conduct, said, “Every Jew has the obligation to ensure that all the peoples of the world observe the Seven Noahide Laws. The religious tolerance of today, and the trend towards greater freedom, gives us the unique opportunity to enhance widespread observance of these laws.”
Even though G-d charged the Children of Israel to serve as His "Light unto the nations" (Isaiah 49:6) at Mount Sinai, historical circumstances did not permit us to publicize Noahide laws, also reiterated at Sinai, until the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, revived this lost tradition in the early 1980s in an effort to prepare the world for a new era. Recent rabbinical support from a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis reaffirm “the fundamental ethical obligations that all people have before G-d [as] … taught [by Judaism] through the universal Noahide covenant.”
The Jewish Institute for Global Awareness, working with people of all three of the Abrahamic faiths, as well as any individual who has a potential affinity with these basic values, was thus formed to take upon itself this obligation by spreading awareness of the content of these commandments and to encourage adherence to them.
Any non-Jew who adheres to these seven Biblical Laws, and does so because they were commanded to Moses as part of the general revelation at Sinai, is considered a “righteous gentile” in G-d’s eyes and is thus assured of a place in the world to come (Olam Haba) -- the ultimate reward for the righteous. There is no imperative for such a person to become a Jew and Jews are mandated not to prostelyze religious conversion to Judaism but simply to make known to all of humanity the laws which humanity in general is commanded to follow.
- Christianity: Most Christian believers today see these 7 Noahide Laws as compatible with the main ethical tenets of their faith and advocate adhering to its Code of Conduct. The original intention of Jesus (the Nazarene) and Paul (Saul of Tarsus), according to the historical research of Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776), was to convert non-Jews to the observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. Indeed, early Christian references to the essence of the Noahide Laws as a Code of Conduct is mentioned in the first century CE, Acts 15:1-31 when Paul agreed to admit gentiles into the Christian Church only after they accepted the substance of these principles. The New Testament, followed by Christians, incorporated the universal values of the Noahide Laws which in turn are part of the Old Testament that G-d gave at Mt. Sinai for all of humanity.
- Islam: Because Noah is recognized as a prophet in the Koran, there is Muslim support for and compliance with the spread of the Seven Noahide Laws. This fact is evidenced by its specific acceptance by many Muslim leaders. For example, the Mayors of several Israeli Arab communities such as the Mayor of the Galilean City of Shefa-Amar (Shfaram) and the Abu Gosh Mayor (Salim Jaber), both of whom signed a declaration in 2004 committing to establish a more humane world by adopting the values of the seven Noahide Laws. Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, has expressed the view in 2012 that these values truly unite civilizations. The spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif (in 2004) likewise recognized these seven principles as fundamental values of society. And, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, a leader of the Italian Muslim Assembly, unequivocally declared in 2006, “Islamic law holds within it the seven laws of Noah and can be taught correctly to the Muslims of the world.” It is hoped that acceptance of these common moral values can end the centuries old animosity between Muslims and Jews.
Belief in G-d and His Moral Values Essential
In order to transcend our innate selfishness and the subjectivity of our intellects, a key aspect of this universal moral code is an acknowledgement that society must be predicated on a belief in G-d. If we are to follow His commandments, we must recognize the existence of a Higher Power, one to whom we are responsible for our actions. Morality should not be altered to suit one’s personal whims or for his/her social convenience. Human beings cannot become the sole arbiters of right and wrong. If we do so, then "right" and “wrong” become relative rather than absolute. When this occurs, the “politically correct” view enforces one group’s standards, regardless of the consequences it may have to others who may disagree. On the other hand, G-d’s commandments as to what is “right” and what is “wrong” provide us with universal moral absolutes which have withstood the test of time over millennia.
Today’s world has lost touch with these moral absolutes and thus we find ourselves living in a time of great moral and social drift – without an objective or universal moral anchor. We need to rediscover these timeless laws and incorporate them into our daily lives, thereby enabling us, based upon G-d’s commandments, to structure an ethical code of conduct for human existence. By doing so, we can not only unify different cultures, societies, and traditions but also reverse the course of moral decay that is evident in western civilization.
Connection to the Ten Commandments
There is a clear connection between the seven Laws of Noah which were commanded to Noah sixteen generations earlier than the Ten Commandments which were given at Mt. Sinai to Moses as part of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) as an eternal inheritance (Deut. 33:4). At a minimum, five out of the Ten Commandments are specifically referenced in the Seven Noahide laws while the other five are implicitly included in the more generalized Seven Noahide laws, either through inference or by interpretation.
Rabbi Dr. Shimon Dovid Cowen, founder and director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization in Melbourne, Australia explains that both the Seven Laws of Noah and the Ten Commandments are at the core of a revelation communicated to Moses in its totality in the Five Books of Moses. “This [revelation] contained altogether 620 commandments, comprised of 613 commandments addressed to the Jewish people and seven commandments, the Noahide laws, addressed to humanity.” While the universal part of the revelation—the Noahide laws—was communicated to humanity prior to Sinai, its reiteration in the Sinai revelation fortifies the importance of Noahide law and the social order it commands.
Drawing upon the ancient Jewish tradition of gematria which assigns a number to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order to help us understand hidden meanings of words and phrases as well as capturing the spiritual association or connection between words and spiritual concepts, Rabbi Dr. Cowen points out the symbolism of “the fact that the Hebrew text of the Ten Commandments contained 620 letters,” precisely the same number of total commandments (613 plus 7) revealed at Mt. Sinai to the world, thereby evidencing G-d’s intent to connect the seven laws of Noah with the Ten Commandments.
Government Leaders Encourage Adherence to the Seven Noahide Laws
The universality of these principles and global import was recognized in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan when he spoke of “the eternal validity of the Seven Noahide Laws [as] a moral code for all of us regardless of religious faith” (Proclamation on the National Day of Reflection, April 4, 1982).
Seven years later, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush not only proclaimed that these “Biblical values are the foundation for civilized society” but he also recognized that “A society that fails to recognize or adhere to them cannot endure.”
He understood how these “principles of moral and ethical conduct that have formed the basis for all civilizations comes to us, in part, from the centuries old Seven Noahide Laws.” And, in doing so, he noted their origins: “The Noahide Laws are actually seven commandments given to man by G-d, as recorded in the Old Testament. …” (Proclamation 5956-Education Day, USA 1989 and 1990, 102 Stat. 3016, April 14, 1989)
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States Congress in 1991, on a bipartisan basis, further recognized how this “historical tradition of ethical values and principles…upon which our great Nation was founded … have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws.” The American Congress understood how “the most recent weakening of these principles … has resulted in crises that beleaguer and threaten the fabric of civilized society.” Thus, they warned us that “without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos.” (Public Law 102-14, 102d Congress, 1st session, H.J. Res. 104)
Other world leaders have joined the call for further observance and knowledge of these laws. For example, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Union wrote (in July, 2014) that he seeks greater “dissemination of the universal values known as the Noahide laws” and Major General Michael Jeffery, Governor General of Australia, lamenting family breakdowns and drug and alcohol abuse in modern society in a 2008 letter wrote that he believed that observing the fundamental values of the Noahide Laws can be an antidote to such ills of society.
We only need to look at the havoc in which we find ourselves today in order to recognize the validity of these truthful assertions.
Specifics of the Seven Laws of Noah
So what are these seven Laws of Noah? Depending upon the source utilized to ascertain these laws, the exact order--but not the substance--may vary somewhat.
ONE: Prohibition of Idolatry: by being ever mindful and aware of G-d’s Presence. We are to focus on the monotheistic concept of the unity of G-d and negate what is the opposite of a belief in G-d, i.e. idolatry of any sort. By having knowledge of G-d, we are able to imitate His G-dly qualities.
TWO: Reverence for G-d: includes a prohibition of blasphemy against G-d’s holy Name (the ultimate irreverence for G-d) and by positive concepts of serving G-d by revering Him in our speech and respecting His sacred texts. Likewise, since every human being is created in the image of G-d, he or she must be treated with respect and honor. In particular, this respect for G-d’s image within us is associated with honoring one’s parents, honoring one’s own words, being careful not to lie, and exercising the G-d given free will of humans, thus enabling us to choose ethical responses to life’s situations.
THREE: Prohibition of Homicide: not to kill [physical harm is included in the prohibition of theft – theft and material harm] a human being. As required by respect for the sanctity of human life, suicide, assisting suicide, elective abortion, and euthanasia are forbidden. By engaging in these acts, we metaphorically lessen G-d, for humans were created in the image of G-d. Phrased positively, this law requires us to respect human life.
FOUR: Prohibition of Theft/Robbery: includes not only stealing, lying, or cheating but extends to all kinds of harm to person or property. Overall affirmative respect for another’s personhood, rights and property are included.
FIVE: Prohibiting Sexual Deviations/Misconduct: We are commanded to forever protect and uphold the family unit by not committing any acts of sexual immorality (adultery, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, sexual abuse) as well as not engaging in promiscuous behaviors nor engaging in castration, pornography, and masturbation. It also includes the positive aspects of strengthening natural marriages and procreating. The sanctity of natural marriage reflects the oneness of G-d and his creations.
SIX: A Dietary Law Prohibition: not to eat flesh taken from an animal while still alive – is part of a broader prohibition on gratuitous cruelty to animals; we are also enjoined not to be heedlessly wasteful or unnecessarily destructive to G-d’s physical creation.
SEVEN: Create a Fair and Righteous Judicial System: to enforce the other six laws and all other laws consistent with them.
**It is traditional among many Jews, rather than spelling out the full word for the Supreme Being, to substitute the letters “G-d,” thereby treating G-d’s name with reverence and providing respect to Him as the Supreme Being. By doing so, we can erase or dispose of the writing without disrespecting Him or symbolically destroying His name.
Interview with Arthur Goldberg
Statement of Rabbis
Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality
December 26, 2011
For Immediate Release
Therapy to Help Homosexuals Change Orientation:
Hundreds of Rabbis Say Its the Only Torah-Approved Way
A coalition of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis, community organizers and leaders, and respected mental-health professionals have released a statement declaring that, political correctness notwithstanding, the only Torah-approved course of action with regard to homosexuality is psychological therapy coupled with teshuva, or repentance.
The document, entitled Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality, seeks to clarify the theological understanding of the Biblically mandated prohibition. It also presents what the authors and signators see as a practical and achievable solution for those faced with same-sex attractions. Its position is that same-sex attractions can be modified and healed.
The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable, says the Declaration, which views same-sex attractions as any other behavior that can be controlled and altered, such as addictions or weight control.
The signators represent the broad spectrum of the Torah-observant world, including Modern Orthodox rabbis, ultra-Orthodox roshei yeshivas as well as some from Yeshiva University, pulpit rabbis, yeshivish and chassidish rabbis, organizational rabbis, Sephardic rabbis, rebbetzins, community organizers, and mental-health professionals.
The timing of the Declaration to coincide with Chanukah, which celebrates the Jews resistance to forced Hellenization, was not coincidental. Homosexuality was one of the hallmarks of ancient Greek culture.
The timeless and immutable Torah-based conviction regarding the unacceptability of homosexual behavior motivated the authors and signators of the Declaration.
Dismissing the modern trend, even in some religious circles, to view homosexuality as a permanent, unchangeable characteristic or trait, the statement emphatically rejects the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire.
Behaviors are changeable. The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid, says the statement.
The Declaration, which was written by a 25-member committee consisting of rabbis, parents, strugglers (those still undergoing therapy), and success stories (those who underwent therapy and today are living heterosexual lives, many with spouses and children), rejects efforts by secularists and some in the religious community to downplay or deny totally the possibility of change. Further, the Declaration recognizes that those who dismiss the possibility of change are forcing individuals with same-sex attractions to live their lives as either homosexuals or celibates.
Abandoning people to lifelong loneliness and despair by denying all hope of overcoming and healing their same-sex attraction is heartlessly cruel, says the statement.
The treatment recommended in the statement is reparative or gender-affirming therapy, which the Declaration defines as reinforcing the natural gender-identity of the individual by helping him or her understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation and weakening, thus enabling the resumption and completion of the individuals emotional development.
Teshuva, which the statement sees as a necessary component, is the Torah-mandated self-motivated process of turning away from any transgression or sin and returning to G-d and ones spiritual essence.
These processes are typically facilitated and coordinated with the help of a specially trained counselor or therapist working in conjunction with a qualified spiritual teacher or guide. There is no other practical, Torah-sanctioned solution for this issue, says the statement.
The statement goes out of its way to caution against castigation of the individual suffering from an unwanted same-sex attraction. The key point to remember is that these individuals are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds. They deserve our full love, support, and encouragement in their striving towards healing, says the Declaration.
Because so many of the committees members have either formerly dealt with the issue or are still undergoing therapy, the entire committee decided to keep its membership anonymous.
Our identity isnt important; our message is, said one of the members.
According to the member, the purpose of the Torah Declaration is to help Jews who have become confused on this issue and have become accepting of some false notions, including the concept that a person cannot control his nature and, therefore, should accept his prohibited inclination as something natural and normal that does not need to be worked on and healed.
The member said that many of the committees success stories are now married to women who are fully aware of their husbands backgrounds and are living family-oriented lives in the mainstream Orthodox community.
While the members of the committee have requested anonymity, the signators, many of them world-renowned, have gone public with the Declaration. Their names and affiliations, as well as the full Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality and other pertinent information, can be accessed at www.TorahDec.org.
For more information, members of the press can contact our press representative, who has agreed to field questions from the press, act as a liaison between members of the committee and the press, and, when possible, facilitate interviews with signators. Our press representative can be reached at [email protected]
Homosexuality and Judaism | 2001
Written by Rabbi Barry Freundel
Homosexuality, once a word whispered only with revulsion or derision, is now out in the open for all to see and hear. In fact, homosexuality and its attendant issues have become big news.
Whether it is the rapidly spreading, and ever-more frightening AIDS epidemic, or the increase in sympathetic "gay" characters in the theater and in literature, or the widening legal battles over the status of homosexuals, one cannot go very far in contemporary society with out confronting this once extremely closet-bound topic.
Traditional Judaism, too, has been forced to confront the issue as "gay" individuals and "synagogues" have appeared on the Jewish landscape, often appealing for support from the liberal segments of the Jewish community.
Certainly, an authentic Jewish response must begin with the biblical prohibition against homosexuality. The Bible unequivocally states that a homosexual act between two consenting adult males is a capital crime(1). Therefore, homosexuality is an activity that no traditional Jew can engage in, endorse, accept, or approve of (recent televised statements to the contrary notwithstanding)(2).
Despite this initial biblical negative, there is much to discuss regarding our attitude to the homosexual, the issue of the homosexual's place in the community, the question of approach and the treatment of the homosexual, and the problem of the homosexual's rights and acceptance in society. In addition, we must consider why the Bible and Jewish thought reject homosexuality keeping in mind as we do that female homosexuality, though forbidden, is not nearly as serious a crime as is its male counterpart(3).
Drawing the Right Picture
Our analysis of Judaism's approach to homosexuality begins with the question, "What is Judaism's view of the Jewish homosexual?" It is this author's contention that the only appropriate answer to this question is "there is no such individual(4)."
To explain this rather radical statement, one must go back to the structure that halacha places upon Jewish society. In this structure there are certain legal personalities who constitute the dramatis personae of the Jewish community. A Cohen is such a personality, as is a Levi. A woman is such a personality, as is a slave or a king. Other "characters" populate the Jewish landscape. The mamzer and the Cohen Gadol, the Katan and the gadol, the cheresh and the shoteh each has his place in the scheme of things(5). Lacking from this list is the homosexual. So much is he missing from the cast of characters of Jewish society that one is hard put to find a halachic term used specifically for him(6).
If one were, in fact, to apply a halachic category to this individual, it would be the general category of mumar l'teiavon (one whose desires put him in opposition to Torah law), specifically mumar l'mishkav zachor (one who because of his repeated involvement in homosexual activity is in opposition to Torah law). Such a category exists in halachic literature(7), is clearly defined, and places the homosexual on a equal footing with other mumarim who violate other laws.
It seems clear from this that halacha never viewed the homosexual as a member of a unique category or as different from the non-homosexual. He has no greater or lesser rights or obligations. He deserves no special treatment or concessions nor any special vilification. In fact, the term "homosexual" is an essentially inappropriate description for him. We should, rather, refer to this individual as a person engaged in homosexual activity. "Homosexual" is therefore not a noun that identifies and categorizes the individual but an adjective that describes his activity.
This approach has great intuitive appeal. It is hard to imagine Jewish thought accepting the premise the sexual desires and activities provide grounds by which to define an individual's place in the community. In addition, there are vast and important ramifications that emerge from this picture of the individual as a person involved in homosexual activity and not as a homosexual.
The first effect of this changed conceptualization is to alter and improve the individual's perception of himself. If one is labeled and defined by the term "homosexual", he is consequently different than the heterosexual. As such, he will struggle for minority status and for his rights as a member of that minority. He is, and should be, portrayed as a unique character type in movies, theater, and on television, and he should command an appropriate number of participants in any institution that constitutes itself along racial, ethnic, and religious lines. He agitates for gay pride and gay power, and if he is Jewish, he creates gay synagogues and other gay institutions.
On the other hand, If "homosexual" is a term that is limited to the description of an activity, then the individual practicing this activity remains an undifferentiated member of society, and if Jewish he is part of Jewish society. He need not feel excluded from the community. In the same way that the adulterer, the practitioner of pre-marital sex, the mechallel Shabbat(8) or the speaker of lashon harah all enter the synagogue and feel at home while individually dealing with whatever guilt they carry as a result of their sinful activities, so, too, the individual involved in homosexual activity can and should enter the synagogue and feel himself to be part of the community. He is still a human being and a Jew. He is most assuredly not part of a separate homosexual society or sub-society. (See below for a discussion of the Gentile homosexual.) Obviously, the adulterer, mechallel Shabbat, et al are duty-bound to change their ways - to do teshuva - and the mumar l'mishkav zachor has the same obligation(9).
The second implication of this approach concerns the community's dealings with the individual involved in homosexual activity. If the practitioner of homosexuality is considered a full fledged Jew (albeit a mummar), the community should welcome him as such. This is particularly true in our post-holocaust era, wherein our heightened awareness of the value of each Jewish soul has motivated many communities to make kiruv rechokim (attempts to bring non-observant Jews into the fold of Torah-observance) a hallmark of their activities. This Kiruv work should not and cannot be limited only to violators of halacha in ritual matters. Deviance from halachic norms in sexual matters is as much an area for concern, outreach, and proper education as anything else. Particularly in an area that is as difficult to control as sexual desire(10), the support of the community for one who might want to bring his lifestyle in line with halacha may be crucial to success.
At this point something should be said about the term "toeivah(11)" as used by the Torah in connection with homosexuality. Some may feel that its appearance in this context precludes treating the practitioner of homosexuality in the same way that one would treat an individual who is guilty of a different sin. The problem with this suggestion is that to be consistent we would require similarly negative treatment of the persons who eats non-Kosher food(12) the idolator(13), the unethical business man(14) and the individual who remarries a woman who, since her divorce from him, has entered and left (by death or divorce) another marriage to another man(15). All of these individuals are guilty of committing a toeivah, according to the respective verses that prohibit the particular activity. If we are going to ostracize the individual who commits homosexual acts, then we must ostracize these individuals as well. Since we do not take this approach in the other cases, we should not do so in dealing with the individual involved in homosexual activity.
How then to understand the toeivah designation? In an article in the Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook, Dr Norman Lamm(16) defines toeivah in aesthetic terms. These actions are repulsive in and of themselves; no rationale or explanation is necessary. Rather, the divine aspect within the human being is automatically and instinctively repelled by these activities. The fact that any number of individuals are possessed of a deadened spiritual sensitivity that allows them to accept or even participate in the acts in question, does not mean that the spiritually sensitive individual allows his revulsion to be diminished nor does he apologize for that revulsion.
Further, it is important to note that the wording of the act in question indicates that this revulsion is directed only at the act and not at its perpetrator. The perpetrator is not to be ostracized. One who commits a toeivah is halachically and societally no different than one who commits a transgression of a non-toeivah law of equal severity.
Although it may be true that a leopard cannot change its sports, Judaism holds that a human being can change or control his activities(17). While we certainly recognize that many individuals have personality factors that would tend to promote certain sinful activities, our expectation is that these individuals will control these tendencies. We no more would accept the act of murder as legitimate because the perpetrator is prone to violence, then we should accept the act of homosexuality as inevitable because of the existence of biological, genetic, or environmental factors that may contribute to an individual's preference for homosexual acts. A rational individual can control himself, and no amount of apologetics, explanations, or rationalizations can change this fundamental fact. Simply put, the individual engaged in homosexual activity is wrong in what he is doing and is held responsible for having done it.
It is on this issue that the approach presented here parts company most completely with Dr.Lamm's view. Whereas Dr. Lamm(18) sees the homosexual as an anuss (an individual forced into heredity and/or environment into activity that the Bible forbids) this author sees him as mumar. Whereas Dr. Lamm effectively removes culpability from him (anuss rachma patrie(19)), this author insists that creating a sense of culpability is an integral part of the approach that Judaism should take in confronting the individual involved in homosexual activity. This sense of culpability may be just the push necessary for the individual to begin the teshuva process.
The view presented here seems more in keeping with biblical(20), talmudic(21) and other halachic sources(22). The consistent position taken by these sources is that the homosexual is ultimately subject to punishment for his actions. The halachic system fully expects that an individual properly warned, witnessed, and brought to trial for this act be killed. There is no indication anywhere in the literature that such individuals have a prima facie defense as anussim.
Dr. Lamm(23) supports his approach by arguing that present public policy and social reality preclude punishment of all offenders. We must, therefore, maintain our condemnation of the act while refraining from dealing punitively with the offender. In his view, this can best be done by treating the offender as an anuss.
However, there is nothing in his argument that prevents our labeling the individual as a mumar. We do not punish Sabbath violators, or those who eat treif. Environment/heredity is not enough to label the individual involved in homosexual activity an anuss. Rather label him a mumar, indicating that he is responsible for his actions.
Further, a stance such as Dr. Lamm's seems to carry with it the possibility of pushing the individual presently questioning his own sexual orientation over the wrong edge.
After all, if biology/upbringing is the cause, and the participant is only the victim of irresistible forces, he has a handy excuse and less of a reason not to succumb to his desires.
Labeling one a mumar does not necessarily mean that the community should respond with public condemnation and rejection or the individual. In an era which lacks a Sanhedrin and adequate Jewish communal structures we have long tolerated, worked with, and even welcomed and accepted violators of many halachot within our community. It is necessary, therefore, to couple our tolerance of the individual with disapproval of the activity. This must then be combined with an expectation and hope that the individual will change his behavior. Calling him a mumar, if handled correctly, strengthens the chances for change.
The subject of change brings us to our next point. Jewish thought would argue that homosexually oriented individuals can change their sexual orientation and can ultimately develop an interest in and derive pleasure from heterosexual activity. This conclusion is an obvious consequence of our discussion thus far. If a homosexual act is punishable, and if we expect he individual who has homosexual desires to avoid giving in to them, what then is the life situation of such and individual? There seem to be two possibilities. One: such and individual cannot change his feelings. If this is the case he is a prisoner trapped in a body which, while commanded to marry an procreate, has an emotional structures that finds such a concept at best unfulfilling and at worst a living purgatory. Two: change - and a normal, happy, fulfilled life marriage and heterosexual union are possible.
We are told by the Talmud(24) that G-d does not play tricks on His creations. Particularly as the area of sexuality is an area of such deeply personal implications to any individual, it is difficult imagine G-d creating a situation wherein those who feel themselves to possess a homosexual orientation cannot change and are consequently locked in a living prison with no exit and no key. Therefore, some method or methods must exist to successfully change the sexual orientation of motivated individuals. It's heartening to note that a recent study (25),indicates a 70% success rate among such individuals. It is unfortunate that the mass media and most mental health professionals publicly portray the goal "acceptance of one's orientation" as the optimum, while downplaying or denying the possibility of change. Our task must be to publicize the possibility of change, and the relevant statistics that now become statistics of hope. We also should encourage the mental health community to develop new and even more effective methods to alter the sexual orientation of those striving to live Torah-true lifestyle.
Perhaps one further support for the idea that homosexual orientation is at least preventable, if not totally changeable, is the anomalous fact that one community in which the percentage of homosexual preference is significantly lower than in the general population is the Orthodox Jewish community(26).
It is almost as if halacha rejects the notion of an individual called a homosexual, rejects the necessity of the homosexual act for any individual, rejects the idea of an irrevocable homosexual orientation, and then creates a society in which these ideals can, apparently quite successfully, be lived.
Judaism rejects the suggestions that homosexuality is either a form of mental illness or an "acceptable alternate lifestyle." Judaism's positions would be a third and as yet unconsidered option. Homosexuality is an activity entered into volitionally by individuals, who may be psychologically healthy, which is maladaptive and inappropriate. Depending on one's theory, it may indicate arrested development, poor family structure, early trauma, frustration of the purpose of creation, disruption of the basic family structure, unnatural behavior, etc.
But whatever the case it constitutes activity that will diminish an individual's capacity to fulfill, in his own life, G-d's expressed plan for creation. As such, this individual cannot achieve his full potential as a human being(27). Therefore, our task is to treat and redirect this individual to more appropriate and fulfilling activity.
One question not addressed directly in the previous section is, "Why does Judaism not recognize the existence of a homosexual sub-group within the Jewish community?"
Of course, one might answer that as the act of homosexuality is forbidden, Judaism would no more grant official status to those who practice it than it would grant such status to murderers, thieves, or adulterers. This answer may, in fact, be sufficient and perhaps we should simply turn to the next section and the discussion of the rationale for Judaism's negative approach to the entire issue of homosexuality.
However, there may be another more profound and far-reaching answer to this question. The Sifra states(28)
"I did not say this except for those laws inscribed for them [the Gentiles] their fathers' father. What did they [the Gentiles, as opposed to the Jews] do? Men would marry men, and women would marry women".
This seems to indicate a difference between homosexuality when it makes its appearance in the Jewish community. For the Gentile, homosexuality is a reality that is part of his heritage. For a Jew, homosexuality is a foreign incursion.
Additional support for this division along national lines can be adduced from the prohibition against female homosexuality. This prohibition, though not explicitly stated in the Bible, is derived from the same verse, Leviticus 18:2, that elicits the comment of the Sifra quoted above. The verse reads: "After the doings of the land Egypt wherein you lived you shall not do, and after the doings of the land of Canaan where I am bringing you, you shall not do, nor shall you walk in the statutes." This source provides a further indication that homosexuality is viewed as a foreign element in Jewish society. It may well be that this factor contributes to halacha's unwillingness to recognize a homosexual subgroup within Jewish society.
Statistics show significantly reduced levels of homosexual men in Orthodox Jewish circles as compared to all other segments of society. Further indication of this anomaly is provided by the dearth of questions relating to homosexuality and individuals involved in homosexual activity in halachic and responsa literature(29).
One obvious question remains. Does halacha recognize a homosexual individual who cannot change, and therefore a homosexual sub-community in the Gentile world?
The answer to this question seems unclear. On the one hand the Sifra quoted above indicates a belief that at least some Gentile homosexuals develop their sexual orientation because of a traditional cultural heritage. This would tend to support the idea the halacha acknowledges the possibility of a homosexual subgroup in Gentile society.
On the other hand, none of the stories from the Bible, such as the sin of Ham, the men of Sodom, or the Potiphar's true purpose in purchasing Joseph as his slave, portray any of the individuals as totally homosexual. All are either married (in the normal fashion) or are said to father children in the course of their lives. This would seem to indicate that pure homosexuality was considered an aberration even if found in Gentile circles.
Further, halacha prescribes the death penalty for homosexual acts committed between Gentile men(30). Our tendency would therefore be to deny that halacha recognizes a homosexual community among Gentiles. If we, in fact, did recognize such a community would we not be advocating genocide towards it? Such a position is obviously troubling.
Condemnation of Homosexuality - Why?
In discussions of the Jewish view of homosexuality, the question "Why does Judaism condemn a pleasurable, victimless act that tales place between two consenting adults?" often takes center stage. Although explanations are not lacking in the literature a truly consistent approach should also shed some light on why female homosexuality, though forbidden, is far less heinous a crime than male homosexuality(31).
In fact, a number of suggested answers suffer from a failure to adequately explain this last point.
One such approach centers around the primacy of family and children in our system of values. The practice of male homosexuality obviously frustrates the implementation of these values(32). But so does the practice of female homosexuality. Yet the two are not treated with equal severity.
A second approach argues that homosexuality is somehow unnatural. Our bodies are constructed to act in certain ways, and the practice of male homosexuality prevents these ways(33). Once again, female homosexuality seems to be every bit as unnatural as the male variety, yet we do not react to it in the same way.
Often, those who advocate these two approaches resort to the "hashchatat zera" (destruction of seed) argument(34). Since male homosexuality involves hashchatat zera and female homosexuality does not, the prohibition as violated by the man is more stringent.
There are two problems with the treatment of the male participant. Hashchatat xera in other contexts does not entail the death penalty(35).
However, males involved in homosexual activity (as opposed to females) are subject to capital punishment. Hashchatat zera, therefore, does not appear to be a significant enough factor to explain this severe reaction of the part of Torah law.
Second, the biblical prohibition concerns the homosexual act and not hashchatat zera. In Jewish law, homosexual activity, if consummated, is a capital crime even if there is not hotzaat zera, yet male physical contact, even if it results in hotzaata zera, is not punishable in this way unless actual sexual consummation occurs(36). For these reasons, the approaches cited seem unable to serve as complete explanations for the Torah view of this issue.
However, one variation of the "unnatural"theme seems to fare better in dealing with our question. This position takes its definition of natural, not from physiology and nature as studied in the laboratory, but from nature as defined in the Torah. The Torah says:
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and they shall be as one flesh(37)".
The Torah has, in the verse, defined "natural" as man and women united in heterosexual union. Any person engaged in homosexual activity acts against G-d's natural order of things, and is therefore culpable. However, women involved in homosexuality are less in violation of the "natural" then men as it says: "He shall cleave ..and they shall be as one flesh", can be accomplished by males in homosexual union but not by females. This explanation seems to deal neatly with the various facets of the problem(38).
One other approach to the question of why Judaism has such antipathy to homosexuality deserves mention(39). This approach expands on the argument "And he shall cleave and they shall be as one flesh...", reintroduces the centality of the family in Judaism to the discussion of homosexuality, and treats the halachic differences between male and female homosexuality in a rather interesting way. This explanation argues that homosexuality, when it did occur at all in the Jewish community, usually occurred in a bisexual context and not as an exclusively homosexual orientation on the part of the individual. Individuals raised in the Jewish community usually possessed a strong sense of family as part of their tradition and heritage. This, coupled with the desire to find personal continuity into the next generation and with communal pressure to marry, would naturally lead almost everyone to establish a marriage relationship. Unfortunately, some individuals might seek additional companionship elsewhere. This outside companionship could possibly be homosexual in nature. Such an outside relationship might then be devastating to the special intimacy between husband and wife and to the family, the fundamental building block and most important religious institution in Jewish society
Many rabbinic discussions allude to homosexuality in a strongly negative tone(40). The Talmud(41) discusses the meaning of the term "toeivah" as used the context of homosexuality. Says Bar Kapparah, "toeivah" means "to'eh ata ba", "your have strayed from her." This phrase is explained by Tosafot as meaning:
"That they leave their wives to follow homosexuality."
This statement seems to embody the essence of the proposed explanation.
Whether because of different emotional needs on the part of women, their status in society, or because of the physiological impossibility of "He shall cleave ...and they shall be as one flesh", on the part of women, male homosexuality is considered a far more serious danger in this context and is, therefore, treated with greater severity.
Our discussion to this point leads to the following conclusions:
Homosexuality is an activity, not a state of being. Put another way, "homosexual" is an adjective, not a noun.
Homosexual activity is wrong.
Homosexuality may be a foreign incursion into Judaism.
The perpetrator of homosexual activity is held responsible for the activity.
We expect individuals involved in such activity to make every attempt to stop the activity and to alter their sexual orientation.
No greater halachic stigma attaches to the practitioner of homosexuality than the Sabbath violator or the violator of many other divine commandments.
In light of these conclusions the traditional Jewish community should agree on the following goals:
The primary goal should be to create an environment that is most conducive to motivating the practitioner of homosexuality to want to change his orientation.
In the absence of this motivation or during a period when initial attempts to change are unsuccessful, our task is to keep this individual within the Torah community. We must create a situation which offers a positive alternative to the "gay synagogue" and to the even worse choice of complete abandonment and assimilation.
It would seem that these goals can best be realized by implementing the following agenda:
All unnecessary negative stigma must be removed from the individual involved in homosexual activity. Such an individual must be encouraged to see himself as someone with a problem that he is responsible to overcome, and not as a person who has been defined by his sexual orientation.
At the same time that the individual is told of his responsibility to change, he must also be told, with great compassion, that we recognize the difficulty of his task and that we are willing to help in any way possible.
This is similar, in general terms, to the way in which we treat others such as the alcoholic.
Specific programs of outreach to those participating in homosexual activities should be implemented so that those best able to respond to the questions of these individuals will have a chance to work with them. Contemporary Jewish organizations do Kiruv (outreach) work with individuals who violate many commandments. We must do the same with those whose failures are sexual areas. This is particularly true because of the all-pervasive nature of sexual desire and because of the constant encounter with sexual imagery that pervades our society.
Mental health professionals must be encouraged to develop new and better therapeutic techniques to alter sexual orientation. Methods that are even partly successful must be highlighted and publicized to offer hope to those who would want to change.
The issue of homosexuality is an extremely sensitive, difficult, and emotional one. It is a topic that creates a sense of discomfort and even revulsion not only in those who may have been personally involved in such activity, but also in many who have never had any personal contact with it at all. Stereotyping and personal doubts about one's sexuality tend to maintain and reinforce these reactions and the AIDS scare has given them new impetus. Our response as Torah-true Jews must be to reject these prejudical and counter-productive reactions. On the other hand, we cannot equivocate in our opposition to homosexual activity. This is particularly true in light of the media's continuing portrayal of homosexuals as positive role models and the increasing acceptance of the homosexual as a minority group with "legitimate" civil rights.
The program described above entails walking a difficult tightrope between condemnation of an act and acceptance of the perpetrator as a Jew worth saving. We cannot close our eyes and pretend that a problem of this magnitude will go away. It is our task to present a legitimate Jewish response, balancing our opposition to homosexual activity with our concern for the human beings involved.
FALLING MADLY IN BED
[Introduction from Elaine Silodor Berk and Arthur Goldberg, JONAH's Co-Directors: The following article is an E-mail we received that contains valuable insights from two men who were actively involved in a gay lifestyle but who ultimately chose to leave that lifestyle. The dialogue below reflects what these men see as the differences between their former existence as active gay-identified men and their new found lives as men who are growing out of unwanted same-sex sexual attractions (SSA).
Based upon reports from several others in recovery programs, we believe these sentiments (as set forth in their dialogue) reflect the majority of men who are unhappy feeling or experiencing SSA. Those who are happy being gay may not share their feelings. However, since we rarely hear first-hand voices of those with unwanted SSA, we believe that the pain and sexual confusion expressed in this article needs to be heard. Permission was granted by Roger to reprint his E-mail as well as the conversation he had with his friend. Roger's intent in granting permission is to prevent others from falling into the traps that he and his friends had previously fallen into.]
Having been on homosexual web sites and forums for a while, I find a tendency by those still in the lifestyle to romanticize their actions. This applies whether a man has been in the lifestyle, or has just had an unwanted same sex sexualized attraction. The common refrain is, "if I just had a man that would love me like I need, then I would be OK and be satisfied ... and, my masculine needs would be met and affirmed."
Well. . . in talking with other guys who were in the lifestyle and who subsequently abandoned it due to actually realizing the nature of it, I thought it useful to share some observations with those of you who might still harbor fantasies of about the "joys" of a homosexual lifestyle and what the reality might be like. Now, there may be exceptions, but I sincerely doubt it because there is a great deal of denial and wishful thinking in the homosexual thought processes.
First of all, most homosexual relationships start by two guys meeting, being physically attracted, or just being horny, then falling madly in bed with each other. This can be minutes, hours, or a day or two after they meet. If they date, usually they will end up in bed, or in a car, or a hallway, alley, or even in bushes, etc. Usually this is a one night stand where they simply each use each other to masturbate themselves to climax and achieve an erotic high and then tell themselves it is love. If they do decide to continue the relationship, it almost always ends up essentially being a series of one night stands with the same person until the novelty is gone. Then it is onto the next one night stand or series of one night stands.
If by some strange twist of fate or pheromones, these two guys become a couple, it is seldom monogamous. I know almost no sexually monogamous homosexual couples. Even if they choose to be faithful to each other, they will not be giving themselves to each other like God designed a man and woman to do, but rather will still be essentially using each other's body as a vehicle for masturbation. Homosexual sex is an act of taking - not an act of giving.
My friend "S" and I were talking about dating with our present girlfriends, which is something totally new to him, but not to me. The main difference "S" felt in this relationship is his desire to give, to please, and to cherish without regard to what he might get from it. In doing so he is receiving much more satisfaction than he ever thought was possible in a relationship, because in his other relationships with his boyfriends he always felt like he was taking something, instead of giving. To "S", the sex act was more like a rape than true love-making, even though those words were never used.
I too felt the same thing in my relationship with "D" (a former boyfriend). While I thought I really cared for him, I recognized I was entering into the sexual act for what I could get, not for what I could give. If he was pleasured, I was happy, but it certainly was not a requirement for me.
Below is some of our conversation . I believe it is most informative and have been granted permission to share it with you. I quote:
- S: "I lived with him for so long (in gay terms), but now I wonder how I did that. I mean in reality, there was NO love in that relationship, it was narcissistic and it was all about what I or he could get from each other."
- R: "Yes indeed, what D and I thought was love was also something much baser.
- S: "YES! and now with my girlfriend, it's all about me giving of myself to her. I offer myself to her in a fully loving way, so our relationship isn't about me or my 'needs' at all. Rather it is about my desire to make her happy."
- R: "And oddly, by giving, we receive all that we previously felt we simply were grasping for in our former gay lives. This is so much more satisfying."
- S: "Yeah it's like it happens in a way where it's just natural and automatic. With [my former BF], I felt like I was always sneaking around, always trying to get something more out of it, you know?"
- R: "Yes, and you had to pull it out of the relationship because it was unnatural."
- S: "Good point. I guess it's a kind of emotional and sexual rape because we're stealing from the other."
- R: "And inside of us, we can feel that we are stealing something and we know we should not be having to do that. It is instinct."
- S: "Yes, I think maybe that's what those deep unsatisfying feelings of wrongness and dirtiness are that we felt after the sex, you know what I mean?"
- R: "Yeah, we are taking, when instincts and souls tells us we should be giving instead."
- S: "Maybe that's why both guys involved are so insecure about the relationship and why we become so possessive, because both guys feel the relationship is on shaky ground?"
- R: "Gay relationships are always on shaky ground. My boyfriends knew how we met. They knew that if I would pick him up (or he picked me up) and we immediately had sex, I would be just as susceptible to doing that with someone else. We did not date, or get to know each other or the other's families like a real couple. We just met, had sex, and left for home."
- S: "Do you think ANY homosexual couples get to know each other, truly?"
- R: "All the ones I know met, were physically attracted, thought the other guy was "hot" and thus fell madly in bed together and then started trying to salvage their dignity with dating."
- S: "Oh man, I love that expression - fell madly in bed - so, so, so accurate, and the post sex, after that first encounter, is all just downhill. All the dating after is an attempt to back pedal that fails totally."
- R: "I think so. There is immediate regret and maybe some wishful thinking that even though it started out as more or less a mutual MB with each other's body, that maybe it might be someone I can love??"
- S: "Yeah it's like at that point that the wishful thinking starts. Saying to yourself, this is more than just sex, right??? Oh please, let this be more than just a one night stand. And the fact that we're in a relationship all of a sudden is like a continual on-going accident when in reality what we are basically dealing with is a long string of one night stands with the same person."
- R: "Oh, that is a good description, I like that."
- S: "I spoke with "X" the other day, he was also in the lifestyle (like both of us) and some of what he said ties right into what you and and I went through, too. He connected with our observations here."
- R: "Cool, I do not know him but I am glad there are more guys like us."
- S: "Yes, he was very active in the lifestyle in the late 80's and 90's, activist type, "out and proud" and all that crap, but realized how empty it was and therefore got out of it a while ago. He has done a lot of work to help others come out of the lifestyle. He was talking about what gay sex really is, and how the word sex shouldn't even really be applied because sex involves two people interacting with each other in a real way."
- R: "Good point."
- S: "MB is self love and isn't that what homosexuality is essentially?"
So from a couple of guys who have really been there, done that, and looked at our relationships with other men, this is what we have concluded. Homosexuality is not what it is advertised to be. It never was and it never will be. It is selfish and ego-centric and therefore doomed to die an unpleasant death. And it will take any of us down with it if we chose to go there.
(Source: http://www.jonahweb.org/article.php?secId=315. Used with permission)
The Torah Declaration
The Torah Declaration is a public statement signed by 212
Rabbis, Community Leaders, and Mental Health Professionals
Declaration On The Torah Approach To Homosexuality
Societal Developments On Homosexuality
There has been a monumental shift in the secular worlds attitude towards homosexuality over the past few decades. In particular over the past fifteen years there has been a major public campaign to gain acceptance for homosexuality. Legalizing same-sex marriage has become the end goal of the campaign to equate homosexuality with heterosexuality.
A propaganda blitz has been sweeping the world using political tactics to persuade the public about the legitimacy of homosexuality. The media is rife with negative labels implying that one is hateful or homophobic if they do not accept the homosexual lifestyle as legitimate. This political coercion has silenced many into acquiescence. Unfortunately this attitude has seeped into the Torah community and many have become confused or have accepted the medias portrayal of this issue.
The Torahs Unequivocal And Eternal Message
The Torah makes a clear statement that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle or a genuine identity by severely prohibiting its conduct. Furthermore, the Torah, ever prescient about negative secular influences, warns us in Vayikra (Leviticus) 20:23 Do not follow the traditions of the nations that I expel from before you
Particularly the Torah writes this in regards to homosexuality and other forbidden sexual liaisons.
Same-Sex Attractions Can Be Modified And Healed
From a Torah perspective, the question whether homosexual inclinations and behaviors are changeable is extremely relevant. The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. G-d is loving and merciful. Struggles, and yes, difficult struggles, along with healing and personal growth are part and parcel of this world. Impossible, life long, Torah prohibited situations with no achievable solutions are not.
We emphatically reject the notion that a homosexually inclined person cannot overcome his or her inclination and desire. Behaviors are changeable. The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid. Abandoning people to lifelong loneliness and despair by denying all hope of overcoming and healing their same-sex attraction is heartlessly cruel. Such an attitude also violates the biblical prohibition in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:14 and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.
The Process Of Healing
The only viable course of action that is consistent with the Torah is therapy and teshuvah. The therapy consists of reinforcing the natural gender-identity of the individual by helping him or her understand and repair the emotional wounds that led to its disorientation and weakening, thus enabling the resumption and completion of the individuals emotional development. Teshuvah is a Torah-mandated, self-motivated process of turning away from any transgression or sin and returning to G-d and ones spiritual essence. This includes refining and reintegrating the personality and allowing it to grow in a healthy and wholesome manner.
These processes are typically facilitated and coordinated with the help of a specially trained counselor or therapist working in conjunction with a qualified spiritual teacher or guide. There is no other practical, Torah-sanctioned solution for this issue.
The Mitzvah Of Love And Compassion
It requires tremendous bravery and fortitude for a person to confront and deal with same-sex attraction. For example a sixteen-year-old who is struggling with this issue may be confused and afraid and not know whom to speak to or what steps to take. We must create an atmosphere where this teenager (or anyone) can speak freely to a parent, rabbi, or mentor and be treated with love and compassion. Authority figures can then guide same-sex strugglers towards a path of healing and overcoming their inclinations.
The key point to remember is that these individuals are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds. They deserve our full love, support and encouragement in their striving towards healing. Struggling individuals who seek health and wellness should not be confused with the homosexual movement and their agenda. This distinction is crucial. It reflects the difference between what G-d asks from all of us and what He unambiguously prohibits.
We need to do everything in our power to lovingly uplift struggling individuals towards a full and healthy life that is filled with love, joy and the wisdom of the Torah.
FAQ Frequently Asked Questions on the Torah Declaration
1. How do we know that G-d did not create someone with a homosexual orientation that can not be changed?
2. What about individuals who claim that they have sincerely tried to heal through reparative therapy but were unsuccessful?
3. Why is teshuvah necessary? What if a person never acted on his desires?
4. Why dont we hear more from people who have successfully gone through the process of reparative therapy?
5. If people are not born homosexual, what is the cause of their homosexual inclinations?
6. There are some that claim that Halacha only prohibits one homosexual act and that everything else is permitted. Is this true?
7. Why should Jewish people care about homosexual issues such as gay marriage for non-Jews?
8. Is the Torah Declaration implying that one who has gone to therapy will never struggle with this issue again?
9. How does the Torah Declaration define the words Change and Overcome?
It states in the Declaration, The concept that G-d created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. [Difficult struggles are part of this world, but] Impossible, life long, Torah prohibited situations with no achievable solutions are not.
How can you know for sure what G-ds plan is for someone? People have all kinds of difficult lifelong struggles, how can you be sure that being an unchangeable homosexual is not part of G-ds plan? Perhaps Hashem wants such a person to have a difficult life and nevertheless obey His commandments and stay celibate his entire life? How do you know that this is not one of the many difficult nisoyens (trials) that G-d sets out for people?
This is a very crucial question because it touches upon our core understanding of Hashems relationship with us. It also brings up the question of how much we can actually understand about suffering in this world. In order to have clarity on this issue we have to define the kinds of suffering we are talking about and break them into separate categories.
Let us start with two categories:
Difficult situations where there is no desire that would violate Torah law, even if one falters due to his or her difficult circumstances.
Difficult situations where if one falters there is a direct Torah violation.
Examples of situation 1 would be someone who was born blind, without a leg or perhaps has cancer (Hashem yerachim). Those are truly tragic and difficult circumstances that can affect a persons entire life and greatly limit some of the things that many of us take for granted. However, as difficult as such a life may be, there is no inconsistency with living a Torah lifestyle. In fact there are special dispensations within halacha to deal with the blind, disabilities and the terminally ill that take into account their circumstances and to guide them halachicly.
In these situations there is no question of a compulsion to violate Biblically prohibited law. All the special circumstances are dealt with in a halachic framework. (I.E. doing a melacha (prohibited work) on Shabbos for a person with a medical emergency is not a Torah violation but rather a mitzvah, etc.)
Situation 2 would encompass someone born with a nature that will only be satisfied by committing a Biblically forbidden act. That could be someone born with an unchangeable murderous bloodthirsty nature or hypothetically if we say a person is born homosexual and can not change, then in both situations the person seemingly can ONLY find satisfaction by violating a Biblical prohibition.
We know this to be factually not possible based on the following Gemaras:
T.B. Avoda Zora 3a. Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal imperiously with His creatures. The Gemara explains that Hashem does not play cruel tricks on His creatures and create impossible situations that would cause Torah violations.
The Chofetz Chaim uses this Gemara as an example why someone can not say that their desire for loshen hora is so strong that it can not be overcome. Hashem does not create impossible Torah situations that lead to violations.
So how do we explain someone who was born with a bloodthirsty nature? How is that not a cruel trick being played on a person? The following Gemara explains how that works:
T.B. Shabbos 156a
If one was born under Mazal Mars, he will spill blood;
Rav Ashi: He will be a bloodletter, bandit, slaughterer or Mohel. (He can channel his disposition for something neutral, for Aveiros, (negative) or for Mitzvos (positive).)
The Vilna Gaon in Even Shelaima 1:7, building on T.B. Shabbat 156a, implies that every [inborn] drive has some form of outlet that is acceptable within Torah.
[This Vilna Gaon quote is from Nishma.org]
The following is a direct quote from a public letter written on July 4th 2008 by Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky regarding homosexuality:
Our Sages teach us that every human being is capable of changing for the better. Those who make the false claim that human beings cannot change their tendencies are comparing them to animals. Indeed it may be very difficult to change ones nature, but it is definitely possible if one so desires.
From these sources we see that situation 2, where someone is born with an inborn unchangeable drive to violate Biblical law is not possible. Hashem does not play tricks by saying something is forbidden, and then creating people with a drive that only can be expressed with what He has forbidden to them. However, other struggles like situation 1 are possible and do not cause impossible Torah situations.
Can everyone change their homosexual inclinations? What about individuals who claim that they have sincerely tried to heal through reparative therapy but were unsuccessful?
Not everyone succeeds with their current therapy, but everyone is capable of healing. This statement is true for most struggles that humans deal with. Whether it is drug or alcohol addiction, weight loss, anorexia, depression or any other human struggle. There will always be individuals who dont succeed with their therapy, but its not because they are not capable of healing, rather they may just not be in the right space to achieve healing yet. For some it requires hitting rock bottom to be in that space. For others they may just not have yet been in a space to release certain blocks.
This is not about blame in any way, but rather the reality of why some people succeed and some people dont. The fact that a person has not yet achieved healing, even after major effort, is not proof that they cant eventually achieve healing, or that they should stop trying.
For example there is one individual who was 100 pounds overweight for most of his life. He struggled for 40 years with diets but was never able to successfully keep any weight loss beyond a short period of time. Then at 50 he finally lost the 100 pounds and 10 years later he has still kept the weight off.
This individual sincerely wanted to lose weight all his life. His not succeeding for 40 years does not mean he is not capable of success. It means that he was not in the right emotional/mental space to fully deal with the blocks that he had that were preventing success.
Each of these situations are unique and may be different than Same-Sex Attraction (SSA). However, all issues that require healing or therapy have in common that many people succeed in achieving their goals and others dont.
To bring it back to SSA, one person struggled through therapy for SSA for seven years before achieving success. Can he have said after 5 years of major struggle that he is one of those individuals who can never change? At what point can we say that a person cant deal with SSA successfully and should give up therapy? Perhaps an extended break is warranted or trying different techniques, but how can we tell the world that it is okay for some people to give up trying? How can there be any other message than everyone is capable of healing?
When it comes to homosexuality from a Torah perspective there is no other option other than healing. The Torah commands us to seek health and wellness and to repair, refine and elevate any aspect of ourselves that conflict with the Torah. For some it may be a short term struggle, for others a longer term struggle. Either way no one is exempt from continuously striving for healing and living a kosher Torah lifestyle.
The Declaration states that the process of healing is therapy and teshuvah. However, someone who has same-sex attractions but has never acted on it has done nothing wrong. Doesnt including teshuvah imply that he has done something wrong, just by having those feelings?
The Declaration is very sensitive to this concern and specifically worded it very carefully. The main focus in the declaration of the concept of teshuvah is as a holistic process of reintegration. Within the concept of teshuvah it is a two part process. The first as it states is, turning away from any transgression or sin. If someone has committed a transgression then the first step is to stop that activity. If someone has not committed any transgressions then this part does not apply to him at all.
The second and most crucial part of teshuva is healing as the document states about the process of teshuvah, This includes refining and reintegrating the personality and allowing it to grow in a healthy and wholesome manner. Teshuvah is about a process of returning to ones true self and that is what is emphasized in the declaration. This applies to anyone who has same-sex attractions, regardless if they have acted upon it or not.
This fits well with Rabbi Yosef Serebryanskis explanation of the roots of Teshuvah:
The word Tshuvah is composed of two words, Tashuv and the letter Hey. This means returning to Hashem. It has nothing to do with negative or bad, it is simply each person restoring their open connection and flow directly with Hashem - the source of all life and existence.
We asked over twenty individuals who have struggled with this issue how they feel about the Process of healing paragraph and not one had an issue with it. They understood that this is not about blame but rather about a process of personal reintegration and returning to ones true nature.
In fact in the final section we specifically stressed that someone struggling with this is an innocent victim. As the Declaration states, The key point to remember is that these individuals are primarily innocent victims of childhood emotional wounds.
Why dont we hear more from people who have successfully gone through the process of reparative therapy?
In the Torah Observant world there is a whole network of frum individuals who have gone through reparative therapy and have overcome their same-sex attractions. Many of these brave individuals are now married with their wives full knowledge and support and are upstanding members of Klal Yisrael living lives filled with kedusha and consistent with the Torah. These individuals are just like everyone else. Why would they want to publicize a difficult and private struggle in their lives?
Despite this, many of these brave souls know how important it is to bring awareness to this subject and are willing to privately share their personal struggles, the healing and therapeutic techniques and the joy and equanimity that successful change has brought to their lives. They have agreed to speak privately with anyone who is either struggling themselves with this issue or with a Rabbi, teacher, or community leader who needs more information about this issue.
If you fit into either of these two categories and would like to speak to someone who has successfully overcome their SSA, please email us with your specific situation and we can have someone contact you to discuss it further.
If people are not born homosexual, what is the cause of their homosexual inclinations?
The Gemara in Nedarim 51a states that Toeivah (abomination) translates as Toeh attah bah you are mistaken or being misled with this (in our case with homosexual inclination).
The most widely accepted theory, among those with the most experience in helping individuals heal, as to the root cause of homosexuality is that something has gone awry in childhood development. There are many possibilities and combinations of factors that may lead to same sex attraction. From emotional or sexual abuse, to having a sensitive nature while not being able to properly bond with a father figure or male peers. There may be other issues as well, but the underlying factor is that this developmental deficiency with male bonding may manifest in a desire to connect with males in an inappropriate sexualized way.
One of the standard lines from homosexual activists is that they would never choose this voluntarily. They are correct in the sense that it was not a conscience choice to develop same sex attractions, but it is a conscience choice whether one chooses to heal from the underlying issue. No one consciously chooses to be overweight, but it is a choice and a possibility to lose weight and to deal with the emotional factors that lead to overeating. Just because one does not consciously choose a struggle or difficulty, does not mean that one cant choose to heal from it.
For more information you can watch this excellent 16 minute video that gives a detailed and easy to understand explanation of some of the root causes of homosexuality and how it develops in childhood.
There are some that claim that Halacha only prohibits one homosexual act and that everything else is permitted. Is this true?
According to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch prohibited homosexual activity includes any non-platonic physical contact; even yichud (seclusion) with someone of the same gender is forbidden for homosexually active individuals.
Rambam Hilchos Isurei Biah 21:1,2; 22:1,2. See also Shulchan Aruch Even HoEzer 24
Why should Jewish people care about homosexual issues such as gay marriage for non-Jews?
Homosexuality is forbidden for all people, including non-Jews, by the Seven Noahide Laws. The Rambam (Maimonides) is explicit that the prohibition of sexual immorality in the Noahide laws specifically includes homosexuality.
Rambam, Mishneh Torah, in Sefer Shoftim, Hilkhoth Melakhim uMilhamotheihem 9:7- 11
9:7 There are six types of sexual acts forbidden to a ben Noah: Intercourse with ones mother, with ones fathers wife (who is not ones mother, i.e.: step mother), with another mans wife, with ones sister who has the same mother, with another male, with an animal
Another Torah source that explicitly mentions homosexual marriage is the Midrash Rabba which states that homosexual marriage was the straw that broke the camels back and brought the Great Flood to the world:
Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rebbi: The generation of the flood were not wiped out from the world until [men] were writing marriage contracts to males and to beasts. (Midrash Rabba Breishis 26:5)
Is the Torah Declaration implying that one who has gone to therapy will never struggle with this issue again?
Deeply ingrained psychological or emotional issues are the root cause of people acting out in various unhealthy ways, be they addictions, alcoholism, obesity, or homosexuality, all of which are difficult to overcome. Being committed to healing the underlying issue with the help of therapy and supportive family and friends is a major step in the healing process.
However, ALL psychological issues, even after successful therapy, require continued emotional health and stability to maintain. As a person goes through life and he or she is subjected to trying or difficult times, some of those feelings may resurface. That is why, for example, an alcoholic may attend a support group or have a personal sponsor even after being sober for 10 years.
Paying proper attention to our emotional and mental health, which includes appropriate dietary habits, sleeping patterns and a network of supportive friends and family, is important for everyone and particularly crucial for those who have undergone therapy for major life issues. Without a commitment to continued mental and emotional health and well being, anyone who has undergone therapy for ANY issue is at risk of recidivism.
The following relevant excerpt comes from Dr. Bentzion Sorotzkin Psy.D. website:
The fact that overcoming SSA [Same-Sex Attraction] is indeed difficult and is often only achieved imperfectly is also cited as evidence of the unchangeable nature of sexual orientation thus making the apparent change not authentic. This claim is absurd! All psychological problems are difficult to change. Is it easy to help someone improve his self-esteem? Or to develop confidence? Or to overcome years of abuse? When the person makes progress, do we belittle his progress because he is still struggling? And if he improves with his issue 90%, do we not see this as a tremendous success even though vestiges of his problem remain? Why is the treatment of SSA held to such ridiculous and illogical and dramatically different standards than other areas of psychotherapy? Only because of a political agenda, it seems.
How does the Torah Declaration define the words Change and Overcome?
In terms of the word Overcome the following is the dictionary definition:
Succeed in dealing with (a problem or difficulty).
To get the better of [a difficulty] in a struggle or conflict
To succeed in dealing with or to get the better of any kind of struggle does not necessarily mean that the issue with which one is dealing has been wiped away forever. The definition of the word overcome does not contradict that one may still have to deal with the issue in difficult times throughout life. How one is able to overcome an issue is totally dependent upon the depth of the initial wounds and his/her ability to take care of him/her self in the future. In this context, the word overcome simply means that with therapy people can overcome their block in an area of life that would otherwise prevent them from achieving their goals. Moreover, it will enable them to live a Torah-true lifestyle, with a supportive spouse and children.
The same applies to the dictionary definition of the word Change:
Any variation or alteration; a passing from one state or form to another; as, a change of countenance; a change of habits or principles.
To be altered; to undergo variation; as, men sometimes change for the better.
Reparative therapy or Gender affirming processes involves changing ones inner sense of gender identity and changing the response patterns that may lead to a desire to act out in ways that are forbidden by the Torah.
Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky explains that everyone is capable of overcoming an inclination that is prohibited by the Torah. (Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, Volume 12, Fall, 2011, p. 33.) The Rosh Yeshiva went on to explain the concept of change and how two separate and distinct types of change relevant to mishkav zachar [homosexuality] may occur:
virtual elimination of the thoughts, feelings, and behavior, or
significant decrease of the desire, combined with knowledge of the tools necessary to redirect one's feelings if the desire returns.
He recognized that every person faces challenges of one sort or another but as humans we have been given by our Creator the capacity to overcome them. (Hakirah, p. 33)
In other words, changing ones life does not necessarily mean that one will never struggle with this issue in the future. It doesnt mean that one has to resolve all his/her inner gender conflicts before he/she can be considered changed. That process may take time, patience, and continued work. What does change more immediately, however, is ones outlook on life and ones ability to maintain healthy heterosexual relationships.
To sum up, an alcoholic who has been sober for a number of years has overcome their destructive patterns and changed their lifestyle to a productive and healthy one. The same understanding applies to obesity, other addictions and same-sex attractions.
(Source: The Torah Declaration: http://www.torahdec.org/FAQs.aspx#Q3. Used with permission)