The (Spiritual) Battle of New Orleans

Our challenge is to articulate Torah values even if they are unpopular and do not conform with contemporary societal mores.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer,

Judaism Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer
Rabbi Avraham Gordimer

As the naval gunner fired the cannon, his ship immediately began to sink, for he did not grasp that the cannon was aimed downward…

Aggressively continuing the homosexual entitlement advocacy of several of his fellow graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (see, for example, here and here), Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg, who leads a congregation in the New Orleans area, recently directed his fire toward Louisiana’s Marriage and Conscience Act. In an op-ed in The Times-Picayune, R. Greenberg compared the homosexual community to our oppressed ancestors in ancient Egypt and argued on behalf of homosexual liberation in the name of Orthodox Judaism.

R. Greenberg wrote:

"Throughout our Biblical and later rabbinic texts, the experience of oppression in Egypt serves as an imperative reminder to take care of those in our own day and age who endure oppression, who live on the margins of our own society. Commandments such as the following in Deuteronomy 10:19 are common in the Bible: “Remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”

"It is, therefore, quite disconcerting to watch Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s recent foray into the “religious liberty” fight, in his outspoken support for House Bill 707, the “Marriage and Conscience Act.” Jindal stated in his New York Times op-ed that the bill does not “create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians.”

"…As an orthodox Jewish man and a rabbi, I find Jindal’s pursuit of this bill’s passage to be sacrilegious and offensive. Why would our political leadership – and particularly those who identify as religious – choose to seek further action and legislation against the very sectors of our society who are already marginalized and persecuted? Gay people have suffered for thousands of years, vilified, hated, feared and murdered. Just as they are on the verge of gaining national rights afforded to the rest of us, why would we possibly seek to take further steps to sanction oppression against them? Should their liberation not be our own cause – independent of our own personal beliefs about how marriage functions within our own religious worlds?

"…Because for every Biblical precept about one’s sexual activities, there are a dozen more that speak of the imperative to fight for those who are disenfranchised and discriminated against. It is up to the religious individual to navigate between these religious values – and Gov. Jindal, along with certain faith leaders around the state, have chosen to emphasize the former over the latter.

"One of the key ideas of the Passover holiday meal, is the notion that “one must see themselves as if they had personally experienced the traumas and Exodus of Egypt.” This is not just a moment for child-like imagination. Rather, this is a difficult and fundamentally important task – to fully empathize with folks who lived thousands of years ago, and experienced total subjugation and humiliation at the hands of those with more power than they."

In a letter to the editor responding to R. Greenberg ‘s op-ed (link to letter should be available shortly), I wrote in part that:

"Judaism does not detach laws from moral values. The Biblical position on homosexuality is not a mere legality; it is a moral value, and God forbid that we encourage the state or the nation to do anything that would compel private citizens and private businesses to accede to the acceptability of the homosexual lifestyle.\

"Yes, we dare not discriminate against anyone, but to require people to violate their religious conscience and be compelled to provide services or benefits within the private sphere to interests that conflict with their Biblical, moral values is itself a form of discrimination and a desecration."

Our challenge is to articulate Torah values even if they are unpopular and do not conform with contemporary societal mores. Furthermore, to embrace positions that undermine Torah values is to undermine our own religious commitment, for if we cannot put our money where our mouth is and take a brave and heroic stand, Torah degenerates into a culture of feel-good nostalgia, apologetics and comfort, and it no longer daringly drives our actions and our life mission.

There are the words of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l about the proper Orthodox attitude toward societal acceptance of homosexuality (The Rav – Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bereshis, pp. 91-94), delivered in Boston in 1974 as part of a shiur on Parshas Noach:

"One system of morality that paganism preaches, as a way of life, is based on an oversensitivity to unredeemed, carnal beauty… The Dor Ha-Mabul (Generation of the Flood) was a permissive generation, [which] surrendered to beauty and to carnal pleasure, to comfort, to convenience…

"…What do they preach here is American society, Western society? What do they preach in Eretz Yisroel, rabbosai (gentlemen), if you read the articles in Haaretz? There is only one thing, one topic. What do they preach? Permissiveness. That nothing should interfere if man wants to enjoy life. No norm, no command, no responsibilities, no restrictions. If man thinks this is the way to enjoy life, and he wants to derive pleasure, he has the right. This is part of his freedom. He has the right to gratify all his carnal needs. He doesn’t have to surrender to any law. Nothing defiles a person, nothing contaminates a person. A person should do simply one thing: satisfy his desires. This is the philosophy.

"A philosophy of [homo]sexualism is being preached throughout the Western world, to such an extent that a certain rabbi came to me and said, “How can we defend ourselves against it?” I told him, take out a Chumash and read a pasuk. ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה. (“You shall not like with a male as with a woman.” -Vayikra 18:22) We are on the defensive, you understand. Why? And the same is true of abortion and so forth.]

"I can never predict what modern society will come up with. Everything is possible. The most abnormal, obnoxious, repellent ideas may be introduced in the form of legislation to Congress. And now, since it is modern to be liberal, it’s quite in vogue to be heretical, so any law can be adopted. The Supreme Court in America is the most unpredictable body. Did you see, did you read carefully, the decision about abortion?

"This is b’nei basar (“children of the flesh”). B’nei basar are oversensitive to beauty, to unredeemed beauty. We ourselves cherish beauty, but redeemed beauty. Unredeemed, vulgar, coarse people. And simply what the b’nei basar preach is non-interference on the part of ethics and morality. This man wants to enjoy life, that’s all. Because actually the pagan way of life rests upon the idea of egocentric hedonism. The latter was declared by the pagans to be morally desirable. In other words, free man is expected to reject any restrictive norm interfering with his hedonic freedom. The permissive society is the pagan society, which heads toward disaster. The permissive society consists of the b’nei basar, the children of the flesh, who are obedient to the flesh and its biological pressures.

"The main sin of pagan society consists in its exploiting nature for the sake of man’s enjoyment without the latter accepting responsibility for the very act he enjoyed. In a word, hedonic society, the Dor Ha-Mabul, drove itself and the environment to annihilation. That is exactly what happens to the Western part of the world, the so-called “democratic world” or the “free world”.

"What is the motto of modern man? ויראו בני האלהים. Modern man is very mighty… He is a wizard, as far as intellectual achievements are concerned… But the same wizard, a בני אלהים, is a fallen angel… He is tempted by vulgar beauty… ויקחו להם נשים – he surrendered.

"The man whose mathematic equations proved to be true 500 million light years from there surrendered to the בנות האדם, to vulgar beauty, to enjoyment. This is no way of life. This was the eser doros me’Adam v’ad Noach (ten generations from Adam to Noach) that were misgalgel (systematically declined) until they reached the bottom…"

And here is what Rav Soloveitchik stated about our topic (The Rav – Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Shemos, pp. 6-10) during a shiur on Parshas Shemos in 1974:

"…So God told him (Moshe), “If you want just to see the beauty and grandeur (of the S’neh, the Burning Bush), you are welcome, you can come as close as you want, because the closer you’ll be, the more inspired you’ll be. But if you’ll try to understand the rationale of Jewish history, so then אל תקרב הלום (do not approach close to here). Don’t try to come too close to the halom. Jewish destiny will always remain a riddle which no human being will be able to resolve. של נעליך, take off your shoes, abandon your usual everyday stance, your routine processes of understanding, analyzing, and conceptualizing. כי המקום אשר אתה עומד עליו אדמת קדש הוא, for the ground is holy, the destiny of the people is a Mysterium Magnum. Different categories are necessary, new methods, as yet unknown concepts must be applied in order to grasp the concept of Jewish existence.”

"…Moshe responded immediately, ויסתר משה פניו… He hid his face, he covered his face. What did he want to demonstrate? That I don’t want to understand, I don’t want to rationalize. I don’t want to ask the question of “why”.

"You see, there are three questions which exist when something is not understood. One question is “what”: what is it? Another question is “how”: how does it operate? The last question is “why”: why is it all necessary?

"Which questions did the Torah accept, and which question was rejected by the Torah? “What” – yes. “How” – also yes. But the “why” – the Torah did not welcome this question of “why”…

"The question is “what” – I’ve got to understand reality in a descriptive way, and understand how it operates. The whole of physics and chemistry says how it operates. The dependence between two phenomena, two processes. The same is true in Torah. You’ll ask me what is the law, what is Hilchos Shabbos (the Laws of Shabbos). All right, Maseches Shabbos (the Talmudic tractate Shabbos) you want to study, it’s right here. “What” is a legitimate question. “How” – certainly, Halacha l’maaseh (practical Halacha). But “why” Shabbos? There is no answer. The only answer is what the Torah gives, כי ששת ימים עשה ה’ את השמים ואת הארץ את הים ואת כל אשר בם וינח ביום השביעי (For six days God created the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is therein, and He rested on the seventh day… – Shemos 20:11).

"When you ask the question of “why”, and you try to interpret the question of “why” – why Shabbos, why Kashrus… – to answer it, there are two alternatives. Once you pose the question of “why”, you get two results, both of which are negative.

"Now people are questioning the basic principles of morality, sex morality. The very moment you ask why – why homosexualism is forbidden – you have no answer. But you can get away with two results; you”ll obtain two results.

"One result will be kefirah (heresy): since I don’t understand why, so let’s abandon it. This is the answer you get. Since I cannot understand why homosexualism is ugly lefi Yahadus (according to Judaism), why Yahadus, the Bible, hasn’t tolerated it, so you have to say you abandon the law of the Bible.

"Another way is to sentimentalize all that… So what do you get from it? Platitudes, clichés, superficialities, cheap sentimentalism."

We accept the Torah’s mitzvos and values regarding sexual norms because Hashem mandated them, whether or not they would otherwise have naturally resonated with us. To reason our way around these Torah principles and distance ourselves from their ethos will end up undoing our acceptance of the Torah and dulling of our sense of authentic commitment to its doctrines. It is not only the legalities of the mitzvos, but their values as well, that must animate us and become profoundly and firmly embedded at the core of our religious sensitivities and mindset.

Avrohom Avinu confronted the world, spoke out and dared his fellows to embrace the divine moral code, as unpopular and uncomfortable as its message may have been to society at large. This is the holy yet challenging and at times lonely mandate of the Jew; may we always merit to boldly and proudly carry it forth.

Also appeared in CrossCurrents. Sent to Arutz Sheva by the author.