In the path of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch

RabbiShimshon R. Hirsch, known as the founder of Modern Orthodoxy in Germany, was clearly against changes in defining Jewish and universal morality.

Menachem Ben-Mordechai

Judaism Menachem Ben Mordechai
Menachem Ben Mordechai

Idolatry cannot be made moral by a referendum, act of legislation, or judicial decision. Neither can other violations of universal morality.

Rabbi Dr. Shimon Cowen, shlita, has been predictably under fire for his recent book, Homosexuality, Marriage and Society. His supposed offenses include comparing homosexual conduct with sexual relations with animals (bestiality) and incest.

Some observant Jews with an "open" outlook would no doubt object to Rabbi Cowen’s comparison. They might then consider the following assessment by someone who earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin:  

"Both [bestiality and homosexuality] are considered unnatural acts. The first one enjoins man from carnal copulation with a mate that does not belong to his kind. The second one prohibits any sexual relationship between male and male, for by the laws of nature, established and sanctioned by the act of creation, mating is a male-female relationship...It is worth mentioning that both prohibitions (bestiality and homosexuality) apply to non-Jews too and form part of a universal religion [the Seven Noahide Laws] that is based upon the concept of man and personality."

So wrote Rav (Rabbi) Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, in The Emergence of Ethical Man, taking similar stands elsewhere.

In relation to his Noahide reference, Rav Soloveitchik wrote in Abraham’s Journey:

“Our task was and still is to teach the Torah to mankind, to influence the non-Jewish world, to redeem it from an orgiastic way of living…In a word, we are to teach the world the seven mitzvot that are binding on every human being.”

Rabbi Cowen also has a Ph.D. in philosophy (and has written a study of the Noahide Laws). Both he and Rav Soloveitchik exemplify the wisdom of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, who could give a speech on the literature of Friedrich Schiller while adhering to the principles expressed in his commentary to Vayikra 18:4-5:

“Other disciplines are to be regarded as auxiliary; they are to be studied only if they are capable of aiding Torah study and are subordinated to it as the unnecessary, tafel, to the fundamental, ikar…Only that which accords with the truths of the Torah can be accepted by us as true. The Torah should be our sole focus: All that we absorb and create intellectually should be considered from the perspective of the Torah and should proceed along its paths. Accordingly, we will not adopt ideas that are not in consonance with this perspective; we will not accept conclusions derived from other premises and mix them with words of Torah.”

Rabbi Cowen’s affirmation of sexual norms likewise maintains Rav Hirsch’s parallel concerns throughout his commentary to the Chumash. “Sexual morality is the root of all spiritual and moral welfare,” he notes on Bamidbar 5:31, and on Vayikra 18:3 that "Only a family life of moral purity can produce a people that will champion justice and righteousness." Rav Hirsch expands on the social importance of such morality on verse six of the latter:

"Any sexual relationship that is forbidden by the Creator has, by definition, lost its moral character and its sanctity as a part of serving God. It is nothing but sheer bestiality...The moral and social disintegration of the antediluvian world set in when men first began to choose their mates not in accordance with God's Will but in accordance with their personal caprice, as it says . This state of affairs extinguished the Divine spirit in man and sent mankind to its grave."

Specific to Israel, juxtapose Rav Hirsch on verses 24-28 with  homosexual pride parades and officials who have encouraged related tourism:

"The Land is meant to be the bearer of a national life that is exemplary in moral purity...Hence, a population that is socially and morally corrupt has no future on this Land...They exploit the forces of the Land--forces that are sacred to God--for aberrations and immoral excesses...[I]f sin and transgression become the rule rather than the exception--and are excused and even sanctioned as the national custom--then the society that has become antithetical to God's Torah has become antithetical also to the soil that is sacred to the Torah; and even as any organism will reject an element that has become incompatible with it, so the Land will 'vomit out' its inhabitants."

And how many contemporary international developments confirm Rav Hirsch on verse 30:

"Sexual licentiousness was not considered by the Canaanites an abomination, toeva; what is more, it became sanctioned by custom and religious cult—and the toevot became laws, chukot. As Yeshayahu says about a different age characterized by a similar general corruption: 'They have perverted the law' (Yeshayahu 24:5); they changed the law into its opposite, and immorality became law for them."

Rabbi Cowen’s efforts to advance universal morality honor those of Rav Hirsch and other predecessors. In a time that has seen rabbis with Orthodox ordination support same-sex marriage legislation—the antithesis of our Noahide duties—Rabbi Cowen provides a much-needed voice.