Pushback on LGBT

Accepting the homosexual agenda and normalizing it in our schools has engendered identity confusion among some of our youth, impaired their love of Torah and weakened their commitment to mitzvot.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

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San Francisco gay pride parade

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld co-authored this article.

The LGBT advocates have achieved remarkable success in the last 20 years, transforming American society by not only protecting their civil rights and also winning Supreme Court approval of same-sex marriage. Here in Israel, the story is similar although not identical, and thus the rejection of a bill in the Knesset that would have permitted single men or a male couple to use a female surrogate to father children unleashed waves of anger. The activists are simply unaccustomed to being denied anything.

Their tactics are by now familiar. Here they chose to call a mass strike (on Tisha B’Av, somewhat inspired, since working on Tisha B’Av is frowned upon!), block roads and traffic, insult anyone who disagrees with them, label rabbis as “Ayatollahs” and the like, demand that they be fired from their jobs and, of course, find the one word or phrase the traditionalists used that can serve as the headline of “intolerance,” all so they can avoid a debate on the substance. They have institutionalized the notion of “free speech for me but not for thee;” some opinions, especially ones that originate in the Torah, can no longer be freely uttered in the public domain as they would have it.

Additionally, they have become adept at shaking down corporations and businesses, here threatening a variety of companies (such as El Al) with mass boycotts if they decline to underwrite these protests. Generally, the companies cave, and if not for the respect for free business and the plight of the businessman on the right and religious part of the spectrum, the threat of mutual boycotts could destroy the economy, something that is of little interest to those who are only obsessed with promoting their agenda. “Let my soul die with the Philistines!”

Again, these tactics simply avoid confronting the issues civilly. As is not uncommon in history, the bullied have become the bullies, menacing, cajoling and attacking anyone with an opposing view. Twenty years ago, Seinfeld humorously depicted two thuggish homosexual men, Bob and Cedric, who gleefully harassed people on the street. The joke was that this type of bullying was so out of character as to be humorous.

Now the joke is on us – “who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?”- but no one is laughing. Thus, in many places, it has become illegal or unwise to advocate for the Torah, support the traditional definition of the family, or oppose in any way the LGBT agenda. They have successfully intimidated many rabbis and almost all psychologists into utter silence.

Astonishingly, they have successfully propagated the notion that of all the potential maladies in the universe, only unwanted same-sex attraction cannot be treated by psychologists. Such has become illegal in many states. There is no other condition that has earned this measure of protection, and despite the personal and familial hardships it frequently causes. Those psychologists who do treat it, still, have been forced to go underground so as not to lose their licenses.

This is not science but intimidation, a raw power play that reflects the activists’ true desire: the mainstreaming, even normalization of homosexuality, and the concomitant suppression of ideologies like the Torah that do not conform. Science itself has been politicized and political correctness masquerading occasionally as compassion rules the public discourse.

None of this would seem to require further explication; certainly, we have addressed this in the past and been attacked viciously by these intolerant bullies, as we are certain will happen again. Yet, unfortunately, we have noticed the deleterious effect the swift fulfillment of the homosexual agenda has had on our children, teens and others. It is another example of the law of unintended consequences, with three in particular that stand out.

First, too many teens are grappling with confusion about their sexuality. It has become prevalent in the secular world but has infiltrated ours as well. This has resulted from the over-accommodation and even hyper-sensitivity to the plight of the homosexual teen and especially the reluctance to underscore to our children that this is not, for lack of a better term, normal.

Many children are growing up and being force fed in school the idea that boys can like boys or girls and girls can like girls or boys. There is no moral or experiential difference. Experimentation has become rampant, itself a source of great perplexity. Especially in the Torah world, where any type of contact with the opposite sex is shunned until marriage, the physicality between boys with boys and girls with girls in their casual interactions is something that was unheard of back in the day.

There is no contradiction between endorsing kindness and sensitivity to the individual, and fiercely opposing bullying of any kind, and still teaching that the homosexual impulse is not “normal,” mainstream, or the means to any type of satisfying life within the Torah milieu. It is not all the same. But we are living in an age that only Hans Christian Anderson could appreciate, when most are loathe to point out that the emperor’s new clothes are not really clothes at all. But everyone (all right, most everyone) knows it! Not to state it, not to teach it to our children, does them a disservice and falsifies the Torah.

Worse, it harms their appreciation for the Torah. We have often been asked by teens, educated in modern yeshivot to be tolerant, accepting and non-judgmental (because, after all, what is there to judge?), how can the Torah deprive someone of love? How can the Torah disallow a person from pursuing an innate drive or instinct? The questions are good questions but founded on one premise: that homosexuality is normal, just another mode of behavior, so how or why did G-d choose one natural orientation over another?

But children can be taught to be sensitive to those who are different, even if the differences violate the Torah and are not perceived by the Torah as innate, natural or normal. That sensitivity does not preclude recognizing sin and the frailties of human nature. They must be taught that we all have instinctual drives; this particular drive might be both rare and unnatural but it is a drive like any other drive, which, if it violates the Torah, must be constrained. Indeed, we all have drives that must be harnessed and sometimes suppressed or re-channeled in order for us to conform to Torah law. This applies to everyone except for the perfect people among us, which means, of course, no one,  Absolutely nobody is immune from this struggle in one form or another.

Hiding the truth from our children is affecting their attitude towards Torah, the Mesorah, G-d and the halakhic system. Some grow up feeling that if it is normal for some and the Torah prohibits it outright, then the Torah cannot be divine, so why shouldn’t they text on Shabbat or obey any part of the Torah that conflicts with their desires? To be sure, this attitude is not pervasive – but it does exist and it must be rectified. We cannot let fear muzzle our teaching of Torah. Accepting the homosexual agenda and normalizing it in our schools has engendered identity confusion among some of our youth, impaired their love of Torah and weakened their commitment to mitzvot. And now there is some pushback, as a result of the overstepping by the LGBT advocates.

Last week more than 200 national-religious rabbis in Israel courageously signed a letter that essentially proclaimed “enough is enough.”No more hiding the truth, no more dodging reality, no more “expansion” of the definition of the family, and no more kowtowing to the vocal and violent minority". We would like to think that 200 American rabbis would sign the same letter.

In any event, one senses the backlash currently under way against the aggressive pursuit of the homosexual agenda. The traditional camp (which includes, by the way, many secular Israelis as well) has to proclaim openly that the Torah will not change, the halac

kha will not change and nor will the Jewish perception of the ideal family unit change. Our bewildered children must know right from wrong, and normal from atypical, and that G-d’s morality is eternal. They too have become victims in this endless struggle over our culture and values.

There is no perfect answer to the integration of LGBT youth within a Torah framework and we should not expect one to be forthcoming but there is an approach that enables us to move forward with sympathy and thoughtfulness to all sides. We mean no offense, and apologize in advance to the easily offended.

The Torah and its laws will never be exchanged for another. But our policy remains the same: we always reach out to the individual as an individual, and do not only see their agenda, malady, talent, proclivities, background, socio-economic bracket or flaws.

Kindness and compassion to the individual, yes; acceptance, legitimacy and normalization of the cause, no. We see the person as a human being with a right to his/her opinion but no right to ram that opinion down anyone’s throat, and as a human being who deserves courtesy and respect.

Would that we, on the other side of the debate, be afforded the same courtesy and respect by those who disagree with us.

Rabbi Pruzansky is mara d'atra of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey. Rabbi Schonfeld is mara d'atra of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, New York. Both are Regional Vice Presidents and Senior Rabbinic Fellows at the Coalition for Jewish Values.