On homosexuality, bisexuality, and speaking Judaic truth in a PC cloud

In Orthodox Judaism, homosexuality is not a matter of pride. Certainly, it must never be a basis for social or employment discrimination, never for mockery. As with heterosexuality, it is a matter for privacy, no one else’s business.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer, | updated: 22:08

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
צילום: PR

Through my decades as a shul rabbi and a published opinion writer, I never address issues regarding homosexuality. The subject is so sensitive, personally awkward for those with relatives or others so affected, and the Torah’s viewpoint is so clear that it needs no rabbinic explication.

But we do live in challenging times, and an exception seems imperative here in the aftermath of recent news items ranging from Homosexual “Pride Parades” to the unfortunate recent brouhaha prompted by an impolitic interview given by a former chief military chaplain, a distinguished rabbi of exceptional personal character and integrity, whose recent experiences demonstrate why the rabbinic giants of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) urged Torah personalities to detest politics.

First, a personal backgrounder: As a senior litigation associate attorney at one of America’s most prominent law firms, Akin Gump, I was approached one November day in the office by a colleague, who sought a few private moments. We were peers, both high-level litigators, and often strategized on cases, but this meeting was different. He explained: “Dov, I don’t know whether you know it, but I am gay. A few years ago, I came out to my parents. My Dad is a Southern Baptist minister, and he wants nothing more to do with me. Next week, for the first time in years, I will see my parents again, as my Mom wants me home for Thanksgiving. I heard you are an Orthodox rabbi, and I have nowhere else to turn for clergy counseling even though I am not Jewish. I am just wondering whether you can offer me any guidance for how to handle my Dad when we see each other.”

My colleague was in deep pain, and I guided him.  Over the next year or so, I counseled him two or three more times on the matter, always at his initiation. (I always was quite strict with myself, otherwise, never to bring my religious or political views or identity into my secular workplace life. My wearing a yarmulka at the Los Angeles office of Akin Gump was ample.)

A second instance: As a law professor, I have taught Civil Procedure, the Law of Remedies, and Advanced Torts to more than 2,000 students over these past fifteen years. The “rabbi in me” tries to inject an aspect of personal caring and compassion outside the classroom.  One term I noticed that a particular student who regularly had engaged with exceptional alacrity in class suddenly started missing sessions. I scheduled a meeting to learn why she had evaporated. At the face-to-face, she broke down crying, explaining that her lesbian living partner had abandoned her. I counseled the student through the matter. She resumed class attendance and scored an “A” grade in my course. After term grades officially were posted, marking the end of our formal professor-student relationship, this Jewish student joined us at our home with her Mom twice for Shabbat dinner, and she attended our Yom Kippur services with her family who never before had entered an Orthodox service.

This era calls for sensitivity in ways that prior Jewish and other American generations did not.

The people who grew up a century ago were reared in duty. They did what they were told, sacrificed under severely trying conditions delaying gratification, stuck with one job at one employer for half a century until being awarded a gold watch at retirement. They developed tough skins, sucked up insensitivities, and passed it on. 

By contrast, today’s era is one in which college students — at an age when others fought and gave their lives at Normandy or Okinawa, Hurtgen Forest or Bataan, Mishmar HaEmek or Katamon or Gush Etzion — must be given “trigger warnings” to protect their feelings when assigned classic readings like Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” must be provided “safe spaces” on college campus with play-doh, coloring books, puppies, and cocoa, and need counseling when subjected to such “microaggressions” as being told that they need to earn success and that “America is a land of opportunity.”

It also is an era in which, inexplicably, homosexuality is equated with the 1950s civil rights movement that saw a prior generation battle against centuries of race-based oppression and discrimination that saw Blacks forced to the backs of buses, denied the right to hotel rooms or even lavatories, and even denied service at lunch counters.  Because the Left media dominate the public discourse, “LGBTQ” now must be treated as a cause akin to fighting slavery.

The Torah position on homosexuality is clear: Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:22. Res Ipsa Loquitur — The thing speaks for itself. In addition, (Rabbi) Ulla of the Talmud in Chullin 92a-b tells us that, although the non-Jewish world (“Sons of Noah”) have failed to honor commandments they undertook to observe, at least they deserve credit for not entering into Gay Marriages. (“[Their men] do not write Ketubas for men.”) That is Judaism on the subject.

As for “bisexuality,” it is beyond outrageous that anyone would include that inclination in any halakhic discussion of this sort because, once one concedes having within his or her make-up a traditional biological orientation towards uniting with the opposite gender, no conceivable argument exists to pursue forbidden alternative relationships in addition. In this regard, so-called “Bisexuals” are no different from heterosexuals who have desires they must control within proper marital behavior. Thus, the mindless inclusion of the letter “B” by left-wing “Open Orthodox” rabbis in their “LGBTQ” advocacy reveals much about the halakhic deviance of “Open Orthodoxy” as a decidedly non-Orthodox and contra-Orthodox religion unto itself.

In most synagogues outside strictly Orthodox communities, some drive cars to Orthodox shul worship services on Shabbat. They know such behavior is contra-halakhic. When someone in shul lives many miles away, everyone in the synagogue knows they have driven. Yet the matter simply is not addressed: Don’t ask, Don’t tell. And no one ever enters shul on Shabbat saying, “Wow! What a traffic jam this morning on the 405 Freeway! And then they re-routed us through Tustin and back onto the freeway at Jamboree. And I was running low on gasoline, too. What a mess!”

No one says that. TMI — Too Much Information. They hold their tongues. They know that driving on Shabbat is not for discussion. Indeed, many such people politely park a few blocks away from the congregation, not out of hypocrisy but out of respect for the holiness of Shabbat and the shul. It is the same with those who eat non-Kosher, with those who do not frequent mikveh for family purity — frankly, even for those who never learn Torah during the week. No one who participates in an Orthodox community but who personally is non-observant says “Wow! What a great pork chop I had on Tuesday!”  “Me? Oh, I never learn Torah. I just come for the double malt scotch at kiddush.” Rather, people know “right from wrong” enough to opt for modest quiet.

Likewise, people in Orthodox Judaism do not ask their colleagues whether they are homosexual.  When two or three men - or women - let’s call them Natti and Amir, or Yifat and Hodayah — save rent by sharing an apartment, no one assumes homosexuality, and no one asks. When a fellow in his fifties never has married, some people might wonder what they may, so they may stop suggesting shidduchim (marital matches) to him, but it is normative in proper Judaism not to assume behavior contrary to Torah laws. Maybe he has financial concerns, was impacted by the Shoah, believes the world is ending in twelve years because of climate change. It is none of our business.

Similarly, Torah-observant Jews do not parade pride in driving on Shabbat, in eating bacon and eggs, pride in never going to mikveh in married life. And it is just as non-Orthodox, contra-Orthodox, and frankly anti-Orthodox to parade publicly one’s homosexuality or to join with others who so parade as though that were a matter of pride. In Orthodox Judaism, homosexuality is not a matter of pride. Certainly, it must never be a basis for social or employment discrimination, never for mockery. Rather, as with heterosexuality, it is a matter for privacy, no one else’s business. And it is a matter for understanding. But not for pride.

Any rabbi who parades at a “Gay Pride” rally is one whose kashrut certifications my mainstream normative Modern Orthodox and Centrist Orthodox colleagues and I would not trust, whose conversions we would not recognize, and whom we even would avoid including as a proper witness to a religious ritual. These sorts of
Homosexuals parade behind a rainbow. In reality, the rainbow is not theirs but is G-d’s covenant with humanity. Breishit (Genesis) 9:11-17. The Torah and its laws are G-d’s covenant with Israel. That is Orthodoxy.
rabbis invariably are found in the ranks of the decidedly non-Orthodox denominations that include Reform and “Open Orthodoxy,” denominations that likewise ordain women rabbis and publicly pronounce readiness to ordain homosexual rabbis, even as they promote other rituals that are foreign to normative mainstream Modern Orthodoxy and of course to the more Litvishe and hassidic worlds to the “right” of Centrist Orthodoxy.

Theirs is not the world of Orthodoxy — even though the “Open Orthodoxy” seminaries that ordain women rabbis and their male “Open Orthodox” colleagues, and that publicly pronounce readiness to ordain homosexual rabbis, are headquartered in an Orthodox Union congregation in Riverdale. Such a phenomenon’s presence shames the Orthodox Union and even casts a dark shadow on its many other vaunted agencies.

Homosexuals parade behind a rainbow. In reality, the rainbow is not theirs but is G-d’s covenant with humanity. Breishit (Genesis) 9:11-17. The Torah and its laws are G-d’s covenant with Israel. That is Orthodoxy.

And the words of Vayikra (Leviticus) 18 are so clear that they are recited annually all over the world, throughout the millennia of our generations, as the public Torah reading on Yom Kippur afternoon. Res ipsa loquitur. It speaks for itself. Rabbinic explications are unnecessary.




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