What is celebrated as “Pride” Month should not be allowed to pass without injecting a small dose of reality into the bacchanalia. Despite the merriment, the relentless adoration of the media, the parades and the provocations, the conduct of the “Pride” community remains forbidden according to the Torah, defies traditional norms that have sustained civilization since antiquity and threatens to undermine the family, which is the bedrock of civil society.
Let us give credit where credit is due. In the most successful marketing campaign in history, within a span of just a few decades, advocates went from a situation in which their preferred private conduct was a crime to where same sex marriage is legal in much of the world. What began as a quest for equality and tolerance has metamorphosed into a vehement demand for the silencing of all critics, a denial of their rights and liberties, and ongoing attempts to cancel and destroy them. In the United States, from a request two decades ago that same sex partners be granted visitation rights in hospitals, we have now reached the stage in which seemingly intelligent people who possess advanced academic degrees and prestigious titles become tongue-tied and incoherent when asked to define the nature of a woman. That is a marketing success.
We must distinguish between people who succumb to sin – all of us – and people who celebrate sin and demand others celebrate with them. That is no longer a personal violation but a rejection of the system.
It was engendered first by co-opting language. Traditionalists were automatically deemed “phobic,” as if our commitment to moral norms makes us “afraid” of those who do not share those commitments. That is preposterous. Delightful words like “gay” or “pride,” and stirring ideas like “tolerance” and “freedom” were kidnapped by advocates for an agenda long rejected as inimical to society.
Take, for example, the incomprehensible use of the term “pride.” Pride, as I understand it, is an internal feeling generated by a sense of accomplishment or achievement. As the dictionary would have it, it is the “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.” One feels pride in completing the Daf Yomi, winning the Nobel Prize or the World Series, or finding the cure for cancer. These are considerations that are external to the self.
It is true that I take pride in being a Jew, in the sense that I feel blessed to be part of a nation divinely chosen to represent God’s morality on earth (however flawed we might be in executing that task) and entrusted with the Torah and the land of Israel to achieve that goal.
But feel pride in being a tall, white, green-eyed male heterosexual? That would be absurd. A desire to copulate with the same sex is not an accomplishment – for that matter, nor is the same desire towards the opposite sex an accomplishment. Yet, we are incessantly lectured that this condition is innate, whether or not that is true. If so, what is the attainment that should evoke this pride? It is both linguistically and psychologically misplaced – but it is effective.
The campaign has also been successful because it is always on the offensive. Most rabbis – especially in America – have been intimidated into silence stemming from fear and compassion (in varying degrees for each person). People are threatened, jobs are lost, personal attacks are normative, and social media campaigns are ruthless and unyielding. They only cease when good people just ignore them. For many people, it is not worth the effort to address the issue.
“Pride” advocates have become intolerant bullies who cannot even hear another view, even if that view is divine and rooted in the Torah’s morality. So good, moral people are forced to be silent, swallow their opinions in the public domain, and try to salvage some semblance of morality in their private lives and families.
There are three problems with this.
Firstly, the Torah becomes mangled and distorted. Yeshivot today, especially in the Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist worlds, struggle with moral instruction on what is a fundamental Torah concern. They are coerced into avoiding or tap-dancing around the issue. Rebbeim are instructed to eschew talking about it for fear of offending someone, somewhere. Profiles in courage, it is not.
Secondly, the effect on the family is devastating. Families dealing with this issue need compassion and support; what they don’t need is to be lied to or to coerce others to join in their charade. It is increasingly common in the Modern Orthodox world to invite friends and relatives to same-sex weddings, essentially forcing others to violate Torah principles in order to make the parents feel better about their situation. That is unequivocally wrong. Modern Orthodoxy is especially under siege today – and fighting for its viability – because the gap between “modern” and “Orthodoxy” is a yawning chasm that cannot be navigated. It wasn’t like that fifty, not even twenty, years ago. It is like that today. Within the movement, it is undeniable that for a variety of reasons, when these challenges arise, “modern” always trumps “orthodoxy.”
Thirdly, advocates have intimidated the legal and political establishments in banning (in many jurisdictions) what is intentionally and misleadingly called “conversion therapy.” Same sex attraction has become the only psychological concern on planet earth that cannot be dealt with therapeutically. It was done by highlighting rare cases of bizarre therapies – more a problem of the therapist than the therapy – and completely vitiates behavioral modification therapy which has been known to work for same-sex attraction as for other maladies.
It is peculiar, indeed it is actually evil, to tell a person who wants help in overcoming a particular proclivity that the law prohibits any change. Even assuming that it doesn’t always work and that no one should be forced to undergo such therapy, it is immoral to tell people that they cannot change or better their lives if they so desire. It is pure malevolence to tell those individuals that they are not allowed to change their orientations – but encouraging young children to mutilate their bodies to change their sexes is somehow reasonable, even laudable. It is an insane, dangerous and harmful world.
There is a playbook with several elements that advocates follow in order to stifle dissenting opinions.
First, traditionalists are told that their objections will “kill people” and “instigate violence.” Cause and effect are never demonstrated. Obviously, any such violence, however limited, is condemnable. But in today’s cruel world, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, Jews, Christians, Muslims, doctors, lawyers and accountants, are all victims of violence. Homosexuals have no monopoly on victimhood. There is no inherent or rational reason why opposition to the “pride” agenda should provoke violence. This is fear-mongering, promoted by provocative bullies. (It is ironic that much thought went into changing the route of the Yerushalayim flag march so as not to provoke the Arabs, while no thought went into changing the route of the “pride” parade – a blatant provocation to the sensibilities of the majority religious population in the Holy City.)
Second, traditionalists are told that their objections will lead to suicides, which is all the more reason why therapy is warranted for those who live in this predicament. Ironically, a recent Heritage Foundation showed that there is a much higher suicide rate among teens who are medically transitioning than among those who struggle with sexual confusion but are not medically transitioning.
Third, traditionalists are called names – “bigot” or “hate-monger” being the most common epithets. Traditionalists are lectured that they are being cruel, insensitive and intolerant. These lectures are proffered by those who, without even the slightest bit of self-awareness, have become cruel, insensitive and intolerant to those who disagree with them. “Live and let live” has become “Live and I will force you to agree with me or you shall die.” Name-calling, as always, is a poor substitute for reasoned argument but it makes for good placards and sound bites. Good people who hear the name-calling should yawn and tune out. it is meant to intimidate, not to persuade.
Fourth, traditionalists are told that they cannot “impose their morality” on others. Indeed, public coercion is lamentable and ineffective. But should the bullies have the privilege of imposing their immorality on others? Who would have thought that a quest for “equality” and “freedom” would become a macabre circus in which dissenting views are suppressed, dissenters are persecuted and business people – photographers, bakers, florists, caterers, hall owners and others – would be coerced into violating their own religious beliefs or be sued into submission.
The United States Supreme Court has, to date, upheld the religious liberties of dissenters, at least in some limited cases but as yet without a clear forceful statement of individual rights. Israel lags behind in protecting religious freedom. A catering hall owner in Beersheva who refused to host a same sex wedding paid a settlement of 80,000 NIS. The Rav of the Technion was assailed for criticizing the decadence of a drag party. An Israeli organization that supports the traditional family is basically construed as a hate group.
A lower court in New York City ordered Yeshiva University to open a “pride” club, as its denial violated the City’s human rights law and ruling that YU is not a “religious institution.” YU will appeal, and even if they lose in the State’s appellate courts, a federal lawsuit is warranted. The US Supreme Court has become the leading legal defenders of religious liberty. Nevertheless, the well funded bullies are still winning, religious freedom remains under attack and traditionalists are castigated and canceled. They are pilloried on social media and their employers are harassed into firing them. Advocates must learn to accept that people are entitled to disagree with them on moral and religious grounds, and they should be tolerant of that.
Finally, the playbook suggests that traditionalists be badgered that if the “pride” agenda is not accepted, then the advocates will go “off the derech.” They will leave Orthodoxy. If parents do not celebrate their marriages, and invite their friends, they will “cut off all relations.” There is certainly merit to the argument that even if they sin in this area, they should still try to perform all the other mitzvot. Yet, we must distinguish between people who succumb to sin – all of us – and people who celebrate sin and demand others celebrate with them. That is no longer a personal violation but a rejection of the system. In a real sense, they have already rejected Orthodoxy, tradition, the Torah and their families. Besides, blackmail is unbecoming, and a moral argument that is founded on blackmail is both hollow and unappealing.
What is the way forward? Traditional Jews are not abandoning or reforming the Torah
The pride agenda should be countered, with love and joy. We should declare May or July to be “Traditional Family Month” with parades and floats, and an orange flag that is emblazoned with the blue images of father and mother, son and daughter. We should speak –yes, with pride – about the delights of the traditional family, the core of the Jewish home and the Jewish state.
We should acknowledge that this movement is a driving force of the execrable modern craving to publicize even the most private aspects of one’s life; that alone must be reversed in all its dimensions. We should be unafraid to articulate the values of the Torah, without any rancor, hatred, mockery or condescension but with an abundance of love and compassion. My guess is that most people feel sorry for those suffering in this plight rather than feel any rage or antagonism.
And we should be candid and forthright. Sometimes the truth can sound insensitive, which doesn’t make it any less true. The Torah is not changing. Homosexual conduct is and will remain forbidden, and no number of parades or floats will change that. Traditionalists will not celebrate it, which doesn’t mean they love their children any less. Those who face challenges in this area and neither succumb or celebrate are Jewish heroes. Rabbis who unabashedly preach the Torah morality should be extolled and defended. The Torah was given to us, and the Jewish state exists, not to parrot the debauched morals of the nations but to be a beacon of light as to what is best for mankind. That is why the Torah is always countercultural, in every generation.
Most people would be content with live and let live, with keeping private conduct private, and with restoring some semblance of decency and propriety in public life. Tolerance is a two-way street.
Advocates must abandon the power high that convinces them they are entitled to tell people what they are allowed feel, think, say, do and legislate. No, thank you! For that, good Jews have the Torah. And that is another dose of reality whose acceptance by all would calm these turbulent waters and make us all better people.
Rabbi Steven Pruzanskywas a pulpit rabbi in the United States for 35 years, resides today in Israel, and serves as the Israel Region Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values.