Teshuva today
Teshuva todayFlash 90

In 1985, a faculty member of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University, wrote: "There is no such thing as a 'Jewish Homosexual."

Corollary: If there is no entity called " Jewish Homosexual", Jews who indulge in homosexual activities are not entitled to special rights as a group.

This has taken on importance with the recent thrusting of Yeshiva University onto front pages of the news, after gay students demanded that YU recognize their gay club as an official club with YU sanction and funding. When YU refused, since gay behavior is clearly against Torah law- Halakha, the students took their case to court. A lower New York court decided in the students' favor. YU then went to the US Supreme Court, which has decided that YU must appeal the case in lower courts first, before turning again to the SCOTUS, if necessary; but in the meantime, the lower court's ruling against YU must be obeyed. For now, YU must recognize the gay club.

In Israel, two young girls have been found to be attending schools under the false guise of boys. In one school, Moreshet Moriah in Givat Shmuel, a third grade biological girl has been in class dressed as a boy for the last two years with her parents' knowledge. This has led to threats by parents who demand to transfer their sons to other school, while administrators and teachers are horrified by the situation.

I wrote the following article, After the Death of Gay Marriage, after the US Supreme Court recognized gay marriage in 2013 (Israelnationalnews.com, April 18,2013). Its insights provide a direction that both YU and Moreshet Moriah should follow:

In June, 1989, the American Medical Association (AMA) held its annual meeting in Chicago. The Hirsch family was two months shy of making aliya, and on the last Sunday in June, we were driving north to Bnei Akiva's Camp Moshava, in Wild Rose, Wisconsin.

After ten years as camp doctor (for one glorious week a year, always the first week, so that the campers weren’t too homesick yet, a week that meant cutting down on my workload and giving us a family vacation), this was anticipated to be my last stint in Wisconsin. As we drove northward from Chicago, WBBM radio played the following news bulletin:

“The AMA building has been taken over by gay-rights protestors, disrupting the annual meeting. We are live at the site, with an interview with one of the protest leaders. Mr. X, why are you gay-rights activists taking over this building?’"

‘We are demanding rights equal to those of other minority groups. In the light of the AIDS epidemic, we are using this medical venue to demand acceptance of the legitimate civil rights of gays. The fact is that there is simply too much traditional morality in America, and we want to use the AMA and other organizations to teach America otherwise.’ “

We got quite a laugh over that last line about “too much traditional morality”, but things have certainly progressed in the last 25 years. Dozens of American states considered gay marriage bills, and the Supreme Court dealt with the issue, but the Torah portion of Acharei Mot (After the Death) has a message: “You are prohibited from doing the sex act with a male, in the manner of sex with a female; it is a to’eiva “ (Leviticus 18:22).

The King James Bible, a Christian work, translates to’eiva as “abomination”, but Bar Kappara (Talmud Nedarim, 51a) views the word as a “noterikon”, a contraction of the three words “toeh atah bah”, you are making a mistake”. Torah Temima explains the syllable “bah” of the three-part contraction as “in this way (derech) “, meaning that you are straying from the fundamental ways of Creation by doing this.

Tosafot in Nedarim translates “bah” differently, as the word can also mean "towards her" saying it refers to one’s wife (or divinely intended wife); that is, one who is involved in homosexual activity is straying from “her”, his wife ( the Torah does not explicitly include lesbian activity in the same biblical commandment, although Rambam notes that it is Rabbinically prohibited ; Issurei Biah, 21:8).

The translation of "to'eiva" as “error” leads to an entirely different view of homosexuality.

I first heard this view from Rabbi Barry Freundel, who spoke at several summer conventions of the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists in the 1980’s. I recently serendipitously found his article on the subject when someone discarded it in our synagogue during his pre-Pesach cleaning. The article appears in the Spring, 1986 volume of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (pages 70-87):

There is no such thing as a Jewish homosexual, he writes. Nowhere in halakha is a person defined by his sexual orientation. Jewish society consists of halakhically defined priest, levite, king, prophet, Sanhedrin, minor, man(ish), woman, deaf-mute,etc. The homosexual does not appear on the list of those with a separate status in the Jewish community. There are biological and halakhic definitions of hermaphrodite, menstruant, menopausal female, etc.

This is because homosexuality is, as noted above, viewed as an activity, an error - but not as a definition of a person’s being. “Homosexual” is therefore not a noun, identifying and categorizing the individual, but an adjective describing his sin/error.

Viewed thus, a person who indulges in homosexual activity is to be viewed as no different than one who sins by eating nonkosher food (Deuteronomy 14:3), idolatry(ibid,7:25-26) and committing unethical business practices(ibid, 25:16). All these sins are also described as “to’eiva”. Yet we do not ascribe some special status to those committing these errors.

Furthermore, although the unethical businessman may have deep psychological drives to steal, halakha makes no dispensation for these drives. The thief, murderer, adulterer, etc. is expected to control his urges, and to desist from sin; classically, our rabbis have said that a Jew should say that that he’d love to have a tasty ham sandwich, but that the Torah forbids it.

Even if a genetic or supra-genetic basis for homosexuality were to be found (despite much effort by gay scientists to prove such biological determinism, none has been discovered), the Torah would view it in the same light as the Talmud’s description of King David’s personality: he was a redhead like Esau, with the same murderous tendencies. Yet David controlled his DNA, rising above his biology, “killing only per the sanction of the Sanhedrin”.

Our basic covenant as Jews, the brit of circumcision, enjoins us with the defining command that a Jew rises above the compunctions (viewed as impurity,”tumah”) of the physical, including biology, with its DNA, sex hormones, forces of evolution, etc., and uses conscience, morals, wisdom, belief, and all other human faculties to rise above the level of barbarians (a fact that Hitler used as his excuse for war against the Jews).

Furthermore, should a Jew commit any sin, he is enjoined to repent, to change his ways - and the sin of homosexual activity is no different. No one can change his DNA, hormones, kleptomania, etc., but a Jew can change his actions.

Repentance and changing one's perspective and actions is referred to in Halakhah as Teshuva. In the vein, it is noteworthy that as far back as 1984, Masters and Johnson ( the preeminent sex experts of the last half of the 20th century), published a study "Treatment Program of Dissatisfied Homosexual Men"(American Journal of Psychiatry, volume 141, pages 173-181; February , 1984) . 79% of the men were free of homosexual actions at one year, and 72% at five years. All other psychiatrists , and the media, ignored this study-a study proving that Teshuva is certainly possible. Also, Masters et al spoke of "treatment"; that means that they, like Freud, were viewing homosexuality as an illness, and not a normal state of mankind.

With this differing view of homosexual activity, Jewish society changes the errant Jew’s perception of himself. He is no longer a reviled outsider, pushed outside of Jewish society and synagogue, should be welcomed into all existing institutions with the welcome afforded those who eat nonkosher food or drive on Shabbos, etc. Lubavich especially has long championed the view that we are all Jews, and as such artificial divisions between us are invalid, and such labels must not be used.

This essentially pulls the rug out of those who advocate gay rights, synagogues, marriage, etc. Gays should be welcomed in our synagogues, as there is no place for granting them separate institutions (any more then setting up a shul called “Rodfei Gezel “, those who pursue theft).

We should couple our tolerance of the individual with disapproval of the activity.

As a physician, I add that as a young physician in 1981, I saw the issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, which contained three articles on a mysterious illness killing gays in the bathhouses of San Francisco. Later, the overlap of the gay population with the IV drug addicts, whose income was boosted by selling their blood for transfusions, led to AIDS in the general public, as did heterosexual activity by gays. I personally cared for a thirty year old teacher who was killed by the blood transfusion she had received years earlier during heart valve surgery; and I cared for a 70-year-old who died of an AIDS-tainted transfusion for his bleeding ulcer.

These were innocent victims of an epidemic for whom gays bear guilt. Yet, like other postmoderns, who redefine dangerous behavior that threatens society as benign (as in liberals who redefined the PLO as legitimate freedom fighters and politicians, ignoring Israel’s 1,500 dead and September 11th’s 2,700 dead ), the gays never expressed remorse. AIDS may be treatable, but at tremendous cost (a month of pills costs some $3,500 in 2022), and gays historically played a causal role in the epidemic.

Even at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when it was totally untreatable, gays missionized to gain more adherents. They typically would go up to a teenager, who had broken up with yet another girlfriend and was depressed, and would say:

"Your third girlfriend and breakup, huh? You know why you have trouble with girls? It's obvious. It's because you are really gay". on a gullible, depressed 16 year old, it worked in many instances. And in the 80's, with AIDS untreatable, that teenager was as good as dead- killed by a gay missionary.

One final point: we find ourselves on a 25 year slippery slope, and “gay marriage” is not the end of it. Recently, well-known gerontologist Aubrey de Grey wrote an article called “The Overdue Demise of Monogamy” (in John Brockman’s anthology "That Expains Everything", pages 15-18). De Grey says that now that gay marriage is a “battle won”, society should now take the next logical step and rid itself of the “inconvenience of monogamy…with all its pain and suffering. For is not sex simply another form of recreational activity?”.

He sees that only problems arise from the “inconvenient responsibilities of deeper emotional attachments”, and sees the benefits of casual sex in a society characterized by “shifts of affection and evolving social interactions”.

De Grey glosses over, as unimportant, the great issues of long-term investment, integrity, love, care, relationship, and what Judaism calls “specialness” (kedusha, also translated as holiness; gentiles too speak of the bond of holy matrimony). Try raising a kid in an emotional quicksand that always “shifts and evolves”. See with what kind of character that child, and his reptilian parents, eventually end up.

That is the future envisioned for us “After the Death (Acharei Mot)” of gay - and all other - marriage.

The above views, written in 2013, were espoused as Yeshiva University policy nearly forty years ago. YU has not changed its view, and today espouses the same policy: there is no such entity Jewish homosexual, and therefore no concept of Jewish gay rights – and no "right" to a gay club. One would hope that the city of New York will honor YU's rights to espouse Jewish values.

As far as the Israeli case: so as not to destroy a young girl, I would tell her and her mother that she will be allowed back in school on condition the two of them enter therapy with a religious psychiatrist who can lead them to Teshuva. Such therapists do exist in Israel today, and I wish them success, before some greedy surgeon butchers this poor kid at puberty, and fills her full of male hormones. After all, this Elul is the season of Teshuva- both for the girl, her mother, and for those misguided Givat Shmuel parents (who are missing a historic opportunity to show the world what true Teshuva is).