I recently wrote about R. Josh Yuter's review of R. Steven Greenberg's new book. Yuter has now taken me to task for classifying his as a "slippery slope" argument. He writes:
In the example of oness, R. Greenberg argued that since homosexuals are born with the desire, then we should treat them in the legal category of being exempt if they commit a biblical prohibition. However, if the mere innate desire is sufficient to exempt one type of sin, then the logical consequence would be to apply that logic to other desires as well. Once all desires are outside of one's control, then all transgressions may be dismissed. This is not an issue of what is moral or immoral, but of the ramifications of assigning legal categories.
Yuter is incorrect on two counts.
First of all, homosexuality is not a "mere innate desire," but a sexual orientation. The difference is significant. Homosexuals are able to pursue Godly, dignified, and Jewishly worthly relationships, while this is not true of every realized "innate desire."
Secondly, even if we were to call homosexuality, broadly and inaccurately, an "innate desire," it would not follow that "the logical consequence would be to apply that logic to other desires as well." Legal categories are not applied with a broad brush across all cases.
To put it another way, Yuter would have us believe that ones, applied to the case of homosexuality, must also ("logically") be applied to any other case. Let's assume that's true. Presumably because of time constraints (the blogger's curse), or leaving it as an exercise for the reader, Yuter neglected to mention what logical criteria connect homosexuality to other cases in which ones might be applied. (He does say "once all desires are out of our control," but I find it difficult to equate the acceptance of homosexual relationships with the legitimization of "all desires." Another slippery slope I don't want to slide down without snow cover.) Near the end of his post, he does mention statutory rape. Presumably Yuter finds some logical connection between homosexuality and statutory rape, so that (he imagines) one might say in either case "I was annus [psychologically or otherwise compelled] to perform that act."
But the differences between homosexuality and (lehavdil) rape are quite obvious. One is a non-consensual, violent impingement, the other a relationship between loving adults. These differences seem quite relevant to the application of ones, so that one might reasonably apply it in one case, and not in the other. What other connection does Yuter see between these that I'm missing?
Yuter bristles at the label "slippery slope." In that case, he is bound to explain to us the logical connection which so strongly binds homosexuality to every sort of "innate desire." Why can one not make halachic distinctions between ones in a positive relationship and ones in harmful, immoral acts? One can fairly request of Yuter what Andrew Sullivan demanded from opponents of homosexual marriage:
The precise challenge for morally serious people is to make rational distinctions between what is arbitrary and what is essential in important social institutions. ... If you want to argue that a lifetime of loving, faithful commitment between two women is equivalent to incest or child abuse, then please argue it. It would make for fascinating reading. But spare us this bizarre point that no new line can be drawn in access to marriage—or else everything is up for grabs and, before we know where we are, men will be marrying their dogs.In the same way, I think a line can be drawn in the application of ones, the criterion being whether the compelled party is acting in accordance with larger Jewish (i.e. halachic-moral) values, whether the "compulsion" is "mere innate desire" or a different, non-heterosexual sort of loving, permanent relationship. Yuter thinks this line is impossible, apparently on strictly logical grounds which are unclear to me.
Yuter also asks:
[W]hat is wrong with "swinging right" on this or any issue? Furthermore, why shouldn't we be able to discriminate against whomever we chose?There's nothing wrong per se with being right-wing. But the growing success (or popularity) of Orthodoxy gives rise to some unforeseen consequences. As the community of observant Jews tilts ever rightward, it begins to be affected by the imperfections of the Orthodox community. I don't want to get into these in detail here, but some of them I've mentioned before: e.g. the assumptions that "true" Torah dwells only in the tents of the Orthodox, and that observant Jewish life must somehow conform to ideal, ahistorical, amoral [sic!] halachic frameworks without sacrificing axiomatic consistency. (Keep in mind that each major denomination of Judaism has its own imperfections; I'm certainly not saying that dominance by, say, Conservative Judaism would be ideal either.)
As for discrimination: differences are at the heart of the religious life, but they must be justified. Discrimination generally refers to invidious distinctions, and should be avoided.