7/14/04

Gays everywhere!
(Conservosexuality part six, I think. Let me go count . . .)

When I was trying to define earlier why I disagree so strongly with Rabbi Joel Roth's misguided teshuvah on homosexuality [the link to which is chronically broken], I somehow missed this point-by-point refutation by Jay Michaelson, prolific editor of Zeek and writer on things gay and Jewish. (Jay taught at Prozdor when I did, and I think he still teaches there.) His style here is hyperbolic, if not hysterical, not so much argumentative as hectoring, but the main points are there:

1. Homosexuality, as a concept for the understanding of same-sex relationships, is not congruent with the mishkav zakhur of Leviticus.

2. Defining homosexuality as "unnatural," or using "naturalness" as a criterion for halachic acceptability, is an illegitimate endeavor.

3. It is not true that gays and lesbians can be "cured" of their sexual inclinations.

His conclusion, then, is that

4. There is nothing a priori un-Jewish about a loving same-sex relationship, if we are to understand our God as compassionate and desirous of mutually supporting, consensual partners. (Ma hu, . . . af atah. If He is compassionate, so too should you be compassionate.)

Also on the GLH* front, Simcha, of Hirhurim, pointed out a recent review by Rabbi Josh Yuter of the new book by Rabbi Steven Greenberg, Wrestling with God and Men. I haven't read the book, and to be honest I don't plan to. But Rabbi Yuter's review advances some points which need to be addressed.

With regard to Greenberg's idea that homosexuals are under psychological compulsion (ones) to follow their sexual inclinations, Yuter writes:

[T]here is no reason not to apply the principle of oness to every biblical or rabbinic prohibition. Anyone could claim that their sin was merely the result of the way that God created them, and this would be why they committed adultery, murder, or any other transgression.

This smacks of the slippery slope argument used against same-sex marriage. If gays can marry, why not polygamy? or incest? or bestiality? The idea, I suppose, is that homosexuality is basically the same thing as everything else outside the bounds of traditional understanding, and homosexuality is traditionally condemned for the same reason as these other activities. Neither of these is true. The same can be said of ones: homosexuality is different from adultery and murder, I should think, in important ways - namely that homosexuality is not, a priori, immoral, while adultery breaches a relationship and murder takes life.

In addition, it is strange to suggest that "there is no reason not to apply . . . oness to every biblical or rabbinical prohibition." Is the halachic process not concerned precisely with such distinctions?

Yuter's other main objection is that Greenberg, in suggesting that his interpretation of the relevant verses in Leviticus should influence halachic change, is somehow overstepping the bounds of the halachic process. His argument is unclear to me, so I won't try to summarize it here. As far as I can make out, the main thrust is that halachic change within Orthodoxy can only take place under certain conditions. No rabbi would be so bold, says Yuter, as to make Greenberg's suggestion. Therefore (it seems) the very boldness of Greenberg's suggestion invalidates the proposal for halachic change. QED, I guess.

The other possible understanding of Yuter's argument is this: there are certain criteria of halachic change, and Greenberg's proposed application of ones to homosexuality fails to meet them.

Here I need to admit something ("Today I admit my sins"!). I've never seen a logically consistent exposition of the Orthodox philosophy of halachic change. Maybe I'm ignorant (which is likely), but another possibility is that much of Orthodox resistance to halachic change has to do with a general conservatism rather than a hewing to a set of halachic axioms. (If you show me Rambam's laws of halachic judgment, please tell me how they correspond to today's methods of Orthodox jurisprudence.) There is nothing wrong with this: small-c conservatism is a necessary thing within every religious movement. But such conservatism does not imply an axiomatic consistency. It is this which I think Orthodoxy lacks, no matter how loudly its academicians do protest.

However, since I'm not Orthodox, and I have no dog in this hunt (if I may wax Clintonian), I am happy to be proven wrong. As a liberal Jew, however, I do sometimes feel like a passenger on a cruise ship, who asks himself, "How much longer do we have to be swinging right on this thing?"

*GLH: Gays, lesbians, and halachah.

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