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May 5, 2013 3:29 am

That Took a Lot of Courage, Mr. Collins

avatar by Tony Rebuck

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Jason Collins. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

As they say in my tribe: Yasher Koach. It took great strength of character to come out as the first openly gay athlete in US major sports.

As a proud Canadian, I am happy to bring to your attention the fact that we had a Jason Collins fifteen years before the US did. Our Mark Tewksbury, who was chef de mission of the Canadian team at the London Olympics, on hearing of his appointment said that it gave him more pleasure than when he won his 1992 Olympic title in the 100 meters backstroke. Incidentally he also won a silver medal in Seoul and a bronze in Barcelona. Tewksbury was the first Canadian athlete to announce he was gay voluntarily. What should have been recognized as a courageous act was instead punished by loss of his contract as a motivational speaker. Today Mark Tewksbury is a respected television commentator, swimming analyst and an international lecturer on the subject of decriminalizing homosexuality. I hope Mr Collins is similarly recognized in a timely fashion.

Traditional religious belief follows that there is a moral imperative forbidding all forms of homosexual activity. Certainly that was true in the context of the society in which the laws were handed down. Our challenge is to puzzle out how to interpret the Bible today. Many people allow some sexual practices and mores such as homosexuality that were forbidden in the Bible while at the same time, we condemn some practices that were freely allowed, such as polygamy, levirate marriage, possessing concubines, sex with slaves and the treatment of women as property.

Traditional Judaism considers homosexual acts as a violation against Jewish law and such eminent figures as Rabbi Boteach (author of ‘Kosher Sex’) says that homosexual acts are wrong simply because the Torah says they are wrong. At no time however, does the Torah condemn homosexual love.

The term used in the Torah to condemn homosexual acts is ‘an abomination’, the same word -to’eivah- in Hebrew, is that used to describe the eating of non-kosher meat.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has said that compassion, empathy and understanding are the essential elements of Judaism. My opinion is that homosexual Jews need to receive this message from us today. Reform Judaism, I am told, has rejected the traditional view of Jewish Law on the issue of homosexuality and does not prohibit ordination of gays and lesbians as rabbis and cantors; indeed, I am also informed that the Reconstructionist movement welcomes them.

My personal view about gays and lesbians in sport is that I find homophobia utterly loathsome. I admire Jason Collins and wish him and his teammates in the Washington Wizards well.

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  • BH in Long Beach NY

    Alegemeiner is a totally inappropriate website to publish this viewpoint for 4 reasons:
    1. It celebrates a behavior that goes against the Torah
    2. All the mainstream media is already calling this guy courageous
    3. It has nothing to do with Judaism
    4. The author seems to concludes that Torah Jews are homophobic.

    That’s right, the Torah condemns homosexual acts. We have the utmost sympathy for Jews that knowingly reject Torah Law and wish to bring them back to the Torah. Those that don’t come back are demographically self destructing. (Combination of Low birthrates and high intermarriage rate)

  • Confused

    What is the point of this article? The author jumps from athletic history to re-interpretation of the Torah to his own personal views on the subject, which, with due respect, are neither novel nor particularly interesting. If he wants to write about his love of sports and approval of the Reform movement on his own blog, more power to him, but I don’t understand why the Algemeiner is publishing it as though it were noteworthy.

  • Din v’cheshbon

    I have no problem with gays, although I’m not sure how the author connected Jason Collins’ coming out with yiddishkeit, and what his motives were.

    In today’s modern world, many things are not what they appear to be, and without a Sanhedrin, it seems inappropriate for us to judge the actions of any person, or group.

    What is clear to me, as an observant Jew, is that at the end of the day, every man, woman and child, will face his din v’cheshbon in the courts of his maker. Furthermore, we will be judged according to our own “take” on justice and according to our behaviour throughout our lives. A person who was merciful, will be judged with mercy, one who was impatient, will be judged with impatience, mida k’neged mida, as it says in the good book!

    I have no problem with gays, nor with abortion, both of which the Torah condemns! Personally, I don’t advocate for them, because I do believe that they are wrong!

    The reasons that people do the things they do, the choices they make, are unique to them and any observer is not party to all the facts, emotions and personalities at play. Consequently, what may seem simple, is really not what it appears to be and none of us really have the right to judge.

    Hashem will do all the judging necessary when we all face our accuser at the end of our lives.

  • I think BH in Iowa is correct. It would take courage these days for an NBA player to come out AGAINST homosexuality.

  • I don’t think it took much courage at all. He is the darling of the press and is now a liberal/progressive icon. What was so courageous about what he did?

    As Allen West put it: If he was a homosexual basketball player in Iran, it would take courage to come out.

  • BH in Iowa

    Collins is no Hank Greenberg or Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t face the same nonsense those two did.

    In most Jewish families it’s harder to come out as a Conservative than to come out as gay.