A Rational Jewish Approach to Homosexuality
Rabbi Joseph Dweck of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London got into hot water recently when he praised homosexuality as a coming of age, and an expansion of cultural blessing. His Orthodox credentials were called into question and he was forced to resign from a rabbinical body.
The episode has deeply divided Anglo-Jewry, a division that the community can scarcely afford in an age of rising European antisemitism and incessant terror attacks in the UK. It may seem odd that rabbis would fight each other so vehemently over a statement by a rabbi about homosexuality. But it makes sense in light of the fact that many believe that gay rights are the foremost threat to traditional marriage and the nuclear family. These critics also believe that homosexuality is an “abomination,” and must be opposed.
It is in light of both of these considerations that I pen this response, so that hopefully rabbis can get back to working together to fight against the serious threats confronting our people.
I am an Orthodox rabbi. The Bible is not vague with regard to homosexuality: it is clearly labeled a sin. The Torah is immutable and none of us can change its laws.
But I am proud of the State of Israel, in contrast to all other Middle East countries — especially the barbaric government of Iran — for the dignity and equality that it accords its gay citizens.
So why have we, the religious, focused so exclusively on homosexuality as the foremost challenge to the future of our civilization?
Some justify this obsession by citing the Bible’s use of the word “abomination” to describe homosexuality. But the truth is that the Hebrew Bible uses the word “abomination” more than 100 times. Eating non-kosher food is an abomination (Deuteronomy 14:3). A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an abomination (Deut. 24:4). And bringing a blemished sacrifice on God’s altar is an abomination (Deut. 17:1). Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying and gossip as that which “the Lord hates and are an abomination to Him” (3:32, 16:22).
In fact, if you judge Torah prohibitions strictly by their punishment, then desecration of Shabbat would have to be at the very top of the list of the most serious infractions — it’s a prohibition repeated far more times than the sin of homosexuality, and a sin for which a man is stoned to death in the Torah.
Then, there is the issue of morality. Yes, God gave the Ten Commandments — but notice that they were split into two blocks of stone. One was for religious law and connotes laws that govern the relationship between God and man. In this first group are laws like the commandment to believe in God, and the prohibition of worshiping idols or blaspheming.
The second group of laws captures moral law — laws that govern the relationship between man and his fellow man (do not steal, murder, or commit adultery, etc.). These are laws that safeguard the rights of human beings and adjure individuals to respect one another and refrain from infringing on each other’s rights or acting deceptively — as in adultery. Moral law involves injury to an innocent party, while religious law is an expression of divine will.
Nothing will change my view on the immutability of the Torah and its laws. But I can understand the dignity and equal rights that gay men and woman seek. Homosexuality is firmly a religious — rather than a moral — prohibition. It is akin to the laws of not desecrating the Sabbath, or eating non-kosher food.
Someone who eats a cheeseburger at McDonald’s — mixing milk and meat — is not immoral. Rather, they are contravening a Biblical commandment.
What I sense in my friends who are firmly opposed to all gay rights is a misunderstanding of this distinction between moral law and religious law. The prohibition against homosexuality is a religious law, much in the same way that eating bread on Passover is a violation of the divine will.
For those who might call themselves “culture warriors” and want to fight for traditional marriage, I call on you to look inward and begin your fight on a new front: combating the ridiculously high fifty percent divorce rate. Fight to keep families whole. Fight to prevent the dislocation of children and the pain of seeing parents destroy each other in court. Fight to end the shameful epidemic of heterosexual marital decline that impacts half of new marriages today. That is where the battle ahead lies, and it is one that impacts us all.
Divorce and the easy culture of recreational sex, which makes a mockery of intimacy and commitment, poses a far greater threat to the future of the family than gay rights.
Let’s get real about the hypocrisy of those who say that gay rights are undermining heterosexual marriage. We straight people have done an admirable job of destroying marriage quite on our own, thank you very much. It’s not gay rights — but heterosexual divorce — that threatens a real end-of-days scenario for the American family.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Lust.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.