Thursday, 19 August 2010

Media misinterprets meaning of statement

In an earlier post, I already expressed my dismay in that the Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community was seemingly hijacked by various elements to express something that was, at least in my opinion as one of the signatories, not intended. This, though, did not end the matter for me as the media in Toronto also joined in and I subsequently found myself having to respond personally to various individuals as they queried me on signing such a document. Luckily, I had the ability to respond also on a larger scale through my column in The Jewish Tribune -- all with the intent to clarify what was meant, emphatically stating that the Statement not only did not advocate for any deviation from Halacha but only demanded its further observance. This article is available at I have also taken the liberty of reproducing the article below.

I, though, do also want to add the following. In a certain way, the Statement actually should have been seen as offending many in the gay rights movement. Rather than okaying a gay lifestyle, it clearly stated that, while recognizing that some have an attraction to the same sex, the Torah clearly forbids any actualization of that drive. What points in the statement clearly demanded was that we, the Orthodox community, should act to assist people with such a drive essentially not actualize it. In a certain way we were really saying that there is a problem and we have to be sensitive in dealing with this problem. The media took the idea of being sensitive and presented it as a step towards liberal acceptance. We were saying, though, and I believe that gay activists would not be happy to hear this, is that we have to be sensitive to the problem.

Rabbi Ben Hecht
my article follows

Media Misrepresents Meaning of Statement

Recently, I was one of a group of Orthodox Rabbis and professionals who signed a statement of principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in our Community. The statement was clear about its adherence to Jewish law, which forbids any sexual contact of any nature between two individuals of the same sex. It did not even suggest that Orthodoxy should, or even can, condone a gay lifestyle. It, rather, advocated that empathy and understanding should guide us in relating to someone who has an attraction to the same sex. It also maintained that when encountering one who acts upon this drive, our response should be based upon the same principles we apply in regard to others who violate Jewish law. The sad truth is, though, that this statement has been misrepresented by local and world media as advocating for something entirely different; a tenet which I oppose. The statement did not in anyway advocate for the acceptance of the gay lifestyle. That was clearly apparent in its words. It seemed, though, that these various media outlets and proponents of gay rights wanted to read into this document some movement within the Orthodox world towards “the light,” an eventual full acceptance of the gay lifestyle. The fact is, though, that Orthodoxy does not turn to society for direction as towards “the light,” the higher standards of morality. For that we turn to the system of Torah thought and, from my reading, these principles simply reflected the highest Torah values within this system. As such, it clearly and unequivocally did not waver on the Torah’s opposition to homosexual acts and the gay lifestyle. What it did call for was for us, as in all our encounters with fellow Jews, to be sensitive to the challenges that our compatriots may continuously face, including those with a homosexual orientation. Rather than being a first step towards the acceptance of ‘enlightened’ values by the Orthodox, as these media entities would have us believe, the statement actually unequivocally declared the depth of the Torah world vision and its sanctity.

Perhaps I should still have seen this coming – that our words would be hijacked to serve another agenda. There are those who, while basically agreeing with the statement, saw this possibility and as such did not sign it. In retrospect, perhaps they were wiser than I. I signed the statement, though, because I believe that there is a need within our community, within the world of Orthodoxy, for sensitivity towards individuals who face such challenges.

Over the years, I have spoken to many troubled individuals who, as believers in Torah, wish to abide by Jewish law and not transgress these laws. Their challenge is even further intensified by a world voice that determinedly advocates against Torah strictures. Their sadness is also often intensified because they feel that they cannot easily turn to their community for assistance. They simply seek assistance from others in their difficult yet resolute attempts to meet their Torah goals. This statement of principles was calling for us to recognize this individual’s crisis and respond to it as we are aptly able: In this personal battle of Torah, we must provide support.

Perhaps there were aspects of the statement that were problematic. Perhaps there were aspects of the language that allowed for this manipulative misrepresentation.

Several people have mentioned to me that they felt the statement was incomplete in that it only dealt with one area of concern regarding this issue – focussing on the individual. There are also societal issues. Within Orthodox Judaism, which advocates for separation of the sexes as a means of directing sexuality properly, how are we to integrate individuals with a homosexual orientation in keeping with such standards? This issue is further complicated by an external world environment, which has adopted a general view of sexuality and, specifically, homosexuality that is at odds with many principles of Orthodoxy. We have to respond but we also have to ensure that as we respond to one concern we do not neglect another Torah value.

Perhaps Rabbi Reuven Bulka is correct in offering that the only thing he would sign is a broad pledge to keep G-d’s Torah. I thought, in signing this statement, that I was expressing the same commitment but only framing it via more specific terms. The devastating truth, though, is that in attempting to frame this commitment to G-d and Torah through these words, individuals who inherently oppose this overall commitment were given an opportunity to use these words to advocate for their own agenda, an agenda, which I cannot support. The result may be that I will now be forced to be silent, to question the very fact that I signed this document – and those who will be most hurt are those various individuals I wished to assist, in the first place, within the canfei HaShechina, the wings of Heaven.


micha berger said...

The reason for the category of laws which are "halakhah ve'ein morin kein -- it is the law, but we do not preach it" is because our Sages were aware of the inevitability of certain kinds of things being hijacked.

Notice how many of the talmuds' examples of these laws are how to deal with suboptimal situations.

I think the signatories erred in not applying this kind of reasoning to this Statement. What was called for here was a quiet discussion by a local shul rabbi with those who give a particular neighborhood person a hard time. Not a public pronouncement.


micha berger said...

On second thought, my example in that last paragraph is more limiting than I originally intended.


Garnel Ironheart said...

I could have told you this would happen. Oh wait, I did.
What the drafters of this document failed to realize in their good intentions was that they are not dealing with a amorphous group of people who are suffering from a need that contradicts their commitment to Judaism. They are actually dealing with a segment within that group, that has a specific agenda:
a) to attack Orthodox Judaism until either it changes halacha and permits homosexuality without restriction or
b) Orthodox Judaism is rendered completely politically incorrect such that someone who says that he holds by halacha is a legitimate target for the local human rights commission.
In fact, the negative response to this document is already starting to appear on some blogs where people are claiming that since you still forbid homosexual intercourse your statement of tolerance is meaningless.
My expectation is that there will soon be a push to produce another document, one that demands acceptance, if not outright, promotion of homosexuality as a Jewishly valid lifestyle and the same rabbonim and lawfolk who signed the first will be pushed into the same corner - either sign or be denounced as a homophobe and expect a summons from the human rights commission.