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.
In retrospect, this outcome should have been obvious. 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 and which has taken upon itself to speak for the rest of the group:
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 the document still forbids homosexual intercourse this 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 valid Jewish 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.
This is the result of a well-meaning attempt to accommodate a group which does not have reciprocal interests in mind. Sometimes it's better to simply avoid trying to do what seems to be the "right" thing, especially when the target of one's help isn't so much interested in accommodation as domination.