Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The Danger of Accomodation

HaRav Ben Hecht, shlit"a, has a post over at his blog regarding the fallout he's gone through after signing the recent declaration of principles regarding how Orthodox Jews should treat homosexual individuals.  He notes that he's concerned with how the media has distorted the content and meaning of the document, but I'm not so surprised:
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.

1 comment:

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

As I pointed out to Garnel, in conversations off line, I was mistaken in not seeing the possibility for the Statement to be misused as it indeed was. That is something I should have considered when I signed the Statement. The fact is, though, that this concern also did not necessarily mean that the Statement should not have been signed. There were still reasons to sign the Statement. My mea culpa is that I did not see this reason -- the mis-presentation by the media of the Statement -- when I made the decision to sign it. That concern could have led me to not sign it. There were still, though, reasons to sign it which also needed to be weighed.

The issue is that, as Garnel points out, there are many who have an agenda against Torah and would use -- and did use -- this Statement to further this agenda; there are though still others who accept the Torah's strictures and wish to abide by it. The Statement is directed towards them for these individuals need our support. That is the dilemma. Its not black-and-white. We find an undertaking or act that meets positive objectives but can be hijacked for negative consequences. To not undertake this act ensures that the negative consequences that emerge from the hijack will not occur; but there is the loss of the benefit of the positive. To undertake this act will have these positive effects; but there will be the potential negative results from the hijack. What to do? Not easy.

I am reminded of the famous machloket, disagreement, between Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel on 7a in T.B. Makkot. The former two say that they would never had executed anyone if they ever served on a court dealing with a captial offence. RSBG argues, though, if there policy would have found expression, i.e. no executions, there would have been an increase in murderers in Israel thereby challenging this policy. Its not just that Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva had good intentions; they felt that there was a value in not executing anyone. I am sure that RSBG did not disagree with this value. He contended though that there was another value that overrid this value. And I am sure that Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva did not reject this other value of RSBG either; they just felt that their value superseded it. Our case is similar. There is one value of concern that calls upon us to outreach to all, even gay individuals. There is, though, another value that calls upon us to ensure that the Torah's opposition to the gay lifestyle is clear and not misrepresented. Its not simple. I would see Garnel as somewhat siding with RSBG and, myself in signing the Statement leasning towards Rabbis Tarfon and Akiva -- at least at first when I didn't contemplate the thoughts of RSBG. Now that I do, what I really see is this machloket -- and the significance of trying to deal with this issue.

Rabbi Ben Hecht