Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Obsession Continues

Every Jewish group these days seems to have its own obsession, its own focus which defines how it achieves its self-imagined holiness and dveikus.  For some in the Torah world it's a never-ending fascination with emulating the Taliban and creating a society in which women are invisible, voiceless beings good only for popping out babies once a year or so.  For others it's a desire to create an Orthodoxy that is academic and won't be laughed at by the atheoskeptics.
But for the Morethodox it's all about women and gays.  More specifically, it's about figuring out ways for open lesbians to have aliyos while leading Kabbalas Shabbos.  Thus the latest post by Rabbi Haym Shafner and his earnest and never-ending attempts to bring open homosexuality into Orthodoxy.
Now on one hand there is no question that Rabbi Shafner's obsession with egalitarianism and alternative lifestyle equality is born of a sense of decency and fairness.  He is not trying to rebel against God, Torah and halacha.  Far from it.  He is simply trying to reconcile the strong secular liberal values he holds when it comes to these areas with a Torah-approach that is hostile.  He does not wish to jettison either so he has to choose to adjust one of them and it's quite clear that he will choose adjusting halacha before anything else.
Certainly he engages in a lot of self-delusion when he tries to create the impression that halacha is only minimally opposed to homosexual practices.  His refusal to recognize that incest and homosexuality are pretty much both condemned by the Torah for being very wrong is only the most egregious of the many errors he makes in order to avoid getting answers he doesn't want to deal with.
And one has to ask: what's his endgame?  What is he hoping to accomplish?
Is it to create a shul environment in which an openly homosexual congregant can come in, sit down and interact with others in a respectful fashion?  Well one would hope that this would already be the case although reality shows us that certain prejudices run deep and negative treatment of folks enamoured of certain sexual preferences rarely get treated the way other folks, like mechalelei Shabbos do. 
Rabbi Shafner tries to make the argument that there are other congregants guilty of major sins, financial or ritual, that still receive respectful treatment and get kibudim in Orthodox shuls.  This is certainly true but on the other hand a guy who drove to shul on Shabbos rarely waves his car keys over his head as he walks down to the bimah to get his aliyah. The guy who stopped at MacDonalds on the way to services doesn't walk into the sanctuary dropping restaurant napkins everywhere or saying "Egg McMuffin!  Smell my breath!" to the guy sitting next to him.
So if a homosexual male or female, dressed in appropriate attire for shul walks in and sits down exactly how does his sexual proclivity come into play?  If he's acting like everyone else in the crowd then why is his bedroom preference relevant? 
What's more, if he's really an intelligent and committed Jew then where does he sit in shul?  This comes up every time we hear about a gay Orthodox Shabbaton or other prayer program.  The purpose of the mechitzah, after all, is to keep men from looking at women in a lascivious fashion.  Now you have this guy who has the same type of attraction but to men.  Should he be sitting in the men's section?  Isn't that forbidden to him as much as it is for a heterosexual male to sit on the women's side?  And if he avoids this issue and just quietly sits in the men's section then how serious is his commitment to being frum? Isn't he simply just going through the motions?
The love that once dared not speak its name has, in recent decades with the support of secular liberals, become the love that has to scream about it out loud day and night and shove it in the face of everyone who disagrees with it.  Creating a "gay and Orthodox" Jewish movement runs the risk of bringing that dysfunctional dynamic into the Torah community.  What purpose would it serve other than to create a group whose primary demand would be "Change the Torah to accomodate us!"?


Atheodox Jew said...

"Change the Torah to accomodate us!"

If it's not assur to have gays be members of a shul, get alliyot, etc., then how exactly is he changing the Torah?

Personally, I have no problem with changing the Torah judiciously, where necessary, and preferably via the halachic process. First off, I think it's pretty clear that we have changed quite a bit throughout the millenia, going with halachic/hashkafic interpretations which better suited our needs in a given age. But second, as someone who doesn't believe in a supernatural TMS, I see the Torah as something which is here to serve us, not us here to serve it.

Avraham said...

I would have to say that I am impressed with the idea of learning Torah as being a source of value.
But this is not exclusive. I think learning can bring to be a better person, it does not always do so.

itchiemayer said...

Rabbi Shafner is the same guy that suggested Avraham failed the test of the akeidah. This is making something up out of thin air. Then when confronted he asks facetiously if the avos were perfect. Of course they were not and the Torah tells us when they did something wrong and we should not make up libel and slander against them.
Rabbi Shafner also wrote about an active member for some time of his shul that was not halachically Jewish but didn't know that. Rabbi Shafner talked about how he debated on Simchas Torah whether to allow this non-Jew to have an aliya as opposed to possibly embarassing him in public by letting him know he isn't Jewish and can't get an aliya. I asked him if he should have taken care of this issue long before Simchas Torah rolled around. He admitted he should have taken care of it sooner. It was totally irresponsible of him to let it get to the point where he thought it might be halachically preferable to give a non-Jew an aliya. I think in the end he didn't let him have an aliya, thank God. These politically correct lefty Rabbis are more worried about making everone happy and feeling good than they are about following halacha. Sometimes a Rabbi has to say "no". The Torah is not always polically correct. Deal with it or become part of the conservative movement. Many of us in St. Louis consider that Shul to be conservative already, they just don't know it yet.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

AJ, the whole dividing point is TMS. I think that Rabbi Shafner, on one hand, very much wants to believe in it. On the other hand he has a strong feeling about gay rights. I wouldn't want to be in his position but I still think he's going in the wrong direction.
As for the gay thing, here's the point: you'll never hear a rabbi welcoming all Sabbath desecrators who've chosen to join prayers this week, nor a welcome to those who enjoy ham sandwiches. What does it mean to make your shul gay friendly? It means acknowledging the act that the lifestyle revolves around and that act is expressly forbidden. So exactly where can Rabbi Shafner go with this?

Anonymous said...

Garnel, very funny post and very well said. I agree with you 100%.
I remember years ago when I was a member of a Reform synagogue (early 1970's) and even those congregants were shocked when the rabbi made a big deal about gays.
I think political correctness is a moving goalpost.

Atheodox Jew said...


I hear your point that "welcoming" gays specifically is a bit odd (does he actually do that?), but there are a couple of "chilukim" here between gays and other "sinners" that you need to bear in mind:

1. The notion that gays were created that way whereas ham sandwich eaters were not (i.e. the question of "choice").

2. The fact that ham sandwich eaters as a group don't feel stigmatized and unwelcome in Orthodox shuls to the same degree that gays do.

Both of these distinctions (I'm guessing) make R. Shafner feel a special compassion toward gays and morally duty-bound to include them. (And yes, the gay rights movement and liberal values definitely play a role too, without question.)

I think you're right that it is quite similar to the issue of women's role in shul. To me though, if people can figure out halachic workarounds to make others feel more comfortable, I say more power to them. We're talking about a few shuls here or there, so is it really such a big deal?

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

AJ, I agree with your basic point about choice but still there is the fundamental issue: he sounds very much like he wants to market his shul as "gay friendly". How does one do that? Advertise that if you're gay he and his congregants won't make fun of you? Okay, that should be a basic expectation of any shul. Is he going to have "gay friendly" programming? Well what does that mean? Have a float in the local Pride parade?
Again, what does outreach to a particular sinner mean? It strongly implies acceptance of the sin. We wouldn't advertise a "treif eaters" Shabbos because it's absurd so what is he suggesting?

Atheodox Jew said...

I don't think he needs to have any special kind of programming. Simply by being "known" as speaking out on the issue of not shunning gays, gay people will know that his shul is a place where they'll feel welcome and comfortable. I think that's the goal.

As far as acceptance of a sin, that's a good point. I do think that's also what's being advocated here to a certain extent - partly because of the "choice" issue. It's like anything in life that we wish weren't the case - if it can be avoided, work to avoid it. If it can't be avoided, accept it/work around it as best you can.

RAM said...

The ultimate goal of many people is to feel pious while indulging their every desire. For them, it's not good enough to be left alone; everybody else has to validate whatever they do.

Moshe Laymore said...

The requirement of a mechitza is for the approximately 96% of men who are straight. The 4% who are homosexual have to ask their own shaylo about sitting in shul or going to the mikva. The posek has to weigh the obligation of tefilla betzibur and embarrassment against each individual's strength of attraction to the other men. If you see a homosexual man davening in a minyan you can assume he has asked his posek and is following his psak.

itchiemayer said...

A homosexual is forbidden to have relations with another man. It is their choice to do so or not. A fifty year old woman, for example, that is Torah observant and has never married but no doubt has physical desires for men is also obligated to abstain from sexual relations. You can argue all you want that it is different because the woman has the opportunity to fulfill her needs in a halachic manner, through heterosexual marriage, but the end result is they are both obligated to abstain. We are all faced with tests and should never wish another's test on ourselves. However, I am not willing to cut the homosexual any more or less slack than anyone else with desires that are not consistent with halacha. They shouldn't get a free pass because we're dealing with sexual desire which is a different sort of animal, so to speak. Again, however, what about the 50 year old unmarried woman. She also has a test. What about the 40 something Kohen that is limited in who he can marry or anyone else that has sexual desires but is not in a halachic position to fulfill his or her needs. Should they all be screwing each other, a sexual free for all? The flawed human in us kind of likes that idea, but the more important halachic Jew in us knows that this is immoral and is a bad thing. Homosexuals should be respected as human beings but homosexuality can never be celebrated or sanctioned within halachic Judaism. Rabbi Shafner already wrote once about the possibility of having a celebratory kiddush for a same sex union. The fact is many of you want to give the homosexual a pass because you accept the stereotype that the homosexual is more promiscuous than the average person and they can't control themselves, it's too big a test. Well, what about the others that can't have halachic sex and have needs? Oh, they are not so promiscuous so the nisayon isn't so big? Frankly, homosexuals should be insulted by that logic.