Since the Akeida, the binding of Isaac, the Jewish nation has dealt with trials in performing the Divine command – fulfilling the word of God also with sorrow and pain – believing that this is the moral way * Both contemporary and rabbinical evidence indicate that in a culture in which the family framework is strong, same gender inclination is less widespread * This implies that educating towards family values can reduce the desire for same gender inclination * Concerning those with such inclinations – we must understand their sorrow and pain, and it is forbidden to exclude them from the community * Even those who fail and sin, as long as they do not defy the Torah, have a portion within in the religious framework, and even a portion in the World to Come
Questions from Religious LGBT’s
Q: I am a religious person, I grew up in religious institutions and was educated in yeshivas – but what can I do – God created me with an inclination for my same gender. I tried to struggle with it. For long nights I cried and suffered, but finally I accepted my inclination. I live with my partner, who also comes from a religious background. What is the position of halakha: Should I deny my feelings? Do we have to hide our relationship? Why can’t a way be found to allow us to get married and arrange our marital status like any man or woman? Is it possible that the Torah instructs a person to deny his natural feelings?
The Divine Source of the Torah
A: The uniqueness of the Torah as opposed to the other wisdoms is that its source is Divine. God gave it directly and openly to His people Israel at Mount Sinai. Therefore, even when we do not understand the reason for a particular commandment, we understand that the Creator’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and therefore we accept it even when it is difficult to fulfill. The most extreme case of a Divine command that is difficult to accept and understand is the commandment of Abraham to raise his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. Because Abraham was a great believer, despite his terrible sorrow, he fulfilled the commandment of the Creator.
This emunah (faith) does not deny the moral purpose. On the contrary, this is the essence of the aspiration of faith, to correct the world with justice and judgment, with grace and mercy, in order to benefit all creatures, as it is stated: ” God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that [we] would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as [we are] today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Therefore, Abraham obeyed the Divine command and bound his beloved son on the altar, because he knew that God, his Creator and Source of his life and happiness, wanted their best, and although he did not understand how and why – this commandment was also intended for their own benefit.
Acceptance of the Mitzvah affects the Inclination
Therefore, even when it is extremely difficult, we must accept the commandments of the Torah, including the great commandment for every man and woman to marry according to the Law of Moses and Israel, to have a relationship with love and joy, and to multiply and be fruitful. And we must accept the severe prohibition of mishkav zakhur (sodomy).
Education is very useful, as it turns out that desire for the same gender can develop in many people at different levels, and the more we educate towards the acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvot – and to identify with the values and ideas inherent in them – thus, more people manage to overcome the desire for their same gender, manage to divert all their desire with joy and love for the woman who suits them, and build their family in holiness according to the Law of Moses and Israel.
Education is the reason for the significant differences in the percentage of men who feel a desire for their same gender within different circles. Although we do not have exact numbers, it is clear to every honest observer that the differences between the religious and secular public are enormous. If among the religious public, the percentage is low, among the secular-traditional population the percentages are higher, and among the secular-liberal population, the percentages are much higher, perhaps more than ten percent.
In other words, the appearance of the same gender inclination is influenced by various factors, such as genetic inheritance, environmental impact, and cultural and educational influence. The weaker the genetic and environmental orientation, the stronger the effect of education and culture.
Cultural Impact – Proven
Culture, that is, education and the environment, weighs heavily. It is a fact that there were cultures in the past, such as Egypt and ancient Greece, that this phenomenon was very common among them. On the other hand, among Jews, when environmental conditions encouraged proper marital relations between men and women and negated relations between men, this tendency was almost never expressed. So much so that even though the Sages set many restrictions on incest, the Sages did not forbid two men to sleep together without clothes under one blanket, for they were not suspected of reaching forbidden relations (Kiddushin 82a). Since there is no chance that this phenomenon existed without the Sages knowledge, one must conclude that in the times of Chazal, our Sags of blessed memory, the phenomenon of men’s desire for fellow men was not widespread.
True, in more recent times, Rabbi Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 24:1) tended to be strict for two men not to be secluded because violators abounded, and his words corresponded to the prevailing situation in the Islamic countries where this phenomenon existed in low percentages. However, during the same time in Ashkenaz, Rabbi’s wrote that we find that Jews were not suspected of this, and there is no need to be more stringent in the prohibition of yichud (prohibition of seclusion) between men (Bach). Not only that, but some say that it is forbidden to be stringent in this matter, because of yohara (haughtiness) [Yam Shel Shlomo].
Since it is difficult to assume that the basic nature of people has changed, one must conclude that even those who were born with a tendency towards homosexuality, in a social framework of the kind that had been prevalent in Israel for many generations, such tendencies almost never came to expression.
Even today, the environment has an impact. I read that it was found in a study that from relatives of AIDS patients, the percentage of men who attested to being attracted to men was lower than that of the general population. On the face of it, the situation should have been the exact opposite, since according to the theory that homosexuality has genetic roots, the percentage of those who have this tendency among their family members should have been higher. But fear of the disease, which in those days was incurable, caused some people to change their attitude toward the tendency that was suppressed in them (Tim Harford, ‘The Logic of Life’, p. 20).
It seems that the desire of those who have a same gender inclination to have children is stronger among Jews than in other Western nations because Jewish culture encourages marriage and children, and in connection with the Jewish tradition and the culture surrounding them, they seek to establish a family and have children in their own way.
To Educate towards the Mitzvah and its Light
Therefore, precisely in our time, when secular culture around us permits and encourages homosexuality, it is incumbent upon parents, educators and rabbis to strengthen the deepening of the education towards marriage in the framework of halakha, and explain at length all the good and light in the love between man and woman, and the tremendous value of establishing a family and raising children and their education. When we arrive at the order of prohibitions of incest in the Torah, including the prohibition of mishkav zakhur, we must clarify them clearly while maintaining the proper modesty.
The Positive Attitude towards Those Suffering from Such Inclinations
Along with the study of both the positive and negative mitzvot related to the family, one must be careful not to insult and hurt those who suffer from homosexual inclinations. Sometimes the pain of the sufferers is unbearable, to the point where some young people choose to end their lives due to their suffering. Therefore, men and women who feel so inclined should be instructed to discuss this with their parents and with a rabbi or counselor in order to relieve themselves of the suffering that accompanies them, and to find the best way to deal with it.
It is also important to emphasize that we should not act more stringently towards those who sin in the prohibition of mishkav zachur than with other serious sinners, such as desecrators of Shabbat. And just as we call to the Torah those who profane Shabbat as long as they do not do so l’hachis (to infuriate), so too, sinners of this prohibition should be called up to the Torah as long as they do not do so l’hachis. And even more so when it comes to people who try to keep Torah and mitzvot, who ostensibly are careful not to transgress the grave sin of mishkav zachur.
Moreover, many of those who fail in this sin do not do so for reasons of convenience, like those who profane Shabbat, but out of sorrow that their inclination compels them. And although according to halakha they must overcome their inclinations, those who do not have to deal with this urge must not judge those who failed, for who knows if he himself would have succeeded in passing the test. Only the Lord of the heavens and the earth, the Creator of the souls, knower of thoughts and examiner of hearts, knows each person’s yetzer (inclination), and can truly judge him with mercy, according to the extent of his trials and pains.
Not to Distance from the Religious Community
It is important to emphasize that even one who fail to overcome his desires and sins in mishkav zachor – is obligated in all the other commandments of the Torah, and must strengthen himself as much as possible in whatever way he can. And even with regard to this sin, every single day and every time that he succeeds in overcoming his desire and avoids sin, he has a great reward.
Therefore, whenever possible, we must try and dissuade the sinners from transgressing in this matter. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvah he fulfills. Therefore, we should be careful not to distance them from the synagogues, so they can strengthen themselves in Torah and mitzvoth as best as they can. And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Likewise, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value of mitzvoth is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in these transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvoth and good deeds.
Honor for the Framework of Halakha
Since the environmental and cultural influence is strong, even those who feel that they cannot overcome their yetzer, must strive to respect the halakhic framework. Even if one has a permanent partner, he should define him as a close friend and roommate, and in this way religious society will be able to accept him, without having to confront him.
The Attitude towards the Protesters on Tisha B’Av
Q: How should we relate to the big demonstration held on the fast of Tisha B’Av against the surrogacy law?
A: This was a severe defiance of all that is sacred to Israel – starting from damage to the national religious mourning, and ending with the violation of the commandments of the Torah and the contempt for the various opinions in a disgraceful manner. It is true that in the past the public attitude towards such inclinations was humiliating and violent, but today, the public has already condemned the violence against them, while they themselves have become verbally violent towards holders of different views.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.