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Yeshiva University discusses homosexuality

Timothy Kincaid

December 26th, 2009

yeshivaYeshiva University, the prestigious New York school for joint Torah and secular education, hosted a discussion about homosexuality on Tuesday. It proved to be quite a popular subject. (Jerusalem Post)

Organized by the YU Tolerance Club and Wurzweiler School of Social Work, the event attracted hundreds of students, graduates and faculty members. Indeed, dozens were turned away and fire officials were on hand at one point when security guards said the building had reached capacity.

Much of Judaism and the Jewish people in the United States are accepting of gay men and women and are often outspoken in favor of civil equalities. But these voices come predominantly from Reform and (more recently) Conservative Jewish communities.

However, this event revealed that some within the Orthodox community are willing to ponder whether and to what extent gay Jews fit into G-d’s order. This presentation was a beginning, not an attempt to address halakha, but rather an exercise in listening.

The speakers did not seek to challenge values, but rather challenged assumptions, stereotypes, and false impressions about reorientation. (Jewish Star)

Most of the panelists recounted suffering from depression after realizing they were gay; each underwent some form of therapy to “cure” him of homosexuality; each dated women; and each stressed that his orientation was not caused by childhood sexual abuse.

“For the record, I’ve never been sexually molested,” said Kopstick. “I had a very positive childhood.”

It must be emphasized that this was not a pride event, an effort to challenge halakha or redefine frum, but rather to breakdown barriers of “them” and “us”. And, from that non-threatening approach, was able to appeal to some(beliefnet)

The event, which drew almost 1,000 people [other media estimated 700] modeled a kind of compassionate listening and human decency which neither trumped nor trivialized the deeply conflicting views about gayness held by people in the audience. Instead, it proved that we all have the ability to listen and feel beyond the borders of any particular doctrinal conclusion, and that when we do so, we never jeopardize our commitments to those doctrines, we simply connect more deeply and more lovingly to those around us. And that, can never be a bad thing.

The presentation of this event should not be viewed as a shift in thinking among the Orthodox establishment. Indeed, the President of the University, Richard M. Joel, issued a statement which was condemnatory even of the listening process. (The Commentator)

Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send he wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirement of halakhic behavior and due modesty.

(You need not worry, Mr. Joel, we did not get the wrong message. We are completely aware that you oppose any measure of fairness, equality, or decency towards gay men and women within your community. We will not accidentally confuse you for an open-minded man.)

But while those who share Mr. Joel’s worldview may not be easily swayed by the testimony of Jews who grew up gay in the Orthodox world, I think that we can draw encouragement from the popularity of the event and from the response of the crowd.

The crowd largely supported the panelists, with many bursts of applause interrupting the speakers, and numerous audience members writing messages of support on the index cards given out to the audience for the purpose of submitting anonymous questions.

Unofficial transcript here

(my apologies to our Jewish readers if I have misstated or oversimplified in my commentary)

Comments

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Pete H
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

There is no prohibition in Jewish law from writing “God” in any other language than Hebrew. Why bother with G-d?

Burr
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

I have no idea how common it is or how in tune it is with the teaching’s out there but there are some Jews that use G-d. It sparked a huge controversy in the local paper when they reprinted the 9/11 text messages and one of them had that usage as some people assumed it was censorship, but in reality that was the authentic text.

Jason
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

There is actually a strong opinion and source that there is a prohibition to write G-ds’s name even in a language other than Hebrew.

Emily K
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

There is no prohibition in writing the word “God.” The prohibition comes from writing the four-letter name for God, Y-H-V-H, in Hebrew, and then erasing or desecrating that name. God has many names used, including the “Proper” four letter one, Elohim, HaKadosh, and for common use, HaShem. The tradition of revering the Torah and God, and “putting fences around the Torah,” has given rise to writing “G-d,” something I sometimes do when writing in Jewish contexts.

I’m pleased to say that especially in America, even the Orthodoxy of Judaism is coming around to Queer tolerance and even acceptance. The Chasidic faction is much much less so – but they are a minority and seem to have a superiority complex, in my eyes. Acceptance is especially true in my generation (Y) and younger.

New York is home to the Gay and Lesbian Yeshiva Day School Alumni Association (GLYDSA), a prominent Queer Jewish Orthodox organization.

GayandOrthodox
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

I highly recommend the documentary film,
“Trembling Before G-d: The Hidden Lives of Gay and Lesbian Orthodox and Hasidic Jews”. The filmmaker travelled to major world cities interviewing Orthodox and Hasidic rabbis and gays. The 2-disc DVD set contains a huge amount of extra footage including interviews with social workers in Israel and others, and is just as fascinating as the main film.

Emily K
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

More online resources for Gay Frum Jews can be found here: http://www.OrthoGays.org

Mark F.
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

Emily K.:

I know you mean no harm, but a lot of people, including myself, hate the word “queer.” I know the arguments in favor of using it, but I disagree. Why do you insist on using this word? Nobody objects to gay, lesbian, bisexual, homosexual or transgender.

Jason D
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

Mark, because Queer encompasses all of those categories AND our straight supporters the “straight but not narrow” crowd.

Aaron T
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

“I’m pleased to say that especially in America, even the Orthodoxy of Judaism is coming around to Queer tolerance and even acceptance.”

In terms of individuals — at least within the Modern Orthodox community, this may be happening to some degree. It is absolutely not happening, more than glacially, at an institutional level — just look at the opposition and controversy this event has aroused. Of course, that such a gathering could be held is a tremendous step in the right direction.

Emily K
December 26th, 2009 | LINK

Mark F., see Jason D’s answer for my response. I personally identify as “queer,” not just because it describes my sexuality, but it describes my humanity as a whole.

And before arguing with me on the use of the word, you might want to take it up with every University in the world that offers a course in “Queer Theory.”

Aaron T, yes that is what I meant when I was referencing the Orthodoxy; that individuals are coming around rather than the overall stance of the organization.

YU Student
December 27th, 2009 | LINK

The author of the portions in parentheses is ignorant. It was indeed very decent and sensitive for YU to hold this event. Given that homosexual practices are strictly against halacha and that YU, as an institution, promotes adherence to halacha, holding this event certainly is indicative of “open-minded” actions. If Joel was “condemnatory” this event would definitely not have taken place. He merely stated that this sort of event runs the danger of obscuring the Torah’s message.

Regan DuCasse
December 27th, 2009 | LINK

I’ll say it here as I’ve said it in XGW:

It’s rather strange, if not unseemly to discuss such a large portion of all of humanity, but without their participation.
Especially on matters that directly and adversely affect their lives.

Halacha, just like most other religious doctrine, was established during ancient times of exceptional barbarism, diasporia and insecurity, not compassion or scientific relevance.

Also, most of which, has entitled MEN more, women less, and ignored the fluid or diverse nature of gender and gender based sexuality.

Accurate knowledge can’t abide isolating people from one another. Cutting off communication and allowing assumptions and prejudice to inform the situation.

I’d ask YU Pres. Joel, what IS there to fear from knowledge and empirical experience isn’t that what SCHOOL is about?
Halacha is no reason to reject it, nor assume Halacha will lose integrity from knowing and loving and accepting gay folks.

Timothy Kincaid
December 27th, 2009 | LINK

YU Student,

Unless I am mistaken, Joel seems to be suggesting after the fact that the event was unfortunate and it would have been better that it not have taken place.

Perhaps you have additional information that we do not have? If so, please provide a link to it so that we may all know what you know and not remain in ignorance.

Creeping Towards Acceptance in Faith « Queering the Church (towards a reality-based theology)
December 29th, 2009 | LINK

[…] (More from Box Turtle Bulletin) […]

Stuffed Animal
September 4th, 2010 | LINK

“Queer” is not a unifying term if I, a Gay man, do not agree that it is! The embracing of hate speech is not something that can be decided by consensus. And who decided Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexual and Transsexual Folk needed to be lumped in together? With Straight people, too? Under a derogatory label, no less? That’s just a recipe for confusion. I like LGBT because it preserves the individuality of the people it groups together.

» Creeping Towards Acceptance in Faith: Russian Orthodox Church, Gay Jews Queering the Church
January 10th, 2011 | LINK

[…] (More from Box Turtle Bulletin) […]

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