Yeshiva University discusses homosexuality
December 26th, 2009
Yeshiva 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)