A statement of principles

Much ado has been made about some Orthodox Rabbis in the US and in Israel who have come out with a “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community” It is my contention that this statement, while in its essence is rather parve and merely states that we should accept people even if they are different, that the statement is unclear about who it is referring to, and can lead to misinterpretation.

The main problem is that the term “homosexual orientation” is not defined. Taken in its use in the mental health profession, this term means that the person is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. This can be present whether the person acts on this attraction or not, or whether the person wants to get rid of this attraction or not. Generally, if a person does engage in homosexual acts (whether publicly or hidden) he is referred to as a “homosexual”, and if he is open about this lifestyle the term generally used today is “gay”. It is this distinction that is not spelled out clearly in the document, and can lead people to think that these Rabbis are advocating accepting “gays”. This is indeed how Ha’aretz understood the statement: “U.S. Orthodox rabbis urge community to accept gays and lesbians

It was on just this point that I had a correspondence with Rabbi Nathanel Helfgot several months ago. I will include the correspondence below. Note that I have included the correspondence as it was in the email (typos and all), and that it was referring to an earlier version of the statement, which had several references to “gays”, which do not appear in the final published statement.
On Sun, Apr 11, 2010 at 4:37 AM, Yosef Cornfeld wrote:
Dear Rabbi Nati Helfgot,
Thank you for sending the draft of the statement – April 8 version. I have studied it, and have the following comments:
The opening statement says that it is about the place of Jews with “a homosexual orientation” in our community. This term “homosexual orientation” needs to be better defined. Does it mean someone that has “Same Sex Attractions” (SSA) but doesn’t act on them? Does it refer to someone who has SSA that does act on them? Does it include someone who lives an openly gay lifestyle? This very much needs to be clarified in this statement so that it is clear to all who is being referred to here.
If it is referring to all of these, including the one living an openly gay lifestyle, then this needs to be very clearly spelled out. And then this presents a thorny issue. Someone who is living an openly gay lifestyle is by definition (at least as far as I understand it) proclaiming to the world that he (or she) is engaging in homosexual sex. Which is to say that he is openly and willfully violating on a regular basis one of the most serious transgression in the Torah – one where a person is required to allow himself to be killed rather than transgress (at least for a male). This being the case, then statement #1 needs some explanation as to what is the serious prohibition in the Torah is of embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone who is openly flaunting a precept of the Torah. On the contrary, it would seem that there is a Mitzvah of Tochacha. From “Guard Your Tongue” by Zelig Pliskin p. 100 “… if it is an extablished fact that he willfully commits transgressions that are well-known by all to be serious offenses (for example, adultery), you are permitted to disgrace him…” Sefer HaChinuch in Mitzvah 239 of Rebuke says that first you rebuke him gently and in private, and if that doesn’t work you shame him in public, you publicize his sin , and disgrace him until he changes his ways. In Mitzva 240 of “Not to embarrass a Jew” the Sefer Hachinuch says that the prohibition of not embarrassing a Jew in public doesn’t apply to mitzvoth of Bein Adam LaMakom, which Gilui Arayos would certainly seem to be.
So in order for me to able to consider to be able to sign on to this “Statement of Principles” the question of who this is referring to must be clarified as to leave no doubt. If it is referring to someone with SSA who is struggling with his Yetzer Hara, then I think that a properly worded statement about being sensitive to their struggles could be helpful. One of the issues that I find in working with this population is that they generally have no one to talk with about their struggle. People don’t understand that struggle, and tend to reject them out of hand.
My other comment at the moment is about statement #10. I’m uncomfortable with the wording that seems to say that this person shouldn’t marry. Who are we to tell them not to do the first Halacha in Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer? I think it should be reworded so as to be a warning of the problems that they could be encountering in a marriage. I do agree with the last part of the statement, that they are required to inform their potential spouse. More than that, it would seem to follow from the following Teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein, that even if he is not exclusively of a “homosexual orientation”, but that he engages in homosexual sex, that he is required to inform his intended before the wedding, and if he doesn’t that the Kiddushin could actually be annulled.
I am looking forward to hearing your response to what I have written.
Rav Yosef Cornfeld, MSW

. שו”ת אגרות משה אבן העזר חלק ד סימן קיג
מי שלאחר נישואיו נודע שהוא שטוף במשכב זכר אם הוא מק”ט =מקח טעות=.
הנה ראיתי את כל קונטרסו במה שרוצה כתר”ה לחלק בין דורות אלו לדורות הקדמונים ממה שרואין שהנשים בדורות אלו מקפידין עוד יותר במומין דהאיש ממה שמקפידין האנשים במומי הנשים, הנה אף ששייך לומר סברא כזו קשה לעשות מעשה כי הרי גם בזמן הגמ’ מצינו דהנשים לא היו מתרצות אלא למי שהחשיבוהו להגון להן כדאשכחן בכמה מקומות… אבל בעצם גם בזמנם היו רוב נשי מקפידות מלינשא אלא לאנשים שחושבות שהם הגונים להן, אבל מ”מ חששו יותר בנשי שיותר מתרצות מבאינשי א”כ גם בזה”ז אין לסמוך לומר שנשתנה …אבל לענין נ”ד כיון שמצינו שבמום גדול הוא בעצם מקח טעות גם באשה כדבארתי באג”מ חאה”ע ח”א סימן ע”ט וסימן פ’ מסתבר שזה דהבעל הוא שטוף במשכב זכור שהוא התועבה היותר גדולה והמאוס ביותר והוא דבר גנאי לכל המשפחה, וכ”ש שיהיה זה גנאי ביותר לאשתו אם בעלה בוחר יותר במשכב המאוס הזה תחת משכב אשתו הוא ודאי קידושי טעות וברור לן ששום אשה לא היתה מתרצית להנשא לאדם מנוול ומאוס ובזוי כזה, ואם תיכף כשנודעת מזה הלכה ממנו מסתבר שאם אי אפשר להשיג גט ממנו יש להתירה מדין קידושי טעות, אך אם אפשר להשיג גט צריך להשתדל בכל מאי דאפשר להשיג גט כשר, דהא אם אינו שטוף בזה אלא שנזדמן איזה פעם מצד שתקפו יצרו אולי אין להחשיב זה לקידושי טעות אף שהוא רשע גמור גם בשביל פעם אחת ויש שיטעו לדמות להחשיב גם זה קידושי טעות, אבל אם הוא שטוף בזה שיותר נהנה ממשכב זכור ממשכב נשים הוא ודאי קידושי טעות, אבל כל זה אם הלכה ממנו תיכף אבל אם שהתה אצלו אף אחר שנודעת אז קשה לבטל הקידושין. ואם בא זה מענין שטות מאחר שהוא שלא כדרך הטבע ודאי הוא מום דכיון שהוא מצד שטות עלול לעוד שטותים, אבל בעצם הוא מצד רשעות וניוול שג”כ הוא טעות כדלעיל.


From: Nathaniel Helfgot <**********>
To: Yosef Cornfeld
Sent: Sun, April 11, 2010 9:39:34 PM
Subject: Re: draft of statement

Dear R. Cornfeld: Thank you for your e-mail. I do not have the time to write you a full length reply but let me just not a few things.

1. I think the text is pretty clear, “homosexual” in paragrapgh 1 refers to people who are actively homosexual and same sex attraction refers to those may have such orientations or nitiyot, but aren’t necessarily active homosexuals.

2. Which leads me to your second, both of these types of individuals are , in day and age, deserving of respect and fuflillment of bein adam lechaveiro obliagtions towards them.
While you are technically correct in the sources that you cite, lemaaseh, for the last 200 years since the dawn of the enlightenment and the massive defection of jews from traditional observance of halalkkah and the radical shift of the reality that shomrei Torah became a minority in many locales, the classical poskim that have become noramtive in most Orthodox communities , outside of the more etreme wings of the Hareidi community, have all basically neutralized the sources you mentioned (and many more) in relation to most if not all of the non-observant Jews that we interact with including people who violate core halakhot such as shbbat or hameitz on Pesah or even brit milah beyad ramah. The poskim starting with Rav Ettlinger, Rav David Tzvi Hoffman, Rav Kook, the Hazon Ish, Rav Herzog, Rav Ovadyah, Rav Waldenberg and a whole slew of others have basically neutralized the harsh categories of apikores, mumar lehachis, mechalel shabbas befarhesiyah, eino oseh maasei amcha etc, through a whole series of halakhic moves including use of the concept of tinok shenishbah, anusim, the concept already found t in the gemara that there is no one today who knows how to give tochachaso no one today has received tochacha and thus can never be declared a rasha, Rav Akiva Eiger’s use of a sevara of a iind of omer mutar by those who shave with a razor not to be considered reshaim for ediut, mipnei darkei shalom, and many many other halakhic avenues that have basically turned the many harsh sources we have about how to treat reshaim etc into “dead letter” law. On the ground, most of us in the Orthodox community behave with proper bein adam lechaviro and fulfill thjose basic mitzvot to everyone even the most radical chiloni or reform who eats lobster on YOm KIppur. Would you not give back the wallet you found on the street of Yerushaalyim of a rabid shomer hatzairnik who you knew?
Many have written on this topic marshalling and citing all the sources including Rabbi Lamm in his essay on “Loving and Hating Jews”, R. Yehuda Amital on “The Status of Secular Jews in Our Day”, a number of teshvot of Rav Ovadyah, the recent volume of Dr. Adam Ferziger, “Exclusion and Hierachy” and many many other writers.

Kol tuv,

Nati Helfgot


Dear Rabbi Helfgot,

Thank you for your prompt response to my comments. While I realize that it was not a full length reply, I would like to respond to what you wrote.

I still contend that the terminology used in the document for homosexual is not sufficiently clear. In the title the term used is “Homosexual Jews”, and in the first sentence, the preamble as it were, the term is “Jews with a homosexual orientation.” Why the switch? Are they one and the same or are they different? From paragraph 1. and especially paragraph 2. I would conclude that “homosexual orientation” is the same as “feelings of same-sex attraction”, both of which, according to the statement, are not prohibited by the Torah. So when you write that “’homosexual’ in paragraph 1 refers to people who are actively homosexual”, then you are making a distinction between “homosexual” and “homosexual orientation”.

That being so, then an exact reading of paragraph 1 would lead me to conclude that while “Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction” (including the “homosexual” who is actively homosexual), the following sentence does not apply to him: “Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of serious prohibitions in the Torah” excluding the “homosexual”

I have gone to lengths to point out the discrepancy in the language, because I assume that once this statement is published publicly, that there are two types of people (at least) who will read it 1 Those who will pick apart every word to find discrepancies and inaccuracies, and 2 The common lay person who won’t even notice any difference between the different terminology. So it is my humble opinion that for this statement to have any lasting value, that the terminology needs to be spelled so that there is no doubt as to what is being referred to.

But none of this addresses my main contention, that there is an important distinction to be made between someone who engages in homosexual acts in private, and someone who lives an openly gay lifestyle, which is to proclaim to the world that he actively and regularly engages in homosexual sex, and believes that it is the right thing to do. It is in dealing with the latter, the openly gay person, that in my view the “Statement of Principles” does not sufficiently explain.

The sources you mention on how to deal with a non-observant Jew are well known. But it’s not clear to me how they address the issue at hand. First of all, the Statement is referring to homosexual Jews “in our community”. I assume that these are frum Jews in every way, except for the prohibition of Mishkav Zachor, which they openly flaunt. So it’s a stretch to say that this is a Tinok Shenishbah bein Ha’Akum, and most of the other categories you mention. But even without that, and in spite of all the sources you bring, it would seem to me that there have always been red lines that we have not been willing to cross. And it seems to me that this issue, of accepting professed homosexuals into our community, has always been a red line. After all, we’re dealing with a Yehoreg V’all Yaavor. Would we accept in our shul a Jew for Jesus who is shomer mitzvoth in every other way? I don’t know of any Orthodox shuls that would. I hate to get graphic, but what if a group in shul started a wife swapping club? Would no one stand up and object? Would the mitzvah of Tochacha still not apply?

If this specific issue has been dealt with in any of the sources you quote, I would be very interested in seeing it. If not, I don’t think that it’s such a foregone conclusion that these sources apply to our issue, and it would seem to me that a she’alas chacham of those qualified to give an answer would be in order.

And what begs the issue, is what has changed now, in this day and age, that warrants a public “Statement of Principles” that these types of individuals are deserving of respect and fulfillment of bein adam lechaveiro obligations towards them. Is it because the view of the world on homosexuality has changed? That it’s no longer viewed as a perversion or a mental or developmental disorder, but rather in the words of the American Psychological Association that it is an accepted “scientific fact” that “Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality”? That being a homosexual is not something you do, but someone you are, an identity, which makes you a member of a persecuted minority? I would tend to think that this is not the reasoning behind this initiative. But the problem is, is that it sounds like it. It sounds like we’ve bought into the secular world’s view that homosexuality is something that is normal and good, and something to be accepted. If that is not the case, then it needs to be clearly spelled out.


p.s. Other objections to the “Statement of Principles” can be found in an article by Yaakov Menken: “When Political Correctness Trumps Religion

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