Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Courage of Yeshiva University: A Feast Unto The Lord

It began with the article in Kol Hamevaser.

But it didn't stop there. For there had been the formation of YUTC, the Yeshiva University Tolerance Club. And soon, there was an entire issue on Kol Hamevaser that addressed this topic. An issue that was pulled from the shelves of Yeshiva College due in part to the fact that the students had chosen to interview Steve Greenberg, a man who affiliates with the Orthodox community while openly gay.

And most recently, an entire edition of The Commentator was dedicated to facing the issue of homosexuality on campus.

So is it really any surprise, given the persistence of the student body, that eventually our Mashgiach Ruchani, who is a warm, loving, tolerant and caring man, stated, "Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me"?

According to the article from The Commentator on April 21, 2009, it is certain this was not R' Blau's first choice. He "emphasized that this type of issue should be dealt with in private." So what changed? What changed is that Rabbi Yosef Blau is a man of extreme bravery, a man of courage, dedication, honesty and truth. He has always spoken about uncomfortable topics, having been extremely active in the community when it comes to sexual abuse. As the Mashgiach Ruchani, he has an impossible task. How he finds the energy and ability to speak with, understand and lovingly approach all of the many different students housed within our school amazes me. And doubtless what R' Blau realized is that if the student body was so persistent, this issue had to be addressed. No one else seemed willing to address it in a public way, and so he took up the mantle of responsibility. As Aharon HaKohen, dwelling amongst the people, he determined that it would be better to hold a groundbreaking event under his guidance than without any rabbinic guidance.

The difficulty, of course, is that Wurzweiler is not Yeshiva and Stern College. Wurzweiler is a school of social work and the events held there may conform to those held within general society as a whole. In distinction, an event that is open to the undergraduate colleges has to be of a different tenor. The undergraduate colleges identify as religious and thus halakha must be the guiding principle behind the event. Indeed, this is what R' Blau strove to do. He specifically stated that halakha was not to be discussed, that it was these four young men's personal stories that were to be told. And the panelists spoke and for the most part their message was one that resonated with the compassionate students who were in attendance, for it was a message that requested understanding, sympathy and kindness.

The problem arose when there were those who went beyond the tenets set for the panel, suggesting that they deserved loving and fulfilling homosexual relationships in their life or alluding to the fact that they have partners, which opened up the possibility that they were not following the halakha. While at Wurzweiler, such statements would be perfectly acceptable, at the undergraduate level, they cannot be. In part because of this, and in part because they disagree with the idea of identifying oneself with any sin, and believe that those who desire understanding or help should do so privately, our Roshei Yeshiva stormed down the mountain, the Tablets quivering in their hands. It is not that they were angry with R' Yosef Blau or suspicious of the motives of those who had attended the event. It is that they shook with zeal for the honor of God, whom they felt had been slighted.

R' Yosef Blau had declared, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord," having had the purest of intentions regarding the event. Unfortunately, despite his wish, others stated, "This is thy god, O' Israel, which brought thee out of the Land of Egypt." While he had wished to answer the question plaguing the student body and only desired to create a community that could cease acting in a homophobic or otherwise immature fashion, others had come with an agenda of gay pride or the insinuation that the halakha ought to be changed, twisted or stretched. Even though this was not stated outright, the Roshei Yeshiva felt the very fact that this forum had been opened created an atmosphere that could be perceived as legitimizing this point of view. How can one speak publicly of an inclination to sin? How can one define oneself by sin? Such an idea was totally unconscionable.

And so R' Mayer Twersky stated, "It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery; neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome, but the noise of them that sing do I hear." It was the applause that rang in his ears and the ideology behind that applause, lurking where the pure-hearted could not see it. Twersky took care not to blame anyone involved in the panel; he believes they had only the truest and purest of good intentions. Despite this, enflamed by love of God, who had been implicitly set aside and maligned, His commandments deemed too difficult to follow, he determined to do battle, crying, "מִי לַיהוָה אֵלָי?"

Aharon HaKohen and Moshe Rabbeinu were brothers. The difference is that Aharon was amongst the people in the midst of their crisis while Moshe was atop the mountain. Thus, the actions they took, while both entirely dedicated to God and fraught with love of God, differed in nature. Aharon sought to comfort the people while directing their energy to God, creating a feast for the Lord. And Moses could not bear any distortion whatsoever, and thus declared, "מִלְאוּ יֶדְכֶם הַיּוֹם לַיהוָה." Aharon was a man of the people, a רודף שלום, while Moses was a man of God, an עבד יהוה

But was there, God forbid, any emnity between the two? Of course not. Such a thought is impossible. Throughout Tanakh, Aharon and Moshe stand side-by-side as brothers. It is Moshe who is given the task of disrobing his brother and placing his clothing upon his son Elazar; surely God would not have permitted him to do so if he felt any hatred for him in his heart. The entire congregation, which certainly includes Moshe, weeps for Aharon.

And so what is the message that we ought to take away from "Being Gay in the Orthodox World: A Conversation with Members of the YU Community"?

I believe it is one of amazement and awe at the courage of the members of this institution.

There is the courage of R' Yosef Blau, who chose to address an issue which the student body was crying out to have addressed. There is the courage of those who were pure-hearted amongst the panelists and the audience, who truly came together in order to express their love for man even though he struggles in keeping God's law. And then there is a different kind of courage, the courage of R' Mayer Twersky and R' Yona Reiss, that lies in condemning that which they feel dishonors God. While these different individuals may disagree in their perception of the nature of this event, what is certain is that they are all fighting לשם שמים, their only desire to uphold כבוד שםים. And thus, no matter who we are within the Orthodox community, I believe that we can all stand united in our admiration of the courage that calls us to take a stand.

We are told in Deuteronomy 16:15, "שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תָּחֹג לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בַּמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר יְהוָה: כִּי יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל תְּבוּאָתְךָ וּבְכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ, וְהָיִיתָ, אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ."

And I believe that in the end we shall indeed be successful in creating a feast unto the Lord, one that ensures that in truth we shall be "altogether joyful."


Jameel @ The Muqata said...

"While at Wurzweiler, such statements would be perfectly acceptable, at the undergraduate level, they cannot be"

Not at the "undergraduate level", but at a "Yeshiva" level.

It's not an issue of undergraduate or not, Halacha applies to all ages and level of study.

The fact that those statements are perfectly acceptable at Wurzweiler highlights the ongoing internal struggle between YU's religious character and its receiving US Federal aid as a modern university of higher education.

Anonymous said...

1. You compare R' Blau and R' Reiss and Twersky to Aharon and Moshe respectively, and point out that there was no enmity between the two.

If only that were true in this case. However, I have heard personally, and from many people who have spoken with many of the RY in YU. R' Blau has been badmouthed, and thrown under the bus. There is little mutual respect. Additionally, nothing Moshe ever did caused lashon hara to be spread about his dear brother. Unfortunately, there has been no sign of public unity for R' Blau by his colleagues, and in fact lashon hara about this wonderful man has been spreading like wildfire...

(I'm also not so sure that what he did was well intentioned, but ultimately a golden calf- but there is no point in arguing, as your mind seems to be made up. It is nice to see, however, that someone with this view on the issue does still have respect for R' Blau, and has just come out in his support. To that I say kol hakavod!)

Anonymous said...

I also think you fail to mention that no dialogue was undertaken by Rabbi Twersky. He had signs posted and made proclamations without engaging the students involved, or Rabbi Blau directly, to my knowledge. That is not "the way of Torah," to criticize people without giving them a chance to respond (i.e. like in Teaneck this past Shabbat, or in the Beit Midrash). Where and when did Rabbi Twersky field questions from people with differing viewpoints? Furthermore, he declared what peoples' intentions were without actually speaking to them. To me, that is very problematic.

harry-er than them all said...

nice darshanut

however the world views tearing down the golden calf to intolerance of religion (re: destroying the buddahs in afghanistan) Maybe they will view R' Twersky the same way about homosexuals.

Also, the Golden Calf only happened when there was no leadership of a man of g-d. Maybe if the school president would be a talmud chochom rather than a good money-man/politician, the golden calf you speak of would not have happened.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:27
It's hard to engage in dialogue with people who run away from you and storm out of your sichas mussars.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Harryer: Maybe if the school president would be a talmud chochom rather than a good money-man/politician, the golden calf you speak of would not have happened.

That's simply nasty. Maybe change your blogger nik to Harry the Kanno'i?

Chana said...

Did you listen to the recording of R' Twersky's remarks? He says again and again that he believes that everyone involved in this event had only the purest and noblest intentions. I don't know what goes on behind closed doors but I believe that he would not say words he does not mean.

Anonymous said...

High prices paid for your gold jewelry!

Anonymous said...

Excellent analogy. Twersky is like Moses, who killed the idol worshipers in the name of God.

Just one thing I don't get. Why use an analogy that's so old? Why not go for something a little more recent. You could have used the nine eleven hijackers.

fudge said...

Yashar ko'ach as always, Chana. How much I've learned from your careful analysis of this topic. As someone with great admiration for an understated man, I thank you, too, for illuminating his perspective here.

Unknown said...

Well said. A friend who was at the sichos mussar used the same egel hazahav analogy.

Agreed with Jameel on the Yeshiva aspect as well.

Jameel - Do you think that Harry-er is so surely incorrect in assuming that if a different personality were at the helm that this may not have occurred? I would be interested in hearing what R' Dr. Lamm would have done in this situation.

Moshe said...

>He says again and again that he believes that everyone involved in this event had only the purest and noblest intentions.

Yes, yes. Reminds me of a good speech I heard from Marc Antony recently.

Concerned said...

Chana -
I am not sure I understand what is so courageous about R' Twersky' and R' Reiss's stances. You may choose to agree with them. But the position they took does not require them to go out on a limb. They are seeking refuge within the prevailing taboo against people of homosexual orientation. They condemn people whom they do not seem to have taken the time to talk to, and criticize an event they did not attend. You may claim they are correct, but they are certainly not courageous

Chana said...


Rabbi Reiss and Rabbi Blau are responding to an event 800 people, the majority of them students, attended. YU has maybe 2000 students to begin with, so that is a huge percentage of the student body. They are clearly taking an unpopular position but they believe it is true and right and the halakhic position, which is why they are doing so anyway. I believe that requires courage.

"They condemn people whom they do not seem to have taken the time to talk to, and criticize an event they did not attend."

They did not condemn people. They said a) two of the panelists made explicit references to breaking halakha, which at least R' Twersky was not happy with and b) they don't believe people should identify themselves by a sin. Neither one of those statements has anything to do with how they perceive people. The question here is of the forum: should it be private or public. The Roshei Yeshiva say it should be private and people in this situation should speak privately with those whom they need to speak with; others say otherwise. But nowhere is there condemnation of people, only of opinions and points of view.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I really have been enjoying your analysis and coverage of events at YU. I am curious if you had any thoughts regarding R' Reiss' remarks; specifically how he said that spending more time in the bais medrash will help the yeshiva recover from the event and how gay marriage in the secular world represents a breakdown in morality.

Moshe said...

And if I say that I think people who are named Chana and curious are bad for the Jews, can I just make a disclaimer that I am not referring to any person in particular? Are we then friends again?

Behind his rhetoric, Rabbi Twersky clearly condemned specific people, including Rabbi Blau and the presenters. Have the courage to at least admit that much.

Anonymous said...

Moshe, excellently done.

Rabbi Twersky referred to "cynical manipulation" and "exploitation" of sympathy, speaks of a homosexual's struggle sarcastically, and says the appropriate reaction to hearing someone speak of it should be revulsion.

But Brutus is an honorable man!

Chana said...


We were not friends in the first place. Also, I don't think R' Twersky stated anywhere that people who are homosexual are bad for the Jews. He simply felt they should seek guidance privately rather than publicly.


I don't think anyone was cynically comandeering sympathy, so I disagree there, but he is right to say this is not the only struggle of titanic and herculean proportions and people would do well to remember it. As for revulsion, I don't agree with that either (see debate re: eating pig- is it because my father in Heaven forbids it to me or because it is distasteful) but if someone is truly a kannai, it makes sense that they would feel that way.

As for R' Reiss, he spoke from his heart and while I don't agree that the event was a Chillul Hashem, in light of his perspective, his response makes sense.

nobody said...


Very interesting take. Thanks.

Anon 9:24:

If you can't talk about a rosh yeshiva and talmud chacham respectfully, please don't say anything at all. And your 9-11 analogy is shameful.

Moshe and Anon 10:49:

You are twisting Rav Twersky's words. You are getting "clearly condemned people" from "behind his rhetoric," which is itself a contradiction.

And the appropriate reaction should be revulsion - read the Torah ("toeivah" means disgusting, abomination, etc.). And maybe look at the many, many sources that talk about what should be public/private (Rav Reiss quoted many of them).

nobody said...

We were not friends in the first place.

Ooh, good one, Chana.

Anonymous said...


Have you ever heard of the concept of "Nashim Daysan Kalos Hem" Who are you to EVER make such an analogy.

For anyone who thinks that the majority of students matter and not those who study yomom valayla in the bais midrash, i turn your attention to the fact that YESHIVA comes before UNIVERSITY. If you dont like the Yeshiva, running the place then go find yourself a new institution.

I only hope that our great leaders in the Rav zecher tzadik livracha and the real Mashgiach Rav Dovid zecher tzadik livracha are not disappointed in us now.

Is that what we lost 6000000 for? To sympathize with abominations? I think not.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Halacha shouldn't be proclaimed publicly; it's a personal choice we shouldn't impose on others. Those who publicize their disdain for the word of G-d need not think that they are excluded from our modern, tolerant community.

We address issues publicly, without shame, for we understand what the Torah did not. People are complex, and some people have desires that G-d prohibited because he didn't understand them. Adulterers don't hide in shame when it is discovered that they cheated on their partners, thieves only regret being caught, but those people sinned against other human beings. Those who merely sin against G-d, doing no harm to others, surely they should be allowed to walk among us with their heads held high?

Do not worry; the personal stories of these individuals probably isn't Loshon Hara, since they are talking about themselves. "Ein Adam Meisim Atzmo Rasha," right? But at least the community listening isn't violating halacha - they just listened.

"Halakha must be the guiding principle behind the event..." and that's why Rabbi Blau discussed the event beforehand with a competent rabbinic authority. Himself. With the purest intention, he flagrantly ignored what the Roshei Yeshiva, the spiritual leaders of the school, clearly recommended.

And what spiritual leaders they are! Remaining affiliated with an organization like YU, despite the pervasive persistent condoning of violations of Halakha. The bravery that was displayed, waiting like wolves for the event to end, so that they can tear it apart. Does anyone think that they could have stopped this, well, 'abomination' from happening? Clearly not, so they remain, like the Queen of England, very prominent figureheads, incapable of changing the place in which they live. Unlike the queen, at least they could leave if there was something truly wrong being done at the institution that they supposedly represent, that supposedly represents them and their fear of G-d.

Chana said...

Anonymous: The Fool,

I have indeed studied the idea of nashim daatan kailos hein and know a) that you misunderstand it and b) I am perfectly within my rights to make such an analogy.

Your comment, "To sympathize with abominations," betrays the fact that you don't know how to read, which is a shame. The Torah calls a man lying with another man - that is, the action itself- an abomination but never refers to homosexuals as abominations. You've made an adjective a noun. And then you boast of being a member of those who learn 'Yomam V'Layla?' Please.

nobody said...

Whoa, latest Anon, easy. On multiple counts. Everyone else: I am one of those "yomim v'layla" and I would follow Rav Twersky's call of "mi l'Hashem eilai," but it's nowhere as crude as this guy makes it sound.

Chana said...

Anonymous: The Sarcastic One,

And what a commenter you are! How brave are you, hiding in shadows, critiquing all but not bothering to do anything at the same time that you criticize others for not doing anything. I am awed, astounded and amazed by the courage behind your witty tongue and scathing remarks; indeed, I cannot remember the last time such eloquence was visited upon me. You judge the panelists, R' Blau and the Roshei Yeshiva without having spent a day in any of their shoes; how enlightening it is to be blessed with your supreme wisdom.

nobody said...

Anon 11:20:

Wrong. Just wrong. On so many levels.

Most of your misleading and misguided statements are pretty obvious in their error, so I don't really need to bother. But, just one thing: where exactly do you find the "the pervasive persistent condoning of violations of Halakha"?

nobody said...

Chana, you keep beating me by a couple of minutes. I gotta learn to compose my thoughts a little quicker.

Chana said...


We should be friends; we'd be a good team. Nice to have someone to have one's back.

nobody said...

Sure. We've kinda met - I'm the guy who emailed you at 3:03 AM on Monday night to get the transcripts.

Anonymous said...

Blau has been a screw ball, and lose canon for a while, the roshei yeshiva however felt it was better to push it under the rug. Now, after a huge chilul hashem, the roshei yeshiva feel it's time to put and end to it. For this I commend them.

nobody said...

The roshei yeshiva aren't doing anything to Rav Blau. Grow up and show some respect for a person who is clearly much more of a talmud chacham than you are.

Yaelle said...

Anonymous 8:27 AM--Rav Twersky did indeed field questions from students following his lecture, at least at Stern.

Chana said...


Not specific enough, alas, because my gmail doesn't tell me the time after a day so I'm still not sure who you are.

Anonymous said...


To your 11:23 am comment.

How can you make the comments like you did in your original post if you have no walked a day in a Rosh Yeshiva's shoes? Can you even imagine carrying the weights of the oylam on your shoulders?

I think not. Maybe you should stop posting and look into Daas Torah a little. (However, since you have a comeback for everything, i assume you have done so. If so, WHO IS YOUR REBBE?, i would love to know who must be crying over you.)

All the best,

Anon 11:13 and 11:14

Erachet said...

Great post.

nobody said...

Chana, you gotta click "Show Details." Gmail knows everything.

Anonymous said...

Frumjew and Chana, why dont you two just date, i find it hard to believe either of you will find a shiduch with the absolute hevel and shtus that comes out of your minds.

Just dont use YU connects, would want your tumah on the system.

Anonymous said...

If you can't talk about a rosh yeshiva and talmud chacham respectfully, please don't say anything at all. And your 9-11 analogy is shameful.

Clearly my sarcasm went right over your head. My point, if you understood it, was actually quite similar to your own. I'm sorry that you did not follow the point of my post so let me spell it out for you.

In the post, Chana compares Twersky (who condemns gays) to Moses (who killed people for following the wrong religion). I agree with you that Chana's analogy is very wrong. How can you compare Twersky's words, which may be hurtful, but are still just words, to Moses, who actually went and killed people for following the wrong religion? Like you, I find this analogy to be distasteful and unfair to Twersky.

nobody said...

I actually don't have a problem with the analogy. Not sure where you got that in my words. No analogy is perfect; as a broad brushstroke-type thing, this one's fine. And besides, how could anyone be insulted over being compared to Moshe Rabbeinu, acting upon Hashem's command?

And you still persist in leaving off the "Rav" from Rav Twersky's name, which was my main point.

Anonymous said...

I actually don't have a problem with the analogy. Not sure where you got that in my words. No analogy is perfect; as a broad brushstroke-type thing, this one's fine.

Perhaps I am the one who is confused then. I thought the whole point of your post was that you took offence to the notion that what Twersky did is comparable to killing people for following the wrong religion.

And besides, how could anyone be insulted over being compared to Moshe Rabbeinu, acting upon Hashem's command?

Wait a second! Are you now saying that you think Twersky actually does support killing people for following the wrong religion?

Dorron Katzin said...

Anon 11:34:

How dare you insult the Mashgiach!

Please just crawl back into your hole and stop bothering the rest of us.

Certain other Anons who lack Derech Eretz:

I will respond later if I have time.

nobody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nobody said...

I'm not going to bother responding to you until you show some respect. Not to me (I couldn't care less), but for kavod ha'Torah and kavod talmud chacham.

[Edit: this was intended for Anon 11:59, not dman. You rock, dman.]

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to bother responding to you until you show some respect. Not to me (I couldn't care less), but for kavod ha'Torah and kavod talmud chacham.

All right. If you insist, I will comply.

I actually don't have a problem with the analogy. Not sure where you got that in my words. No analogy is perfect; as a broad brushstroke-type thing, this one's fine.

Perhaps I am the one who is confused then. I thought the whole point of your post was that you took offence to the notion that what Rav Twersky did is comparable to killing people for following the wrong religion.

And besides, how could anyone be insulted over being compared to Moshe Rabbeinu, acting upon Hashem's command?

Wait a second! Are you now saying that you think Rav Twersky actually does support killing people for following the wrong religion?

Anonymous said...

The Sarcastic One. Chana, if you are so resolved not to have anonymous comments on you blog, they can be disabled. I assume you mean me, who first posted at 10:20. I won't claim it was intended as a reference to Eyov, though I wish I could. You assume I do nothing, knowing nothing about me.

I understand that these are complex issues - that's why halacha exists, to allow a framework for resolving these disputes without the sort of fight this event caused.

My anonymity, however, seems to have clouded by ability to see the obvious. (As opposed to "Moshe" or "fudge," who aren't anonymous?) Maybe "A Frum Jew in YU" could enlighten me from the cloud of his own anonymity?

Was the gathering not a Moshav Leitzim? Were the presentations not Loshon Hara? Was there a Positive Purpose for the conference? (Is the "homophobia" that this event was intended to dispel not simply an expression of the fact that the Bible calls the act an abomination, something Jews should find revolting?) Did Rabbi Blau request a P'sak Halacha from someone who was not "Nogei'ah B'davar?" The event was supposedly announced in advanced - if the Roshei Yeshiva really disapprove and don't think it should have happened at YU, why was this only announced afterwards?

nobody said...

Anon 12:05:

All right. If you insist, I will comply.

Thank you; I'm not sure why it took you so long in the first place.

Perhaps I am the one who is confused then. I thought the whole point of your post was that you took offence to the notion that what Rav Twersky did is comparable to killing people for following the wrong religion.

Seriously, from where did you get that? Chana's analogy is that both Moshe Rabbeinu and Rav Twersky were reacting strongly (like a kannai, almost) and emphatically to circumstances where they felt (together with G-d) such a reaction is required.

Wait a second! Are you now saying that you think Rav Twersky actually does support killing people for following the wrong religion?

Context, my friend, context. I think Rav Twersky certainly supports what Moshe Rabbeinu did al pi Hashem's command in response to the eigel. Do you think Moshe and G-d were wrong?
I don't think that anyone, Chana obviously included, is suggesting that nowadays we would kill people for worshipping avodah zara. That has to wait until we have beis din, and even then won't happen that often, as the famous gemara says ("once in every 70 years is still too much...").

Anonymous said...

Context, my friend, context. I think Rav Twersky certainly supports what Moshe Rabbeinu did al pi Hashem's command in response to the eigel.

Err… hate to break this to you, but I'm quite certain that the hijakers also believed that they were acting al pi Hashem.

Do you think Moshe and G-d were wrong?

Yes. Is this even a question? Of course I believe that killing someone for following the wrong religion is unethical. How can you even be asking me this question.

Anonymous said...


Thanks. This was a nice little chat. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I need to run take care of something now. Hopefully you will be around in the evening and we can continue our conversation then.

nobody said...

Anon 12:20:

Fine, you're not a religious Jew. Obviously we have nothing to talk about! This whole debate is assuming we're working within the confines of Judaism. If you don't believe in Moshe's nevuah (read: the Torah is not mi'Sinai, C"V), why are you even bothering with this blog and this forum?

Anonymous said...

Ok, one more response but then I really must go.

you're not a religious Jew

When did I say that?

This whole debate is assuming we're working within the confines of Judaism.

When did I ever suggest we leave these confines?

If you don't believe in Moshe's nevuah (read: the Torah is not mi'Sinai, C"V)

When did I ever say that?

To clarify. We have here two cases. One is a hijacker who believes God tells him to kill someone for following the wrong religion and acts on said belief. The second case is Moses who believes God tells him to kill someone for following the wrong religion and acts on said belief

You appear to be maintaining that if we assume that Moses's belief is correct and the hijaker's belief is incorrect, this makes Moses ethical and the hijacker unethical. I disagree with you strongly for two reasons, the first is debatable the second is not.

Firstly, and this is debatable, but one could argue that from an ethical point of view, as long as the hijacker truly believes in his mind that he is following God's words, it should not matter if he is right or wrong. One could make a case that ethics is determined by what a person thinks in his mind and as long as he thinks it is just, we can not condemn him. I understand that this is debatable but I think it is worth considering.

But, secondly, and more importantly, the fact that "someone told me to do it" is not and never has been a valid justification for unethical behavior. If a behavior is unethical, it does not become ethical merely because someone told you to do it.

Anonymous said...


Why dont we stop the negative talk and instead try to follow what our Rosh Yeshiva said. Let us learn more, daven harder and be greater yiray shamayim. Maybe then we will be able to reverse one of the biggest chilul hashems of our times.

In an age of instant access to all information, it is our chataim that have caused us to continue the darkness.

Please please have our heilege yeshiva and its frum leaders in your tefilios.

With this maybe the milchama against our modern day yavan and amalek will end and we will see the building of the bais hamikdash.

Shades of Gray said...

Regarding R. Reiss and R. Twerski's speech at Stern, recordings of which are not on Torah Web, were there any significant points not made by R. Twerski at RIETS?

nobody said...

Anon 12:39:

But, secondly, and more importantly, the fact that "someone told me to do it" is not and never has been a valid justification for unethical behavior. If a behavior is unethical, it does not become ethical merely because someone told you to do it.

It becomes ethical if that "someone" is G-D HIMSELF! And, obviously, it's not that it suddenly "becomes ethical"; it's that it's not really unethical, in this case, to begin with.
I'm not sure what your definition of ethics is. For me, the only ethics that matter are G-d's. Do you believe (I'm not trying to intimate that you do, I'm just going for some clarification here) that something that G-d Himself commands could be wrong or unethical? IS it at all possible that something G-d commands can be wrong, in any sense of the word? If the answer to that question is yes, then yes - I was right about your level of frumkeit. If not, then I fail to see what your point is. Please explain.

In terms of subjective/objective ethics in general, of course I understand that a 9-11 hijacker believed he was 100% ethical (assuming G-d's word is the basis of ethics), and of course I believe Moshe Rabbeinu was 100% ethical (and so was Rav Twersky). But because, according to my beliefs, the 9-11 hijacker wasn't actually told by G-d to kill anyone, of course I would say, l'shitasi, that he was unethical. So, from the perspective of being a religious Jew, of course what Moshe Rabbeinu did was ethical, because if G-d commanded it there's no way it could possibly be wrong!

Now, if you profess to be a religious Jew and yet hold of some source for ethics greater than G-d's word, then you are very, very confused. Again, I'm not sure where you stand, so I'm not accusing you of anything; I'm just trying to understand what it is that you're saying.

The Talmid said...

Very nice Drasha, Chana. Which YU Rabbinic personality is Chur (see Sanhedrin 7a)?

I didn't go to YU but when I visited my friends there, R' Blau was siting in the Caf talking with guys at lunchtime. It really impressed me. He also spoke to me when we were walking on Shabbos between the Beis and Belfer (I don't remember how we were together but we were.)

The Cousin said...

Just popping in to say that as an outsider (to the university) , it's been interesting to both hear about the debate first hand (from Chana's posts) and see it (in the comments section).

My personal opinion in this matter isn't relevant; nor am I anywhere as learned as most of the commenters here, so I'm just going to remain on the sideline.

Like I said--this is all very interesting to watch and hear.

nobody said...

The Talmid:

Re: Chur

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Dune said...

First I'd like to point out that I am responding to anonymous' statements in the 'Rabbi Mayer Twerskis Resonse to being gay in an orthodox world'. I am responding here because I don't know if anyone is still looking at those comments and so I would feel like I'm talking to myself and wouldn't be sure if anyones reading so waht would be the point.
Okay, 1. You state that the homosexuals brain is hardwired that way, as if that means anything scientifically. I would ask you to research neuroplasticity and the most up to date understandings of the human brain. The brain is not a fixed entity, EVEN IF SOMETHING IS HARDWIRED, THE BRAIN HAS THE CAPACITY TO REWIRE ITSELF COMPLETELY. This is not science fiction this is the reality that has been proven with the most recent research. The brains ability to rewire itself does not end with childhood, but continues until the day of death. It does become more difficult to rewire for adults then children, but the capacity is there. There is no reason why neuroplasticity should not extend to sexual desires; rewiring is rewiring is rewiring; there is nothing special (with regards to the brain) about sexual desires as opposed to any other desires, including drug addictions which are far stronger desires in the brain then any natural drive, including sex. So, though it may be hardwired in some, there is absolutely no evidence that it is unchangeable, other than that is the prevailing conventional wisdom in our society. I will admit that there is no scientific PROOF that it is changeable, however, all the evidence regarding neuroplasticity and history (Greeks.. see prev comments) is on the side of it being changeable and subject to the same rewiring as any other hardwired characteristic, whether psychology currently believes so or not.
2. Whether it is or isn't changeable to the individual is irrelevant. This is because your job in life is to DO what God says. The rest is up to God. So even if you struggled all life then you did as God says. So when you talk about struggle, it is not always the goal in life to avoid struggle (some of the most rewarding outcomes in life, and I imagine in the world to come, come as a result of struggle). You are not here forever even if you lived tom 1,000; your struggle will not go on forever, your goal in life is to try your best to do what God says. The rest and all the philosophy and all the judgement and all the why's that is Gods job. You do your job and let God worry about the rest... continued below...

Dune said...

3. You state that these Rabbis (btw is Rabbi Twersky related to Rabbi Avraham Twersky M.D.) failed ingiving specific advice to the individual with homosexual proclivities. This in fact would be impossible. It is not possible to give general advice on such an individual struggle. Each individual, depending on his/her own character, abilities, intellect, the level of desires, their place on the spectrum, family lfe, other problems... has to take a different path to achieve the same goal. So it would be impossible to give general advice that would exactly apply to all. Such general advice might even lead to them giving up when it does not work, because it was not individualy tailored to them.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has a nice way of talking about this, if I remember correctly, he describes tshuvah (he is himself a baal tshuvah) as a maze where it is not so straightforward, rather you only know youve made a mistake when you reach the brick wall and then you go back, but then you know more and you start from the last point that you progressed to. This is in fact exactly how it is; my point is that no two mazes are the same so it would be impossible for them to give general advice that would work for all individuals. However, if you truly want to do tshuvah, them you will seek these rabbis personally and ask them to help you and advise you on the individual level. They seem like competent chachamim... continued below...

Dorron Katzin said...
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Dorron Katzin said...

Rabbi Mayer Twersky is the son of the late Rabbi Dr. Isadore Twersky and Dr. Atarah Soloveitchik Twersky, a daughter of The Rav.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky is not closely related to Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twersky. It is my understanding that all the Twerskis and Twerskys are related if you go back far enough.

EJB said...

Anonymous 10:49:
Just to clear the record, Rav Twersky NEVER referred to the panelists or organizers of the event as those people who cynically manipulated sympathy, nor did he say anything of the sort, and it is disingenuous to argue that he meant differently than he said, just as it is disingenuous to argue that Richard Joel meant differently than what he signed. His point was that liberal society cynically manipulates legitimization under the vale of sympathy, and, even if the intended outcome of Tuesday night's event was not excess sympathy/achzariyus, that was a result of the event.

Dune said...

4. Regarding the difference between actions and proclivities. I want to state a point of a Torah that was taught to me By Rabbi Amnon Haramati years ago. It's not the whole dvar torah just a main point. That is in sefer Yonah, the people (only when they realize their impending doom, hopefully we won't have to wait for such a moment) don sackcloth, starve themselves, cry out to God...But the Tanach says 'Vayire Hashem et Maaseyhem' - and God saw their actions. It does not say and God saw their sackcloth. So it is very important to understand that the most important thing in tshuvah is the actions. That is why I have never typed 'Homosexuals', and it goes to a similar reason to why these Rabbis stated that you should not identify self with or as the sin. Rather I only said 'people with homosexual proclivities'. They are not their desire any more then you are your desires. Like you, they are human beings that have desires. So they are not gay any more then you are heterosexual. They are humans with homosexual desires as you are a human with heterosexual desires. By the same token, to those of you who have these sexual proclivities, just as you want people to see you as people and not as your desire, so too you should see your desire as just as desire, and not identify yourself or define yourself as that desire. The point is, maasim, maasim, maasim, your job in life is to do the right actions, as to whether you have the ability to truly succeed or not, or the judgements, that is Gods perview.

Anonymous said...

"even if the intended outcome of Tuesday night's event was not excess sympathy/achzariyus, that was a result"

Could someone clarify the logical leap from sympathy to achzariyut? Is Y.U. bashing, an institution one is affiliated with, being subjected to perceived humiliation, the cruelty imposed, or in metaphysical terms, cruelty to the Shekhinah, wayward children, or the pain and suffering imposed upon the righteous nebech affected by the goyim in the street, or what?

I couldn't figure that out.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:42--

I couldn't figure out that statement for a while either, but this is the most charitable reading I was able to come up with (note--I'm not writing this because I agree with him on it, but rather just trying to explain what I think he might have in mind):

If one provides sympathy to the point of diminishing expectations of action, that may decrease psychological motivation on the part of the subject (i.e., if you recognize the intensity of the struggle, there may be lower expectations for the subject to conform to the law, which may decrease their self-expectations and lead to breaking the law). R' Twersky, believing that what is in the Torah is inflexibly best for each individual, believes that this would therefore be cruel, since your sympathy is causing someone to lose motivation for something that is best for them. Apologies in advance for the following crass and crude analogy, but it seems to work: is it realistic to expect that no Orthodox teenage male will ever masturbate? You figure that one out. But R' Twersky might say, if you tell them this and acknowledge the magnitude of that struggle to them, you may take away their expectations for their own actions, leading them to break the rules more than they would have. It sounds like a sort of instrumentalist psychological move--what's the best move in order to get the largest number of people to follow the law the highest amount of the time.

Again, I don't really agree with R' Twersky's perspective, but this is the best interpretation I could figure out for what he is thinking.

Dune said...

Just came back, forgot to type one of the points I wanted to make before. One last thing, there is a midrash about when bnei yisrael were in th desert. A king sends spies to look at and paint a picture of Moshe Rabeinus' face, so that the people who can see character and nature in a persons face would then tell the king what kind of person this great Moshe was. ( I actually don't remember if in the midrash these people were chartumim or if they were just people who have this ability, anyways). They come back and tell the king that Moshe Rabeinu is an incredibly evil Rasha chazak vechamur and list all the evil traits one could think of. The point of this midrash is obviously twofold, 1. The person has it within themselves to do tshuvah no matter how they are 'hardwired'. -
2. That the greatest prophet achieved that level only by overcoming his nature. This great Rasha by nature is the same Moshe Rabeinu who carries the burden of and struggles with the complaining bnei yisrael until the day he dies. These people who want to murder him at some points. These people (these people are us -our genetics - our fathers and mothers) whom he constantly argues with God to defend, whom he says wipe me out with them instead of making him into a great nation. This is the Rasha Gadol. If this Rasha Has the ability to become greater then all the tzadikim, then everyone of us has the ability lachzor betshuvah shlemah el Hashem. This is why the Gmarah says that every peson has the ability to reach the level of Moshe Rabeinu.; because every person has the ability to go against his/her nature and return to Hashem. The way you do this is by 1.exrcising your will over your desires whenever your desires are against the Torah (desires can be good too, desire for God, for tzdakah, for simchah, for chesed, for shalom bayit...)2. formulating strategies that work (too much too little wrong way...)and going through the maze 3. not giving up when you hit those brick walls which you will hit. 4. never giving up even if you believe you are doomed. 5. making yourself happy and always speaking to God.
lol, I apologize for preaching, especially since you are probably all more knowledgable in Torah then I. I just felt like typing it. I hope that was a good desire, lol.

Moshe said...


We've never met, but I think if we met would we could still be friends despite our philosophical differences.

I understand fully where Rabbi Twersky and other Roshei Yeshiva and rabbonim are coming from. If Torah is one's exclusive source from whence all one's hashfkafa is derived, then yes, apologetics can dull our senses and the ideal can include surrendering to God. And in this context, I understand that one must be vocal, and condemn and encourage others to condemn. And in this context, I understand why he thinks the Torah is under attack and that the event was a chillul Hashem (my equivalent of "bad for the Jews").

At the same time, it is disingenuous for him to say that he is not criticizing specific people. The event didn't organize itself. Nobody shoved people into seats in Belfer to listen. Had four people presented and only a handful were there to watch, surely the chilul hashem would have been less. If a mashgiach was not involved the chillul hashem would have been less. Yes, he is critizing specific people - the organizers, presenters and participants all contributed to the chillul hashem. And I just don't like it that Rabbi Twersky is condemning others (Rabbi Blau certainly included) while pretending he isn't.

nobody said...

Anon 4:03:

I think you have it mostly right. However, there's one small step that I think Rav Twersky made that you missed: it is achzarius to intimate that the struggle is too heroic to overcome because you are telling an individual that he does not have the personal resolve necessary to overcome his base desires.

This is going to sound preachy, and I understand I can't possibly understand anyone's individual situation besides my own, but it's emes and so I will say it: a big klal in yiddishkeit is that Hashem does not give anyone a nisayon he/she cannot overcome. Rav Twersky's point is that it would be achzarius to even imply someone does not have the strength to be omeid al nisyono, and I would like to further add that this implication would also be assigning achzarius to HaKadosh Baruch Hu (C"V) as well, as it would mean He would've given someone an impossible-to-reach ideal.

nobody said...
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nobody said...


And I just don't like it that Rabbi Twersky is condemning others (Rabbi Blau certainly included) while pretending he isn't.

Don't you think "condemn" might be a little too strong? He most certainly did not condemn Rav Blau. Even if he thinks Rav Blau made a mistake - that's criticism, not condemnation. If someone accidentally implies a viewpoint that runs counter to Judaism, the response is to condemn the viewpoint, and only condemn the person unless he persists in spreading sheker. Rav Twersky has not condemned anyone involved in the event.

[Post was addressed to the wrong person, so I deleted and reposted a corrected version.]

Anon 4:03 said...


What you say may be the case, but I will explain why I focus (and believe the focus should be) more on the instrumental discussion of what will maximize adherence to the law, and whether that is the right approach. You suggest God does not ever test anyone with anything they cannot overcome. Yet this is not a monolithic viewpoint: there is R' Dessler's view of "nekudat habechira"--that a person may or may not be able to overcome a particular challenge, but even if they cannot, if they keep working, they will eventually get to a point at which they can. (He uses an analogy of a frontline in a battle getting pushed farther and farther along; which things fall in the domain of a person's free will keep changing as we work on them.) So in this view, yes, life certainly could present a challenge which one categorically could not overcome.

However, again, if a person focuses on that fact, it can take away from their resolve to push onwards and "move up their point of bechira," to use R' Dessler's language. If that is the case, as long as they believe they can win, even if they occasionally falter, they will succeed in the end; believing it makes it true in the long run, so to speak. So it becomes less about whether someone can or cannot succeed in a particular test of will--which may be pretty much irrelevant, since no one ever knows, so you can't use it as an excuse one way or another--and more about discouraging a focus on the difficulty of the struggle, because it takes away the motivation to keep trying.

In this view, then, excess sympathy may lead to thinking one cannot do it--which could be true, but even if it is, we don't know, and thinking so stops one from trying as hard and eventually reaching whatever level of adherence to the law as they could have managed.

That's my interpretation, in any case.

nobody said...

I know the vort about nekudas ha'bechira, and I'm not arguing. I don't think Rav Dessler would argue with me; I think that when we say that G-d doesn't give anyone a nisayon that he can't overcome, "overcome" is a very subjective term. That's the nekudas ha'bechira.

I completely agree with you that the point of adherence to halacha is paramount; I was just pointing out an additional level.

Anon 4:03 said...

Thanks for clarifying, but I'm not sure what you're suggesting--would you mind clarifying what you mean? Are you saying that by "overcome," you also include "did the act, but reflected on it and moved a little closer towards whatever the goal state is?"

Anonymous said...

Rav Twersky quoted Ramchal and Nefesh ha-Hayyim, not Rav Dessler.

The achzorius he decried, I believe, because he spoke about this with true passion (EMES!) is what a bizayon the world can now make of our beloved Yeshiva, the Rav, the knight of faith etc..

There are two sides to every debate. He got right the part about negative influence coming from Albany, the desire to Christlzich. Homosexuality is identified with many cultures we've overcome. Vayachvosh es asono/chamoro relative to Abraham and Balaam, but the Ramban interprets the evil of sodomy as achzorius, not oiseh ma'aseh, so I'm still not clear despite your noble efforts, 4:03.

Yosef said...

Anon 6:06: I think you are on the wrong track. It appears that R. Twersky is riffing off the Rambam in Hilchos Taaniyos 1:3, which agrees with what Anon 4:03 was saying.

Yosef said...

Rabbi Yosef Blau is a man of extreme bravery, a man of courage, dedication, honesty and truth

This at least, is true beyond doubt! I wish there were more people like Rabbi Blau.

Anon 4:03 said...

6:06, I'm not sure what you're getting at.

If you look at the transcript, he claims that excess sympathy can become achzariut. He then went on to say "case in point:" and spoke about mixing two propositions that suggest you don't really expect a homosexual to abstain from his desires. And then he once more calls that specific message "achzariyut" stemming from attempted sympathy. So if you see him referring to anything else that way, please let me know and I'll be happy to take a look, but that's the only example I noticed, and the above were my attempts to understand why he says so.

Anon 4:03 said...

And I know he didn't quote R' Dessler--that was brought in to back up my interpretation of what he is saying and what he is not saying. I.e., to explain why I don't believe the point was the theological message "you can always overcome a nisayon," which is not true if one accepts R' Dessler's view, but rather the psychological message "you should never suggest to a person they cannot overcome a nisayon, even if you intend to be sympathetic."

Michael P said...

I think one thing that hasn't been mentioned thus far is that R' Twersky's argument seems to be a very poor one, on logical and factual grounds.

R' Twersky asks, "What if someone will come and ask us for a forum for someone who has a tremendous lust for his neighbor’s wife, not that chas v’shalom that he has acted on it, and hopes he won’t act on it, but he has a tremendous lust for his neighbor’s wife." But this seems quite unlike the case of gay students having a forum. Have adulterers been the subjects of hate crimes? Have adulterers been killed for the way they were born? What is the suicide rate amongst these adulterers? Is the suicide rate higher among adulterers, such that there is value in extending open arms, in public, to them? Gay Americans have been killed because of the way they're wired, and there is a higher rate of depression and suicide among gay teens than adultering men. The need for a forum comes from the problem of tortured young men and women who feel like their life is over before it's even started. And so R' Twersky is wrong when he says "there are ways of educating the public without creating a category of a “gay Jew” – even if with all the insistence, of not acting but just the inclination, what one professes to be orientation." If your goal is to help the gay students, then you have to be public about it.

He writes, "There is a Yiddish saying – a descriptive statement – the way it goes with the non-Jews it goes with the Jews." So we should be against legislation supporting gay marriage because it could influence the Jewish community. But this is odd, because the Jewish community has done a fine job keeping kashrus, negiah, tzedakah and many other specifically Jewish laws despite the fact that it goes beyond American law. To blame this on American law seems to be a cop out, and a completely separate issue.

Further, it's very interesting what R' Twersky thinks about the current state of psychology of homosexuality, but it would be far more interesting to see what those who study the psychology of homosexuality have to say about it. And it would help his case if he had cited any evidence, instead of vague reference to "a big debate in the mental health community."

This argument is also curious: "What’s wrong with that combination of propositions? No matter how many times you repeat the mantra that Halacha isn’t negotiable, isn’t relativistic, the real message that is broadcast – that if one is hopelessly wired, and this represents a heroic, herculean struggle, my respect knows no bounds for someone who struggles with this. We don’t hold ourselves to heroic standards."

I was taught, as a matter of course in my yeshivot, that though halacha sometimes requires Jews to make the ultimate sacrifice al pi kiddush hashem, it is a heroic standard and we can't blame those who, in the face of death in the darkest of times, opted not to die for kiddush Hashem. Why is the idea that halacha can be so hard, sometimes, that it requires heroic courage, so dangerous? All it brings is respect, not a respect for aveirah but a respect for the sinners, and that's OK. A respect for sinners is what I was taught regarding those who failed to die al pi kiddush Hashem, and I don't see why that's any less dangerous than those who fail to live up to the prohibition against homosexuality.

Regarding the first point, that toevah is a shocking word: it's not that shocking, actually. The gemara tells us what it means, and the rishonim tell us what the gemara means. In Nedarim 51a it says that toevah means "Toeh ata bah" in this context, and the Ran and Rashi both say that it's because a man who lies with another man it leaving behind sex with a woman and instead having sex with a man. That's all it means in this context according to the gemara in Nedarim--nothing shocking, just describing the act.

Anonymous said...

4:03, the inflection in R' Twersky's voice, the moral passion, is not conveyed in the transcript. He repeated the word with emphasis rejecting the arguments of the tolerance club.

Let's assume you are right. Let's assume a chillul Hashem is achzariyos, allowing yidn to think it's okay to do avairois.

I still think the passion is reserved for those who threaten the good name of Yeshiva and emiksdike, Toireh true, bnei Toireh everywhere.

Using YU as an example of S'doym is a cheap shot. The bigger problem are the growing numbers coming out. Maybe Rav Schachter should issue a pesak for the OU and the world: coming out is assur.

If that's what the letter implies, why not write a teshuvah?

Anon 4:03 said...

I'm sorry, I just don't understand what you are disagreeing with or why.

I heard the recording of the speech, not just read the transcript--I heard the tone of voice. But that just wasn't my topic: a commenter asked what is the logical leap he means in sympathy becoming achzariyut, so I tried to explain what I think he has in mind. (I didn't say " a chillul Hashem is achzariyos"...?) Yes, he was also passionate while he said it, but I was answering what I think his argument is, and he was clearly making claim there.

On a different note, though, R' Schachter can issue whatever pesak he thinks halacha requires; I don't believe the text of the letter implies what you are saying it does.

4:03 said...

I think the question to be addressed in reaction to the point above, if my interpretation is correct, is: is this instrumentalist view of things the best one? Is the most important thing in Torah Judaism maximizing the quantity of times the law is adhered to and the length of the struggle, at the cost of deep psychological pain? Is there any other viewpoint in Torah Judaism in which sympathy may or may not slightly harm your maximum adherence to the law--but overall higher quality of adherence to the law, more people staying in the fold, psychological well-being, etc are equal votes to take into consideration? Perhaps not in the end, but I believe the question must be addressed and wrestled with by anyone who has followed the panel and R' Twersky's response.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

Rav Moishe's famous pesak writing off the desire for mishkav zakhor as merely the work of the yetser hara may be true. He wasn't basing his gut instincts on papers approved or discussed by the APA. He didn't care that someone claimed to be hardwired. He knew that if one wished to fulfill piryeh v'rivyeh and stay within the fold, the closet was safe.

The questioner didn't ask in despair.

The contrast of achzariyut with rahamanut made for dramatic effect, but showed some, too (although others disagree, as another blogger affirmed everything he said was "EMES").

4:03 said...

On your last point--yes, he argues it is "cruel" to do what he argues against, but it can be cruel to do what he suggests. Is there no room for taking the latter into consideration?

Anonymous said...

How do you have time to work and keep up responding to all these comments?

Aaron said...

Chana, I came here to wish you a Hapy BirthdaY! What,no BIRTHDAY masquerade this year?

Chana said...


There IS a birthday masquerade- come back at exactly 12:00 AM!!! I'm so excited for it. ;)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Chana. Now, your secret is out.

Rav Twersky is a talmid hakham. Our sense of right and wrong is guided by our mesorah, values we assume to be immutable and eternal. Queer theory has no place at the table. Rav Shachter isn't feminist friendly either, anything smacking of yuhara.

That's the threat of public spectacles, parades of "pride." What gets lost are the lost souls whose lives are miserable, whose neshomos say nafshi choshka laToirah and my chavrusa. It's not a laughing matter and not going away. Who wants to be cruel to people who suffer? It's easy to wield a big club, grab a rock and strike a blow for Neture Karta.

At the same time, there are elements advocating lesbian nights, transgender days, a political agenda. That is what he railed against, what riled ire, I believe, the achzariyut of tarring Torah lishmah, a Torah inspired philosophy with the brush of secular liberalism.

Despite claims of rachamanut, busha was lacking. It's easy for straight people to knock gays, to make them appear ridiculous. But, they're real people, bright, sensitive, capable, and sincere.

Putting them in cherem, nidui, kicking them out, talking tough, does this guarantee oylam haba?

The Rashei Yeshiva prefer that they be less strident. It takes two to tango.

Dune said...

'4:03' - re: the 7:37 pm comment
In the times before the batey hamikdash were destroyed, all bnei yisrael were 'in the fold' and their 'psychological well being' was wonderful. The arguments you raise are the same ones that conservative and reform judaism raised before they left the Torah. The answer is no. In Torah Judaism the only imporatant thing is to do what God says. As far as 'sympathy harming your maximum adherance to the law', that is not allowed. As this point has been stated many times in these blogs I will repeat it again, because you are confusing Gods' judgment with whether an action is right or wrong. Sympathy, struggles,.. this all goes to Gods judgement. It does not however affect whether the action is right or wrong and thus whether we should accept it or not. The argument that we should take into account other factors besides the only real factor of Gods word is simply something which would precompromise Torah Judaism and the person; in essence saying 'lets start out by saying that the mitzvot should be subject to a balancing act between what God says and what I think I like and what will cause me less strugle'. If you start out from this position you will end up not even doing that much. This is why conservative and reform jews today don't really follow Judaism. If your talking about 'Torah Judaism', which is the only Judaism from Hashem, then the 'Torah' is paramount. The Torah, as far as I know does not say 'don't kidnap or don't steal or don't eat pork, unless you feel it would be a real 'struggle' for you not to do so and unless you think it would hurt your 'psychological well being'. The psychological well being of the Nazis was supreme and they didn't struggle in the least. This is not the goal of life. Also, in reality, it is struggling and overcoming and correcting oneself that leads to real psychological well being and strength and happiness. I would direct you to study Abraham Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs'. There is far more to life and far more rewarding things in life then the lack of struggle.

4:03 said...

Hi 1:45,

Thanks for responding. I think there was a misunderstanding of what I was asking, though.

To clarify, I was not asking whether or not one can take into account other things besides halacha in determining what is allowed, or change halacha based on struggles. I was asking more of a meta-level question: is there any room for pursuing a hashkafic path that might (not for sure) lead someone to diminished expectations for keeping a halacha as I discuss above, doing so because one is taking into account other possible benefits it could have for keeping of halacha on the whole?

Again, sorry to be crass, but this is still perhaps the closest example: is it better for an Orthodox rabbi to tell a teenage male that realistically, many Orthodox Jews struggle with masturbation and it's a difficult struggle, so not to get depressed if they do it--but to try their best not to, and move on with tshuva and then a happy heart if they do. Or is it better to never acknowledge that realistic angle, because if you do, they might think "I'm not really expected to never fall in this" and come to do it a couple extra times than they would have. The former option helps them navigate their halachik lives on the whole, but has the potential to increase the amount of times in the short term that they do the act. The latter might decrease the number of times in the short term, but makes them less psychologically able to readjust to the religion if they do end up doing it; they may get fed up and forget trying to struggle with it. A rosh yeshiva in Israel wrote a book providing more or less the former option, and I am sure it has been a great help to the lives of many Orthodox Jews. Was there a risk in him bringing the subject into the open? Perhaps, but the benefits far outweighed the risks.

Of course I agree Torah Judaism would not say, it's a struggle so change the law. My question is, must Torah Judaism say the highest hashkafic priority is not to do anything that could even potentially contribute to increasing the amount of law-breaking in the short term, or is there room to take into account long term and psychological factors in that approach (not at all permitting the forbidden).

I believe this is an important question worth considering. (Apologies if this is still unclear in any way; let me know if so.)

Charlie Hall said...

Anonymous 1:45,

I happen to be a Neurology researcher and was working on a neuroplasticity project at the very moment that you posted your comment on the subject.

There isn't really any convincing evidence that sexual orientation can be changed and a lot that it can't. Sorry. It may be that it can, but we just aren't smart enough to change it, or it may be that the "wiring" really is "hard". But in any case there is no "re-wiring" available today.

Charlie Hall said...

A major problem here is that it is NOT sufficient, according to Torah, for a Gay man simply to be celibate. Jewish men are expected to marry and to sire children.

Are there any men posting here who would support their daughter marrying a man who says he is attracted only to other men?

Anonymous said...

Dr Hall,

Would mind directing me towards any good literature or literature review on the topic? I tried searching, but couldn't find quite what I was looking for, or else what I found wasn't available through PubMed.


Shades of Grey said...

4:03 - I was wondering when someone was going to bring up this parallel. I think it is very apt in many ways (btw, are you references R' Aviner's book? A friend translated it into English, but I have yet to read it). Severity of spiritual punishment (according to mamrei Chazal, al pi kaballah, etc) involved is especially relevant to the discussion.

The only breakdown in the parallel that I can think of is that a single teenage boy, or single young man at whatever age, still has the "light at the end of the tunnel" of marriage, whenever that will occur. The homosexual man, by contrast, does not have that distant, halachically acceptable and encouraged outlet for his sexual energies.

I am glad you brought up the comparison, though.

4:03 said...

Thanks, Shades of Grey. I am actually referring to a book by R' Yehoshua Shapira on the subject--I did not know R' Aviner has one as well.

I agree with what you note as the difference between the two cases. I am not sure if this is already what you meant by it, but to me, that suggests even more so that a more delicate/sensitive/outreaching approach needs to be taken regarding homosexuality. If we are willing to put the other topic out in the open for the religious, psychological, and halachik welfare of all unmarried males, kal v'chomer, why would there be no room to do so for the more specific needs of homosexual Jews, who don't have the "light at the end of the tunnel" as you call it? The brisker approach here does not seem to be the only one even if it was presented as such, and I think the retroactive interpretation applied by YU and this blog to the whole series of events could use earnest reevaluation.

Dune said...

That's an interesting point. I would say that as a general rule option one might be true. However, regarding the specific example you gave, it is not so. That is because you have mistakenly put two options, but this is not an either/or, it's a both/and. The choice is not either to accept it and thus do this more and live a more broadly happy life - or don't accept it and and do it less but then feel awful when you do. There is a third option; which is don't accept it and do it less but when you fail say you're sorry to God give a dollar to tzdakah and Go on happily and industriously with your life. This way you will do this less often and be happy and productive. The idea that you either have to be unhappy or sin more often is a false choice from your yetzer hara. As I stated in Rabbi Haramatis' Torah on sefer Yonah - God is not looking for your sackcloth and your suffering, God wants your actions and God wants your happiness. Thus try to minimize the bad action and yet if wnd when you fall, do not fall into the yetzer haras' trap of sadness and guilt, for the yetzer hara uses that that to increase sins. Rav Nachman of Breslav talks about this in length. Thus pick option 3 - No acceptance, less bad, and yet only happiness even when you fall. And be happy that you are falling less then option two and that you are happy unlike option 1. Also some practical advice. Regarding a persons sex drive there are certain things the person can do to minimize it before marriage. 1. Don't eat red meat at all, as this increases testosterone levels and thus libido, try fish instead. 2. Try to Sleep a full night between 10 and 6, as a rested mind is more easily able to overcome desire. 3. Don't eat chocolate at all as this is an aphrodisiac. 4. Very Importantly - BE HAPPY, as an unhappy mind is far more succeptible to temptation. 5. When you are in a state of joy be careful because a person can forget consequences when in this state. 6. When there is a bad though don't fight with it or try to block it out, rather think of another thought or another topic, as since most peoples brains can't think two thoughts at once - when you think the next thought the first will fade to the side. 7. Do not drink caffeine (either coffee or sodas) as this can be addictive and cause highs and lows in which a person is more succeptible to sin. Substitute with green tea or decaffeinated green tea. - The point in life is to improve. But no matter what, never despair; that in itself is a victory over the yetzer hara. All the best.

Dune said...

One more thing I forgot to write is to identify things that lead you to bad i.e. t.v. shows... and stay away from it. Also try to be industrious and not get bored as this can also give an entrance to the yetzer hara. Kol Tuv.

Anonymous said...

Yeshiva bochurim love red meat, chulent, chocolate.

The yetzer hara is winning.

Mordechai Levovitz said...

Point by point, critique, response and rebuttal of Rav Twersky's speech. (by one of the YU panel members)

4:03 said...


Yes, what you write would surely be the ideal, but keep in mind that the question here isn't how someone struggling with the issue should view it--it's how should those around him treat him in light of the effects of their treatment. Do they offer sympathy as they normally might, or restrain sympathy, because as R' Twersky suggests, that might suggest lowered expectations, and could cause lowered adherence. So it's not an issue of breaking the law vs. keeping it with costs--it's a question of a 3rd party doing something that might contribute to less adherence of the law in the short term in another person vs something that could contribute to a worse religious life overall.

And, um, I appreciate the concern, but that's not really what I was getting at or looking for; I was bringing that as a realistic example people do struggle with.

Anonymous said...

Mordechai, yasher koach and kol hakavod. Everyone should read that.

Anonymous said...

There were only a few spelling mistakes, so obviously, he had help.

1. Mr./almost Dr. Levovitz claims nowhere is mishkav zachor alluded to on vimeo, yet, he himself refers more than once to what we "goes on in the bedroom." The allusion hints not specifically to anal intercourse, but implies "intimacy."

2. Is the community honor bound to condemn ma'ase Zimri or to support a lifestyle celebrating lust? Rav Twersky did not compare himself to Pinchas, but his impassioned speech was zealous. Couldn't Pinchas have been more sensitive to Zimri's needs? Kana-ut is sometimes a Jewish imperative, when the public good name and moral standards of the Jewish people are at stake.

Rav Twersky is a Rosh Yeshiva. Rashei Yeshiva expect great things from our people.

You wrote, "In our next panel, we could literally use Rav Twersky's comments as one of our stories about ways in which some rabbis needlessly add salt to our wounds by lacking sensitivity about this issue. His word usage implies that he of all people could have benefited from attending the YU event. One cannot be sensitive if one refuses to hear, see, and get to know the person suffering. I know that I plan to sit and discuss these issues with Rav Twersky in person, in order to begin work in this endeavor. I hope other Frum gays will too."

The outcome of this discussion remains to be seen. From a human relations perspective, calling Rav Twersky to task is probably not the wisest way to jumpstart your plans to make Jewish Queer Youth mainstream on every yeshiva campus.

That homosexuals, a distinctive minority, are and have been abused is sad. There should be more compassion. But, k'lal Yisroel goes basar rov in many things and we have a long history lusting after basar ta'avah. That doesn't make it kosher.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I didn't read all the comments (welcome to my life), but I did read Anonymous: The Sarcastic and your awesome response to him. *beams*

You go girl!

-Joseph the Dreamer

kuch-leffel said...

There's a non-Facebook link (open to everyone) of Levovitz's point by point rebuttal of Rabbi Twersky shlita. The link is:

...and anonymous...if you watch the video, you see, it is clear that the line about "between me and my partner", was a joke based on his assertion that its nobody's biz what he DOES OR DOESNT DO in the bedroom. Thus explicitly keeping any action in the bedroom private!

Rav Twersky really comes close to Motzie shem ra here. I'm sure it was a mistake

Anonymous said...

Tush leffel, anyone who proclaims the gay agenda, who participates in jqy events is going off the derech, skirting sin.

Whether it's this issur or that issur, more or less doesn't matter.

Rav Twersky doesn't owe anyone an apology. He was speaking for kavod haTorah. If you had more, you'd say less.

Unknown said...


I commend you for stating that Rabbi Blau was courageous for agreeing to moderate the panel. No matter what one's view of the event, I think we can all agree that Rabbi Blau displayed both courage and honesty.

While I appreciate your analogy between Aharon HaKohen and Rabbi Blau, as it is clearly meant to show the courage and effort of each to satisfy the masses, I don't think it is accurate. Aharon not only allowed the Jews to make an idol, he fashioned it himself. Rabbi Blau moderated an event that, while controversial, was not intended to condone or endorse violating the prohibition of homosexual activity. While two of the panelists may have made comments to the contrary, the panel was meant to give a face (or faces) to the struggle that homosexuals endure, without examining the halakhic parameters of homosexuality, and it seems to have accomplished this goal. The main difference between Am Yisrael and those who advocated for this event is that the former wanted to worship an idol - a clear Torah prohibition - whereas the latter wanted to discuss the issues faced by homosexuals in a public forum. The request for the panel was certainly controversial, but did not represent a desire to violate a Torah prohibition. I know that there are those who say that Aharon had good intentions, that he attempted to postpone the creation of the idol or otherwise prevent the Jews from worshiping it, but the fact is that he made the idol and the Jews worshiped it. There is a big difference between idol worship and a discussion of challenges faced by homosexuals.

If the analogy between Aharon HaKohen and Rabbi Blau is not accurate, it follows that the analogy between Moshe Rabbeinu and the YU Roshei Yeshiva does not hold either. Moshe was angered by, and responded to, an act of idolatry, whereas the Roshei Yeshiva were angered by, and responded to, a discussion about homosexuality - however controversial, not an endorsement of homosexual behavior, and certainly not an actual act of homosexuality, which, unlike a discussion of homosexuality or even a validation of homosexual behavior, would be tantamount to idol worship.

I think an instance that is analogous, in some sense, to the episode of the Golden Calf, appears, "lehavdil", in "Romeo and Juliet". When the titular characters first meet, they have the following exchange (it is longer, but I am including only the part which I think is relevant):

Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Romeo: Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

Here, Romeo wants a sin - a kiss from Juliet - and asks her to assist him in getting it. This is obviously much, much different than the episode with the Golden Calf, but Romeo parallels the role of Am Yisrael, and Juliet parallels the role of Aharon.

Parenthetically, this passage in Romeo and Juliet is similar to another Biblical text, and the parallel here is much stronger. In Isaiah 6, after he sees G-d and the seraphim, the prophet laments that he is "a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." In the following verses, a seraph flies to Isaiah with a coal in his hand, touches Isaiah's mouth with the coal, and says, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

To return to the subject at hand, I agree with you that all of the individuals you mentioned are arguing leshem shamayim. They all want to uphold the Torah. What we have to remember is to ensure that in the course of our arguing leshem shamayim, in our effort to uphold the Torah, that we keep an open mind - not to the point of allowing anything to go unchecked, but open enough so that we can feel sympathy and compassion for other people.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this EXACTLY why everyone in attendance was asked not to record it??? People are taking something Levovits said, perhaps in jest (wouldn't know since I wasn't there) and debating what he meant by it, and saying "well, if you read the transcript, you'll think X, but if you see the video, you'll think Y.)

That is PRECISELY what R' Blau was trying to prevent when he said not to record this, is it not?

Sweta said...

Can some1 please tell me the meaning of 'Choshka' and of which origin it is please?

Thank you :)