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."