Wednesday, December 30, 2009

R' Mayer Twersky's Response to 'Being Gay in the Orthodox World'

Since the audio is up on TorahWeb, here are my friend's notes from R' Mayer Twersky's lecture (for those who prefer reading as opposed to listening.) They are unofficial, not necessarily 100% accurate, and any and all mistakes are his. They are meant as a supplement to the audio, not in lieu of it.

~

Birshuso al pi horaso, moreinu Rav Shechter shlita, v’rabosai.

Tashchis choshech … zeh domeh halaila [didn’t catch it all].

Chazal said that Olam Hazeh resembles night. Mesilas Yesharim explains that the darkness of night engenders two types of mistakes. Some things people can’t see at night because it’s dark, so people stumble. But there is a more insidious error which darkness engenders, says the Ramchal: he sees but doesn’t see what he is seeing. Darkness of night can engender illusions, delusions, and confusions. If Olam Hazeh is compared to lailah, and the geulah yemos hamachiach, and the geulah is compared to yom, it is darkest we know, before dawn. In the darkest hours of night, the delusion, illusion, confusion is greatest. Not only in my lifetime, but I think in your lifetimes, there was a point where such a schmooze would have been unimaginable, inconceivable. Not only unnecessary, but inappropriate and wrong. What is there to talk about – is it a matter of public discourse?

One of the gimmel middos Bnei Yisroel is known for, rachmanim, baishanaim, gomlei chasadim – olam hazeh doma l’lailah, we need the ohr of Torah to dispel the darkness. V'Es Zachar Lo Sishkav Mishkevei Ishah To'evah Hee – sometimes we quote the posuk, but sometimes in a more sanitized version. To'evah is a very strong, jarring word – abomination. We know we are supposed to speak b’loshon nekiah, we are supposed to speak moderately, so To'evah is a very strong word. We’re no more refined than the Torah, no more moderate that the Torah. And if we adulterate, if we water down the l’shonos of the Torah, we desensitize ourselves to what the Torah is saying. If the Torah says it is a To'evah, there is no need to water down what it says, the value of what the Torah says is eternally true.

We need to make a communal cheshbon hanefesh on, not just this context, how apologetics can dull our awareness of what the Torah says. Most issurim in the Torah don’t come with such a description. And apparently the Torah says it for this effect, it is a jarring effect, and intentionally so.

Ok, but the Posuk is describing behavior – homosexual behavior. What about if we are talking about people, not behavior? How does the Torah speak to them? What’s wrong? Is there anything wrong with saying that homosexual individuals should be able to come out of the closet and be treated sympathetically, empathetically? Anytime we, Jews, bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov hear the word sympathy – we respond. Rachmanim, baishanim, gomlei chasadim – if you want to tug at the heartstrings of a Jew, talk to him about sympathy, about empathy, because a Jew responds and that’s the way it should be. The Rambam says if someone doesn’t display these middos, we have to check into him – stay away from having a shidduch with a person who doesn’t display these traits of rachmanim, baishanim, gomlei chasadim. So is it wrong, maybe it isn’t wrong?

Mashel l’davar domeh, please forgive the crudeness of what I am about to say, it is crass and crude. 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. He wants to come out of the closet and have people relate to him sympathetically, emphatically, and he’ll stand in front of a forum of hundreds of sincere, well-meaning people – people who were drawn in by these traits – and he’ll tell us his inclination is to “lo sachmod eishes rayecha.” And he shouldn’t be isolated from other people, there should be a club. We’ll find a euphemistic description for the club – b’chomdim Ishei Reyehu. What should our reaction be? One of revulsion! If he’ll tell us, “but it’s natural, but I’m wired that way” – does that diminish the revulsion one iota? There is sympathy, which is correct, which is a core, core Jewish character trait, at the heart of who and what a Jew is. Then there is legitimization of To'evah. There is no such thing as a Jew who should be publicly identified as chomed eishes reyehu – there should be no Jew identified as having an inclination toward Mishkav Zachor. The person needs, and deserves help in struggling. I suspect that ayn hachi nami, that help and appropriate sympathy should be forthcoming. I suspect that rov, if not everyone in this room has issues: personal issues - bein adam l’atzmo, familial issues, professional struggles. Most, if not everyone has issues. Who needs to know about these issues? The people closest to us, maybe or rabbonim. Our most intimate friends and family members. No one looks to publicize to the world, to create a new class of people, a new class of Jew – 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.

There is a Yiddish saying – a descriptive statement – the way it goes with the non-Jews it goes with the Jews. The way it goes in Albany, that the legislation should recognize gay marriage, the way it goes in New Jersey where they are wrestling with such a bill – that, rachmana l’tzlan infiltrates our communities. Sympathy is warranted, but it is a tragedy when that sympathy is exploited to create a legitimization, to create a new category of a Jew, who can come out of the closet and identify himself as being oriented toward To'evah.

Sympathy can also be overdone. The Rambam has a line in a different context: he writes that at times, rachmanus, misdirected, can really be achzoriyus [def: harshness]. What is intended, albeit sincerely as rachmanus, can at times, turn out to be achzoriyus. That is true, not only if that rachmonus, that compassion is misdirected, even if it is exaggerated. Rachmonus is one of the middos of HaShem that must be performed b’middas beinonis.

Case in point – if one allows for the following combination of propositions: One, homosexuals are wired that way, something that is hopelessly irreversible, they are wired that way. Proposition number two of which there is a big debate in the mental health community, although one only hears one side of that debate on the street proposition number two – in addition to being hopelessly wired that way, this represents a unique, sui generous, herculean, heroic struggle to conform to what to the Torah says, V'Es Zachar Lo Sishkav Mishkevei Ishah To'evah Hee. 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. The message is – despite my mantra that halacha isn’t negotiable, under the guise of sympathy, the message is – rachmana l’tzlan, the Torah’s halacha isn’t really real for you. I don’t expect you to comply with it because you are hopelessly wired this way, and it’s a heroic struggle of titanic proportions that you struggle with this. The message is I don’t expect you to apply the Torah to yourselves. … [quoted a posuk]… that rabbosai, may be well intentioned, it may be a sincere intention and attempt to extend sympathy, it is achzoriyus, nothing less – it broadcasts that I don’t expect you to comply with what the Torah says is yeharaig v’al yaavor.

Point 1 – there is a difference between sympathy and legitimization. The fact that on the street sympathy is exploited, cynically manipulated – one does not need to condone gay marriage because someone is discreetly struggling with this issue just like everyone can struggle discretely.

Point 2 – Sympathy can be over-exaggerated – it isn’t sympathy, it is achzorius.

Point 3 – very briefly, in many contexts, the Rav Z”TL used to speak about, wrote about, that at the very core of halacha lies the concept of defeat, of surrender. Halacha means the discipline of halacha, the absolute lines, parameters, contours of halacha mean that I can’t have everything I want. The fact that I want it, doesn’t mean that is has to be doable. The fact htat IZ want, it, no matter how much I want it, doesn’t mean it has to be feasible according to halacha. The essence of halacha, defeat, surrender, to know I can’t have it, even if I want it. The mindset that we operate in – the fact that I want it makes it on the contemporary baalei halacha to let me have it – that mindset is also operative here.

So that there is no misunderstanding of what we are talking about last week’s event, I want to explicitly talk about it. The condemnation, the mecha’ah that we all feel and should be making, unequivocal should be about the event. I don’t think that any of us can, or should, stand in judgment of people who attended the event, or of some of the participants or organizers had in mind. The majority of those constituents involved, were sincerely motivated and well intended. They either didn’t realize what the event was going to be, or their sympathy was co-opted and manipulated - that line which should be so clear and sharp and delineates between discrete sympathy for those struggling with an issue and expressing favor toward an issue that society feels positively about…

It is not true in any other context, or this context any more than any other context- should you be able to talk to the people closest to you to get hadracha? Yes. But should you come out of the closest to deal with this issue out in the open, unlike any other issue? It’s the Jews following the Gentiles – the agenda of gay pride, of gay marriage, of gay rights – that’s what’s influencing us.

I was told to address some of the questions that talmidim have raised regarding their reactions and responsibilities. Regarding a petition [see end of this for the text of the petition] that was drawn up, addressed to President Joel – what difference does it make if I sign, is it right if I sign, isn’t it an affront to President Joel, isn’t it inappropriate for that reason. Unfortunately, the way the Chillul HaShem unfolded and how the event occurred, it was billed as being gay at YU. The Chillul HaShem unfolded as a reflection on the institution, on all of us, because of people in the event, attending the event, and when that’s how the Chillul HaShem unfolds – not only is there a need to find some forum, some vehicle to go on record against this Chillul HaShem, and in this case the obligation is many times over. The picture projected, one of total distortion, is that it reflects on the yeshiva. It reflects on every segment of the yeshiva, administration, rabbeim, talmidim, everyone was implicated by how the program was projected and how it came off: “Being Gay in YU.” Two of the four presenters also spoke about actual mishkav zachor, in addition to the distortions we’ve spoken up until now. The transcript talks about applause at many points – but no mecha’ah. That’s where the record stands. SO everyone in our community must say that is not us, we reject – we disassociate ourselves from all of that.

When it comes to k’vod shomayim, we shouldn’t ask who am I, what am I – not a place for anava. [Cited a rabbinical source from a sefer that said:] B’chol roey HaShemesh… my father was so humble, such total bitul of himself – but when it came to milei dshmaya, then a person must be strong, not who am I, what am I. Each of us is one more voice – that is not what we represent, that is not what we believe. It was a travesty and a distortion of what we believe. That this distortion was reflected on all of us – being gay in YU – people involved, even those well intentioned, echad shogeg, echad meizid. So on every level, for internal and external consumption – we have to say that’s not who we are that’s not what we represent!

What about if the petition – is it an affront to President Joel – I’d like to tell you two things, please listen to both. One answer to clarify halacha, and one to clarify metzius. Halacha – doesn’t matter, when it comes to kvod shomayaim, it doesn’t make a different for any other cheshbonos, no matter what anyone else thinks. If it is for kvod shomayim and expressed for kvod shomayim, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Sof Davar Hakol Nishma – doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Metziyus – it doesn’t represent an affront to President Joel – we all stand on the same side – he is no more in favor of what happened than any of us are. Everyone, in every layer, in every segment of our constituency, has to work together to undo and repair that Chillul HaShem.

But ultimately, we will only know that we’ve done what we can to repair, rachmana l’tzlan, that Chillul HaShem and future occurrences of Chillul HaShem, when we are resolute and determined, not only to renounce Chillul HaShem but also to renounce causes of Chillul HaShem. As we move forward, the causes the root causes, of Chillul HaShem, need to be understood, need to be addressed, unequivocally, unapologetically, without any cheshbonos that detract from kvod shomayaim, and all of us, no matter what one’s position in the community of yeshiva is, no matter what one’s age, all of us have to share that absolute, resolute, determination to again, not only renounce and try to correct the Chillul HaShem, but to renounce the root causes of it, and to address that as well. And to move forward and do what we spend our time doing, let the posuk of avdei atah Yisrael HaShem (didn’t catch it – gist of it being that Jews are loyal servants of HaShem) – should be said of everything we do and say in Yeshiva.

The Petition:

Dear President Joel and Rabbi Reiss,

The question of sexual orientation is one of the most sensitive, complex, and relevant issues facing Orthodoxy today. Our institution has the unique privilege of standing at the forefront in addressing this issue, attempting to balance sensitivity and openness with an uncompromising dedication to Torah and Halakha.

It is for this reason that we are deeply concerned with the message the recent public forum on homosexuality in Orthodoxy sends to the rest of the world. There certainly is a need to address this important issue; however, it must be addressed with privacy, discretion, and care. A public display of support for individuals who have chosen to openly identify themselves by their alternative lifestyle and desires indicates an implicit, if not explicit, acceptance and approval of a lifestyle that goes against the ideals of the Torah. While trying to be sensitive to the needs of these individuals, the event showed insensitivity to the values we stand for and live our lives by. Instead of creating a Kiddush HaShem, we have unfortunately created a Chillul HaShem.

We, the Talmidei HaYeshiva, express our profound disappointment and embarrassment for the regrettable message that was sent and the Chillul HaShem that was caused.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

One, homosexuals are wired that way, something that is hopelessly irreversible, they are wired that way. Proposition number two of which there is a big debate in the mental health community, although one only hears one side of that debate on the street proposition number two – in addition to being hopelessly wired that way, this represents a unique, sui generous, herculean, heroic struggle to conform to what to the Torah says, V'Es Zachar Lo Sishkav Mishkevei Ishah To'evah Hee.
===================
what exactly is the debate? Whether there are other struggles that are just as difficult? R'MT seems to accept the hard wiring proposition. then how does

" The message is – despite my mantra that halacha isn’t negotiable, under the guise of sympathy, the message is – rachmana l’tzlan, the Torah’s halacha isn’t really real for you." follow? from hkb"h's hard wiring? who is sending that message or who is reading it?

I can understand a meta argument that in our generation we need to draw a line in public, but i certainly don't understand the apparent "slam dunk" nature of the view expressed. I suppose a risk/reward analysis was done and that is the R"Y shikul hadaat but given the talmud's directive that inborn inclinations be channeled,
I'd more appreciate some public direction from the R"Y on how these individuals should channel (other than just suffer in private and seek help which hasn't worked for others)

KT

Anonymous said...

I don't think they'll be providing that answer. It seems that, based on their shitah that such issues - and certainly how an individual struggling with such issues should channel those inclinations - should be dealt with in private in consultation with their closest friends, family and rabbeim, they will not answer that question in public (though I agree with you and think they should, so as to provide an appropriate formula of how to address it, presuming that last Tuesday night's even was inappropriate).

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.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
I seem to recall that as a high school (or earlier) student, you did not appreciate being told to "stay in the closet" with your questions regarding hashkafa etc. for the good of the other students who were not as curious/gifted as you.
KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

oops-got cut off-the rest was:
would you have benefited from some direction as to how to channel that drive within the system?
KT
Joel Rich

Shades of Grey said...

Anonymous KT - as someone who was at the schmooze - R' Twersky does not accept the hard-wired idea - he was stating these propositions as the things that people believe and are objectionable.

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...

Regarding the first comment, I believe when R Twersky said "of which there is a big debate in the mental health community, although one only hears one side of that debate on the street" that is in reference to Proposition Number 1 I think after saying "Proposition Number 2" he went back to add an addendum to Proposition Number 1, hence why after this quote he repeated the line "Proposition Number 2"

If I am correct, he was saying that the degree of hard-wiredness, or the irreversible nature of homosexuality is not as one sided as it is often presented to be. {I don't think that line was meant to imply that it is always changeable. Just that its a debate in the Mental Health community, at least regarding a certain percentage of such individuals}.

Charlie Hall said...

I don't know whether homosexuality is "hard-wired" or even what that would mean in a scientific sense. But I do know that despite decades of research, there remains nothing in the way of a treatment for someone who is Gay and wants not to be.

I think that this is the single biggest hashkafic challenge facing traditional Judaism. I'm very glad HaShem made me straight.

Mordechai Levovitz said...

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

see link:

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&&suggest&note_id=251912628922#/notes/zac-mordechai-levovitz/point-by-point-critique-response-and-rebuttal-of-rav-twerskys-speech-by-one-of-t/251912628922

alex said...

The Rabbis missed the point. The point of the forum was to educate Orthodox Jews that Homosexuality was qualitatively and substantially different from coveting your neighbor wife. How stupid an analogy is that? Support groups for wanna be adulterers? There is almost no point in continuing to read or learn what these Rabbis have to say about the issue when they can so simply negate the very nature of my being and erase any potential for happiness and acceptance. Shame shame on them.

dd said...

It's strange. The first phrase that came to mind after reading this is, "Moral Relativism." R'Mayer Twersky shows no interest in searching for the truth or struggling with what may or may not be true.

He says that the mere act of calling people "wired that way" creates an attitude that is accommodating to To'evah. Thus, he strongly implies that we shouldn't say that or present it as an accepted point of view. It doesn't matter to him whether it is true or not. It only matters that, if it were true, he can't think of an appropriate halachic response therefore we shouldn't talk about it.

While it might be obvious where my sympathies lie, the issue really isn't whether people who are gay are or aren't "wired that way." It the stubborn refusal to even consider the discussion. The comparison of decades of research on homosexuality saying people are "wired that way" to a lustful individual saying he's "wired that way" is trivializing and beneath such a scholar.

His entreaty to not talk about the category of "gay Jews" is simple homophobia. In this case, I'm using the literal meaning of phobia as fear, not hatred. There are categories of Jews. There are male jews, female jews, married jews, jewish children, jews struggling with addiction, jews with schizophrenia, etc. There are categories. There were also always gay Jews. They might not have been as public. More might have left Judaism or commit suicide in the past, but they always existed. The fear to accept that such a category exist is the fear that he doesn't know how to interact with that category. It has nothing to do with what may or may not be reality.

kuch-leffel said...

A Non- Facebook link (open to all) to Levovitz's point-by point rebuttal of Rabbi Twersky can be found on:

http://www.syaross.org/misc/gaypanel/response.html

definitely worth a read (albeit its a sit-down)

Anonymous said...

Alex, I think you, in turn, missed Rav Twersky's point.

Eliezer Pennywhistler said...

"The message is – despite my mantra that halacha isn’t negotiable, under the guise of sympathy, the message is – rachmana l’tzlan, the Torah’s halacha isn’t really real for you." Blah blah blah Rabbi Twersky.

Isn't there a Talmudic story about someone declaring non-kosher chicken kosher in order to aid a poor widow?

Isn't there some ruling or another about annulling a halacha if no one follows the ruling?

I even remember something about siding with Hillel over Shammai, too.

And didn't Rashi overthrow a lot of laws that made daily life miserable for Jews?

(Vague memories. Sorry.)

My rabbi tells me that the Torah prohibits anal intercourse between men - no more and no less. There is no prohibition on loving another man, kissing him, sleeping with him or cooking breakfast for him ... as long as you don't do it wearing woman's clothes. Not in public, at any rate.

My rabbi tells me that certain ACTIONS between men are prohibited - not feelings. The only feeling that is prohibited is the one you have for your neighbor's wife or donkey or Mazda MX-5 Miata.

He also tells me that the idea of "homosexuals" as a class of people is a recent invention. And thus not discussed in any code of law until very very recently.

Is my rabbi wrong?

Eliezer Pennywhistler said...

Thank you, dd. That was perfect and perfectly truthful ... and it left me with tears in my eyes.

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