Sunday, June 07, 2020

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Rabbi Gil Student, in his September 12 column (“On Changing Judaism for LGBT”) discussing Dr. Aaron Koller’s YU Observer piece, makes the simple but necessary point that LGBT Jews are not “the other,” but our children, our siblings and our friends. Unlike some rabbis, he seems to take it as a given that sexual orientation is immutable. And he is refreshingly candid in acknowledging the impossible choice that Halacha, as he understands it, forces on our children, siblings and friends: a choice between lifelong loneliness within the community of their birth and upbringing, and a loving relationship and family in violation of God’s word outside it. But he is comfortable that this impossible choice is God’s will.

Interestingly, many who disagree on everything else on this issue agree that Rabbi Student is mistaken, that this impossible choice is not God’s will. To quote the 200+ rabbis, including Rav Hershel Schachter, who signed the “Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality,” “The concept that God created a human being who is unable to find happiness in a loving relationship unless he violates a biblical prohibition is neither plausible nor acceptable. God is loving and merciful... The Torah does not forbid something which is impossible to avoid.” And Dr. Koller, in the piece Rabbi Student references, makes clear that he agrees with this portion of the Torah Declaration (or at least with the theological and moral imperatives behind it).

Ultimately, the Torah Declaration and Dr. Koller resolve the impossible choice in very different ways: the Declaration, by believing that sexual orientation is mutable; Dr. Koller, by opting for humanity over Rabbi Student’s view of the Halacha, and having enough faith in the halachic process that the problem will eventually be solved.

To close on a positive note: Rabbi Student’s candid framing of the issue is a step toward resolution, even if we don’t yet know what that resolution looks like.

A Bergen County parent
Rabbi Student responds:
I appreciate the pain of a parent with a struggling child but I do not believe my words are being interpreted properly. A keen reader will note that I did not speak directly to those struggling with their sexual orientation but to their friends and family. The conversations need to be different. Therefore, I did not discuss the immutability of sexual orientation or lack thereof. From my perspective, that is not particularly relevant to the conversation with friends and family. Nor did I argue that a homosexual faces an impossible religious choice. To the opposite, I have faith and confidence that people struggling with their sexuality can find a traditional path to God but the search for that path often is very difficult. As friends and family, we need to support our  loved ones unconditionally when and if they struggle to find their place within Judaism. We are about to enter two days full of prayer, when Machzorim around the world fill with tears. I thank this parent for giving us additional impetus to think about what God wants for us in this world and the next.
Gil Student