Rabbi Pesach Sommer wrote a very good post on his blog,Pesach Sheini, about a situation that recently occurred. He wasn’t 100% sure of the details, and if there is anything this game of social media broken telephone has taught me is that I definitely do not have any more information so I’ll only give the basic gist of the situation.
Apparently, a yeshiva in Israel recently wished Mazel Tov to a former talmid on his engagement in a newsletter. The catch is that this former student is engaged to a man. Supposedly, the yeshiva was under the impression that the name of the significant other was not a male name (although when I first read about the story it was not even a gender neutral name I read so I’m not sure how it could be confused but that is besides the point) and subsequently retracted the Mazel Tov.
The gist of Rabbi Sommer’s blog post is that perhaps there should not be any outrage to the original post of Mazel Tov. That wishing Mazel Tov to a gay couple does not necessarily equal sanctioning gay sexual relations and is simply put, a way to show our sensitivity and kindness to gay members of the Orthodox community. I apologize to Rabbi Sommer if I am inadvertently attributing more of a strong opinion to him than he meant to have in his blog post. His post was more of a rhetorical thought provoking discussion starter than a passionate argument. I urge anyone reading this to read the actual blog post. I’m not doing justice to it.
I have several thoughts on this subject. Strangely enough I don’t have an opinion on what the yeshiva should or should not have done in this situation. Every Orthodox institution has to decide how it will handle the fact that it will have LGBT members/students both while they are in and after they are enrolled in the institutions. This is a reality that is becoming more apparent every day and to have a head in the sand attitude about it will solve nothing. My main thought is that I am happy to know there are people willing to come out and talk about the sensitivity that is necessary when dealing with these issues. When I returned from the Eshel Parent Retreat, I wrote very specifically about how the parents didn’t discuss changing halacha or trying to get Orthodox Rabbis to marry our children in same sex religious ceremonies. We mostly discussed how to get the Orthodox leaders to empathize. Because empathy is what our children need. As Justin Spiro wrote so beautifully in his article, “LGBTQ Youth Have No Derech To Stray From” ,
In all my years working with LGBTQ individuals from Orthodox backgrounds, few people have left Orthodoxy or experienced thoughts of suicide due to two verses in Leviticus. People are leaving, spiritually and emotionally, because of how they are treated by the Orthodox community.
So, it isn’t surprising that I’m dismayed (once again) at the comments I see on this blog post (specifically in the comments section of Rabbi Sommer’s Facebook Page). People are SO concerned with chas v’shalom saying that gay sex is allowed by the torah that they bend over BACKWARDS to delegitimize LGBT people in the Orthodox community. I’ll copy and paste some of the more painful comments I’ve read:
“can anyone point to any other situation where an individual or 2 partners flaunt their personal struggles/nisyonos in such a public fashion?”
“people can make whatever lifestyle choices they please but isn’t it rather needy to expect their yeshiva or community to congratulate them?”
“what scientific studies do you know of that proves this accepted fact that homosexuality is something one is born with.”
“1) the affect is an orthodox person condoning the action. plan and simple. Thats what your mazal tov means to everyone else whether you like it or not 2) Why get married? What does marriage have to do with love for a forbidden union in the first place?”
Here’s the thing. I don’t agree with them, but I actually understand where the people who are writing (most of) these comments are coming from (with the exception of the person who asked if “there are any scientific studies about whether homosexuality is something people are born with.” I’d like to borrow that person’s time machine so I can go spend some time with my dead grandparents.). What they are saying is that by saying Mazel Tov, we are saying that gay sex is ok.
Superficially that might seem true. But it’s not. And as I said before, I don’t know the answer. But the answer isn’t to keep making comments like these. I was recently talking to a mother of a gay child. This mother told me she knows of several young adults in the Orthodox community who took their own lives over the past decade because they could not handle being gay in the frum community. This is not hyperbole. I am a parent of a gay child. Reading these comments above literally hurts my heart. But that is all it does. It doesn’t call into question my very being. What if I was a frum gay kid? How could I handle reading these things? No one wants to be invalidated. No one wants to feel marginalized. Imagine any time in your life that you EVER felt like an outsider. Now multiply that by 1000 and imagine that your very being was invalidated by the community you have been part of your whole life and may desperately want to remain part of.
A bunch of the commenters offered a “some of my best friends are gay” excuse (even though having gone to a concert with a gay person 10 years ago hardly qualifies for that distinction), but I don’t think they can even imagine what it must be like to be an LGBT person in this community. And it makes me sad. And scared. And mostly it makes me feel bad for all of the frum LGBT people who have to live every day knowing that this is the attitude that many of their loved ones have.