By Bronya Shaffer
According to Jewish law, how should a person react to homosexual feelings? Do homosexuals fit into the Jewish community?
You ask about feelings and law. But feelings do not fall within the domain of law. A person feels what a person feels. Then he has the power to decide whether he will act upon those feelings or… not.
This is the human experience: desire, longing, wanting…and the law. Part of our development from childhood to adulthood is creating for ourselves a moral compass. Something that’s internal. That which tells us right from wrong. And that moral compass is comprised of myriad components, but must be firmly grounded, always, in a system of values.
For Jews, the all-encompassing system is Torah law. Torah law governs every single part of living. And from the body of Torah law emerges a system of values – general, societal and personal. Sometimes, it’s easy; we feel an affinity, for example, to the laws of tzedaka, or we feel a strong connection to the laws of Shabbat or brit milah. And sometimes, we feel something quite the opposite – we feel estranged or disconnected or personally deeply at odds with a law.
We feel what we feel. Some feelings we can change, and some we can’t. Sometimes what we feel is subject to modification, and sometimes it’s not. Totally and unequivocally not. And yet, the law is absolute.
As much as we know about human sexuality, we don’t yet know enough. We’re all, as individuals and as a society, still learning. In the last half century, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of human sexuality, and in redefining a cultural moral code. Some of what we’ve come to accept as a society is long, long overdue. And some of what we’ve come to accept undermines the very dignity of human sexuality. But, we’re learning.
We do know this, though: we know that among other sexual behaviours, Torah law expressly forbids the specific act of male homosexuality.
And we do know this: Torah law forbids bigotry; homophobia is prohibited.
And we do know this: too many Jewish girls and boys, Jewish women and men, have suffered too much for too long. And we know that most of that suffering is caused by the environment around them. We do know this: when we become judges of another person, we behave contrary to Torah law.
And we do know this: A Jew belongs in a Jewish environment. Each of us, struggling or not, needs to be in a truly Torah-observant environment. And each of us is responsible for that environment – each of us is responsible for what we bring to that environment. When we bring ignorance, or cruelty or self-righteous judgment of others, we contribute to the sullying of a true Torah environment. When we bring the most ideal principles of ahavat Yisrael, respect for every individual, recognition of each individual’s personal relationship with G‑d…when we bring the best of our humanity, as expected by Torah ideals, we contribute to a Torah environment that is healthy and wholesome.
Or perhaps your question is in regard to how we should react to the homosexual feelings of others? Or how we should react to someone who eats on Yom Kippur? Or someone who longs for the relationship with a man other than her husband? On this, the classic work known as the Tanya provides strong advice: Consider what it means to have such burning passions for forbidden fruit. Consider the day to day fierce and relentless battle demanded to conquer such passions. And then ask yourself, “Do I ever fight such a battle on my own ground?”
The Tanya continues to illustrate the many areas in which all of us can improve by waging at least a small battle on our own ground.
On your question concerning community: A Jew belongs within a Jewish community. There are no application forms and no qualification requirements. He’s Jewish—that’s where he belongs. Period. We all have our challenges, our shortcomings, our feelings…and our failures in battle as well…and with all that, we are a community of Jews.