I was at the bar last night, and who shows up but my old friend Captain Obvious. He’s been pretty busy these days with his gig for Hotels.com, but he wanted to shmooze about the discussion that’s been sparked by articles from David Benkof in The Daily Caller and The Times of Israel. So here’s what Captain Obvious had to say:
1. Obviously, you don’t trust anybody without verifying his reliability, but you particularly don’t trust an opinion journalist –especially one whose conclusions are germane to his theology, his politics, and his personal life, the great trio of warning bells for confirmation bias– to summarize the state of academic research of LGBT orientation, and you don’t trust that snippet quotes of his from interviews that are not publicly available with a few people are representative or in context. So when David Benkof writes in his article that the consensus among the “group” of “scholars of gay history and anthropology” is that “no society before the 19th century had a gay minority or even discernibly gay-oriented individuals” or in his facebook comment that there aren’t “mainstream LGBT social scientists” who maintain based on the evidence that “there were people overwhelmingly ‘oriented’ toward the same-sex or the opposite sex 200 or 3500 years ago,” you shouldn’t believe him. If you look into it, you’ll find out what he’s saying isn’t true. [See e.g. Randolph Trumbach’s *Sex and the Gender Revolution, Volume 1: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society)*. If you wanna really get into details of debates regarding if people had a preference for men historically, you could explore the sources mentioned in Stephen Boswell’s *Histories of Sexuality: Antiquity to Sexual Revolution*]
2. Obviously, you also can’t trust him to take the people he’s arguing with in context and you have to look up what they said too. David takes Zev Farber so out of context as to say the opposite of what he actually said. According to David, “Rabbi Zev Farber wrote that celibacy for gay men is unrealistic, even impossible – ‘a debilitating and life-crushing prospect. Advocating for it is an exercise in futility.'” David refutes Farber’s supposed claim by writing, “No, it’s not futile” because he knows “several…men with gay orientations who have refrained from sex for years.” But actually, Farber’s real claim was only applied in his article to “most adults,” and made clear some people might want to remain celibate; David’s engaging a straw man. And I don’t think Shmuly Yanklowitz’s argument is that people being celibate in their own lives lack humanity as David claims, but that denying them the right to live as most people do denies them basic human dignity. So for example when David argues against LGBT rights in his other articles, that’s against human dignity.
3. Note how David responds to Rabbi Bloch in their discussion on the Times of Israel piece. When Rabbi Bloch asks why being celibate is okay, basically David says I have a heter — actually, as Rabbi Bloch points out, a petur — from a “serious” rabbi’s rabbi that I don’t have to follow the d’oraysa of pru u’rivu, never mind the reasoning. Obviously, David gives away the game here. Pru u’rivu, again, is a d’oraysa. To borrow from David’s own article, ‘What part of that sentence does he disagree with?’ The truth is his posek is making a compromise in order to keep him in the community. This is metahalacha. He’s entitled to that metahalacha. Orthodox rabbis who seek to extend acceptance to gay people are entitled to make an argument for a similar metahalacha, namely the one Farber actually made (as opposed to the strawman presented in his name) that — just as David’s posek determined it’s impossible to ask him to get married and have kids — it’s impossible to demand what David’s posek asks of him of the entire Jewish LGBT community, and instead the frum have to deal with the facts on the ground: “Certainly, if any homosexual Jewish man or woman feels that he or she wishes to follow the halakha and be celibate and looks to the rabbi for encouragement, the rabbi should give this person all the encouragement he or she needs. However, no Orthodox rabbi should feel duty-bound to urge homosexual Jews to be celibate. This is not a practical option for most people, and advocating this will only cause that person intense pain and guilt.”
4. Obviously some people will want to make the compromises David asks for, Kierkegaardian knights of faith that they are. Obviously some won’t but will still wish to remain in the community. Obviously the community’s decision should be based on a leftward shift that David’s rabbinic opponents argue for toward acceptance of gay people doing what they will if they want all the Jews to become frum. Obviously some communities won’t be able to do that because of their more conservative predilection and not wanting to “normalize” relationships which will at best be viewed as problematic from a Torah Perspective…which, as the rabbis taught us in yeshiva, is different indeed from a Secular Perspective. Obviously it’s sad that this will inevitably result in people who once felt so part of a community becoming outcasts. And obviously people who are outcasts because of that inability should have the right to pursue, yes, full dignity — the right to make what choices they will make, and sorry David, but yes the ABILITY to find a loved one to spend the rest of their lives with in marriage if they want. And obviously, that will provide them with happiness and community that they were denied by folks who refused to give them that dignity in the community they were in previously.