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Captain Obvious Reacts to David Benkof

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, 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.

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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


Kuzari: A Response to Dovid Gottlieb, David Greenberg, and Meir Goldberg

This email was written in response to somebody who sent me Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb’s attempted refutation of the Mexica migration as a mass revelation counterexample to the Kuzari Principle. Rabbi Gottlieb’s post relied heavily on quotes sent to him by one David Greenberg. Since then, Rabbi Meir Goldberg has cited Rabbi Gottlieb’s article as fact on his kiruv website, claiming that “the Aztec national revelation was relayed to the people by a few priests” so I thought I would publicize my email for those who might find it of interest.
Dear [Name Redacted],

Thank you for sending this to me. I apologize for not getting it till now. This is no longer my main email so I only check it every few days.

Rabbi Gottlieb tells us that “this is a story placed so far in the past that no information survives from that time.” But the Mexica migration happened in the 14th century and I am aware of no sources claiming it happened before the alleged giving of Torah at Sinai. With due respect, in pursuit of a narrative which he prima facie wishes to adopt, the rabbi has lost coherence and forgotten the principles of logic he claims to be marshaling for his argument. (This isn’t an argument against Kuzari in particular, but it is at least interesting to note that this loss of coherence in pursuit of an a priori narrative is an old pattern in Rabbi Gottlieb’s writing which goes back to his days at Johns Hopkins. See e.g. TS Weston’s 1982 review of his book Ontological Economy).

Let’s look now at David Greenberg’s quotes, which at least prima facie constitute an argument against the Aztec myth being a counterargument to the Kuzari Principle. I commend Mr. Greenberg’s willingness to navigate Google Books to look into the questions at hand, but I’m afraid he’s misunderstood the argument. For example, he quotes p. 32 of the Handbook to Life in the Aztec World as discussing divine messages given by the priests, but nobody is using those as counterarguments to Kuzari. Indeed, in my essay, I explicitly noted that “through his priests, [the] deity led the Aztecs on a migratory journey.” The trouble for our apologist friends is that prophecies are fulfilled via miracles which are indeed witnessed by the Aztec people. See for example p. 144 of the same book. It is interesting to me that Rabbi Gottlieb is apparently unaware of this fatal flaw in Mr. Greenberg’s argument.

In conclusion, I can certainly understand that faith in a religion one was raised with or one was indoctrinated with at a latter age is a powerful thing. I myself was once a baal teshuva who believed he came to religion through logic (and indeed, nobody mekarved me when I made that decision in the North Georgia mountains at 16). But as William Lane Craig or Dovid Gottlieb can marshal every similar proof in the world for their views — and they are similar — I submit that their reasons for actual belief are also similar. B’emunah shleimah, as they say.

Feel free to share this email with anybody you feel might assist you in your search for truth.


Mark Pelta

Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized