1/29/2011

Homosexuals and Conversion

A recent article by Dina Kraft profiles the plight of a homosexual would-be convert to Judaism. It's written in a way that arouses the reader's sympathy: this poor, obviously Jewish (I mean, come on, he's wearing a star-of-David necklace) kid running up against an intolerant and backward Orthodox establishment. You've got Uri Regev imploring the IDF not to be part of a "wall barring such soldiers from entering into the Jewish fold and declaring them to be unworthy of Jewish status." And you've got the young man's rationalization/ recontextualization of the Torah at the end, because God does not hate homosexuals.

Here are my thoughts:
  • I agree with Regev's implication that the state should get out of the conversion business (at least I hope that's his implication, not that the state should recognize Reform conversions). The notion that the state is involved in religious conversion is absurd, and should end as soon as possible. I was gratified to learn recently that Rav Amital z"l seems to have felt this way as well (pp. 199-200 of Be-emunato - which is coming out in English over the summer).
  • If you read between the lines of the article, he never told the panel of rabbis that he's gay, but they found out anyway (he didn't go out of his way to hide it, either, apparently). If I was on that panel, it would be something I'd like to know. Back at UMD, I once received a long letter from a young woman who was interested in converting, and in fact ended up converting. In her letter, she described a protracted spiritual journey that led to her conclusion that Judaism was right for her. It was really quite touching. Then I got on Facebook and discovered that she was "in a relationship" with a Jewish, in fact Orthodox-affiliated, student. To me, the fact that she did not disclose her relationship was more problematic than the relationship itself. In our first meeting, I told her that she had to dump the guy if she wanted to begin the process (she did). Rabbis involved in this process have to make it known that they're not a bunch of pushovers or rubber-stamps, that the process is serious, and that we're going to look into matters more earnestly than you might expect. 
  • I'm not sure what an "aberration of Jewish law" is, or what the original Hebrew term used by the rabbi was. Was it an indication that gay sex does, in fact, deviate from Jewish law, in which case it's a neutral statement, or is it calling the kid a deviant or aberration. Impossible to tell from context.
  • The army spokesman's statement is either excellent or problematic. When saying that "sexual orientation cannot have an impact on his or her ability to appropriately complete the conversion process," was he saying that orientation itself has no impact, which is true, or that homosexuality in general cannot hinder conversion, which is false.
  • I've often wondered under what conditions I would be willing to be megayer a homosexual, and frankly I would be strongly disinclined under all but the most limited circumstances. I've discussed the issue with other rabbis as well, and I understand the reasons some of them have for leniency. This case, however, seems to be a classic case of one accepting everything but one mitzva, which the Gemara through Shulchan Arukh disqualify. It's open and shut. This kid thinks that gay sex is not a problem, that it's muttar, and that's clear ground for rejection. The same would apply, by the way, to any other mitzva in the Torah. Obviously, this one mitzva is particularly painful to this young man, and I sympathize with him. But I strongly believe that any conversation about Orthodoxy and homosexuality has to begin with certain mutual acknowledgment, one of which is that the Torah forbids gay sex.
  • In most cases, Orthodox conversion in Israel is necessary because it's a ticket to all sorts of other parts of Israeli society (as bizzaro-Heinrich Heine once said, "Conversion to Judaism is the passport to Israeli culture"), especially marriage. In the US, Orthodox conversion is far more rigid than in Israel, but people know that if they're not interested in keeping halakha they can go elsewhere. In Israel, due to the aforesaid issues of personal status, they can't go elsewhere. But this guy CAN go elsewhere! What's he worried about, not being able to marry a Jewish girl? He's already a citizen, and he wants to marry a member of the same sex. It's not like conversion's the only thing holding that up with the Rabbanut. So he can go convert with Uri Regev's beit din, and shalom al  Yisrael.
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