"Take all of the leaders of the people and hang them before G-d, in front of the sun" [Bamidbar 25:4].
The Discussion Itself gives Legitimacy
In almost twenty years that I have been writing this column (since 5754, that is, 1994) I think that only one time I wrote about "inverted sexual orientation" within the religious community, and I immediately regretted it. One solitary time I agreed to state my position in a television discussion, and I also regretted this afterwards. My reason is very straightforward: Every public discussion on this and similar issues adds to the legitimacy of the subject matter, even if the opinion that is voiced is very critical and sharply and strongly condemns the situation. Some sins are such that any public discussion about them spurs afflicted people to action, and even entices others to emulate them. This, for example, is thought to be true of suicide. Any report accompanied by a discussion – no matter how tragic and sad – is quite likely to encourage others to follow in its footsteps. This is all the more so true with respect to sins of the evil inclination, where every sinner who tells about his sins is interested and even strongly wants to encourage new people to join the "community of sin." Every act of publicity and raising the subject "against the sun" reduces social pressures and enhances the legitimacy, in the eyes of the perpetrators and those who surround them.
But this time I have decided to speak out, in the wake of the solving (?) of the murder in the Bar Noar Club, which has once again turned the spotlight on this dark corner of our lives. My main point is my outrage at the use of the phrase "the proud community" to describe this phenomenon, in this way making it the object of a sophisticated and friendly value judgment. I therefore come to raise my pen in protest at this flawed "community." These two words, prestigious and festive as they are, community and pride, are being used as an envelope of purity for anomalous behavior that is a dramatic perversion of family and social norms. And the entire phenomenon is a prime example of anti-religion (no matter which one) and anti-Judaism.
A Gathering of Anomalous People
I am well aware of the dispute among psychologists and the wise men of behavioral science if it is possible to move away from this type of behavior and to straighten out a person's sexual orientation. I am aware of the suffering of these deviates who want nothing more than normal lives and who go to great lengths to overcome their "inclination." I also hear the cries of such people who consider themselves part of the religious community, in spite of their orientation and their way of life. And I therefore want to emphasize the following: You are individuals, you are at the margin! You are not a community, and there is no cause for pride!
We have never heard in the past that any other anomalous group, from other realms, have gathered together to show their pride, even in cases where the actions were impulsive and uncontrollable. An example would be kleptomania ("a mental disturbance which causes the person to steal obsessively"), or pyromania ("an obsessive urge to light fires"). Even in a case of behavior that does not cause harm to others but is unusual in terms of the human body, the intellect, or the spirit, there is no basis for forming a "community" and for "pride" – but rather shame and secrecy, distress and sadness. It never occurs to people with serious bodily or mental defects to call attention to themselves with colored balloons and brightly colored banners. Such outlandish behavior makes me think of a band of handicapped people who go to the town square to bandage their blemishes in public, in order to glorify their misery...
Delete the Term from the Lexicon
I do not call for banishment, casting out, or out-and-out rejection from the religious community of the sinners who are aware of their situation and who seek help. They should be welcomed with bonds of love. I do not propose that we use the word from the Torah, an abomination, which can be seen as offensive and can have the effect of pushing a person away forever. A better word is "stiya" – deviation – but this too is considered as a rejection and no longer maintains its original meaning as being different from the norm (such as a deviation from an original plan for a building). But I do call for the religious – and secular – communications media to completely abandon the word combination "proud community." The proper word to use is "choreg" – a deviation from the norm. And this should not be used with any connotation of forgiveness and acceptance, but rather with the meaning of a deviation which can be treated and which deserves to be pitied.
On the other hand, I call for total rejection and for removal beyond the religious and social boundaries of anybody who shows pride about their fault, those who publicly flaunt their "status" or gather together to show "community pride" and who join active social clubs of this type. Every attempt to show off this way of life is to be considered "enticement and seduction," something that is very harmful and should be punished in a harsh way. Making the deviations public is treated in this week's Torah portion, in the verse quoted above: "Hang them in front of the sun."
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In the Public Eye
In both halacha and in Jewish philosophy one who sins in private is very different from one who sins publicly. Doing the act in public makes it much more serious and therefore also increases the severity of the punishment. Moshe is commanded to "hang them... before the sun," as quoted above, referring to those who sinned in public with the women of Midyan. The image "before the sun" is measure for measure, as noted by Rabeinu Bechayai: "let G-d's name be sanctified in public, just as they defiled the name, in public." The modern meaning of the phrase "in public" is to report and hold open discussions in the media. Thus, the most appropriate reaction today for such phenomena is to ignore them, to keep them in the dark, to refrain from discussions, and to take them off the media screens.
Two weeks ago, in the Torah portion of Beshalach, we read, "And the soul who does something with hands held high... has blasphemed against G-d" [Bamidbar 15:30]. In his commentary, Ibn Ezra emphasizes the harmful public relations aspect of these actions: "The person has a desire to show that he has no fear of G-d." And this is the source of the harsh ruling by the Rambam: "One who performs a sin with hands held high like Yehoyakim, whether they are simple or serious sins, has no portion in the world to come. And that is what is called finding new faces in the Torah, because such a person had the audacity to show his true face without shame." [Hilchot Teshuvah 3:11].
"Hands held high" equals showing off the face, which equals an open face.