Monday, July 10, 2006

No Return to the Closet

This article is from Ynet.

Rabbi Akiva preferred 'love your neighbor as yourself' over the 'abomination' of homosexual sex
Fania Oz-Salzberger (Amos Oz's daughter - and straight!)

To those Orthodox Jews who oppose the Gay Pride parade

I write to you as a secular Jew, with a deep respect for you and your beliefs. But only when that respect is mutual. My principles, morals and my way of life are as important to me as Jewish law is to you. I feel no inferiority, need to apologize or discomfort with my "partial" Judaism.

My cart is not empty, and my beliefs are well reasoned and crystallized. They are called secular, liberal humanism. I have written these lines in a spirit of pleasantness and manners. I hope they are received in the same way.

Losing battle
I understand your anger and pain over the Gay Pride parade planned next month for Jerusalem. It is clear to me why it is difficult for you to see homosexuals and lesbians, alongside their straight supporters, marching through the holy city with their heads held high. I know you find kissing and hugging in public offensive, especially between members of the same sex, and I appreciate that it stands in contrast to your beliefs. Still, allow me to tell you why in the long run you are fighting a losing battle.

There is no way to turn back the clock. The values of a liberal society cannot be folded up and returned to the historical closet, unless we are willing to dismantle all of modern Israel society. Most Israelis would be unwilling to pay this price.

The fight against homosexual public legitimacy is lost, just like the fight against bare-shouldered women, bare-headed men and heterosexual couples walking arm-in-arm in public. Your fight is destined to fail, just like you failed to censure expressions of sexuality in the Israeli media and art and literature and film.

You have no hope, just like you had no hope when you tried to silence or scare or re-educate thousands of people with a wide variety of opinions from gaining public voice.

Free to offend
No longer will the multi-faceted Israeli society be channeled or disciplined, and the more society matures, the more faces it acquires. To me, this is a good thing, but even without my opinion, this is how liberal societies develop in the modern world. No one can beat a pluralistic society into an Orthodox template. Plenty of 20th century totalitarian regimes tried and failed, not before spilling huge amounts of blood.

Every free society now recognizes, on both a legal and societal level, the ability of each individual to express his sexuality openly, in addition to his political opinions and other preferences, as long as they do not physically harm others or present a clear danger to public safety.

I'll tell you something tough, but it's not something I created. The Bible itself, in the Book of Chronicles, says it is forbidden to hurt another person, but we are permitted to hurt other people's feelings. Essentially, it says we have no choice but to offend others: There is no way to express an opinion without offending someone else, and there is no personal freedom without freedom of speech, and there is no democracy without personal freedom, and there is no modern, functioning society that is not democratic. Therefore, until we find a better recipe, voices must not be silenced, and hands must not be tied of those whose actions upset others.

Proud about what?
But why must we march with our heads held high, ask "moderate religious people" and "enlightened secularists" alike. Even more, they want to know what these homosexuals and lesbians have to be proud about. I will propose several answers.

First of all is the principle of equality. Every person has the right to express his sexual identity in public, within normative limits of general society. If straights have this right, gays do, too. That which the former seek to forbid to the latter should be forbidden to the former as well.

The sight of two men kissing makes you sick, you say? So sorry to offend. I, for example, feel nauseous when I read the talkbacks to articles on this website that curse me and those like me, and those who aren't like me. It is nauseating, offensive and repulsive, and to me it is also a blow to a society's dignity, but it is also legal and legitimate and stems from the principles of free speech and individual freedom and democracy. Insults are a small price to pay, in my opinion, for living in a free society.

What is pride?
Secondly, what does "pride" mean? The literal Hebrew phrase for the homosexual community means "the proud ones," and there is a secret to their pride. It is a pride that pursues you, the pride of the outcast and the pride of the scorned. Allow every person to love who and how they want, and no one will feel the need to hang their pride out in the open.

Or the opposite: Let all lovers take pride, and let all haters be ashamed. Thus, love will be increased in the world. They say there isn't enough.

Competing commands
And what will happen to Jerusalem, our holy city, and to Israel, a country whose Jewish nature takes precedence over its democratic nature to many? Will the homosexuals and their supporters defile the holy, or will they remind Jerusalem that all people were created in the image of God? Both are written in the book of Leviticus, which commands, "you should not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22), but also says, " You should not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you should love your neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord" (ibid 19:18).

These are two faces of Judaism, and sometimes we must make choices. There was once a great humanist called Akiva, who chose the command to love others, and said it was the Torah's greatest principle. But has Orthodox Judaism chosen to abandon the command to love others?

It is not my intention to bait you. Many of you are disgusted by the sight of a secular Jew preaching moral lessons from the Torah and Talmud (this should really have made you happy) (even if you could have been happy about it). But I ask you, humbly and respectfully, to think again about your beliefs and to examine your ethical priorities. What do you do when two Torah commands contradict one another?

Choose democracy
I assume that the fury and the threats will work, and that the pride march will not take place this year in Jerusalem. I assume a violent man will commit the sort of crime prohibited by the ten commandments (which, by the way, don't prohibit homosexual sex).

These two options will be very bad for Israeli society, for us, for our humanity and for our Judaism. So shout out. Protest. Hold a counter-protest. Try to get a democratic majority to change the law. And if you offend my liberal, secular senses, so be it. Those are the rules of the game.

And as far as the Torah is concerned, listen respectfully. But remember that all the Torah's paths are pleasant, and all the Torah's roads are peace.

Dr. Fania Oz-Salzberger is a senior lecturer at Haifa University and the head of the Posen Forum for political thought


At 7/12/2006 4:45 AM, Blogger Sam said...

WOW! Wonderfully written article.

At 7/18/2006 7:29 AM, Blogger Daniel, the Guy in the Desert said...

This statement is cogent, well reasoned, and speaks in terms that her hearer could understand, if he had a desire to understand.


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