Last week, a discussion was organized at Yeshiva University in NYC called “Being Gay In The Orthodox World: A Conversation with Members of the YU Community.” The event, which took place on December 22, was sponsored by the YU Tolerance Club and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. It was an open event; people from the YU and Stern communities were invited to attend, as were members of the Jewish communities at large. (I received several invitations to go but was unable to make it.) Many of you found out about it on twitter; our most popular tweet, which more of you clicked through than any other, was a link to The Curious Jew‘s transcript of the panel discussion, which Chana posted within a couple hours of the event’s conclusion. This transcript has been as close to hearing about it as those of us who weren’t there could get, since Rabbi Yosef Blau said in his opening remarks:
What we WILL be doing is addressing the pain and the conflict that is caused by someone being gay in the Orthodox world. Our four panelists, one present student and three alumni of Yeshiva, will be speaking about their own lives and experiences. I would ask you not to take pictures of them and not to record to respect privacy. Recordings have an unfortunate tendency to enable someone to take out a snippet and then use it for various and sundry purposes.
Each speaker then went through his own personal story of being gay in the Orthodox world. Dr. Pelcovitz, a psychologist on faculty at YU, presented a psychological/Orthodox perspective; he made sure to emphasise that there is a difference between “feeling” and “doing” gay, and said that “nobody has the right to judge a feeling,” regardless of halakhic understanding. Questions were then taken from the audience of 800 people, and the event ended more or less on time.
But, of course, it didn’t actually end there. Chana (aka, The Curious Jew; a former editor of YU’s student newspaper
The Commentator The Observer), has been posting as the story continues to unfold. And it’s created quite the buzz in the Orthodox community (or, at least in the YU-affiliated Orthodox community). I think it’s worthwhile to read not only her views and, later, concluding thoughts, but also the unfolding story and reply in the greater community.
First, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, YU’s rabbinical school, held a closed event replying to the panel. As it was a boys only event, Chana enlisted a friend to take notes for her; unfortunately, they were only available to YU students as she thought it was an internal (YU-only) response. (But right away, other YU students blogged R’ Twersky’s main points.) Then we got the transcript and a link to the audio recording of R’ Twersky’s response.
I’ll let you read through all of that. There’s a lot to think about and discuss. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with R’ Twersky’s opinion that having the panel discussion was a “Chillul HaShem.” His views support the students who wrote up the following petition:
Dear President Joel and Rabbi Reiss,
The question of sexual orientation is one of the most sensitive, complex, and relevant issues facing Orthodoxy today. Our institution has the unique privilege of standing at the forefront in addressing this issue, attempting to balance sensitivity and openness with an uncompromising dedication to Torah and Halakha.
It is for this reason that we are deeply concerned with the message the recent public forum on homosexuality in Orthodoxy sends to the rest of the world. There certainly is a need to address this important issue; however, it must be addressed with privacy, discretion, and care. A public display of support for individuals who have chosen to openly identify themselves by their alternative lifestyle and desires indicates an implicit, if not explicit, acceptance and approval of a lifestyle that goes against the ideals of the Torah. While trying to be sensitive to the needs of these individuals, the event showed insensitivity to the values we stand for and live our lives by. Instead of creating a Kiddush HaShem, we have unfortunately created a Chillul HaShem.
We, the Talmidei HaYeshiva, express our profound disappointment and embarrassment for the regrettable message that was sent and the Chillul HaShem that was caused.
It upsets me that this view continues to be held in some parts of the Jewish world. Having a discussion does not mean overruling Leviticus 18:22. Trying to force conversations into secret rooms, or trying to silence them at all, is anti-Jewish. It’s at the core of our religion that we discuss, wrestle with, and debate texts. Why should Leviticus 18:22 be any different? I hope that the conversation continues at YU and in the Orthodox community.
Yasher koach to those individuals who participated in the panel.