Thursday, November 13, 2014

Put It There - Reflections on Parashat Chayei Sarah 5775

Holding up a Rorschach blotch, the psychiatrist asks, "What do you see here?" 

""That's a couple having sex," replies the patient.

Switching cards, the psychiatrist asks again: "And in this one?"

"That's another couple having sex," replies the patient.

"OK, last one," says the psychiatrist.

"Sorry doc, but that's more people having sex."

The doctor puts down the cards and says, "Sir, you have an obsession with sex."

"Me!" the outraged patient blurts. "You're the one with the dirty pictures!"

****

We live in a pornographic society, where innocence is lampooned and everything is sexualized, from toothpaste to four-year-old girls. So it should come as no surprise that certain rakish biblical pseudo-exegetes have suggested that Father Abraham was gay, based on a purposeful misreading of a verse in this week's parasha.
"And Abraham was getting on in years, and Gcd had blessed him in every way. And so Abraham said to his senior servant, the one to whom he entrusted all his affairs: Place your hand under my thigh, and swear by the One True Gcd of heaven and earth, that you will not take a wife for my son (i.e., Isaac) from the Canaanite girls among whom we dwell." (Gen. 24:1-3)
Abraham asks his servant, Eliezer, to touch the scar of his circumcision, the physical symbol of his covenant with Gcd, in taking this very important oath. The purpose of this act is to impress upon Eliezer the seriousness of the promise he is making.

This act of oath-taking would not have been surprising in antiquity. The English word "testify" comes from the same Latin root as "testicle"; it was customary in ancient Rome to have the oath-taker hold the testes of his master. This was an act of servility and submission; by touching the place of his virility, the servant was acknowledging that the master had the power to enforce the oath. 

The Ibn Ezra, who lived in the 12th century, records that this was the legal form of taking an oath in India in his time. And in Mr. Sammler's Planet, Saul Bellow describes a related incident in which a mugger exposes himself to Sammler, an expression of brute power and cowering submission.

There is no sexual component to this act, any more than getting a hernia exam or a prostate exam or a gynecological exam. Yet these same geniuses also argue that Abraham was a sexual predator, exploiting his wife Sarah's sexuality for his own gain. This is nothing less than the malicious and deliberate character assassination of one of Judaism's most cherished role models.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that the thinkers of these deep thoughts are a certain group of nominally orthodox rabbis, whose open agenda is to lay the foundation for the mainstreaming of homosexuality in Orthodox Judaism. 

In a certain sense, this is understandable: the gay lifestyle is very trendy these days, and weak people always go with the flow. It seems that there is hardly an American family that isn't touched by it. There is also a lot of social and legal pressure to not only destigmatize homosexuality, but to affirm that it is morally equivalent, if not superior to, heterosexuality (after all, heteros have children, who contribute to overpopulation, overflowing landfills and global warming. Ewww.)

And there is clearly a lot of money up for grabs in capitulating to the mob - let's not deny it.

The problem (for them) is that the Torah prohibits the homosexual act in the strongest possible terms, and with the harshest possible penalties. (It is critical to note that the Torah does not recognize homosexuality or gayness as a lifestyle or a genetic predisposition. It recognizes only the act. And like every other act, the moral agent must make a choice - to act or not to act; to fulfill the mitzvah or to violate it. The choice rests squarely upon the conscience of the individual.)

Their solution is to undermine the authority of the Torah prohibition. Not completely at first, but just to weaken it a little. Camels are not allowed inside the tent, but it wouldn't hurt to allow the poor camel to stick his itty bitty nose under one corner of the tent? 

Before long, you will most assuredly be sleeping with a camel. 

Now, in and of itself, this is nothing new; gentiles and free-thinking Jews have been deconstructing the Torah with gay abandon (pardon the pun) for 200 years or so, since Herr Professor Wellhausen expounded his rippingly brilliant Theory. What is troublesome is that nominally orthodox rabbis are now adopting these positions (again, no pun intended).

The sine qua non of Orthodoxy is the belief in the Divine Authorship of the Five Books of Moses. This belief defines the gaping philosophical chasm between the Orthodox and the Movements of Jewish Dissent - the Conservative and the Reform (and their various lesser splinters and offshoots). For an orthodox rabbi to espouse such views is like a lawyer who rejects the basic principle of the rule of law, or a doctor who doesn't believe in cell theory. They may still have their sheepskins, the doctor may even wear a white lab coat and stethoscope, but can you  - would you -  dare entrust your health to that guy?

Here are some of the unvarnished facts about homosexuality:
  • Homosexuals more likely to suffer from depression: "A new study in the United Kingdom has revealed that homosexuals are about 50% more likely to suffer from depression and engage in substance abuse than the rest of the population, reports Health24.com . . . the risk of suicide jumped over 200% if an individual had engaged in a homosexual lifestyle . . . the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual . . . While the Health 24 article suggested that homosexuals may be pushed to substance abuse and suicide because of anti-homosexual cultural and family pressures, empirical tests have shown that there is no difference in homosexual health risk depending on the level of tolerance in a particular environmentHomosexuals in the United States and Denmark - the latter of which is acknowledged to be highly tolerant of homosexuality - both die on average in their early 50's, or in their 40's if AIDS is the cause of death. The average age for all residents in either country ranges from the mid-to-upper-70s."(onenewsnow.com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=255614)
  • Breast Cancer higher among Lesbians: "Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women and is the leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, following cancers of the skin and lung. Recent research has identified risk factors for breast cancer that may differentially affect lesbian and bisexual women, including nulliparity and higher rates of alcohol consumption and overweight, that may place this population at greater risk than heterosexual women of developing breast cancer." (Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, glma.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=feature.showFeature&FeatureID=319&E:\ColdFusion9\verity\Data\dummy.txt)
  • "In their study of the sexual profiles of 2,583 older homosexuals published in Journal of Sex Research, Paul Van de Ven et al. found that "the modal range for number of sexual partners ever [of homosexuals] was 101–500." In addition, 10.2 percent to 15.7 percent had between 501 and 1000 partners. A further 10.2 percent to 15.7 percent reported having had more than 1000 lifetime sexual partners. Paul Van de Ven et al., "A Comparative Demographic and Sexual Profile of Older Homosexually Active Men," Journal of Sex Research 34 (1997): 354."
  • 2% of U.S. population is gay yet it accounts for 61% of HIV infection:  "Men who have sex with men remain the group most heavily affected by new HIV infections. While CDC estimates that MSM represent only 2 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for the majority (61 percent; 29,300) of all new HIV infections in 2009. Young MSM (ages 13 to 29) were most severely affected, representing more than one quarter of all new HIV infections nationally (27 percent; 12,900 in 2009)."  (Center for Disease Control, cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/HIVIncidencePressRelease.html)
  • "Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) represent approximately 2% of the US population, yet are the population most severely affected by HIV and are the only risk group in which new HIV infections have been increasing steadily since the early 1990s . . . ” (Center for Disease Control,  http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm)
  • Gay men lifespan shorter than non gay men: "The life expectancy for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for men in general. Robert S. Hogg et al., "Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men," International Journal of Epidemiology 26 (1997): 657." (Exodus Global Alliance, exodusglobalalliance.org/ishomosexualityhealthyp60.php)
  • "In 2007, MSM [Men Sex with Men] were 44 to 86 times as likely to be diagnosed with HIV compared with other men, and 40 to 77 times as likely as women." (Center for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm)
  • Domestic Violence higher among homosexuals: "'the incidence of domestic violence among gay men is nearly double that in the heterosexual population.'(Gwat Yong Lie and Sabrina Gentlewarrier, "Intimate Violence in Lesbian Relationships: Discussion of Survey Findings and Practice Implications," Journal of Social Service Research 15 (1991): 41–59." (exodusglobalalliance.org/ishomosexualityhealthyp60.php)
  • Sex of women with women at greater health risk than women with men: "For women, a history of sex with women may be a marker for increased risk of adverse sexual, reproductive, and general health outcomes compared with women who reported sex exclusively with men." (American Journal of Public Health,  ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/97/6/1126

These stats, heartbreaking as they are,  speak only to the immediate health of the individual, and do not even begin to touch on the long-term social and ethical precedents that widespread homosexuality establishes.

Here's the thing: the Author of Life gives us this Owner's Manual, called the Torah, in which He describes the proper care and maintenance of this crazy and complicated thing called LIFE.

Do you think maybe the Torah anticipated these negative consequences when it enacted the prohibition? "If you will diligently hearken to the voice of Hashem, you Gcd, to do what is right in His eyes, to listen and observe all fo His laws; all of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt I will not put upon you, for I am the Gcd that heals you." (Ex: 15:27)

Does no one see that by conducting one's interpersonal affairs within the guidelines of halachah (Jewish Law), one can have a deeply fulfilling and rewarding intimate life with a ZERO PERCENT chance of contracting STDs, and the concomitant reduced risk of the associated uro/gynecological cancers? 

All of that misplaced compassion defining homosexuals as a discriminated class should be more properly directed at encouraging people to make better, less destructive, choices about their sex lives.

One last point: Judaism has never been a populist movement. It has been our historical role to stand against the prevailing social morays, not to give religious sanction to them. Judaism was the original counter-culture.

Abraham was a pain in the tush to Nimrod and the Sumerian pagans; we Jews were a headache to the Greeks, and to the Romans after them. Today, radical feminism and militant gay advocacy are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame; tomorrow it will be something new and more provocative. To be sure, in every generation there have been Jewish hellenizers, appeasers, reformers, modernizers. But in every generation they fall away, largely forgotten by Jewish history. 

A feel-good Judaism defined by what is popular or trendy or lucrative is not Judaism, it's mob rule. History has taught us again and again that only the Torah and its adherents endure. "Etz chaim hee lamachazikim bah," the Torah is a Tree of Life to those who choose to cling to it.

Today as always, guided by Torah, Jews stand alone as the conscience of the world. The Jewish universalist vision of an ethical, compassionate monotheism has much to contribute to the ongoing social dialogue and to the ethical refinement of humankind. And if, by teaching an authentic, unadulterated Torah message, rabbis must speak in opposition to the newest cultural verities, must even risk sitting in jail, then so be it; there is ample historical precedent for that as well. 

"Trust in Gcd; take heart and have courage; and above all, trust in Gcd."

Shabbat Shalom.