PART 6: Love and Sexuality
|A major shift in societal attitudes toward
homosexuality occurred with the realization that this
interest in someone of the same sex was not simply a
concern with how one enjoyed physical sexuality.
Homosexuality became seen as further describing one's
disposition in regard to romantic love. The argument for
tolerance was spurred by a perceived realization that the
homosexual could only find the connection, the love, the
deepest of bonds -- that we all wish and hope for -- with
someone of the same sex. As I described in Update Dec. 92:
Love and Sexuality: The Physical and the Spiritual, this attitude was
not only reinforced in the movie "Prelude to a
Kiss", but this was part of the very intent of the
movie. Homosexuality was about love and to deny a
homosexual a right to pursue love was seen, given the
value that is given to love, as simply wrong. And so
society's view of homosexuality went through a complete
transformation for to deny gay rights was to deny love.
"Trembling Before G-d" builds upon this perspective. We do not empathize with the plight of David because he is unable to have sexual pleasure in a preferred manner. We empathize because the result of denying the fruition of his homosexual drive, as demanded within Orthodoxy, is loneliness. Similarly, we can relate to "Malka and Leah" because of the warmth between them. They are enunciating a desire to be together, to share their lives together. The sexuality is downplayed. There is a scene in which "Malka and Leah" make their large double bed but there is no scene of any clear sexual contact, such as a romantic kiss, between them. The issue is love and the question and challenge is: how can Orthodoxy deny love?.
1 There are those who will argue that this is all a smokescreen. They contend that homosexuality is about hedonistic physical pleasure, period. If a person wants a relationship/friendship then have one, you don't need to make it sexual. The problem is that such arguments emerge from a belief system that inherently distinguishes between love and sexuality. As I further develop in Update Dec. 92: Love and Sexuality: The Physical and the Spiritual, Torah is not such a system. Within the corpus of Torah thought, there is a general perception of a strong connection between body and soul. In the same vein, there is also perceived by many to be a strong connection between sexual desire and the drive for love and bonding with another. In the very halachic contention that we marry someone of the opposite sex, we are inherently connecting sexuality and relationship. Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 21:3 specifically states that, included in the search for a wife, one must consider sexual attraction. Sex and romantic love, that special bond between husband and wife, are intertwined. This is not to say that a drive for homosexual sex must necessarily reflect the idea that a love-bond is only possible with someone of the same sex; yet, if the Torah points to the sexual drive having a connection to love and relationships, it also should not be surprising that the gay individual describes a connection between whom he/she wishes to sleep with and whom he/she wishes to live with. The fact is that to fully deal with the issue of homosexuality within Orthodoxy, it is first necessary to deal with an issue that is often, for various reasons including issues of tzniut, not investigated. What is the connection between sex and love? Why should it be that one of the factors in the determination of our life partner is whether there is physical, sexual attraction?
We do not have the time and space, at this time, to fully investigate this matter. The simple answer is that this is reflective of the connection of body and soul. If there is a draw and a pull that brings two individuals together, it is not surprising that it should be felt on many levels, in the body and in the soul. Interestingly, though, such a perspective is ultimately only explainable if one accepts the idea that there is a Thoughtful Creator. If the world is created according to some plan, then it is understandable that we would find connections between various aspects of existence. Within viewpoints devoid of such a perception, the connection of love and sex is harder to explain. How is it possible that an initial statement such as 'she is really good looking, I would like to go out with her' not only can result in but is often the first step to marriage? The most straightforward answer is that God created a link between a perception of physical attractiveness and an underlying soul connection. Yet, it is precisely because of this belief in a Thoughtful Creator, that Torah must ultimately reject an acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and an argument that this form of love and sexuality is a proper manifestation of human bonding.
The secular thinker accepts the nature of this world as a given; he/she then attempts to determine the best way to respond to the reality as presented. The question of 'why this is so?' may be entertained but the desired response is expected to be built on causal considerations. When one does not accept a Thoughtful Creator, the in-depth question of 'why' and 'what does this reveal' is not asked. We respond simply to what is given. When one accepts a Thoughtful Creator, one is contending that what was created was done so with a purpose. We, thus, perceive in creation not simply what is but a message via what is. This plays an important role in our understanding of sexuality. To the secular thinker, love and sexuality may be connected and we may ask why nature emerged in this way. But the whole makes no statement about the parts. In accepting a Thoughtful Creator, we not only ask why God created this connection but we also wish to understand how the parts interact. What does love say about sexuality? What does sexuality say about love?
In sexuality we actually encounter three factors. One is pleasure. A second is love. The third is procreation. The secular thinker may attempt to explain why these three factors interact but there is no value inherent in the interaction. A belief in a Thoughtful Creator demands one not only to understand the connection of the factors in the whole but also to determine the effect of the whole on the parts. Why did God connect pleasure, love and procreation in the whole that is sexuality? This is not to say that all three factors must be present for the sexual act to have value. There are many cases, for example, where the Halacha finds value, even great value, in a sexual act (between husband and wife) that is not procreative -- yet to fully understand sexuality, it is necessary to consider, in any theoretical investigation, all three factors.
It is at this point that a Torah response to homosexuality must find itself at odds with a secular response. The secularist responds to what is. To the secular individual, in the case of homosexuality you encounter an individual who maintains that he/she can only find sexual pleasure or a meaningful relationship with someone of the same sex. The fact that this reality not only means that procreation is not possible but entirely negates any procreative factor is irrelevant. This is what is and we should respond in the best manner to what is. To one who accepts a Thoughtful Creator, however, this is not enough. There emerges the question of why, but that, in itself, does not necessarily demand a different response than the secularist. To accept a Thoughtful Creator does not mean that we understand the Thoughtful Creator and just because something doesn't make sense to the feeble human mind does not mean that it is not the creation of the Thoughtful Creator. As such, it is impossible to contend that, since the homosexual drive challenges the overall whole of sexuality, it must not be real. Perhaps it is a real drive, including a drive of love; we just do not understand God's creation of this drive given the overall perspective of sexuality. Yet unlike the secularist's simple acceptance of this reality, the existence of the homosexual drive must be perceived as perplexing. It does not make sense to us. It demands a question in the same manner that other perplexities of reality demand a question.
This is not to be taken lightly. The fact that something exists in the realm of the question changes our whole response to the matter. It is the fact that "Malka and Leah" don't see the question that is troubling. This doesn't seem to make sense in a world created by a Thoughtful Creator with purpose. Why? And it is at this point that the voice of Halacha has to be viewed with greater force. The Halacha would seem to project a view of sexuality that reflects the whole, a complete perspective of sexuality.
It is precisely at this point that Rabbi Greenberg's assertion that we can change the law becomes inherently problematic. True, Halacha often responds to the plight of the individual and community. We are sensitive to the pain of the human condition and while it may not be a factor in actual halachic deliberation, it can motivate one to search for an allowance. (For example, the recognition that, if one declares a chicken not kosher, a poor family may be without meat for Shabbat and be devoid of their only meat meal that week cannot be a direct factor in the determination of whether the chicken is kosher or not. But it can be, and is, a strong motivation for a rabbi to work hard, spend much time and search most diligently for a reason to maintain that the chicken is kosher.) We are empathetic to the gay individual who states that, in not pursuing someone of the same sex, he/she is existentially lonely. We understand that there is some connection between love and sexuality. But, it is our recognition of a Thoughtful Creator that makes us fully understand this. And the halachic statement forbidding homosexual unions further reflects this recognition of a Thoughtful Creator. To simply state that we can change the law in the face of the reality of pain, is to think as a secularist. The one who accepts the Thoughtful Creator and believes that Torah law is also a reflection of the Thoughtful Creator must also consider the realm of ideas and ideals. It is not enough to respond to the reality of love and sexuality; it is necessary to understand love and sexuality. The law makes sense. The reality does not. There is a problem. There is a demanded solution. There is a question, a most painful question. But the answer is not always to make the law fit reality, especially when that will only further the question. Sometimes the answer is to somehow strive to make reality fit the law.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht