"Trembling Before G-d": Analyzing Homosexuality & Orthodoxy

While the movie "Trembling Before G-d" does not deal specifically with the issue of marriage, it must be a consideration in reviewing the movie. "Malka and Leah" do complain that nachus for parents often only means seeing their children married with families. Their lifestyle does not provide this nachus and they feel that this reflects a certain level of narrow-mindedness. Is there some truth to this assertion? The fact is that marriage and family are the basic building blocks of the Torah society. "Malka and Leah" are outside this structure. Confronting the Torah's view of homosexuality must also demand of us to consider the role of marriage and family within Torah.

Interestingly, while the movie does not address this issue, in the movie's DVD package there is a second disk with special features that includes interviews with rabbis -- and there the issue, at least, emerges. In dealing with the plight of the gay individual, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, Baltimore, basically makes a statement that marriage and family is not the only way to achieve Torah success. He contends, quoting the Brisker Rav, that the gay individual is, effectively, exempt from the obligation to have children -- and that one should not be dismayed for there are other ways to serve God. He tells the story of a gay individual who, since he was a bachelor and thus not tied down to family responsibilities, was able to devote his life to building various institutions in Israel. In certain ways, and this is not necessarily connected to the issue of homosexuality and Torah, we may be too narrow in our definitions of nachus and could be more open to differing life decisions. While marriage and family are important, there are other values that can be pursued in life.

Yet, there is a vast difference between the view of Rabbi Feldman and the view that is alluded to by "Malka and Leah". Rabbi Feldman is ultimately discussing how we should view an individual who, for one reason or another, does not marry yet still observes a halachic lifestyle; there can be other sources of nachus in such a lifestyle. Whether one is married or not should not be the sole criteria in structuring our communal relationships. "Malka and Leah", effectively, are challenging our very understanding of marriage. They are not just stating that their parents should have nachus from them even though they are not married. There is derision in their tone. They are wondering why the heterosexual union of marriage with ensuing family should have such unique value. They are not just single individuals wondering why they cannot, as singles, also be seen as having value within the community. They are further bothered because their relationship is perceived not to have value.

This is, actually, part of a general subject that is affecting many countries, at this time, as the issue of same sex marriages is being debated in various countries including the United States and Canada. The proponents of gay marriages want same sex relationships to be perceived as having the same value as heterosexual relationships. Aside from the issue of value determination, there is also the question of how the legitimization of same sex marriages will affect society? To fully approach the question one must have some position on the value of marriage in general. In our secular societies, this is in itself an issue that is in flux. For the Torah-committed Jew, however, there is much information from the sources on the value and importance of marriage -- and while there may be differences of opinion on the subject, these presentations are all built upon the concept that marriage is uniquely heterosexual. It is not simply a shared feeling between two individuals that is the basis of the unique marriage relationship. It is the unique bond between man and woman -- a bond, building on the words of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, that transforms two separate beings into one -- that is the basis of the Torah view of marriage.

This is most significant. Advocates of same sex marriages are declaring that romantic love exists between two individuals. The Torah view is that romantic love is between a man and a woman. The desire of "Malka and Leah" to be together in the Future World is precisely on point. Ultimately, in voicing that desire, they are stating that a relationship is between two beings. The distinction of man and woman is lost. The Torah challenges this perception and thereby does indeed challenge the value of their relationship. Rabbi Steve Greenberg uses the verse of Bereishit 2:24 to argue for the need for the human being to have a romantic relationship. The verse, however, does not simply discuss two human beings. A man is to leave his parents and cleave specifically onto his wife -- and thereby become one being. It is not merely coincidence that T.B. Sanhedrin 58a (and, interestingly, in a slightly different yet significant manner, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:5) presents this verse as the source for the prohibition of homosexual behaviour within the Noachide Code.

The Torah's view is that the distinction between man and woman is of ultimate significance in our life endeavours. This qualitative distinction fundamentally declares that there is no comparison between the heterosexual relationship and the gay relationship. The former has distinct and singular value because it is between a male and a female. This is the basic Torah parameter of marriage and it is from this basis that the Torah view of family emerges. In a certain way, marriage and family are the basic building blocks of the Torah society because it is a this point that man and woman meet. The same-sex relationship, by definition, is outside this realm.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht