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"B'Tzelem Elokhim!"

06/26/2018 03:35:50 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

A colleague of mine, who is a well known young Modern Orthodox Rabbi living and working in Washington, D.C., attended an interdenominational rabbinic retreat in Newport, Rhode Island.  This retreat brought together Rabbis from every denomination of Judaism.  He stated that there was one particular moment that happened on the retreat that will stick with him forever.  On the last night of the retreat, the film "Trembling before God" was shown to the attendees.  the film movingly and emotionally portrays the conflicted and torn lives of individuals who come from a background of being deeply rooted in Orthodox Judaism and wish to remain within the Orthodox Jewish Community.   The conflict these individuals were having was that they had publicly announced they were gay.  My colleague said that the director of the movie did a wonderful job of contrasting the views of the Rabbis whom he interviewed for the film with those of the Jewish community and the families of these Orthodox Jews who are gay.  The Orthodox Rabbis who were interviewed responded, as expected, that these gay Jews were in violation of halakhah (Jewish Law).  But, more importantly, they also stated that a gay Jew - any gay Jew...every gay Jew - is someone whom we must love.

After the film ended, my colleague engaged in a discussion with 35 other Rabbis, some of them openly gay, who had challenged him as to how he could live in a society whose laws inflict pain on individuals who are innocent.  He said that he sat there and openly wept for the pain that every Orthodox gay Jew as well as those gay Jews who are not Orthodox but choose to follow an Orthodox lifestyle who are forever engaged in an extremely serious struggle. When he was able to regain his composure he cited the words from Parashat Chukat as well as Rashi's commentary on the Torah text.  The Torah tells us: "Zot chukat ha-Torah" - "This is the Law of the Torah."  Rashi comments on the word "chok" - "law": "For when the Satan and other nations will throw arguments at you and say: 'What is the meaning of this law and what is the reason for it?' (Rashi is peaking about the Law of the "Parah Adumah" - "the Red Heifer") we should respond: 'It is a "chok" ("law") before me and you have no permission to second-guess it.' "

My colleague further pointed out that according to the Midrash, King Solomon, the wisest Jew who ever lived, stated the following in Megillat Kohelet: "I said that I would understand it, but it is distant from me." Why was it that Rashi and King Solomon say there are no explanations for the Law of the Parah Adumah?  Simply because, stated my colleague, they felt that no single suggestion justified the "chok" in their eyes.  He then declared that he felt the same way about the Torah prohibition about living an openly gay life: it is HaShem's law, and it is distant from him (i.e.- my colleague).

My colleague suggested that because of his having viewed "Trembling before God," he believes the Orthodox Jewish Community must formulate a better response to someone who believes in the beauty of Torah and halakhah and chooses to live life as a homosexual Jew.  "Our response should be to create an environment where we as a family (i.e.- Synagogue/community) can sit together and say that this is a Law of the Torah but it is distant from me and I do not understand it; I therefore have no permission to reject the prohibition (i.e.- one who violates it)."

Sage words from a young Sage.  We must never forget that each one of us - all of us - have been created "B'Tzelem Elokhim' - "in the Image of Hashem."


Tue, July 27 2021 18 Av 5781