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Won’t Be Silenced
February 1, 2012 11:03 PM   Subscribe

Chaim Levin appeared in a video as part of the It Gets Better project (previously). A staff reporter for the Jewish Press criticised Chaim (referred to as "Dovid") in an op-ed; Chaim's response led to threats against the paper, which has now supported Chaim and declared that it "won't be silenced".

Chaim's mother Bella Levin comments on Chaim's article. Chaim spent a lot of time with Project Jonah, which purports to cure gayness with its manipulative techniques.
posted by Joe in Australia (34 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I will never, ever understand people who want the world to be a darker, harder, harsher place.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


They already live in a dark, hard, harsh place and are insanely jealous of those of us who don't.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:33 PM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I gather the Jewish Press is an Orthodox-geared publication, so this really isn't any more surprising than when Christian fundamentalists do the same thing. The story is basically just another example of religious extremists being assholes.
posted by Hoopo at 11:34 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Before we begin the usual organized-religion negativity so common here on the blue, think of this:
If Chaim's public story saves *even one life*, it changes the relatively (but not completely) closed Orthodox Jewish world.

Orthodoxy, despite its claims of ageless custom, does change over time, but at its own pace and by its own Jewish logic, from its own people. Such as gay folk's loving families and friends.

Orthodoxy has adapted to male legal monogamy (surprise! - European Jews only required a single wife from the 1500s under Christian pressure, and now may have more than one again, although it's vanishingly rare in practice); the printed, not calligraphed text; the telephone; electricity; the Internet; and female public legal experts (we don't call them rabbis.... yet). Male homosexuality is no more forbidden than charging interest, or adultery with a married woman, or not observing Shabbat restrictions. Orthodox Jews find ways of doing all of the above while staying in their Orthodox world. They'll eventually get used to gay men as they have to lesbians (who face very different/fewer Jewish legal restrictions).

But only if enough Orthodox Jews come out and demand to stay in their communities, and have enough allies to support them. Gevurah - strength - to them all!
posted by Dreidl at 11:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


SILENCE = DEATH

Suicide isn't AIDS, but it's still deadly.

apparently DEATH = AN OPPORTUNITY TO REACH UNIQUE LEVELS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS? Can one just settle for the boring everyday righteousness of non-dead people?
posted by nicebookrack at 11:56 PM on February 1, 2012


And another note: Jews are quite accustomed to outsiders bashing our practices, and demanding that we follow non-Jewish ways. Many of our cultural habits exist to resist these outside pressures. The excuses of our communal tormentors, from a Jewish historical view, are irrelevant, because the demand that we *stop living Judaism as Jewishly defined* stays the same.

Trashing Judaism, Orthodox or otherwise, is not going to make us accept even one queer. (And I am one of those Jewish queers, if my screen name isn't enough of a clue. I am a long-term LGBTQ activist, former synagogue leader, and an educated and observant Jew encouraging both continuity and change to my communities) Listening respectfully to difference, being culturally sensitive, and supporting sustainable change from both inside and outside the Jewish communities will help. Calling us extremist religious bigots will not.
posted by Dreidl at 12:15 AM on February 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


I was going to comment about having to google so many terms in those, and then I realized that it wasn't so different from other groups in the world.

How is "mekayem the mitzvah of shofar" so different from "LF 2 DPS 4 BH" in terms of the information conveyed? When you know the underlying concepts that these represent, it makes complete sense to you. It both communicates within and separates from groups, based on a specialized vocabulary.

And then I read it all over again and it seems to be that he is reaching out, trying to bridge a division that most of us don't even realize exist, and at the same time showing us that these divisions exist, bringing us knowledge, even wisdom, and enlightenment about a part of the world we were ignorant of.

And that's something to treasure.

(and I still don't understand what that phrase means.)
posted by mephron at 12:32 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The writer of that op-ed piece is such a jerk. First, he complains that seeing Chaim on you tube "pained him" and made his heart drop, and then whines that We live in a self-centered society where the only thing that matters is "me" and "my feelings. Maybe if you took your own advice, ass, you wouldn't have had to write this wretched article.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:36 AM on February 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Here is a compassionate and well-thought-out piece about queer people within the Orthodox community. The writer is from a somewhat controversial/non-mainstream Modern Orthodox school, though.
The piece is particularly interesting because it is critical of both the "Declaration" AND the more lenient "Statement of Principles" (which was considered groundbreaking--in suggesting acceptance--by some people when it was first published) for their lack of empathy.

mephron, I'm not sure which article you saw that in, but "mekayem the mitzvah of the shofar" = "fulfill the commandment of the shofar (ram's horn)" - specifically, to hear the sound of the shofar on certain holidays.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:15 AM on February 2, 2012


Hoopo, this *is* surprising (to me, at least) because it's not "just another example of religious extremists being assholes." It's a religious extremist publication serving as a platform for someone's assholery, but then eventually going out on a limb to support the person he attacked. This week's editorial may not quite be all "yay, gay is OK!" but it's calling the Orthodox community out for treating gay people poorly and driving them to suicide. That's something.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:35 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Really, you should read the last link first. Seriously. The paper comes down, in the end, pretty firmly on the side of "gays are part of the Jewish community and deserve the same respect as any other Jew." To whit, they won't be silenced for supporting gays in the Jewish community.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:16 AM on February 2, 2012


Yeah, I agree with Joey Michaels. Here's a highlight from the Jewish Press's editorial:
Until politics exits the science, it won’t be known if homosexuality is genetic, hormonal, neurological, psychological, or a choice. The Torah itself is very clear on where it stands on homosexual acts.

But the Torah is also very clear on how one should treat one’s fellow Jew, and certainly one who tries to be religious — whether he or she succeeds or not — should not be driven by fellow Jews to contemplate suicide.

A situation where religious Jews are provoking children and adults who are different to consider suicide is unthinkable and unacceptable... People can do teshuvah (repent) for many acts against halacha, but what forgiveness can there be for pushing someone so far that he or she would commit suicide?
This editorial is basically putting gay sex on the same level as eating pork. It's something Orthodox Jews aren't supposed to do, but it doesn't justify hatred or bullying.

In short, the editorial is saying "Homosexuals can be good people but gay-bashers can't." That's an astoundingly progressive stance from the newspaper of a religious fundamentalist community.
posted by yankeefog at 2:33 AM on February 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


My reading is much the same as yankeefog's: the key bits are
  1. Until politics exits the science, it won’t be known if homosexuality is ... a choice
    The Orthodox response to homosexuality should be neutral;
  2. one who tries to be religious — whether he or she succeeds or not ...
    Orthodox Jews need to accept otherwise-Orthodox gays; and
  3. A situation where religious Jews are provoking children and adults who are different to consider suicide is unthinkable and unacceptable.
    Tormenting gays is far, far worse than being gay.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 AM on February 2, 2012


Dreidl wrote: I am one of those Jewish queers, if my screen name isn't enough of a clue.

There is something I'm missing here. Dreidls ... small ... spinning ... Hebrew letters ... irritating tunes.... Nope. Explain?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:37 AM on February 2, 2012


Really, you should read the last link first. Seriously.

This is true, because reading the first few paragraphs of the first link, I was wondering if I had stumbled upon a frum version of The Onion, alas no.
posted by xetere at 4:18 AM on February 2, 2012


This was all over the facebook pages of my more observant/conservative/frum Jewish friends. The overwhelming consensus was that the Jewish Press' support of Chaim was the first time they were proud of the paper, and the first time they agreed with it in years.
posted by piratebowling at 5:29 AM on February 2, 2012


So, yes, it does get better.
posted by piratebowling at 5:30 AM on February 2, 2012


This editorial is basically putting gay sex on the same level as eating pork.

The editorial calls being gay yetzer hara, which it helpfully translates as "evil inclination."

The Orthodox response to homosexuality should be neutral

Um, no. that's not what the editorial is saying at all, Joe in Australia. It's saying the same thing an "ex-gay" preacher I know says: Gay people are sick, troubled individuals who nonetheless deserve to be treated with a minimum of human respect.

Eh. It's a start.
posted by mediareport at 5:31 AM on February 2, 2012


Hey, fellow people of Jewish descent (I do not identify as "Jewish" or "Jewish American" on purpose) . . . remember who else was in those concentration camps with our ancestors?

No, I didn't think so. "Never forget," my ass.
posted by spitbull at 6:32 AM on February 2, 2012


remember who else was in those concentration camps with our ancestors?

Mimes?
posted by spicynuts at 6:53 AM on February 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


(surprise! - European Jews only required a single wife from the 1500s under Christian pressure, and now may have more than one again, although it's vanishingly rare in practice)

OK, first part is true (mostly--it's been since the 1100s, not the 1400s. Thanks Rabbeinu Gershom!). European Jewry did end polygamy because of Christian pressure, whereas Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry did not (because where they lived, polygamy was legal).

Second part is awfully inaccurate, though. It's designed to be impossible (google "heter meah rabbonim") and since polygamy is illegal in Israel (unless your family is moving from a country where polygamy is legal) and you don't see European Jews moving to predominantly Muslim countries, European Jewry aren't engaging in polygamy because "dina de'malkhuta dina," the law of the land is the law).

Now for the semi-annual definition of terms found in the articles!

The original op-ed
chizuk: strength, generally used in the sense of chizuk emunah, strengthening the faith
sefarim/seforim: (religious) books
bris milah: "convenant of circumcision"

Chaim's article
heimishe: really hard to translate. It basically means... small, traditional, warm, community-based, local, religious, or Hasidic, all depending on the context.
yeshiva: religious school for men
beis medrash: house of learning where young Jewish men are partnered up and spend hours yelling and debating over Torah, trying to poke holes in each other's understanding so both can understand better. The implication of the sentence is that the Torah Declaration would be torn apart in such a setting, but isn't because Rabbis have signed off on it.
Hashem: God.
Nisayon: "test," challenge.
be mekayem the mitzvah of shofar: on Rosh HaShanah, the shofar (horn made of a ram's horn) is blown 100 times. It is a mitzvah (obligation) to hear the shofar. "Be mekayem the mitzvah of shofar" translates to "be able to fulfill the commandment to hear the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah."
tznuit: as explained in the article, modesty, both in dress and behaviour
halacha: Jewish law
"compassion we show to the agunah": an agunah (lit. "chained") is a woman who wants a divorce but her husband won't (or can't) grant it. If the case is of a husband refusing to grant a get (out of spite), the entire community will rally around the agunah and do things like boycott her husband's store, place signs on his front yard, refuse to speak to him, etc. until he gives in, as well as helping support the agunah as she tries to adjust to single (yet married) life. He's asking for similar understanding.
chillul Hashem: "debasing the name of God," anything that a religious Jew does that makes religious Jews look bad, because it winds up reflecting poorly on the Torah
posted by flibbertigibbet at 7:03 AM on February 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is true, because reading the first few paragraphs of the first link, I was wondering if I had stumbled upon a frum version of The Onion

I had the same reaction. My outrage sensors didn't fire upon my initial reading of the first article, I'm assuming because it was so over the top in its "Why can't he just stay in the closet like a good boy" ridiculousness that I had to assume it was either satire or the clueless ramblings of a long since out of touch old man (kind of like my wife's nearly 90-year-old grandpa raging about having a black in the White House).
posted by The Gooch at 7:33 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is really, really breakthrough - so much so that I wish the FPP didn't include the bigoted op-ed, even if I understand how important that was to frame the story.

The Jewish Press is not centrist. They speak as much for the ultra-right as most of the Yiddish publications, more so than many of the English ones. For them to come out this forthrightly in favor of including gay Jews within the Orthodox Jewish community is huge. Especially when they faced economic boycots - the fundamentalist community don't have a lot of power in the world (thank G-d), but they sure do know how to boycott another Orthodox Jewish organization effectively.

Mediareport, I don't believe "The editorial calls being gay yetzer hara, which it helpfully translates as "evil inclination." Their wording is ambiguous enough that that reading is easy to make, and it bothers me that they did so because I suspect it was an attempt to play to both sides of the fence. But they are coming from the Orthodox belief that ALL people have a yetzer hara pulling them to follow their desires rather than halacha (Jewish law). Jewish law is very specific when it comes to the homosexual acts that are forbidden; it does not say that having an inclination to love the same sex is wrong. Being gay is not an issue. How you choose to act on that, may be. In the same way (though not to the same degree and I am in no way trying to say that this is an equal of emotionally fair comparison, I know it isn't), many heterosexual relations are forbidden by halacha as well. And Judaism recognizes that this is a struggle against your yetzer hara as well. The phrase yetzer hara is even applied to things like sleeping in instead of going to morning services. It's the iconic devil on your shoulder, not some evil thing that needs wiping out.

Halacha isn't going to change, and it drives many wonderful people away from Orthodox Judaism - how could it not? Especially when it comes to something as primal as sex, or as necessary as love. But treating people with dignity and respect, and understanding that their choices are between themselves and G-d, in the exact same way that heterosexual people's are - and not for the community to assume and punish - is also part of halacha, and it is about time that that message is being broadcast from an channel that - finally - might just get listened to.

Because that It Gets Better video wasn't saying "leave Orthodoxy and it gets better." It wasn't just aimed at those who want to burn the shul down on their way out. It was also for those Jews who only want to stay in, keep shabbat and kashrut and let their bedrooms be their own business - the same way they are for straight Jews.
posted by Mchelly at 7:41 AM on February 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I dunno. Personally I don't think a position where homosexuality is still considered bad if you act on it is going far enough. I guess it's better to go on the record saying that people shouldn't harass homosexuals to death than not doing so, but that such a thing needs to be said at all is sad.
posted by Hoopo at 8:28 AM on February 2, 2012


Hey, fellow people of Jewish descent (I do not identify as "Jewish" or "Jewish American" on purpose) . . . remember who else was in those concentration camps with our ancestors?

Yup. Jehovah's Witnesses. Seriously.

And honestly, since I learned that I've had to examine my attitudes. My derision has been diluted by a good mix of sympathy and compassion.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:50 AM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am always curious to see how conservative sectors of various religions deal with the fact that there are gay members in their ranks who love the religion yet are not embraced by the religion because of who they are. I think Chaim's story it's a great start but I can't see a resolution anytime soon - there is always going to be tension because the person who is gay lives a life that many in the religion see as bordering on heretical, and neither is going to be changing.
posted by Leezie at 12:17 PM on February 2, 2012


If folks are wondering about some normative documents of mainstream Orthodox thinking on gay male Jews, and why the Jewish Press firm positive stance is important, read these:

http://www.torahweb.org/torah/special/2010/homosexuality.html
http://statementofprinciplesnya.blogspot.com/

A rarely used Jewish legal principle, is that any Jewish law (even explicit Torah law - see many examples in the Talmud, most famously Rabbi Hillel's Prozbul http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prozbul) may be overturned by 100 rabbis in at least three countries. I attended the ketubah (marriage contract) signing for an Ashkenaz rabbi taking a second simultaneous wife. I have heard of at least two others. Even the herem d. R. Gershom (ban of Rabbi Gershom on non-monogamy) was not fully accepted in Spain until the 1400s (those communities were destroyed in 1492 with he Expulsion), parts of Italy (where some Spanish Jews escaped to) until the 1500s. This same principle of altering Halakhah could be applied to male same-sex relationships, and even sexual activities. The problem is getting the 100 high-status rabbis to mutually agree.

May it happen in my lifetime.
posted by Dreidl at 1:02 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


"A rarely used Jewish legal principle, is that any Jewish law may be overturned by 100 rabbis in at least three countries"

Dreidl, do you have a cite for that? Yes, Jewish scholars find legal loopholes and sometimes make certain exceptions on a case-by-case basis, but I believe the concept of 100 rabbis in three countries (heter meah rabbanim) is unique to Rabbeinu Gershom's ban on polygyny + rule that women must consent to divorce. I was taught that Rabbeinu Gershom created that loophole for his own ban because he didn't want to create an opportunity for aguna-like situations happening to men as well as women.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:28 PM on February 2, 2012


Hoopo wrote: I don't think a position where homosexuality is still considered bad if you act on it is going far enough.

Orthodox Judaism is ultimately based on the Bible, and it can't allow anything explicitly forbidden by the Bible. There's a certain amount of creative interpretation and evasion, but (a) it's based on legal reasoning; and (b) the time when this was possible has long since passed. Dreidl's two famous examples prove the rule: the prohibition on polygamy didn't involve permitting anything previously forbidden; and the Prozbul (a legal technique for creating loans that persist over the Sabbatical year) is a sort of legal fiction that leaves the underlying prohibition in place - and it was tremendously controversial despite being instituted by the central figure of rabbinic Judaism at the height of his authority. Also, it was two thousand years ago.

That being said, most Orthodox Jews have friends and relatives who eat lobster or drive on the Sabbath. Their guests bring girlfriends or boyfriends for dinner without being quizzed about whether they're sleeping together. The young men in the It Gets Better video would probably be tremendously relieved to find themselves treated the same way.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2012


I would like to especially thank flibbertigibbet and Mchelly for their explanations. I especially want to shout out to Mchelly for how a term that made me go 'wait, what' can be interpreted in a way that isn't as horrible as it might seem at first glance.

Again, it's that 'understanding' thing.
posted by mephron at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2012


Jews are quite accustomed to outsiders bashing our practices.... The excuses of our communal tormentors, from a Jewish historical view, are irrelevant, because the demand that we *stop living Judaism as Jewishly defined* stays the same. [...] Calling us extremist religious bigots [will not help]
I'm torn about this. On the one hand, I feel you are right. To make lasting change within a community, you have to engage with practitioners on their own terms. Which in this case frankly means non-jews, and potentially non-orthodox jews, have to stay out of it.

But those phrases sound awfully cultish to me. Just because some community has adapted in the past and can be relied on to adapt rather slowly to present day norms in the future doesn't give them some kind of out for being criticized by people not in the community. The orthodox community is quite worthy of external criticism just like any other. Just because you feel some negative comment hits at the heart of your culture doesn't make it a pogrom. In fact, I would argue it is precisely outside influence that allows the culture to evolve.

To me, it's evident that it's the author is trapped in this backward culture by circumstance and he's trying to negotiate through it as best as he can. I've encountered so many people like that, not just jews, who are trapped in particular modes of (religious) thinking that are literally damaging to them. They manage by avoiding the central problem of orthodoxy -- simplying by reintereting the rules. There are different reasons for that: family, various forms of indoctrination, simple comfort, but it doesn't make it less damaging.

If the definition of orthodoxy changes -- that's great for whoever is trapped in it -- but I'm not a relativist in that sense. Religious orthodoxy is damaging. I've never seen real evidence to the contrary.
posted by smidgen at 2:42 PM on February 2, 2012


mediareport, you've fixed on a translation that really doesn't give the right sense of the phrase. "Yetzer hara" is regularly used to refer to all kinds of acts that are considered misdeeds -- the first time I heard it, it referred to engaging in idle gossip. It's really not some kind of code for "horrible person," at all.
posted by palliser at 4:33 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a story in the Talmud that's probably relevant here.
After days of fasting the sages defeated the personification of idolatry and sealed it in a crucible. "Well," they thought, "That went well. Let's imprison Lust, too!" So they prayed for another three days and the personification of Lust appeared. He warned them that the world would come to an end without him, but they didn't listen. Imprisoning Lust brought an end to all sexual desire - licit as well as illicit, among humans and among animals. After three days the hens still weren't laying eggs so they let him go.
The point of the story, which is much older than the section of Talmud it appears in, is that sexual desire is primal and essential: "good sexual desire" and "bad sexual desire" are the same thing. Desire can be suppressed but it's an all-or-nothing deal.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:19 PM on February 2, 2012


"Yetzer hara" is regularly used to refer to all kinds of acts that are considered misdeeds

Yeah, I get that. Like I said, it's a small step in the right direction. But rigidly orthodox, Old Testament-based Judaism can never be compatible with fully equal human rights in all areas for gay and lesbian people. I think Joe in Australia admits that above.

That homosexuality is still included with "misdeeds" like idle gossip and eating lobster is, I hope the non-Orthodox among us can agree, disgusting. The point Mchelly makes - "it does not say that having an inclination to love the same sex is wrong, just says you can't act on it" - is misleading in its attempt to paper over that classification *and* deeply damaging to lesbian and gay people, particularly those young ones who find themselves being raised by homophobic fundamentalist Jews.

And this:

Their guests bring girlfriends or boyfriends for dinner without being quizzed about whether they're sleeping together. The young men in the It Gets Better video would probably be tremendously relieved to find themselves treated the same way.

is deeply saddening. Again, I recognize that this is a relatively big step within the Orthodox community, and it's nice to see. But if silent acceptance at the dinner table is the marker of "tremendous relief," and we're all just accepting the fact that never, ever, ever will Orthodox Judaism allow full equal participation in its society for gay and lesbian couples, I'm sure folks can understand why some of us read news like this and are less than completely impressed.
posted by mediareport at 8:48 AM on February 5, 2012


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