Against Excessive Compassion
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
Many well-meaning Jews, including Chasidic Jews, have been sharing this recently released video, which ostensibly argues for “compassion” for those who took part in the Tel Aviv shame parade. With all due respect, although the speaker has some valid points, I believe that the main point in the video is sorely misguided, wrong, and harmful. The lecture also contains a number of other worrisome, flawed, and dangerous ideas.
- The video is not just talking about those with homosexual tendencies; it’s discussing those who took part in the shame parade. The new atheist immoral crusaders. These folks are on a zealous campaign to defile society, defile the Holy Land in general and the Holy City of Jerusalem in particular. They insist on their “right” to crudely shove their grotesque perversion in our faces, insist that it’s “love”, and proclaim that if we dare disagree and point out that it’s not love at all but sin, we’re haters. They are leading an all-out lobbying campaign for brutal Sodom-like laws that further degenerate society and turn all religious people into a persecuted minority. Through their own blatantly and rabidly hostile attitude to Judaism and all faith in a deity that prescribes a moral code, and their campaign to corrupt society with their perverse beliefs and obscene sexual practices, these folks forfeit their right to our compassion.
In a different category altogether are those who struggle personally with this sinful desire, yet are decent enough to feel shame. They have not joined this evil movement and they recognize its degeneracy. These folks do indeed deserve our unqualified sympathy and compassion.
- The speaker falsely equates Shabbos violation with the sin of homosexual relations. This is incorrect, as the two sins are in a completely different category. The former is a special mitzvah for Jews that is not one of the mishpatim, rational laws, while the latter is part of the basic sheva Mitzvos (the Seven Noahide Laws) incumbent upon all mankind. It’s one thing to support “compassion” for those who commit a sin that is not strictly rational, and another thing entirely to support it for a sin that is.
- Also, to be consistent, you’d also have to support “compassion” for those who commit other heinous sins such as murder, incest, rape, adultery, bestiality, child sexual abuse, and so on. (There is no logical reason to differentiate between victimless and non-victimless sins and crimes when it comes to compassion.) Yet everyone shies away from such displays of compassion, because they realize that doing so would also have the effect of minimizing the severity of these sins in the eyes of the populace, thus causing these behaviors to become more prevalent and less so, which is why there is no mass campaign to promote compassion for those who commit these crimes and sins (at least, not yet).
- The speaker states further that in fact, it’s not the will of Hashem for there to be a death penalty for desecrating Shabbos. This is outrageous; of course it is. Explicit verses aren’t written for nothing. We can’t implement this penalty in practice because we are in galus, due to our many sins—not because such an execution would be inherently wrong. (It is true that our sages view the death penalty as a last resort, and that there are many technicalities by which one can be released from the death penalty, and that the sages seek to find such exemptions when possible. However, that only means that it is desirable to avoid imposing it; it still in no way implies that imposing it is inherently wrong.) Moreover, although Jews are unable to impose the death penalty as we live in exile, non-Jews should do so even now for the crime of homosexual relations (along with adultery, bestiality, and incest) as part of the Noahide laws.
- The words “we don’t believe it’s the will of Hashem even though it’s written in Torah; we will put in all our effort to read between the lines and understand the real intention” are very disturbing. This implies that although the Torah states its values very clearly, based on our own independent sense of morality we know that in reality, the opposite is the case, and in fact, it is to take what the Torah says at face value that would be immoral. This is the stuff of Reform.
- Now on to the kabalistic talk. The speaker says that those who desire to commit these perverse deeds have a problem with their souls. True. However, this does not mean they lack free choice. Most disturbingly, he then takes this further and declares that expecting these people not to sin and to observe halacha “kills” them and would “destroy their lives”. This is outrageous. People have free choice not sin. Sure, a person can’t change his way of life overnight all at once, but slowly but surely, he can. In contrast, the Rebbe says (see here and here) that those who act in this way ought to be taught that this behavior is unhealthy and self-destructive and that they can and must stop. (Whether one can succeed at “conversion therapy” is a separate issue beyond the scope of this article, and I do not believe that a person can necessarily choose not to feel a forbidden desire; however, they can choose not to dwell on that desire and act on that desire.) On the contrary, the key to happiness is abstaining from sin.
- He then develops this approach by misquoting quasi-kabalistic notions that these folks “can’t” keep Torah until Moshiach comes, because only then will the level of “atika stima’a” which is oh so very “ancient” and “impossible for us to understand” be revealed. Which will heal everyone. Yes, when Moshiach will come, all sinners and suffering souls will be healed. But so what? That doesn’t mean we don’t have free choice, nor does it mean we should minimize the severity of their sin, or sit idly by and allow this attack on G–d and civilized society to continue.
So yes, they deserve compassion. But then again, all sin comes because of a problem in our souls, and yet we have free choice. These people, too, do have free choice. Yes, it may be very difficult for them not to sin. We should sympathize with their unusual struggle and thank Hashem that we were not challenged in this way. But we should not go so far as to exonerate them completely (cf. Tanya ch. 30).
- He states that by promising never to bring another Flood, Hashem meant that He would never again punish the sin of homosexual relations. This is ridiculous. All Hashem promised was not to punish by means of a worldwide flood, not that He would not bring devastating punishment (whether for this sin or any other). Every schoolchild knows this explanation. Moreover, the Torah warns us explicitly how the inhabitants of Canaan were banished from the Land—after the Flood—for this very sin, among other violations of proper sexual morality.
- He mentions Hashem’s rebuke of Noach, yet he fails to draw the correct lesson—that Noach was remiss in his failing to rebuke the people sufficiently for their severe sins. Yet the video draws the opposite conclusion, that these folks are doomed to sin until Moshiach comes, and they aren’t even able to do otherwise, so we shouldn’t rebuke them.
- It’s one thing to express a “limud zechus” on sinners in private, fully out of their earshot. However, the ones about whom one expresses this view should not know about it (see here: Careful Love). The public nature of this video means the sinners themselves will come to view it. They will draw the clear conclusion that this man is endorsing their choice or at least greatly minimizing its severity, which will reinforce them in their ways.
- He insists that the supporters of the gay agenda are not at fault and should not be judged for their actions. That’s absurd. The existence of a temptation doesn’t in itself exonerate the violator. They have a choice. They know it’s unnatural. They know it’s abnormal. But I wonder, how far does his determination of their innocence and unaccountability go?
We see that he defends them when they defile the Holy Land with their obscenity parades. Will he and his fellow advocates for limitless compassion still defend them when they successfully lobby to pass laws that:
- require all private religious schools to adopt a mandatory “sex-ed” curriculum that explains to them the “GLB” lifestyle in graphic detail (as has already been mandated in many public schools), and teaches that homosexual behavior is normal, that having two mommies or two daddies is normal, and that in fact it is disapproval of this behavior that is sinful and “bigoted”?
- require rabbis to officiate at same-sex “weddings” or else be heavily fined or jailed and ordered to undergo mandatory “sensitivity training” in “re-education camps”?
- categorize all disapproval of homosexual behavior as criminal “hate speech” and station zealous modern-day yevsektsia members in shuls to inform on baalei korei and have them fined and imprisoned for simply reading out the pesukim in Vayikra?
- require that all religious literature be sanitized and censored from all disapproval of sexual sin, all in the name of promoting love and tolerance?
Those who follow the news and listen to the words of these folks themselves know that these fears and many others are very far from exaggerated.
- He then goes on to quote a story of a woman who said she destroyed her marriage so that she could live as a lesbian, and he buys her “I found love and now I just live my life together” narrative without a word of critique. Since when do rabbis endorse sexual sin as “love” and the choice to engage in it on a regular basis as bringing “happiness”?! No, one living in sin is not “in love” and cannot be happy. (See here: Inner Harmony through Living Up to One’s Inner Self). Nor is she “minding her own business,” as her sinful public relationship is destructive to society around her.
- He states that these desires are inborn when this matter is still hotly debated even among secular researchers.
- He raises the purely emotional argument “what if it would be your child.” Since when is something less sinful and wrong because it’s done by a relative? What does that have to do with anything? Also, it would prove nothing if one were to view sexual sin as less severe because a relative engages in it—all it would demonstrate is that family members’ natural love for one another inappropriately causes them to tolerate sins that they should not rationally tolerate.
(Speaking of kids, there are kids standing in the background and listening. If they understand English, I’d find their listening to such a speech disturbing, even if I’d agree with its content.)
- He describes the suffering that these folks experience as somehow justifying their sin. But suffering from challenges and temptations with the yetzer hara is our lot as humans; in fact, this struggle is our very purpose in life, and the struggle is supposed to be very difficult for everyone, as the Alter Rebbe states.: “ולכן אל יפול לב אדם עליו ולא ירע לבבו מאד גם אם יהיה כן כל ימיו במלחמה זו כי אולי לכך נברא וזאת עבודתו לאכפיא לס”א תמיד.” (Tanya ch. 27). The only “end” to this suffering is death or Moshiach.
- And who’s to say that simply since their tests are so abnormal, they’re qualitatively more difficult? We can’t possibly know that, as we cannot see into their hearts. It’s just as likely that in many cases, the tests of normal folks are in fact more difficult. Either way, “according to the camel is the load” (Kesubos 67a), and they are able to choose not to sin no less than anyone with more ordinary challenges (see here: An Unflinching Reckoning).
- “People, charedim, they have what to say [about lesbian relationships]. Great, I understand you, it’s written in the Torah. … Charedim, you’re always right. … You’re always justifying yourselves, we always need to bow to you, to tell you you’re right. Yes, you’re a rabbi, for sure, for sure, of course, whatever you say, amen, kiss your hands. –Nonsense. Open your eyes. Reality. … “ Conclusion: Don’t you dare criticize this group.
Vile. Yes, charedim are right, yes lesbian relationships are wrong and immoral. In doing so, charedim are not being condescending; they’re righteously promoting (albeit nowhere near enough) the Truth that Hashem commanded for all mankind, and all the more so for Jews, who are commanded to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6).
Although I imagine that the speaker is otherwise a fine Jew, in the case of this video, these are not the words of a “charedi” but of a secularist preaching hate against religious folks, and especially rabbis, for daring to take Torah and halacha seriously, for having the courage to stand up for the perfect, absolute, divine Noahide laws, which comprise the absolute, eternal moral code of our Holy Torah in the face of a fanatic, tyrannical mass popular movement zealously promoting obscenity, degeneracy, and rebellion against Hashem on a historically unprecedented level of depravity. Jews should not protest against it, he says?! Even non-Jews are obligated to protest against this evil movement as part of the Noahide law of dinim (promoting a just and moral legal system); all the more so are Jews so obligated.
- I agree with his point that ex-members of this movement have a mission to influence those still stuck in it. Still, that doesn’t mean that all others dare not protest, and must sit by silently as this movement runs amok and increasingly corrupts society with its evil ideology. Those who are silent when they could have protested are guilty of collaborating with this sin.
The words that we use matter.
When we speak using terms from Torah, our intention is clear. We believe that Torah is the source of our moral values. But once we start using English terms and ideas, we enter a dangerous philosophical minefield. We use words thinking that we’re expressing Torah ideas, but without realizing it, we are employing secular ideas as well.
One prime example is “human rights.” People use this term as if it’s some kind of innate, obvious Truth, yet they fail to explain why it is so. Where oh where do these “human rights” come from and why are “human rights violations” so very terrible? That’s a topic better avoided, especially in polite company.
Moreover, the definition of “human rights,” or just “rights,” changes virtually by the day. One day it’s in to call one thing a right. But then another supposed right comes and supersedes it. No one knows what new supposed right tomorrow will bring, which will turn over society even more.
But it’s almost foolproof. If you want something, anything, in our “rights”-obsessed culture, your best strategy is to call it a right. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous that particular claim of a right may sound, or may have sounded not so long ago. Once you call it a right, most people will feel intimidated. They will not want to be dismissed as insensitive and committing in any way the “sin” of … denying someone a right. And they know very well what the consequences of such disagreement will be. It will be labeled as “hate speech”. Because if you disagree with someone’s claim to be entitled to a certain right, you must, must hate him. You’re a bigoted, mean, selfish monster. You’re … “anti-human”.
But this is playing with our minds. What do people mean when they speak of these rights? When it comes down to it, “human rights” is just code for “morality without faith”. It’s the creed of the new atheist religion, one that they are now using the secular legal system to dogmatically enforce, and with ever-increasing militancy. Just as atheism is axiomatic, so is the concept that morality must be defined in secular terms.
And therefore not only should Orthodox Jews never identify with these values, we must reject them like the plague. Even if we are speaking to someone from a secular background for whom our value system is foreign, we must never use language that implies even a slight endorsement of secular values.
And the same goes for a host of other buzzwords that have become the catch-cries of the holier-than-thou secular moralists: love, peace, tolerance, equality, social justice, rule of law, abuse, racism, multiculturalism, and discrimination.
All these words and ideas, although seemingly noble and true, are meaningless and false. They do not express universal and innate ideas; rather, they express (at least, as used in modern times, in a secular framework) the new secular morality that is so utterly contrary to authentic, G-d-given morality that it is almost diametrically opposed to it. (This is not to say that they don’t each hold some kernel of truth; however, now that G-d has been censored out of the picture, these ideas have degenerated into falsehoods.)
Why are these ideas so empty? Because without Hashem investing humans with inherent value, we are just a bunch of highly developed animals. Do animals have moral compunctions? Should they be expected to think twice before taking the lives of other animals? Of course not; that would be absurd. In fact, if the secularist creation narrative of evolution is taken to its logical conclusion, the principle of “survival of the fittest” implies that on the contrary, killing those who are weaker enables prosperity and progress. (Of course, most atheists today will reject this philosophy, known as social Darwinism, but they will not be able to coherently explain why.)
Of course we should respect and honor all mankind. But not because some Enlightenment philosopher said so. He has no, well, “right” to dictate morality to us. Rather, human beings have value because G-d created mankind in His image (Bereshis 9:6) and therefore all mankind are “precious” (Avos 3:18). Of course murder and stealing are wrong. But they’re wrong because G-d forbade them, not because a “human rights ethics council” decided so.
We must declare proudly: Our morals come from Torah. We believe in the G-d-given sheva Mitzvos, the seven Noahide laws, as our basis for morality, not empty, secular “human rights”.
Please, please! Don’t convert light into darkness, and darkness into light. Chanukah is not about “religious freedom” at all. It’s about a very violent insurrection led by what people today would call “fundamentalist” “extremist” theists against the atheist tyranny of the dominant secular culture of the time.
We celebrate because the fact that we won miraculously, along with the other miracles, shows that our G-d is real and all other belief systems, most importantly the Greek culture of hedonism and humanism, are wrong and false.
(If the Maccabees had heard someone advocating the secular concept of “religious freedom”, they would have … not dealt with him kindly. If they would have heard someone going so far as to misrepresent the festival commemorating them as if it stood for this modern-day secular value, they would have been outraged and furious.)
“Religious freedom” is in effect moral relativism, which is morally corrupt, nonsensical, and the very antithesis of everything this festival stands for.
Chanukah is about miracles, which demonstrate the Truth of Hashem. The message of the festival is therefore that He is truly real, and therefore our lives should revolve exclusively around serving and worshiping Him, even if that means sacrifice. It follows that secularism is empty, false, detrimental, and evil, and must be vehemently opposed.
If one examines the various Jewish festivals and considers which is the most relevant to our day and age, I believe the conclusion is clear that it is Chanukah. The challenges and struggles of then are so strikingly similar to those of today that it should send chills running down one’s spine.
Thus, the message of Chanukah for our times is simple but supremely demanding. Secular humanism, along with all its sundry modern political manifestations—liberalism, feminism, etc.—represents the mortal enemy of the Jewish people, and ultimately, with the help of Hashem and with our personal and group sacrifice, we will prevail.
Giving thanks to Hashem for all His blessings and publicly recognizing our dependence on Him is great; in fact, it’s vital. Choosing a day to focus on that and establishing it as a national custom is nice (it sure beats choosing a day to go to the races or the football).
However, giving thanks in liberal parlance, which means refusing to mention Hashem, is heresy, and also nonsensical. It would also certainly be antithetical to the worthy intentions of those who established this holiday.
We Jews should support the former and condemn the latter.
Shmueli Boteach wrote an article here berating Mormons for ousting open homosexuals. He’s barking up the wrong tree.
The Mormons are rightly taking a moral stand that homosexual behavior is immoral and unacceptable. They see how in our confused and decadent times action must be taken, and so they’ve enacted firm rules in order to protect themselves.
Although the kids might suffer from their church’s edict, and that is indeed unfortunate, the fault is on the heads of the “parents” who feely choose to live that lifestyle, when they could choose to be chaste.
Also, there is a difference between a private and a public sin. When these folks sin openly, they set a detrimental example to the faith-based community, so the community is entitled to take measures to protect itself from these influences.
The Mormons’ measures are reasonable and understandable. Some such rules are necessary and worthy, and whether they could be a little more or a little strict is irrelevant.
In any case, of all people, Boteach shouldn’t be picking on them. Although many of their theological beliefs are heretical from a Torah standpoint, in terms of Torah-based morality, the Mormons are very righteous. Not only are they righteous in comparison with their secular counterparts, but on the whole, they are fighting bravely against the tide of secularism by following worthy standards of modesty, early marriage, and large families at far higher rates of success than most other Christian denominations.
Boteach should stick to criticising the real threat to western civilization: the radical liberal secularist agenda that promotes sexual sin as if it were a worthy deed.
Through the “it ain’t so terrible to be a practicing homosexual” sentiment of his article, Boteach is also directly supporting the radical, anti-religious homosexualist agenda, which has set its sights on destroying all religious values and replacing them with its heretical, hedonist ones. He should be standing up for timeless Torah-based, biblical values, not glossing over these sins and condemning those who take a stand against them in order to preserve their communities’ moral compass.
If we’re talking about adults’ actions having harmful effects on children, Boteach should instead speak out against the immoral law that says that homosexuals and lesbians can adopt children, and inculcate them with the false notion that one can have two dads but no mom or two moms but no dad, thus depriving the innocent, helpless child of a mother or father figure; along with this, he should call out those “parents” who take advantage of this immoral law and adopt children.
Netanyahu’s constant talk of agreeing to a “demilitarized” state for the Arabs is complete nonsense on the face of it.
What does “demilitarization” mean, anyway? It supposedly means that the Arabs have a police force but not a military.
First, a hostile police force will (and in PLO-controlled areas, this has always been so) surely gladly harbor hostile military, i.e., terror forces, violating all treaties.
Second, a hostile police force is itself a hostile military. The difference is largely semantic. The same gun that can be used to maintain law and order in an Arab village can be turned against Jews in a terror attack. This has occurred countless times in terror attacks against Jews in the Holy Land. Instead of responding with harsh retaliation, cancelling all treaties, and retaking those villages from the PLO, the government looks the other way, continues to send money and guns to the PLO, and dismisses the attacks as isolated, unrelated incidents.
Third, the Arabs themselves would be much better off under Jewish control than under PLO/Hamas thugs. Although in the long term, everyone would be better off if the Muslim Arabs in the Holy Land would simply immigrate en masse to a country like Qatar, whose leaders have sent so much money to sponsor the PLO and Hamas.
If Jews aren’t in charge of a given territory, terrorist militias will inevitably be there.
Rather, Netanyahu’s “demilitarized” language is an act of tremendous cowardice, in which he makes a fundamental concession to the long-discredited radical, left-wing notion of mass land surrender to the enemy as a form of “making peace”. Even after all the misery and bloodshed that previous deals have brought upon the Jewish people, Netanyahu agrees to the “Two State Solution”, to (even more and a lot more) “land for peace”, he just has an itsy bitsy condition.
But since it is impossible for the foolish condition of “demilitarization” to be fulfilled, you can be sure it will be forgotten once the land is surrendered, G-d forbid. We saw a similar response after the IDF redeployed from Gaza: Once military control of Gaza was first ceded, the IDF didn’t retake it when the treaties were inevitably broken and it was used as a base to attack Jews, as everyone knew it would.
Note also how towards the end of the most recent war in Gaza, Netanyahu declared that Gaza must be demilitarized as his condition to a “ceasefire”. Yet days later, there was a ceasefire without any pretense on the enemy side of agreeing to this condition.
Netanyahu is surely fully aware of all this, yet he continues preaching this madness. So in fact, Netanyahu is a traitor, plotting to cravenly surrender even more vast swaths of our G-d given land to our sworn enemy so they can attack us even more, G-d forbid.
And that’s fine, because it will be “demilitarized”.
But what does this mean for us? Hashem is sending a message to all Jews: Time and again, secular leaders and the secular values they embodied have led to disaster for the Jewish people—Begin, Shamir, Sharon, and for three terms now, Netanyahu. Don’t trust in apparently well-meaning but secular leaders. Deliverance will never come from them.
True courage and leadership against our enemies can only come from a leader of faith, one who rejects the zeitgeist and embraces only true Torah values, who fears Hashem and is proud to declare His Name, who reveres the holiness of the Land and supports the mitzva of settling the Land, and who is outstanding in his love of his fellow Jew.