A few months ago, I was asked if my son and I would be willing to sit on a panel to discuss the "Statement of Principles..."
At first both of us agreed, but after some discussion over the Chagim, we concluded that perhaps it would not be a good idea to sit on a panel in our own city. We questioned whether any good would come of it or would people attend just to see the gay guy and his father. So we politely declined.
The panel discussion was held today. On the panel was Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, the driving force behind the Statement, and Rabbi Barry Freundel, who wrote "Homosexuality and Judaism" in the Journal of Halakha and Contemporary Society in 1986.
Rabbi Helfgot opened the discussion with a narrative of how The Statement came to fruition, how it began as a response to the YU symposium held last December and how it took six months for it to be published after it was vetted by a large amount of Rabbis, health professionals, halakhists, jurists. He explained that some people who were involved in the development of The Statement were unable to lend their name to it for political or social reasons.
Rabbi Freundel followed with a discussion that began with his claim that just about everything that was covered in The Statement has been previously been published either by him in 1986 or in subsequent essays over the years by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). He told us that his essay, "Homosexuality and Judaism" was used by the Pentagon during the Clinton administration to formulate its policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." He said that he would have no problem if a gay person had an aliyah in his shul, so long as he did not openly announce his homosexuality. He likened homosexuality to kashruth and shabbat observance and made a comparison to circumcisions which were frowned upon during Hellenistic times. He also claimed that in jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal, there is less of an issue.
After the speakers completed their talks, the floor was opened to questions. The first person to speak was asked to come up to the mike by Rabbi Freundel. This man, who claimed to be a psycho-therapist, claimed that he has cured numerous young men through reparative therapy. The next person to speak was the head of Mizrachi, an eighty-something man who said that something had to be done to stop gay people from influencing young people to become gay.
Prior to walking into this discussion, my wife and some friends had "advised" me not to speak. After these two people finished their so-called questions, I asked to speak. I stated that I did not have a question but I wanted to comment on some of the points which were raised.
I began by reminding the audience and the panelists that The Statement was a direct result of the symposium which was held at YU last December. I reminded them that the title of the symposium was "On Being Gay in the Modern Orthodox World" and as such they have to bear in mind that these young men want to be part of the Orthodox world. I made 4 points........
1. Legalized gay marriage is not an issue to these young men. They are not interested in a civil marriage just as heterosexual men and women who are modern Othrodox don't run off to Las Vegas for a civil marriage.
2. I stated that kashruth is a choice, Shabbat is a choice, milah is a choice but sexuality is not a choice.
3. In terms of reparative therapy, I stated that I have first hand knowledge of young men who have tried reparative therapy and instead of becoming a heterosexual had tried suicide. I commented that any life lost as a result of reparative therapy is one life too many.
4. Finally, my response to the head of Mizrachi was that these young men who want a place in the Modern Orthodox world are not cast members of Glee. Their goal is not to convert little boys to homosexuality.
I must say, this was an emotionally trying day. After the panel discussion, we broke for lunch and we sat with Rabbi Freundel during lunch. We had an open and frank discussion out of the public eye. I would much rather have a discussion with someone like Rabbi Freundel, who represents the establishment and who is clear and articulate in his opinion, than the rabbi of the shul where I used to attend, who signed The Statement but refused my son as an eyd.
Prior to today's panel discussion I spent the last two days with Rabbi Helfgot because he was a scholar in residence at my shul. We had lots of opportunity to discuss the symposium, the statement and my son's role in the Jewish community.
As the day drew to a close, the organizer came to me and said that it was a good idea that my son and I were not the main panelists in light of what came from the audience.
L'chaim Mr. Clinton.