Dweck’s views are part of a new way 
of thinking on homosexuality

June 09, 2017 16:19

Until quite recently, most Orthodox rabbis would have lined up behind America’s most influential 20th-century authority, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.

There was no need to explain the “abominable nature” of homosexual activity, he wrote, since it was “considered repugnant by the entire world who consider practising homosexuals to be despicable and uncivilised”.

His view would have been thought unexceptional both within and outside the Jewish community at the time. It is easy to forget that homosexual acts between men were decriminalised in Britain only 50 years ago.

But as a changing social climate brought greater acceptance of LGBT people, some in the Orthodox rabbinate began to rethink their position.

A softer approach emerged, laying greater emphasis on the distinction between homosexual practice, which was forbidden by the Torah, and homosexual orientation, which was not.

It called for greater empathy with gay people struggling between the demands of the Torah and their innate sexuality. It said that mainstream Orthodox synagogues should welcome gay Jews just as they would any other Jew and not stigmatise them. It rejected the view that a gay man or woman should be advised simply to marry a member of the opposite sex, have children and repress their natural feelings.

Rabbi Dweck’s recent lecture is part of the new thinking. He has not called for any change in Jewish law, forbidding sexual relations between members of the same sex. But distinguishing between sex and love, he believes that men can love each other, opening the door to a platonic relationship.

While this has been sufficient to bring all sorts of accusations raining down upon his head, some would argue he does not go far enough. One or two voices have suggested a bolder halachic approach on the basis that it is unreasonable to expect a person to remain celibate all their lives: they invoke the concept of oness (compulsion) to allow for homosexual activity on the grounds that a person is driven by their nature with no other outlet for sexual expression.

Whatever the outcome of the current dispute, modern egalitarian ideas will continue to pose a challenge to Orthodoxy. The debate is in the open. And it could have practical implications in a way not foreseen only a few years ago.

As part of its anti-terror campaign, the government has sought to combat religious extremism by requiring schools to teach “British values” of tolerance and respect for others. Inspectors have increasingly taken the view that to counter homophobia schools should talk about same-sex relations, a line that has proved problematic for Charedi schools.

The fallout from the latest wave of terror attacks is likely to bring more rather than less scrutiny of faith schools. Those who resort to the language of “abomination” when talking about homosexuality could be storing up trouble in future.

June 09, 2017 16:19

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