Monday, June 16, 2008

The Torah: A Moral Compass

By Rabbi Ezra Schochet

For the Jewish people, the Torah is the moral compass that guides us through all difficult personal and ethical issues. Indeed, the most intimate and private parts of our lives are also subject to the direction of the Torah.

In recent years we have witnessed a social revolution in Western culture: the validation of homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. Clearly this is not in consonance with the teachings of the Torah. Sadly, this assault on basic moral standards gained a beachhead in the Jewish community as well. Some see it as an issue of equality and compassion. This argument, however, carries no moral weight. The Torah unequivocally condemns homosexuality alongside incest and adultery.Our Torah enjoins us to treat all humans with dignity and respect, as all are created by G-d in His own image. The very same Torah also prescribes a code of proper behavior that defines and reflects human dignity, the violation of which would diminish and marginalize it. Hence derives the concept of "hate sin but love the sinner."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach attempted to do exactly this ("Dr. Laura Misguided on Homosexuality," June 16) when he fell into an intellectual abyss. He seriously twisted the classic Jewish teachings. His absurd argument that the prohibition concerning homosexual acts is just a religious instruction and not a spiritual moral imperative is a distortion of Torah. By equating the biblical condemnation of homosexuality with ritual laws and norms for proper character traits, he willfully ignores and maliciously distorts explicit pronouncements of the Torah.

Proper character traits and interhuman relationships in the Jewish faith are built upon Torah principles and not just human wisdom that changes in each generation. The student of pirkei avot (Ethics of our Fathers) would know from the very first mishna that all ethics and morals originate at Mt. Sinai.

The prohibition of homosexuality is not only a ritual law for Jews like the precepts of the dietary laws or the Sabbath. Any simpleton reading this chapter (Leviticus 18:3) must come to the conclusion that a moral statement is being made by the Torah - not simply a violation "on religious grounds."

This prohibition is a universal injunction for all mankind, part of the fundamental moral principles. It is an integral part of the Noachide Code (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9) the basic laws of society given by G-d to all of humanity.

Dismissing this (as Boteach and others do) does not represent the Jewish point of view, does not reflect a religious Jewish perspective.

The argument that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in ancient times is an absurd non sequitur. Paganism and incest were equally popular. Sould we defend these, too, in the name of history?The fact that homosexuals are so vociferous does not make them normative. Are we to accept adulterous behavior, in the spirit of compassion, as another alternate lifestyle for those who can't control their desires for a married woman?

Indeed, quite a few bear the challenge of homosexual tendencies. As individual humans they are entitled to the same rights and dignity as all others, and perhaps even extra compassion. That is altogether different, however, than granting acceptance to their lifestyles as legitimate alternatives. To celebrate their sexual preferences, let alone to expose schoolchildren to it, or to have society sanction their unions on a par with normative marriage is an indefensible aberration that destroys the moral fibers of society.

The attack on Dr. Laura Schlessinger skirts the real issues and throws out unwarranted accusations of homophobia.

Unlike her critics, Dr. Laura's position does not follow the latest fads to gain transient popularity. She follows her conscience as a religious person. For this she deserves to be applauded by all, including those critics who put pursuit of truth before personal agendas.

I am saddened that a former yeshiva student failed to acquire the most basic principle of religion: G-d and His revelation transcend popularity contests and political correctness. The truth will prevail, and the word of G-d will stand forever.

Rabbi Ezra Schochet is the rosh yeshiva and dean of the West Coast Talmudic Seminary, Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon Chabad, in Los Angeles.

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