Thursday, December 07, 2006


It's the hole that matters!

Conservative Jews are trying to inch back to sanity after millenia of befuddlement. As you will see, they have by no means reached the goal but should be praised for the effort.

According to Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post, rabbis who constitute the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards have issued a teshuvot (answer) to the question of "whether Jewish law allows homosexual sex" that permits same-sex unions and the ordination of gay men and lesbians. The decision to perform such unions and ordinations is left to the individual rabbi or seminary.

Ah, but wait!... The Committee has also issued two other teshuvots condemning gay people—which brings us abruptly to notice that our culture is far more Hellenic than Judaic in the matter of moral argument. Ever since Aristotle asserted "the law of the excluded middle," we have insisted that actions be conclusively considered right or wrong. This has led to all sorts of horrors that a more multi-valued approach might have avoided.

I wouldn't lay money on there being an ontological basis for morality. But it is clear that most of us will insist upon a moral guide. That being the case, blogger David Schraub appreciates the humility of permitting multiple points of view—

A long-standing Jewish practice (dating back to Hillel and Shammei) known as the "these and these" principle allows for more than one interpretation (including mutually exclusive interpretations) to be considering equally valid and legitimate in the Jewish community. I agree with Rabbi Kula: there is beauty in this type of humility and refusal to declare only one interpretation to be ultimate or dogmatic.

For myself I rather like the notion that our moral precepts are "emergent" along with the rest of human experience.

But the teshuvot supporting same-sex unions and ordinations didn't toss out all convention—

[It maintains] a ban on anal sex. It argues that the verse in Leviticus saying "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" is unclear, but traditionally was understood to bar only one kind of sex between men. All other prohibitions were "added later on by the rabbis" ....

Now I really don't give a hoot about the prohibitions of Leviticus, but the conclusion of this teshuvot (if reported correctly) is simply bizarre.

Think for a moment. What is Leviticus forbidding? If, as the teshuvot suggests, Leviticus is not forbidding all gay male sexual activities, then it must be forbidding some particular activity. And if that activity is a specific technique of heterosexual intercourse, I bet you didn't think of anal sex right off the bat, now did you? So if that is the "true" meaning of Leviticus, you have to wonder what Jewish men have been up to lo these many centuries.

But what I think I sense here (and don't tell me I'm projecting!) is that the rabbis are instructing us to avoid the hole in the middle. I know it's a stretch, but what else can they be saying? It is simply the Jewish version of the Law of the Excluded Middle.


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