Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Now we turn to Yisoscher Katz

I'm a big Yisoscher Katz fanboy. I like the way he writes, I like the way he thinks, and I miss interacting with him on the Facebook thingie. But I'm still going to pull his ponytail about the Forward article he published in which he said we Jews need a Rebbe to get involved and solve our gay marriage problems.
So far, the Orthodox leadership’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision has been exclusively, narrowly halakhisist (legalistic) — very much in line with how the Vilna Gaon would have reacted. The response of Chassidic rebbes who follow the Ba’al Shem Tov would have been very different, in tenor and content. That is the voice sorely missing in our community. While we are blessed with plenty of rabbis opining about the decision and its consequences, we are desperately missing the voice of a rebbe.

The plight of gay people presents a huge challenge to the Orthodox believer. The rabbi and rebbe have very different clerical roles to play in this religious conundrum. The rabbi’s role is to judge; the rebbe’s is to provide pastoral care. The rabbi, guided by the Talmud and codes, opines and adjudicates, while the rebbe, whose halachic thinking is augmented by a spiritualist orientation, shuns judgment in favor of spiritual care
While the halachisists explore the minutiae of Jewish law to see if Orthodoxy can make room for the gay people in their midst, the rebbes have a different role to play. The rebbes need to be these people’s spiritual chaperones, walking alongside them on the arduous journey of reconciliation between their religious convictions and their inherent sexual predisposition, in the process helping them sanctify this torturous journey
Clearly R' Yisoscher is thinking and speaking in Platonic ideals when he tells us a Rebbe would walk alongside our wretched gay brothers and sisters guiding them on the "arduous journey of reconciliation between their religious convictions and their inherent sexual predisposition, in the process helping them sanctify this torturous journey." Platonic ideals don't exist in reality and neither does a Rebbe like this. Real Rebbes are less generous, father-figures and more Kingpin - both in terms of their girth and ruthlessness.

But let's forgive our friend Yisoscher for the broad, unsympathetic way he sketched those cold, Pharisaic Rabbis, and let's excuse his fantasies about loving, Jesus-like Rebbes who hold the whole world in their embrace reconciling sinners with God. Instead, let's congratulate Yisoscher on his Main Idea: Gay Jews are Jews first. And just as we have room in our hearts for Jews who cheat, and steal, and write mean blog posts (ahem), we should have room in our hearts for Jews who are gay.

Bashing gay Jews over the head with a bible verse is a coward's way out. Its easy, its mean and it doesn't take guts or imagination. You want to prove your spiritual chops? Act like those Rebbes Yisoscher Katz writes about. Instead of using the law, interpret it. Instead of crowding people out, make room for them in here. Worry more about the souls and hearts and needs of real people and less about what people who kept slaves, beat their wives and practiced medicine with leeches imagined our unknowable, unapproachable, unfathomable God really wants.

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