A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a noted Israeli politician a conundrum that Orthodox rabbis face these days: how can we show our love for every Jew, all our brothers and sisters of all levels of observance or non-obervance, and simultaneously uphold and defend the integrity of the Torah? It is an uneasy balance. Oftentimes, maintaining the Torah’s integrity and defending its moral system is perceived by offenders as unconscionable assaults on their dignity and humanity.
A related question: is there a way to speak the hard truth without sounding insensitive? To that the obvious answer seems to be no, and that has caused many rabbis to color the truth, avoid certain topics altogether or, worst of all, try to revise the Torah, subtly or overtly. Thus, many embrace the new immorality “as the world we live in” without recognizing that their acquiescence is shaping and validating that “world.” And the effect on the laity, which is both a prime mover of these deviations as well as pressure points on the rabbinate, is devastating in terms of their fidelity to the Mesorah. Lacking forceful, unapologetic Torah guidance, their moral authorities have become Twitter or Facebook, the society at large, its loudest progressive voices, the secular culture and other anti-Torah outlets.
What has to be said that is not being said? Every month or so it seems, there is a public forum under Orthodox auspices that discusses the alphabet soup of moral transgressions, LGBT and the rest. The ground rules are always the same: the discussion can never be about halacha, Jewish values, or tradition, but can only encompass various ways in which we show acceptance, sensitivity, inclusion, etc. The discussion about halacha, Jewish values or tradition must wait until another time – a time which never comes. Sometimes the moderators will proclaim that those too are legitimate topics but “not our topic.” Whose topic is it? No one. When will it be discussed? Never.
It is a bait and switch game, which results in only one voice being heard – call it the pro-sin forces – and those forces are featured, promoted and even honored by the Modern Orthodox, really neo-Conservative fringe. It has engendered the growing acceptance of same sex unions in the Modern Orthodox world, in which parents, relatives and friends are expected to shelve their values and celebrate the sin of the young couple.
Anyone who wants to discuss Torah, Halacha, sin, immorality, mental illness or degeneracy is accused of endangering their lives, causing suicides (itself an indication of mental illness), bullying, insensitivity and cruelty. Consequently, the new immorality has cornered the market. Only they are allowed to speak. Only they are allowed to misinterpret the Torah as they wish. No one else is allowed to differ and whoever dares to sound a contrary word must be censored, ridiculed, silenced and canceled. Their cherished concept of “inclusion” excludes, castigates and bullies religious people and anyone who challenges their agenda. Enough.
To be sure, others suggest that we ignore them and not give them any more attention. But ignoring them has enabled them to dominate all discussions of morality, leaving many – especially impressionable youngsters – perplexed, experimenting in ways that ruin their lives, and rebelling against Torah norms.
The weird secular culture has permeated Jewish life as well. We are supposed to accept as true what we know to be false. We desperately need a Hans “Jewish” Anderson to shout that the emperor has no clothes. Here are the obvious truths that people have been intimidated into silence: same sex relations are Torah prohibitions regardless of the parties’ love for each other. Men are men and women are women. Boys are boys and girls are girls.
Those who struggle with this are suffering from a form of mental illness and the worst of all of society’s dysfunctions in the last decade has been the mainstreaming of mental illness. There is certainly no joy in noting this; indeed, it should evoke sadness and an abundance of compassion. Sure, gender dysphoria is real (true sufferers are infinitesimal in number) but it is a malady that should be treated, not indulged. That mental illness exists is an unfortunate reality, and sufferers should not be stigmatized, but nor should they be coddled or consecrated. And they deserve both our sympathy and common sense responses.
If a boy thinks he’s cat, we get him help. Aside from Rav Nachman’s parable, we don’t put a bowl of milk before him on the floor every morning for fear that otherwise we will be labeled bigoted anti-felines or feline-phobes. Yet, today, it is considered decent and virtuous to encourage him to purr and to meow right along with him. This is insanity.
Men cannot become pregnant. This is not controversial. This is normal. A tiny number of people believe such nonsense and they are very loud and aggressive. The rest of us ignore, smirk or roll our eyes but we need to do more than eye roll. We all know that woke is a bad joke but we have to speak up and strike a blow for sanity. Otherwise, the day will soon come when traditional morality will be deemed a form of mental illness and believers will be persecuted (if they aren’t already).
The modern world tries to convince people that they are not what they are and they are what they are not. This is not an innocuous phenomenon. Abigail Shrier has well documented the catastrophe in her “Irreversible damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters” in which thousands of teenage girls are talking it into themselves today that they are really boys and then engaging in life-altering mutilation and sterilization. And when they regret it, it is too late. But they are succumbing to this claptrap because that is all they see on social media. There is no pushback, no voice for sanity, And this popular acceptance is itself an inevitable extension of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s lament a half-century ago of society “defining deviancy down.” Even a self-described Rebbitzen recently declared herself to be neither a man nor a woman, whatever that means, by her own admission talking it into herself during the long Corona lockdown. This needs to be treated, not feted.
Mental health is a legitimate issue and, to be sure, not everyone guilty of some sexual offense is mentally ill. But those who are do need help and guidance, not indulgence. There have always been people who thought they were Napoleon. These people were referred for treatment; they weren’t provided with cavalries and cannons and encouraged to invade Belgium.
Additionally, no one is allowed to control another person’s speech. No one should be forced to use they/them/it/zir/hir/whatever or any other fabricated pronoun or terms. That is tyranny. It is not normal. It should not be humored. It is not insensitive to try to help someone overcome a mental disability; indeed, true sensitivity demands that we help them recover. With all due and appropriate sympathy for the plight of these individuals, they do not get to dictate reality to the rest of us, nor alter our perception of reality, and absolutely not to decree the way we speak. Control of speech is nothing less than a naked power play.
It should be obvious. “They” is a word for a plural. One person is not a plural. That is normal. We should reflect what is normal in our speech and thought. We should not pretend that what is not, is. That is not even kind as it prevents the person from seeking help. Perhaps it would aid their recovery if the plural people had to pay income taxes in the plural as well, one for each identity. That would be a needed dose of reality.
Yet, advocates for this nuttiness have created a repressive society that resembles Communism without the Gulag – but with the capacity to control and ruin lives, take away people’s livelihoods and send them into internal exile. It shouldn’t be tolerated by the society of the sane. We shouldn’t laugh, mock, indulge or conclude “they can’t be serious.” They are serious. They are bullies, and bullies should be confronted peacefully but vigorously. We all lose when society cowers before them, cancels good and decent people on their demand, and pretends that all this is normal, a sign of modernity and morality. It is none of those things. And bullies always back down when challenged because they really are powerless. Let them tweet at each other to their heart’s content; none of that is real or meaningful anyway.
We are still allowed to say that homosexuality is prohibited by the Torah and that boys thinking they are girls and girls thinking they are boys is abnormal. We are still allowed to say the obvious even though its advocates claim we are thereby “insensitive,” because those espousing these views are “insensitive” to the rest of the world. Yes, like 99% of the rest of the world. The Jewish public need not just listen, acquiesce, accept and pander to those who trample Halacha, mock the Torah and claim G-d’s imprimatur.
This cannot be ignored. George Orwell said famously that “to see what is in front of your nose needs a constant struggle,” and that is even more true today. I have heard all the counterarguments that I am certain I will hear again: such talk is insensitive, unkind, causes bullying and death, and there are (always) other issues to discuss Nonsense. Those assertions are only made to stifle the speech of normal people, and to mainstream mental illness with all the attendant and unfortunate consequences.
Certainly there will be hundreds of rabbis and others encouraging me privately, wishing that “if only we could say this.” But you can, you all can, and you must, once you realize that right is right, Torah is Torah, moral is moral, ill is ill. A whole generation of children under our watch is being raised thinking this is normal and that society, even Jewish society, accepts and applauds it. It doesn’t, and even the general society has had enough as is apparent from the pushback over “boys” competing against girls in high school sports and the outcry of “boys” using girls’ restrooms and locker rooms in schools and even committing assaults there.
Torah Judaism should not accept it. Torah Judaism doesn’t accept it except for a Modern Orthodox fringe that labors to accommodate every new fad and fetish. The greatest sin in Modern Orthodoxy today is to be judgmental but without judgment we lose our minds, morality, connection with G-d and with the Torah. It is not judgmental to observe that the emperor has no clothes. It is reality. And too many Jewish teenagers have no idea why it is wrong, and prohibited, and few with the capacity to address it from a Torah perspective are willing to do it.
Either we can join the battle or we can mistakenly conclude that we can passively outlast it. The latter is tantamount to surrender, and the effect on our children and their appreciation and acceptance of the Mesorah and of traditional Jewish family life will be devastating. What is the triumph of Chanukah but the celebration of our salvation and the preservation of Torah from the decadence that was mainstream Hellenism.
Let our voices be heard – not to harm anyone but to protect the innocent and uphold the integrity of the Torah. Can obvious truths be uttered without someone taking offense? I hope so, even in today’s tightly controlled marketplace of ideas. But they still need to be uttered, if only to strengthen the Torah, give clarity to the confused and direction to the misguided. We can (and should) love every Jew, as we must also faithfully and unequivocally love and defend the Torah.