Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hail To The Chief!

The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Rav Ephraim Mirvis, has accomplished something extraordinary. He took an impossible situation, and through his strength, wisdom and political acumen, solved it.

For those who don't know, I am talking about his resolution of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the Spanish and Portugese Synagogue in London. Over the last few months, there has been a storm raging in British Jewry about (depending on which side you are on) various controversial teachings of his, and the response to this by various rabbis and other people. When Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef declared that Rabbi Dweck should not be allowed to serve as Rabbi, this seemed to have forced the conclusion. Yet, through some supernatural miracle that I cannot explain, Rabbi Yosef then put out a letter admitting that as a non-Brit he was not really qualified to evaluate the situation, and that it should be resolved by Rabbi Mirvis, whose judgment he would accept. Rabbi Mirvis put together a review committee, consisting of various senior Dayanim and - very significantly - a QC. They decided that Rabbi Dweck should remain in his position as senior rabbi, after he issued an apology for some of his teachings, stepped down from his position on the Beit Din, and an agreement to be more cautious in future. (I am simplifying matters - see the full report elsewhere.)

Several people had written to me over the last few months, asking me to write in defense of Rabbi Dweck. I did not do so (although I did defend him against the disgusting attacks of Yosef Mizrachi), for several reasons. One is that I felt that, being who I am, stepping in would inflame matters rather than help them. But another reason is that I felt that I simply did not know enough about the situation. 

I find it amazing, and disturbing, how many people are ready to form strong opinions on controversial matters about which they know very little. For example, a few years ago, someone asked (and expected) me to voice my support for a woman stuck in a certain messy divorce case. But I refused to do so, for the simple reason that I did not feel that I knew enough about the situation. While her story seemed compelling, there are very often (if not always) two sides to a story.

The initial storm surrounding Rabbi Dweck was based on a shiur that he gave about homosexuality - a shiur that I did not listen to, on a topic that I know very little about. The subsequent controversy surrounded various statements that he made over the years - and once again, I have no idea what these were. So how on earth was I supposed to give an opinion?

What I find particularly distressing is how many people are criticizing the Chief Rabbi even though they, too, lack knowledge of the situation. There are numerous ordinarily intelligent people condemning Rabbi Mirvis for even the very limited way in which Rabbi Dweck was not fully vindicated. They have accused Rabbi Mirvis of giving in to charedi bullies. But how on earth do they know this to be the case? Maybe Rabbi Mirvis (or the Dayanim that he appointed - at least of whom is definitely not one to fall in line with charedi "Daas Torah") - actually did believe that some of Rabbi Dweck's teachings were problematic? After all, there certainly are at least *some* non-charedi rabbinic figures who feel that way. And, as I discussed in the previous post, you can't claim that *every* statement should be automatically acceptable within Orthodoxy.

So, while it's *possible* that Rabbi Mirvis kowtowed to charedi pressure, it's also perfectly possible that he reached an honest judgement based on his personal appraisal of the situation. And I see no reason why one should not assume this to be case. Furthermore, it seems that people who are so sure of themselves in criticizing Rabbi Mirvis don't actually know any more than I do about the details of the questionable teachings. So it would be appropriate for them to simply keep silent.

There's another reason why they should keep silent. You can be sure that the zealots who tried to destroy Rabbi Dweck will be up in arms about Rabbi Mirvis' verdict to permit him to stay in his post. They will point to Rav Yitzchak Yosef's condemnation of him. And yet, Rav Yosef subsequently wrote that people should go by whatever Rabbi Mirvis decides. If you want Rabbi Dweck's opponents to follow Rabbi Mirvis's decision, then you should likewise follow it and not protest it.

I am far from the only one to be in awe of how magnificently the Chief Rabbi handled this very difficult situation. One well-known commentator on the Orthodox community wrote to me "I was overwhelmed by the difference between the way they handled you - and a dozen other issues in Bnei Brak and NY - and the way they satisfactorily dealt with the Rabbi Dweck in London.  Maybe you Brits are on to something!" Chief Rabbi Mirvis took a near-unsolvable situation and resolved it. To adapt an American expression to this British situation, Hail to the Chief!

(I wrote this post in the airport in a hurry, and now I am boarding a plane to Bangkok. So I hope that there are no errors, and I apologize if there are.)

42 comments:

  1. Chief Rabbi Mirvis took a near-unsolvable situation and resolved it.

    What was unsolvable?

    Looks to me that Rabbi Dweck pretty much acknowledged that he had erred, accepted to be re-mentored and resigned from the BD. Not sure what the Chief Rabbi resolved. Had Rabbi Dweck not apologised and not been contrite and not accepted he had erred, then we would have seen what skills the CR has.

    Finally on the Big Issue of Homosexuality the CR said a big fat zero. Some resolution....

    Usual media spin.

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    1. It seemed unsolvable to have Rabbi Dweck continue in his position after Rav Yosef had said that he couldn't.

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    2. The CR has made his position on homosexuality clear:

      http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/shuls-must-embrace-gay-jews-says-chief-rabbi/

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  2. " I felt that I simply did not know enough about the situation. "

    I felt the same say and did not comment either!

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  3. By your argument, quite a few of Rabbi Dweck's critics (including some very high profile ones) should also have kept shtum, since they also appear to have not heard his lectures.

    I think it's perfectly possible to comment on the way this whole campaign against RD was whipped up without getting into what was actually said.

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  4. Here is one copy of what I assume was one of the controversial shiurim: Rabbi Joseph Dweck - Male Homosexuality Shiur - May 2017

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    1. Thanks David

      What a great shiur. Was this really controversial?

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    2. Here is the rejoinder. Powerful. Wow.

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    3. BoomBam: an interesting rejoinder. What about his anecdote near the start, praising the closing of a yeshivah where secular studies are (Hashem yishmor...) required by the Government? He doesn't place it in the past; this worldview should not be ignored when evaluating the criticisms of Dweck's positions.

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  5. Disagree. Hes just as corrupt as Sacks. Not creditworthy at all. Dweck sadly caved to 'keep the peace' and is better than the rest of them put together.

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    1. Just wondering what you are basing these comments on. Rabbi Dwek himself accepts that some of his halakhic decisions were perhaps not as precise as they should have been...

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  6. The problem with not commenting on the Rabbi Dweck story is that a lack of knowledge is often used as a way to get out of sticky situations, usually without much success.
    Take examples such as "I don't know David Duke", and we can see how these statements usually give the opposite message of what those who say them are trying to convey.
    Don't get me wrong. I don't know EXACTLY, PRECISELY what happened with Rabbi Dweck. But I do know that the story included a prominent rabbi standing up just a bit for the rights of probably the most marginalized group of jews, and getting blasted for it. And while reacting properly is sometimes nearly impossible, for fear of a similar backlash, we can no longer just look the other way and claim ignorance.
    Just my own personal feelings on the issue

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  7. I have read the statement from the Chief Rabbi's Review Committee.

    Nowhere in this statement does Rabbi Dweck express regret directly related to the issue of homosexuality. He does however, express "...a deep sense of regret over his inappropriate comments about the sayings of Chazal..."

    On this issue Rabbi Slifkin should most definitely hold a view.

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    1. I heard the shiur - at one point he said Chazal were wrong about something. In the actual context its clear he meant that the societal situation they were discussing is different now and that they themselves would likely agree, not that they made a mistake. However I think its important for someone of R' Dweck's stature to be more careful with their wording - especially in public - and I think that would have prevented many of the other misunderstandings (or misquotes) as well.

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  8. RNS, You should write an essay on homosexuality. How do rationalists resolve the contradiction between scienctific opinion that it is not voluntary and the torah's prohibition?

    There are not many cases where science and torah clash like that. Maybe lice on shabbos is another.

    Unlike age of the earth and dinosaurs with no halachik implications to speak of, this clash has major halachik implications. So how do you deal with it?

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    1. The same way we all deal with lots of difficult bits in the Torah. We ignore it.

      Might as well to be honest with ourselves.

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    2. I do not understand the problem. many people are unfortunately born with disorders that make them inclined to do all sorts of prohibitions (e.g. kleptomania). why is this different?
      sam miller

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    3. Sam, I agree completely. I'm even more puzzled about the so-called Agunah and Shidduch "crises". After all, the Torah doesn't require them to marry or re-marry, so what's the problem? They should deal with their fate and thank God that the Torah gave them their chance to fulfill their job in this world.

      More seriously, stealing from someone else directly damages that someone else so we have step in to stop it. This is not some kind of new-fangled modernishe distinction. The Torah distinguishes between Bein Adam L'Chaveiro and Bein Adam L'Makom and also between Chok and Mishpat. The Rambam maintains that the very desire to violate Mishpat is an imperfection while the desire to violate Chok is not. Also, if the person was truly ill to the point of having no control over his own actions, we would not treat him as a criminal.

      There are people just like you and me that have the same desire for sex, marriage, family that are directed towards the same rather than opposite sex. You will not find Torah authorities of the past discussing how to reconcile that with the halachah, because such people were not thought to exist. Rav Moshe claims that there is really no such thing as a homosexual and anyone desiring relations with the same sex isn't really looking for pleasure and could only be motivated by rebellion against the Torah. If the problem that I mentioned was so simple, Rav Moshe would not have had to make such a claim.

      In the same way that we try to free the Agunah and enable all to get married, it makes perfect sense to have the same concern and sympathy for homosexuals.

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    4. There is no contradiction between the Torah and science on this matter. The Torah doesn't prohibit having the inclination, desire or predisposal towards engaging in homosexual acts. And science doesn't claim anyone must by nature engage in physical homosexual acts and cannot refrain or remain celebrate.

      Delete
    5. There is no contradiction between the Torah and science on this matter.

      That is true just as it is true that there was no contradiction between science and the Egyptian law that mandated the killing of all Israelite male children. The question is how to understand the morality of the law.

      The fact that many Orthodox have moved from the position that there is no such thing as homosexuality to the new position that all homosexuals can be "converted" is a sign that the moral implication of the law do trouble people.

      The Torah doesn't prohibit having the inclination, desire or predisposal towards engaging in homosexual acts.

      The attitude that you espouse here is not the traditional view, results from the influence of modern society, and is not really implemented in general Orthodox societies. We don't find any description in the Torah literature of how the say 1-3% of gays were treated respectfully and given guidance (I don't know the exact percentages, but that is in the ballpark). Instead we have descriptions of how such desires can only result from evil intentions. It is only recently that anyone could dare come out as Orthodox and homosexual and that is very, very far from universal (probably only a minuscule percentage of Torah-based groups would tolerate it). The Charedi mayor of Beit Shemesh claimed that there were no homosexuals in his town.

      And science doesn't claim anyone must by nature engage in physical homosexual acts and cannot refrain or remain celibate.

      That is true in the same way that it is true that science doesn't say that anyone needed to submit to their tormentors when tortured. No rule of human psychology is universal. But as a general rule, people cannot remain celibate through self-imposition, and to the degree that they can, they have great difficulty in leading happy lives. We don't need to rely on any new-fangled science for this; the Torah itself had multiple halachos and chazakos that are based on this principle:

      1) One who had no obligation or ability to have children is still obligated to get married in order to avoid prohibited sexual relations.

      2) Unmarried men and women are not permitted to seclude themselves.

      3) No person is considered reliable as a trustee in sexual matters.

      4) The Gemara assumes that a woman would prefer a bad marriage to none at all.

      So while every sentence that you write is literally true in some sense, none of it contradicts what I wrote.

      "Fozziebear" has it right.

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    6. @David Ohsie

      You wrote: "The Torah distinguishes between Bein Adam L'Chaveiro and Bein Adam L'Makom and also between Chok and Mishpat."


      and

      "In the same way that we try to free the Agunah and enable all to get married, it makes perfect sense to have the same concern and sympathy for homosexuals."

      However, also homosexuality is Bein Adam L'Chaveiro. Just because the other person agrees, does not mean that it is not harming him.

      The agunah and people who wants to marry want to do things in accordance with halacha. So they are not comparable to people, who violate a Torah-prohibition. This does not mean that homosexuals do not deserve sympathy, however, they do not deserve support for their longings in contrast to the others.

      Elazar.

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    7. However, also homosexuality is Bein Adam L'Chaveiro. Just because the other person agrees, does not mean that it is not harming him.

      That is a stretch; the fact that two people violate Bein Adam L'Makom together is not nearly the same as violating another person against their will. But it doesn't matter because it still remains Chok where desire for the prohibited behavior is not looked upon negatively at least according to Rambam.

      The agunah and people who wants to marry want to do things in accordance with halacha.

      Most/all orthodox want to marry according to halachah. But a married women who desires to marry someone else is desiring something completely prohibited according to halachah. We could tell her that this she is to be classified along with kleptomaniacs as someone desiring harm for others. But we understand that her motivation is good and proper so we bend over backward to try to make it permitted including accepting reduced levels of evidence than normally accepted to establish the death of her husband. Some also encourage a prenuptial agreement to lessen the chances of here ending up in the situation where her normal natural desire will be in contradiction to halacha in case of a recalcitrant husband. With homosexuals, we don't seem to have answer.

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  9. The conclusion reached was broadly what was expected at last Shabbat's dinner table for many Londoners. Rabbi Dweck used over enthusiastic language about homosexuality, but his basic message was to accept them as human beings. Probably 99% of Spanish and Portuguese, and United Synagogue members support Rabbi Dweck (OK I have not met any detractors in my wide circle).

    To me, this is a good demonstration of the huge advantage of the British Commonwealth system of having a Chief Rabbi to represent us.

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  10. If you did not know enough about the situation as you admitted, and have not heard the Rabbi Dweck's shiur about LGBT, why do you praise the resolution that let him remain? Do you automatically praise any action that go against the advice of Gedolim?

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  11. Having read the actual report in the newspaper, I cannot agree with you, Rabbi Slifkin. Echoing some other commentators, what did the Chief Rabbi solve? Rabbi Dweck had to eat crow, has abdicated from his position and is being thrown the proverbial bone in keeping his position a Rabbi. Adding insult to injury, his speeches and writings have t0 be approved by some obscure committee. What an outrageous behavior! Yes, I realize that Rabbi Dweck did this to save his job-at least his position is honest. But the Chief Rabbi did nothing except capitulate again to the extreme right wing. And, by the way, the attack on Rabbi Dweck by Rabbi Zimmerman-that Rabbi Dweck is ignorant of Halacha- can be equally applied to the present occupant of the Chief Rabbinate in England.

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  12. You neglected to mention the familial connection between dweck and yosef IMHO that was the decisive factor that caused yosef to act with any decency

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  13. Galileo all over again...

    It's sad that Rav Dweck had to cave in to save himself, but at least he started a discussion.

    I predict that in 20-50 years his views will be completely mainstream.

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    Replies
    1. In 20-50 years those who believe those positions will have broken off from Orthodoxy.

      Delete
    2. That a bris for a baby born during shabbos bein hashmashos is on Friday (or many other blatantly wrong halachic statements)? I doubt it.

      Delete
  14. Disgusted, Tunbridge WellsJuly 23, 2017 at 2:31 AM

    It is extremely difficult to accept the sincerity of those protagonists who publicly criticized rabbi dweck, even if rabbi dweck did make inaccurate halachic statements, when those very people don't give the same treatment to Chaim Halpern, the rabbis recently arrested in Lakewood, or the chareidi groups in Israel who have called for the murder of MKs trying to get more chareidim in the army. How rabbi slifkin can hail this result as any sort of triumph for chief rabbi mirvis is beyond my comprehension. I am an avid follower of this blog and agree with it's contents 99% of the time. This piece however, is most disappointing.

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    1. @"Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells": Please send my regards to Aunt Cecily!

      https://www.gutenberg.org/files/844/844-h/844-h.htm

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  15. I can't pretend to know the mind and feelings of a homosexual, or the details of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Dweck. However, one aspect is clear. Ideological statements and motivational attributions by prominent poskim have little value if there aren't based on real knowledge. It matters little if the posek is usually realistic and considerate, as well as knowledgeable. If he opines on matters with which he has little or no familiarity, his judgment should carry little weight. This is true about homosexuality and other issues such as the supposed motivation of women seeking greater participation in religious ritual and offices.

    Y. Aharon

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  16. @David Ohsie

    "The Torah distinguishes between Bein Adam L'Chaveiro and Bein Adam L'Makom..."

    Also homosexuality is Bein Adam L'Chaveiro. His agreement does not mean that it does not harm him.

    "In the same way that we try to free the Agunah and enable all to get married, it makes perfect sense to have the same concern and sympathy for homosexuals."

    The agunah and people, who wants to marry, have a longing in accordance with Halacha and deserve sympathy and even support.
    However, homosexuals have a longing for something forbidden. This might deserve sympathy for their suffering, but it is not "in the same way" as the others.

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  17. As usual, 'orthodox' fans of homosexuality insist that they have facts and reason on their side, whereas opponents don't know anything about the issue. Of course, if you try to explain the facts about the homosexuality community then within ten seconds they will flip out and call you a heretic (sorry, 'homophobe'), even so it might be worth a try.

    1) When male anal 'sex' was legalised in the western world, its supporters insisted that homosexuals were just harmless eccentrics and that male anal 'sex' posed no danger to the public.

    2) In actual fact, the legalisation of male anal 'sex' led directly to the last great peacetime health crisis of the western world. Despite frantic attempts to prove otherwise on the part of interested individuals, HIV in the western world is almost entirely a problem for male homosexuals and intravenous drug users. Male homosexuals are 200 times more likely to have HIV than normal people and account for an unbelievable 63% of all syphilis cases in the US. It turns out that trying to fit limbs into holes that are too small to the extent that it causes both of you to bleed is unhealthy.

    3) As a consequence of the normalization of male homosexuality, 'sexual' practices that were rare among normal people became common to the extent that Teen Vogue now has feature lengthy articles for 11 year old girls on how to stretch their sphincters. Even activities so strangely repellent as 'rimming' are now depicted on TV shows for a general audience.

    4) Contrary to the lies of pro-homosexuality 'orthodox' people, there are essentially no monogamous male homosexuals. About 30% of them identify as such, but when you ask them what this means it turns out they have a different conception of 'mono'. This is not surprising. Romantic love is not a supernatural force acting between spirit entities, but an epiphenomenon of sex. Since anal 'sex' only marginally resembles actual sex, homosexual 'love' only marginally resembles actual love.

    5) Far from being harmless eccentrics, people who can only become aroused by people with the same genitals as themselves turn out to be vindictive narcissists. They hunt down and persecute harmless elderly owners of B&Bs whose only crime is that they don't want to have to clear up sheets full of Santorum in the morning. They actively promote deviancy (shockingly enough, the editor of teen vogue is a gay man) and demand the freedom to simulate sex acts in public in their pride parades. Worst of all, and it is hard for a non deranged person even to understand this, they demand the right to give blood while leading active 'sex' lives, because protecting people from AIDS is less important than muh equality.

    6) Whatever causes homosexuality, it is certainly not genetic and anyone with a calculator, a primary school understanding of evolutionary theory, and a halfway functioning brain could work out why this is so.

    Gaon Dweck thinks this is great, up there with other great things like feminism (= mass abortion and institutional child abuse [day'care']). Go figure.

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    1. Thank God you wrote all 8 paragraphs. If you had only written one, some poor fool might have taken you seriously.

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    2. Hey, no need to call me a name ;)

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  18. Gavriel M: You've outdone yourself in spouting absolute nonsense with complete confidence. Since you've piled absurdity upon absurdity, much of it meaningless and hard to reconstruct, I won't be able to react to everything in one shot, but let me take up the comment that most almost reaches the level of coherence.

    Whatever causes homosexuality, it is certainly not genetic and anyone with a calculator, a primary school understanding of evolutionary theory, and a halfway functioning brain could work out why this is so.

    There's a lot to unpack here. You seem to be arguing that homosexuality could never be a result of genes since it would natural selection would have selected it right out since homosexual relations don't produce offspring.

    It takes about 2 seconds to show that this is wrong: there are exist fatal genetic diseases (e.g Tay-Sachs). QED

    I would argue that anyone with a quarter functioning brain could point out that your putative half-brained reasoner must have been using the wrong half.

    So where did you go so badly wrong?

    1) You did not sufficiently distinguish genotype from phenotype. Phenotype results from your genotype (which may consist of many relevant genes) plus environmental factors.

    2) Homosexuals are not sterile.

    3) You attack a strawman. No one is arguing that there is a "gay gene" causing the phenomena that disturbs you so. (Although your argument fails in that model as well, as I have shown above).

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  19. Finally, someone who understands that homosexuality is not just a religious issue or even an issue of personal taste, but a societal moral issue

    Notice that Gavriel M didn't make a single religious or biblical argument

    He merely appealled to logic and reason

    It's remarkable that people on the left or 'tolerant' side of the orthodox world are so quick to jump on the 'progressive' band-wagon


    But when you try to point out these things are against evolutionary theory, biology, and destructive to society in general, they will conveniently ignore these facts to virtue signal their 'tolerance'

    I love rationalist Judaism, but I do get very put off when it's adherents pick and choose

    Remember, the same Rabbis whose opinions we enjoy to show it's okay to believe the universe is billions of years old and that chazal often erred in science, would never ever ever say that celebration of deviance is as Dwek puts it "a wonderful thing"

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    1. Notice that Gavriel M didn't make a single religious or biblical argument

      He merely appealled to logic and reason


      And came up empty-handed.

      But when you try to point out these things are against evolutionary theory, biology

      This literally makes no sense. Scientific laws are not things that you can violate.

      Remember, the same Rabbis whose opinions we enjoy to show it's okay to believe the universe is billions of years old and that chazal often erred in science, would never ever ever say that celebration of deviance is as Dwek puts it "a wonderful thing"

      I have no proof, but I think that almost no Jewish Young Earthers are going are going to be puzzled by the Torah prohibition on Homosexuality. Conversely, among those who feel the need to try to reconcile this prohibition with a modern view of morality, almost all are also going to accept the modern scientific account on the age of the universe.

      Delete
  20. 1) When male anal 'sex' was legalised in the western world, its supporters insisted that homosexuals were just harmless eccentrics and that male anal 'sex' posed no danger to the public.

    You made this up. Please cite the claims by anyone that specific forms of sex are protected against STD's.

    BTW, when was this legalized in the West? In ancient Greek and Roman times? In 1791 when it was legalized in France? In 1890, when legalization was finalized in Italy? In 1962 in Illinois? In 2003 when it was legalized in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia?

    Personally, I haven't noticed homosexuals to be eccentric. Your excessive concern with certain kinds of sex, on the other hand...

    In actual fact, the legalisation of male anal 'sex' led directly to the last great peacetime health crisis of the western world.

    Evidence and reasoning please? That a disease affected group A doesn't mean that legislation about group A caused it. If there is any causation, it is likely the other direction. The social and legal sanctions against homosexuality led the public health response to be delayed. The Surgeon General was prohibited from addressing AIDS from 1981 until 1986, and then had to prepare his report in secret so that it would not be bowdlerized by the administration.

    Male homosexuals are 200 times more likely to have HIV than normal people and account for an unbelievable 63% of all syphilis cases in the US. It turns out that trying to fit limbs into holes that are too small to the extent that it causes both of you to bleed is unhealthy.

    Based on that reasoning, all the other STD's not concentrated among gay men and earlier syphilis outbreaks unrelated to gay men proves that sex in general is unhealthy. Also, you do realize that you don't get STD's from monogamous sex of any sort between uninfected people, right?

    3) As a consequence of the normalization of male homosexuality, 'sexual' practices that were rare among normal people became common...

    You think that people used varying sexual practices only recently? I think that our much earlier halachic authorities discuss these. I'm as uncomfortable as anyone else with the loosened restraints on public sexual behavior of all types, but if there is any causation arrow, you've likely got it backwards.

    To cut to the point and, frankly, back to reality, unprotected sex with many partners is risky, same-sex or not. A major difference is that same-sex relationship, the risk is only by the participants, while in opposite sex cases, this also can also be damage inflicted on the resulting children, which is a huge problem in the US today. Monogamy is safe regardless of the manner of relations. Your line of reasoning, to the degree that it exists, actually supports same-sex marriage and adoption.

    ReplyDelete

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