Alas, Victor is still traveling, but I have found time for a brief note. One of our readers, Rei, brought this blog post concerning the Orthodox Jewish position on homosexuality to my attention. Unlike the infamous “Halloween Letter” written by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVIth) when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to Bishops on the pastoral care of “homosexual persons;” the Statement of Principles originates from a Rabbi, who then allowed it to be “commented upon by and revised based on the input from dozens of talmidei chachamim, educators, communal rabbis, mental health professionals and a number of individuals in our community who are homosexual in orientation.” This statement was then signed by many Rabbis and other prominent Orthodox Jews who agreed with the sentiments espoused therein. Both authorship and audience ought to be kept in mind while drawing comparisons.
The first thing that struck me was that the language of the Statement of Principles was far more welcoming. Compare, for instance, the first few lines of each:
We, the undersigned Orthodox rabbis, rashei yeshiva, ramim, Jewish educators and communal leaders affirm the following principles with regard to the place of Jews with a homosexual orientation in our community…
The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.
The disparity in language here cannot be attributed to mere differences in authorship, style, religious structure, or audience (although those do factor in). The Statement of Principles clearly underlines that there are practicing homosexual Jews within the community, whereas the “Halloween Letter” only speaks of homosexuality in a way that distances its readers, as an abstract concept; the document discusses homosexual acts, not homosexual Catholics. We are not included in the community. This is particularly interesting, as the Statement of Principles is not actually any less damning than the Halloween Letter in its moral evaluation of homosexuality. It affirms that no matter what the cause of homosexuality, such interactions are prohibited:
4. Halakhic Judaism views all male and female same-sex sexual interactions as prohibited. The question of whether sexual orientation is primarily genetic, or rather environmentally generated, is irrelevant to this prohibition.
Interestingly enough, the Halloween letter discusses the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice:
11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.
Here, the Church’s wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance…
Although, it immediately warns its readers against “the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable,” as
What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God’s liberating grace.
While both the Halloween Letter and the Statement agree on the unacceptability of homosexual relations, the latter contains something that the Halloween letter lacks: an awareness that the religious community has a fundamental duty to welcome those within it, even if they are homosexual, and an understanding of the harsh psychological toll well-meaning devout persons may have on those who are LGBTQ. The Statement clearly addresses this issue immediately:
1. All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot). Every Jew is obligated to fulfill the entire range of mitzvot between person and person in relation to persons who are homosexual or have feelings of same sex attraction. Embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions that embody the deepest values of Judaism.
This is reiterated again, and again and again. The document “affirm[s] the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous,” and warns against marriages between someone who is gay, to someone of the opposite gender, as “this can lead to great tragedy, unrequited love, shame, dishonesty and ruined lives.” Furthermore, the document makes it quite clear that the children of homosexual couples, both biological and adoptive, are also to be welcomed into the community. Quite a far cry from what one may see/experience in any conservative Catholic setting. And who can be surprised, as only once–quite far into the document–does the Halloween letter demonstrate any sensitivity on the part of the Church to such considerations:
10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
This is quickly followed up (lest the reader should forget!) by a reminder that homosexuality is in no way to be condoned.
I am amazed that conservatives of another religion have managed to write a document that is just as hardline on the morality of homosexuality, while simultaneously managing to remind people that GLBTQ are part of their community, and ought to be treated as such, and remaining psychologically sensitive. I would wish to see similar language from hardliners within my Church.
In Corde Mariae,
 One has the sense that this would not happen.