Monday, January 4, 2010

An Appeal for Intellectual Honesty: Avi Kopstick's Response to Rabbi Twersky

“The way it goes with the gentiles, that’s the way it goes with the Jews.” ~Classic Yiddish Proverb

In 1992, the Family Research Council released a series of informational videos called “The Gay Agenda.” In it, they claimed that homosexuals all had a hidden, political agenda. James Dobson, the Director of Focus on the Family, described it best in 2005: “Those goals include universal acceptance of the gay lifestyle, discrediting of scriptures that condemn homosexuality, muzzling of the clergy and Christian media, granting of special privileges and rights in the law, overturning laws prohibiting pedophilia, indoctrinating children and future generations through public education, and securing all the legal benefits of marriage for any two or more people who claim to have homosexual tendencies.” Even today, American evangelical Christians spread these rumors to countries as faraway as Uganda (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/africa/04uganda.html?ref=world). Basically they maintain that while it may seem that homosexuals are only fighting for equality and basic civil rights, they are actually trying to obliterate all social morality by crippling religion, brainwashing the public, converting unsuspecting heterosexuals to homosexualism, and having sex with children. (For a similar example of gentile-propaganda about a despised minority, please see “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”)

Last week, Rabbi Twersky, one of YU’s Roshei Ha-Yeshiva, got up in front of approximately 500 students to declare the true intentions of the Tolerance Club’s panel, “Being Gay in the Orthodox World.” According to him, the event did not want to promote an understanding of, and inspire sympathy towards, a group of individuals who, due to no fault of their own, are stuck in a difficult and depressive situation. Nor did it want to spread awareness of a painful reality that exists within the Modern Orthodox community: the reality of gay youth who (within the overall population) account for more than half of male youth suicides, or of spouses who effectively get dragged into a closet all their own, once they find out, after many unsatisfying years of marriage, that they actually married a homosexual. No. Rabbi Twersky informed the audience how the only explanation for a panel of this nature – where individuals feel the need to come out of the closet to promote sensitivity for their “unique” struggle – is: “the way it goes by the non-Jews is the way it goes with the Jews: There the agenda is alternate lifestyle. There the agenda is gay pride. There the agenda is gay marriage.” In truth, as Rabbi Twersky revealed, the event was an attempt to take any generated sympathy and “cynically manipulate and exploit [it] to create a legitimization” of gay sexual activity. “The real message, under the guise of sympathy, is you know what? The Torah’s Halakha isn’t really real” (even if the panelists specifically declared otherwise). Granted, the panel was called “Being Gay in the Orthodox World,” but REALLY it should be referred to as “Being Gay in YU.” As such, the panel disgraced every single student, rabbi, and faculty member of Yeshiva University. Not only that, but it also desecrated the name of God, Himself!

I am uncharacteristically distraught and frustrated by Rabbi Twersky’s speech last week. I don’t want to accuse his rhetoric of being motivated by homophobia, however, in my mind, when someone does not speak the truth, he is in fact speaking hatred. He claimed that “two of the four presenters also spoke of actual mishkav zachor [lying with a man].” I will admit, two speakers did make some obscure theoretical references to variant components of a same-sex relationship, but this included no explicit reference to an actual sexual relationship; it was, much more overtly, meant to be indicative of an obvious part of the struggle facing the speakers. In addition, Rabbi Twersky castigated the panel's audience for laughing and applauding instead of crying, an emotive guilt-trip that completely neglected the fact that we, the panelists, told lots of jokes at the panel in an attempt to keep a light tone, instead of portraying a lachrymose history of our experiences, and that, usually, when an individual finds the courage to share his most deeply held and personal secrets with 500 people, the audience applauds at the end. I could continue, but suffice it to say that throughout his entire speech, Rabbi Twersky deliberately misused words, phrases, and terminology, in order to misconstrue the facts and distort the truth regarding every aspect of the event from the more minor reason for the audience’s laughter to the much graver assertion that Halakha was explicitly rejected by the words of the panelists - much like when Paul Cameron, the co-founder of the Family Research Institute, asserted in “The Gay Agenda” that 75 percent of gay men regularly ingest feces and that 70-78 percent have had a sexually transmitted disease.

When dealing with this level of propaganda, it is best to just unmask it for what it truly is. For that reason, I refuse to respond, point-for-point, to Rabbi Twersky’s speech. Rather, I will just reiterate the purpose and my intentions for organizing the panel "Being Gay in the Orthodox World:" to discuss the lived experiences of growing up gay in the Orthodox community, and hopefully, through hearing about our collective struggles, to inspire the community to search for ways to ease the homosexual Jew’s suffering and isolation. As Rabbi Blau said, the panel was not to talk away Halakha, and as Dr. Pelcovitz explained, it was not about legitimization, but rather validation. The panel was meant to raise the issue of how to respond to homosexuals in the Orthodox community, and I guess in some ways, Rabbi Twersky's speech was what we wanted. However, instead of continuing the conversation that the panel was meant to start, he tried to sabotage everything we accomplished, and unfortunately, by doing so he may have also led gay individuals in YU and beyond to feel even more disenfranchised, depressed, and even suicidal. I would not mind an honest debate. In fact, I would welcome any form of discussion that moves the issue forward. But Rabbi Twersky twisted the facts and did not respond to the event as it was defined or as it unfolded. Rabbi Twersky has taken big issue with a panel called “Being Gay in YU.” My response? He must be referring to a different panel.