Levelling Brokeback Mountain [Parental Discretion Advised!]


If Donald Rumsfeld were frum, he would likely have said that life without “Brokeback Mountain” is like deer hunting without an accordion. Most of our readers will have no more problem avoiding the film than sitting out the International Tiddlywinks Competition. In a blog that seldom bothers to comment on the world of entertainment, avoiding “Brokeback” would seem to be both appropriate and easy.

It was, until Don Savage did his op-ed piece in the New York Times. One line of that essay, and one line alone, cries out for a response.

I didn’t see the movie. Then again, neither did long-time gay activist Savage. Brokeback, he tells us, is a realistic wake-up call to all of those homophobes who would have gay men try to go straight. It just doesn’t work, he says. Look what happened to Jack and Ennis when they to their own selves were not true:

They marry women, start families. But their wives are crushed when they realize their husbands don’t, and can’t, ever really love them. “Brokeback Mountain” makes clear that it would have been better for all concerned if Jack and Ennis had lived in a world where they could simply be together.

Millions of us, Don, know what you don’t. Love and lust are not the same. You can be intimate with someone and not love him or her. And you can love someone, and not be physically intimate. Love is about how much of yourself you’ve invested in the other person. It is about how much you have given to another, not about how much pleasure you plan to receive.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a different gay activist, one who had been more famous than Savage. This one, however, had slowly become Orthodox. Therapy had not made him less attracted to men. He was gay, but avoided gay activity. He went on to writing material from a Torah perspective, and to learning in a yeshiva in Israel, with the knowledge of that institution’s administration. I told him that I regarded him as nothing less than a hero, for being able to control a strong passion, simply because he accepted the fact that G-d asked him to.

He told me that his hope and dream was to find an observant woman who would understand his special predicament, and see him as a complete person, not simply define him by his gayness. He would marry her, and start a family. He saw absolutely no reason why he could not love and cherish her for the values they would share and the goals they would achieve together. Psychologists I consulted saw no reason to regard this wish as pie in the sky.

I have no idea whether his dream is practical, and am not suggesting in any manner or form whether gay men should be encouraged to make it their dream. I hope for the sake of this young man that the strategy works for him, and that is not the point of this posting. The point that needs emphasizing is that my acquaintance understands what many people today do not. He realizes the difference between a biological drive and the more spiritual response of love, and that they need not necessarily be contingent upon each other.

When young men in traditional Jewish circles near their wedding date, they are encouraged to study some key texts about marital intimacy, like Baalei HaNefesh of the Raavad, and Igeres HaKodesh of the Ramban. These texts are many hundreds of years old, but postmodern in their outlook. They are powerful enough to make an impact even on males in the full bloom of their hormonal rushes. A new couple learns that their physical attraction can function to help two dissimilar individuals through the difficult labor of putting aside their differences and becoming one unit. Minimally, it serves as a prod against the male hesitation to commit. It can add freshness to a marriage that might otherwise fade with habituation. The Talmud itself suggests that the monthly separation of husband and wife through the laws of family purity serves to reunite them afterwards with the emotional charge of a groom for his bride.

These texts, though, don’t stop at the pragmatic. They offer a glimpse of something that may be beyond the grasp of the typical newlywed couple, but is important for them to know and strive for in the years ahead. Intimacy, on a higher level, is a manner of communication without words. It is not, as Savage would have it, identical with “love,” but a way of expressing and relating the love that beats within the hearts of the couple. That love can grow stronger, not weaker, even as physical attraction between unrelated people might gently wane in succumb to the ravages of time. These texts underscore the holiness of intimacy. They explain that the Torah’s ideal for maritial intimacy is to concentrate on the person, rather than on body parts.

These are worthy goals, consistent with the idée fixe of Judaism – elevating the mundane and turning it into the holy. Even without the lofty embellishments, lots of ordinary folks – Jewish and non-Jewish – fully intuit that there is more to love, more to the nuclear family, than mutually providing pleasure. If Jack and Ennis couldn’t grasp that, let them ride off into the sunset together, and leave the rest of us alone.

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9 years 6 months ago

Rabbi Alderstein shares the view of Dr. Alan Unterman of Manchester University, who wrote in the ‘The Jewish Quarterly’ that: “It is not forbidden to be sexually attracted to members of one’s own sex, but it is forbidden to act on such preferences. Similarly, it is not demanded that one should be sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex, but it is demanded that, attracted or not, one should still get married and have children”.
Rabbi Chaim Rapoport in his highly acclaimed ‘Judaism and Homosexuality’, chapter 7, disagrees.
He provides many halachic (as well as ‘common sense’) reasons why we should dissuade homosexuals from drawing heterosexuals into a marital relationship – however good their intentions may be. These include: (a) a person with an exclusive gay disposition could experience much trauma and emotional agony, if not depression, when living with a lifelong heterosexual partner; (b) It is unlikely that a confirmed gay husband will be able to honor his commitment to his wife’s ‘conjugal rights’, even if he were able to have intercourse with her in a mechanical fashion; (c) Marital Intimacy must only take place with the total consent of both partners in the marriage. If a man entertains erotic thoughts during intercourse that are disassociated from his wife (say he is thinking of a man), it is considered a perversion. Our sages tell us that the offspring of such a union may be adversely affected. (d) a homosexual partner in a marriage may have a stronger propensity towards sexual infidelity, given that his desires and urges remain totally repressed in a heterosexual relationship. If the scenario were to occur that the gay partner in the marriage succumbed, say in a moment of ‘desperation’, to the forces of his impulse, it would be likely to wreak havoc on the marriage. (e) Given the fact that homosexual partners in heterosexual relationships may, understandably, seek fulfillment of their desires in a clandestine setting (possibly – in a moment of ‘uncontrollable’ urge – with an anonymous partner) the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and transmitting them to the innocent (and unsuspecting) partner is increased. (f) Likewise, in the event that the homosexual partner in the marriage does not satisfy the spouse’s intimate needs, the neglected spouse may be, after a lengthy period of want and frustration tempted to engage in extra-marital intimate activities, the consequences of which I need hardly spell out.

Finally, how can a young woman on the threshold of marriage really give informed consent to forgo physical love. Any woman who enters a marriage with a person whose sexual and affectionate sympathies lie exclusively with members of his own gender is clearly unaware of the far-reaching implications of such a long term relationship. She ought to be advised against it. This is what any understanding person would advise his own daughter.

Harry Maryles
9 years 7 months ago

But to equate bestiality or pedophilia with homosexuality is just ignorant.

Why? How would you characterize consensual same sex with a thirteen year old? Is that OK and not pedophelia? He is an adult by Torah standards so what’s the problem?

And what is wrong with bestiality? How is the animal harmed? Does the animal even know the difference?

And what about consensual incest?

I’m sorry there is no rational difference between any of these and homosexual sex. I defy you to state what that difference is if you think there is one. Your accusation of ignorance is meaningless without it.

9 years 7 months ago

I don’t want to over-post, but I forgot to mention a Gemara in Chulin (last line on 92a and going on to 92b) that says that the Nations of the World have 3 merits. One is that they don’t write a Kesuvah for their male partners, and Rashi explains that even though they engage in homosexual activity they don’t go so far as to equate their relationships with their male partners with that of marriage. Unfortunately, we can not say the same of today’s society where “gay marriage” has been legalized in a number of cities. I think that what I originally posted is a plausible explanation as to why R’ Moshe would not necessarily disagree with R’ Ahron Feldman today.

9 years 7 months ago

It seems patently obvious that homosexuality is a natural drive. That’s the fundamental point of the mitzvah. The essence of Bechirah, of choice is the struggle between your drives and your understanding of Truth. The defining struglle of Man is, can you do what you know to be true even when you have powerful, natural drives to do otherwise. There is no mitzvah against eating dirt because there is no drive to eat dirt. Ramchal defines classes of actions that serve to either connect you to Hashem or drive you from Hashem. They either make his presence more clear and real or more obscured and opaque. Men have a drive for sex. Most men would have sex with anything that can’t run away fast enough. Men, women, animals, plastic blow up dolls, websites. It doesn’t really matter. Torah defines an appropriate and holy sphere in which sexuality can be used and expressed. The struggle of Man is to exercise his Will and use the powerful tool of sexuality within this sphere of holiness.

Christianity believes that sex is for procreation. Current Western culture thinks that sex is for recreation. Torah says they are both wrong. Sex is fundamentally a tool for expressing the deepest intimate connection between two souls in a physical analog. In fact, the act not only expresses that connection, it creates and strengthens that connection. It is a beautiful expression of Torah’s view of children that this ultimate act of soulful connection is the source of genesis, of creation of the next generation. I learned from my teachers that the extent to which the mother and father are connected to each other is expressed in the strength, health and wholesomeness of the children. Even more intimidating is the knowledge that the strenth of this connection affects the children not just during procreation but thoughout their lives. This is why relations between the avos and imahot are expressed as “knowing his wife”. The action was one of connection, intimacy and acknowledgement.

Inherent in this understanding of sexuality lies the basis for a rejection of adultery, premarital sex, bestiality, homosexuality etc. As one of my rebbeim put it, how does sleeping with your secretary help to build a soul to soul connection with your wife? When you use sexuality as a tool for mere physicality you strip it of its ability to act as a tool of true intimacy.

Further, much of the drive towards “ra” as mentioned in previous posts really arises from a different yetzer than the yetzer for sex. It really arises from the underlying drive for dehumanization. There is a fundamental drive in men to see another person stripped of his soul, degraded and violated. To feel the world purged of holiness and soulfulness. But that is really subject for another post.

9 years 7 months ago

Sorry I didn’t see your post before I last posted. There definitely have been many other societies where there was an abundance of homosexual activity, but I don’t think there was ever a time in history when it was so accepted. I don’t believe that there were gay pride parades of the magnitude that exist today. The fact that homosexuality is so accepted in in today’s world may have a lot greater impact on the tevah than the homosexuality of the past which was never as accepted as it is today. Although you write that there were periods of open homosexual behavior in the past, I challenge you to pinpoint any time in history where that behavior and sexual immorality in general are as widely accepted as they are today. Even if there was more activity actually taking place it was never percieved as normal behavior. You didn’t have children’s books about Johnnie has two Daddies ot two Mommies which can be found in any Barnes and Nobles today.