Shira Chadasha: a confused reconstructionist stream based on human definitions of social justice

There are two ways to approach Judaism: you accept it for what it is, or you consider it a piece of plasticine that you can mould according to a human (or humanistic) philosophy that you already believe in, based on societal values or your own philosophical catechisms.

My feeling, from encounters with some who attend Shira Chadasha services, is that they are more aligned with the latter than the former. Even acceptance of unambiguous Halacha seems to depend on the influence of values and opinions of society in 2015. “It doesn’t matter if the pants don’t fit; we will make them fit.”

We just read Acharei/Kedoshim where the Torah unambiguously and without any prevarication deems the homosexual act by men as an abomination, to the extent that if the Beth Hamikdash was still standing, stoning would have been the punishment meted out. It’s a charming thought in 2015, but that is the fact. On the matter of female homosexuality, whilst not explicit in the Written Law, it was always considered forbidden by the Oral Law based on Egyptian sexual mores which were not acceptable.

Shira Chadasha pin their “orthodoxy” on permissive opinions of Rabbis. No amount of Daniel Sperber or other `academic style’ Rabbis which Shira Chadasha cling to, can with any ounce of historical or societal ‘need’ under the single mantra of ׳תיקון עולם׳ expunge these halachos (to which the אומות העולם are also constrained from the Noachide perspective) and simply will them away, debate them, or place them in a ‘too hard basket’.

Let us not forget the words that follow לתקן עולם in the עלינו prayer : במלכות שקי. If a homosexual asked one of the doyens (I don’t know what word to use to describe the managerial hierarchy in Melbourne) of Shira Chadasha whether they have committed an abomination by having a sexual affair with the same-sex, and the doyen could not or would not say “I’m afraid so”, then the doyen is an halachic fraud. Yes, one can continue with other words, but the Halacha is unambiguous both to Sperber or Mendel Kaplan or anyone they wish to rely on for their new prayer mode.

Yes, there is more than one way to address people who find they constantly sin in this way, or have a predilection which is responsible for such. It is also possible that there  are markers that may predict the predilection, but it certainly doesn’t require some false notion of equality or rights for others to behave like a mensch towards people who were born with such a tendency.

Hungarian Charedim and Litvak types will likely not give an aliya to anyone who sins perpetually, whatever the sin might be. They speak of whether someone is Shomer Shabbos. If not, they will ignore them and consider them as lepers.

I remember at Elwood Shule they used to bring this argument up to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל all the time. They would ask him

‘how can you give so and so an Aliya, he drove to shule

What I can tell you is that at the end of the service or kiddush, Rabbi Gutnick used to stay in his office and wait until everyone had left. Only then would he begin walking home. Why? In this way, he never saw anyone openly sin. All he would see is someone coming to shule, and from his perspective, the minute they came to Shule they were at least a בעל תשובה and he had no reason to instruct a Gabbai not to give them any honour. (there were other factors, but let’s not go into that period of history).

The fashionable terminology of our time is ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’. What does that mean in the context of someone’s sexuality? Clearly one cannot treat all equally as some are committing a sin which has absolutely no technical out (unlike the halachic calisthenics used to create the strange creäture that is the Shira Chadasha- anti-mimetic, and a poorly supported stance of a great minority of Rabbis, none of whom are considered broad enough from a halakhic point of view to create the changes inaugurated in the services they have conjured. Now that’s the Jerusalem version where many are quite frum and consistently so. I won’t even go to the Melbourne incarnation which seems to have more holes than swiss cheese.

With this in mind I read about a function that was presumably held in the Shira Chadasha Kiddush

Finding Your Way Out of the Closet
On Saturday, 18 April, Shira is proud to welcome Wayne Green to speak after the kiddush.
His talk will be an exploration of one’s journey through discovering life as a Jewish and Gay man. Navigating how to be connected to the community, to Judaism and one’s self against that which the odds are stacked against.

Wayne Green is a passionate leader and contributor to advocacy and equality for LGBTI rights in the Jewish Community.
Wayne works full time in the State government in management in client services. Wayne also works in the evenings doing early detection and prevention for HIV in the wider Melbourne community.
Wayne is also the Founder of JAG Melbourne (Jewish and Gay), which is a social group in Melbourne connecting young Jewish LGBTI adults.
JAG provides a range of social activities as well as community advocacy, education and engagement for inclusion and acceptance of diversity.

Diversity Statement
At Shira there is a respectful and welcoming attitude towards those who form minority groups in our society. Therefore, Shira seeks to find ways of understanding our texts and traditions in order to give full dignity and equality to all LGBTIQ Jews. Shira supports the ‘No to Homophobia’ Campaign

Firstly there are no “rights” for LGBTI in the Jewish Community anymore than there are rights for Pork eaters or Sabbath breakers. What are these rights? To be considered as if they are not committing acts which the Torah explicitly calls an abomination. It doesn’t matter what type of tree hugging ‘Diversity Statement’ one creates with an 11th commandment, an abomination is an abomination and cannot be willed away by cutely worded and beautiful statements.

What is the advocacy that they wish to allow on their premises? How does abomination equate to acceptance of diversity and equality. Why promote JAG ? Is there a need to also have a group of ‘Jewish Thieves’ and give them rights and social activities? In Poland, there really was a Shule of Thieves. I kid you not. That was their profession. Before the war, the Gabbay was Hersh Feivel Gottfried and his wife was known as Channa der Fresser. She being a lot taller than Hersh Feivel, forced him into high healed boots. On Shabbos, they did not steal. They had the best Kiddush/lunch in Warsaw. As soon as Havdalah was made, they began pick pocketing continuing their profession.

What has this to do with sexuality? If someone is Orthodox, then they know there are two sides of the ten commandments, there are also Mishpatim and Chukim, but above all they SUBMIT to the will of Halacha as the authentic expression of Judaism. They don’t go on some journey re-interpreting texts to make an abomination an equality of diversity.

Now, I have a number of acquaintances who are gay; others who eat pork and are married to non Jews, and one who is married to a self-proclaimed non-Jewish witch! I treat then with the same hello as I treat anyone else, and in fact the most recent homosexual who has had two IVF boys from his ‘marriage’ to another male felt that I showed him no disrespect to the extent that he bought me a bottle of wine when he left the work place. He had no problem coming to my office and chatting about the problems of bringing up his two ‘sons’. As uncompromising as I am about forbidding “white out” to be used on a Torah, I can and do still treat people as human beings.

There is, however, no place for the institutionalisation of abomination, groupings based on abomination, or even Jewish public rights in this regard. If I am a compulsive liar, I don’t create a Jewish liar’s group and expect equal rights because they find a part of my DNA which indicates a proclivity to tell untruths.

I do understand Shira Chadasha’s support for such meetings and talks. Perhaps it will morph in time to giving Reviii to a homosexual to make them feel ‘wanted’ and they will say that this is how they will convince a person not to sin. We all sin, and all have strong tendencies. Why make an issue of this one? Why offer a platform for sin? Does it really need to be highlighted?

There is another way. Have a weekly Shiur in Mussar, Jewish Ethics and learn about desirable character traits and perfecting one’s own personality. There is no need to promote a talk in the same way as a boxing match.

I don’t know Wayne Green. If I met him, I do NOT need (or want) to know that he is an habitual sinner of type a, b, c or d. That’s none of my business. It also should not be important for Wayne to promote himself as such anymore than Hersh Feivel Gottfried or Channa der Fresser should wear t-shirts saying “THIEF”. I’m unaware of where the Rambam or any one of that ilk advises that one should publicise their problems and demand acceptance of abomination while being stoned.

It all sounds like at best temporal tree-hugging feel good stuff and at worst a dilution of Judaism where abomination is somehow translated into תיקון עולם or social justice and where these do gooders can be the only ones to make an “understanding parade” out of sinning and still include it in the rubric of Halachic Judaism.

I think they may have the wrong address. Alma Road and Temple Beth sounds like a reform place where you can make a blessing over anything that goes. Orthodox Judaism does not have those degrees of freedom. Period.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

7 thoughts on “Shira Chadasha: a confused reconstructionist stream based on human definitions of social justice”

    1. It’s not a nice situation to find oneself in. Neither is the Cohen who falls in love with a Giyores or divorcee. Kabolas Ol may mean that life isn’t always dandy

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  1. In an effort to be ore accepting and to justify it they have resorted to this approach. Many Chabad Houses are also extremely accepting but as you say don’t make an issue of it. By promoting ahavas Yisroel and downplaying the other issues, not ignoring them chas veshalom, one can be more accepting. It’s a fine line to take and not always understood but with sufficient goodwill achievable.
    I believe the ignoring of the divisive issues is meant to be temporary through which the promoting of acceptance will bring out the beauty of the proper Torah lifestyle and that will bring about the hoped-for teshuvah.
    Shmuley Boteach once pointed out that there are many abominations mentioned in the Torah including eating non-kosher why do we insist on singling out homosexual behavour for recrimination?

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    1. Are you sitting on the fence here? Should they have speakers on this topic or is best people don’t advertise their struggles? What if Wayne Green was a Baal Koreh. Should he not read these relevant sections? I do NOT favour treating such people badly but I also am adamantly against speeches and the like where a particular Lo TA’aseh is in the end softened

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  2. Totally agree. Torah should rule all aspects of our lives. We eat by Torah guidelines, we sleep by Torah guidelines, we relate to others by Torah guidelines.
    The Abishter with infinite wisdom created Adam the first man from base material and once the base material was refined to an extent, he created woman Eve the mother of all human kind. Eve has to be able to refine the character of man and thus much is expected of her. She has to adhere to high standards of behaviour, much higher than men are capable of and that is why men have time bound mitzvoth to place checks and balances on their behaviour.
    For marriage and children to be created you need a part of the man and a part of the woman. Only through a union of holiness and whole behaviour can families continue. The fact that two men or two women need a third party to create a child and it does not have a part of one of the two partners in their ‘union’ should tell you something about the nature of their union.
    Methinks too much attention is given to this issue to the extent that the world at large has looming problems that deserve our attention far more. The homosexuality debate takes up so much time that could be better spent. It is wrong and that is that.
    Do we discuss whether murder is wrong or not and should we allow murderers to form their own religious club? Oh, silly me, I forgot there is ISIS or Dagash. I guess homosexuals could form their own religious institutions and lobby for followers which they are already doing in quite insidious ways. Homosexuality and Judaism are poles apart, despite some homosexuals who are born into the Jewish religion who want it ratified and made a part of the new Judaism.
    I cannot conceive of a branch of Judaism that allows homosexuality or murder or adultery or perjury. It is categorically forbidden. End of story.
    While I might admire Rabbi Chaim Gutnick’sOBM purist approach to ‘what I don’t see a person doing, means I will not be inclined to judge the act or person unworthy of honours’ and he has a valid point that acceptance and the fact that the person turns up to shule is one step in the right direction, accepting homosexuality is not the same thing. One step in the right direction on a parallel would mean not living a homosexual lifestyle.
    We need to get a different perspective and I just want to quietly go into a corner and pray for Messiah to come. We need Messiah right now. The world is a mess and upside down.

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    1. I think it’s best to say that it’s against Torah Law rather than ‘its wrong’. The latter is subjective in the vernacular and you are expressing a Torah view. My point was not to stand up and condemn someone who has difficulty overcoming proclivities, rather it was to disagree with the institution of Shira Chadasha in their quest to publicise the ‘plight’ of those in that situation and make out that they have some Torah right of association

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