On Steven Greenberg & Rabbi Genende

We are enjoined not to judge anyone until we are proverbially ‘in their shoes’. Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, with the agreement of its Senior Rabbinic Authority, Rabbi Ralph Genende, have invited members of the community to hear a self-professed homosexual, and self-professed Orthodox Jew, once ordained at YU, named Stephen Greenberg, to address his homosexual struggle, contextualised with his ‘partner’ and ‘daughter’. 
If we accept the theory that Steven was born with a predisposition of sexual attraction to the same gender, then we must ask  whether he consulted his teachers at YU. As someone who was ordained, this is even more of an imperative given the gravity of the issue and the world trip, crusader-like approach.

The Shulchan Aruch is acutely aware that some will have a tendency to be attracted to the same gender. It is unambiguous in describing what a person should do if they are indeed inclined that way.

There are well-known prohibitions in respect to a heterosexual male being alone with a heterosexual female. Whether this is a Torah infraction or a Rabbinic one, is a dispute between the Rambam and other Rishonim. Whatever the case, the laws of Yichud, being alone,  are there to protect against a potentially more serious consequence, that may lead to prohibited sexual relations.

What is not well known is that the Shulchan Aruch codified the self-same laws of Yichud, in regards to same gender seclusion/Yichud (See Even HoEzer 24:1) 

If a male has a homosexual predilection, then it is forbidden to be halachically alone with another male. There is no argument about this Halacha and there can certainly be no argument of its applicability in our age. 

The Rambam in his glosses on the Mishna in Sanhedrin 7, states that a Jew is not suspected of homosexuality or bestiality as they are both unnatural. The Rambam could not envisage someone with a Jewish Soul having such proclivity.

As I understand it, Steven claims to adhere to all laws of Judaism give or take the odd stumble that we all experience. If Steven lives with his male partner he most certainly is choosing to ignore a Halacha. I am not referring to the likely outcome of homosexual sex; rather, Yichud—being alone. If he does not, then kudos to him.

I would assume that Steven, who Rabbi Genende also describes as an Orthdox Rabbi, does not live under the same roof as his partner, and they perhaps take turns looking after the daughter? If that is not the case, it is difficult to accept the description of Orthodox.

Technically, one or both males, might not be the biological father, which also raises another hornets nest in respect to Yichud with an adopted child. The Lubavitcher Rebbe amongst many others had grave problems giving permission for Yichud with an adopted child. Others are more lenient, including Rav Soloveitchik, to whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent some Lubavitch couples (see Nefesh HoRav from Rav Schachter) who wanted to adopt and needed the Psak Din of a World renowned Rabbi.

At this point I trust that even the far left are not churlishly dismissing me as homophobic, based on what I have written.

One expects that the otherwise religiously-oriented homosexual Jew feels more self-guilt than the secular homosexual Jew. This is not because people are more derisive to the religious one. Rather, it’s because he feels he has been born with an impediment to keep Halacha. 

 Some will deal with it by disappearing into new social circles where they potentially practice less Judaism as time goes by. Others, such as Steven presumably blame their genetic marker for their predilection and will wrestle with God about why they weren’t given heterosexual genes.

I would hope that if Steven was asked, ‘Would you have preferred if God had made you heterosexual’, that Steven would answer in the affirmative. If he does not, I’m not sure why Rabbi Genende as Vice President of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria would invite him to espouse his views!

We should consider why Stephen isn’t addressing one of the homosexual groups where he may encourage people to keep all the other laws of Judaism and give them confidence to do so. Perhaps he will do so. I do not know, but I think that would be a positive thing.

I have not ever come across anyone not being welcomed in Shule because they were homosexual. I would imagine they are shunned by Hungarian Chassidic communities.

To be sure, even Chabad who welcome all, have some restrictions. When Shlomo Carlebach started diverging from an Orthodox path, Rabbi Y. D. Groner z’l, who had been a study partner of Shlomo, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe נ׳ע whether he should try and bring Shlomo ‘back’ through Kiruv. The Lubavitcher Rebbe answered that Rabbi Groner should do so, but never within the walls of a Lubavitch institution lest anyone think that what Shlomo does is acceptable etc. Why did Steven have to speak within Caulfield Shule’s property? Having Steven at a congregational function definitely stretches the boundaries of what is tolerable. Given Rabbi Genende’s professed opposition to Steven’s approach in a letter to his congregants one wonders why Rabbi Genende didn’t choose to debate Steven?

The menagerie of congregants at Caulfield on a standard Shabbos will not likely include the young adults who will attend Steven’s talk. Caulfield do a great job, given their ability to pull in big donations to lure world class performances via a choir from Israel. They are a vibrant Shule with an active and dedicated committee. 

I’m sure these activities are roundly enjoyed, but will a ‘voyeuristic’ gaze into the house of a religiously inclined homosexual Jew translate to attendance at Shule or Rabbi Genende’s educational programme? I think not, especially if Rabbi Genende disagrees with Steven’s interpretation of Scripture anyway!

Imagine, if you will, that instead of Steven, the guest speaker was a ‘religious’ adulterer/womaniser. Perhaps not a Rabbi, but someone well known. Imagine this person wanted to speak about his problem of wandering eyes which lead to covert forbidden sexual relations. It could be argued that he too has a proclivity. Is there a genetic link? My question then to Rabbi Genende is, would you give such a person a podium to speak of his struggles to keep his pants on when his eyes wander? Something tells me that Rabbi Genende would not allow such a talk. Why? Marriage is sacred and such acts are abominable and don’t deserve a podium. If I am right, the podium should be reserved for the types of Jews who are inspirational. I am more inspired to hear of those homosexual religious Jews who courageously don’t give in to a basic tenet.

Did Rabbi Genende consult leading centrist/modern Poskim. It would appear that his colleagues in the Rabbinic Council of Victoria are far from enamoured by his  ‘go it alone’ approach. If he has support from a Posek who knows Steven then Rabbi Genende should at least inform his colleagues in the Rabbinate.

I have heard that some intend to protest. In my mind this is not only stupid in the extreme, but halachically questionable.  On that matter I also have Rabbinic agreement. Mori V’Rabbi Rav Hershel Schachter שליט׳א made it clear in our phone call that one should not go to Caulfield, either to protest or to listen to Steven.

There is a valid question about calling up to the Torah someone who advertises their homosexuality and the acts which result. These types of questions arose in the Halachic literature regarding those who have married out and those who publicly break the Sabbath in a ‘look, Shabbos doesn’t mean anything’ attitude. I know that in Elwood Shule, there is a Shule goer who married out. He comes on Shabbos fairly often. Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick instructed the Gaboim not to give him an Aliya, as I recall. This is consistent with the view of R’ Moshe Feinstein ז׳ל.

Turning our attention towards Sabbath desecrators, I know that the late Rav Chaim Gutnick z’l would wait in his office until everyone had left and then walk home. He knew that his community of Holocaust survivors were theologically and psychologically challenged and displayed peculiar traits: they came to Shule but drove there. They didn’t eat Kosher but would never eat Pork. When such a damaged person came to Shule, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick only saw their holy soul and did not see any infractions.

What about Steven Greenberg? To my mind, he does not need an audience of voyeuristic heterosexuals. The need to treat people as created in the image of God should be taught by those who are not involved in Torah infractions. I interact every now and again with a homosexual Talmid Chacham, who I believe to be celibate. 

Does one give Steven Greenberg an Aliyah? My personal answer would have been yes, if he was a ‘mind your own business’ private type. If however he was advertising his homosexuality and seeking acceptance according to the Torah then I would be inclined not give an Aliya to the Torah. I don’t rely on my own feelings in such a grave case, and discussed this with my Posek today. He fully agreed with me that protesting was definitely not the correct approach. It would also not be advised for an Orthodox person to attend such a talk. In respect of giving him an Aliyah he opined that in a Shule where people have lots of different baggage of aveyros, and wouldn’t be alarmed in the slightest, then he is not considered an outlier in that particular congregation and can be called up.

In the end, we must try to focus on the Godly soul of individuals who face big challenges to keep Torah and Mitzvos and try to have them attend davening, go to Shiurim etc.

My view is that this is for the ‘ordinary’ person. The one who has ordination and travels the world talking about his anti Torah proclivities should not be afforded an outlet connected to an Orthodox Shule.  

It is ironic that many of those making noise against him are defending the despicably accused Malka Leifer. I just hope that she isn’t duping the psychs in Israel who are evaluating her state of mind and that she be promptly  brought to face Justice in Melbourne, and should she be found guilty, they could put her in a psychiatric prison if she is indeed impaired in that way.

PS. YU does not revoke Smicha, but would have revoked Steven’s if they had that policy. I discussed this with those who give YU’s respected and high standard Smicha today.

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.

15 thoughts on “On Steven Greenberg & Rabbi Genende”

  1. You open your post by declaring that it is not your place to judge anyone but you do just throughout the post in calling to boycott the talk to be delivered by Rabbi Greenberg. Why do you assume that in his discussion of his struggle with his sexual orientation that he will advocate his way of life to his audience? According to most authorities, it is prohibited to live the outside the land of Israel or even to leave the land of Israel without a valid justification; if a rabbi would discuss how he struggles with the dilemma of his conscious decision to remain living outside the land of Israel and raise his children to do so as well, would you also call to boycott this talk? If a Kohen as a result of his proclivities to heal others studied medicine and today is a world renown oncologist treating and curing thousands of cancer patients would you also condemn his talk on how he struggles with his decision to study medicine and violate the majority of poskim that prohibit a Kohen from doing so? If Yehuda ben Yaakov or David Hamelekh or Shlomo Hamelekh were to discuss how they dealt with their sexual improprieties, would you also say they should be boycotted? Perhaps Shir Hashirim and Qohelet should not be read in shule as I am unaware of any source that Shelomo fully repented, as opposed to his father.

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    1. I will be brief. Yes, I can’t put myself in Greenberg shoes and thereby pronounce judgements on his predilection to homosexuality. In a word I haven’t experienced it. I am most certainly entitled to comment on any views of seeking to make Halacha fit their way of life. Your puerile examples are just that. How can you even begin to compare issues for which there are clearly disagreements within the Halachic framework with the clear and unambiguous attitude of the Torah to homosexual acts and seclusions. Nice try, but your argument is exceedingly poor

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      1. You yourself note that you have no idea if Rabbi Greenberg is violating the rabbinic laws of yichud but you nonetheless made many bold sweeping statements including the suggestion that his semicha be revoked. I am unaware of any normative halachic ruling that permits Kohanim to study medicine; perhaps you do, and I would appreciate learning who disagrees as you note (i.e., there is no doubt as to the status of this person’s Kehuna and as part of his medical studies he will be required to come into physical contact with cadavers).

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        1. I have no idea why you are focussing on Cohanim who are doctors. Are you trying to play his sins are as bad his sins. Come on, I’m not writing a post about a Cohen who is born with a sexual urge to heal people and come to justify it through ‘enlightened’ readings of text which are antithetical to Torah She Baal Peh. You did notice that I DID compare it to a heterosexual who can’t keep his pants on. Yet, I haven’t come across one of these trying to justify their behaviour textually.

          Are you suggesting that Greenfeld lives in a separate house to his ‘partner’ and/or they lead a life of celibacy? If so, the Rabbinic Council of Victoria and those after them who know him (and all stress he is a nice and trustworthy person) think he’s doing a Papal celibacy imitation? Understand, if he’s a homosexual who is religious or not and struggles with that I don’t judge them. If, however, they are given a dais, to spout potentially heretical interpretations of Psukim which conflict with Mesora, then I’m afraid NOBODY should attend his talk. I’d shake his hand and chat and show no anger or contempt, but I would not engage him in an adventure down heresy lane. I don’t know why God has given such proclivities to people, but there’s lots about God I don’t understand.

          One difference between Jews and stock standard millenials is that if there was some gene therapy which caused homosexual urges to become benign, I suspect it would be Halacha that they seek to use such a future treatment. Note also, that this is from memory also forbidden to B’nai Noach (but I have to check)

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  2. After this Gay activist conducted a chuppah for two males in a very non orthodox temple in Washington 100 prominent Modern Orthodox Rabbis placed an ad in the New York Forwards declaring that Greenberg is NOT an orthodox Rabbi.
    Rabbi Dr Moshe Tendler, head of YU refers to Greenberg as a Reform Rabbi.

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  3. Yichud (seclusion): Same gender & with adopted children *

    If you are categorically stating Halakha with regard seclusion of two individuals of the same sex, I would ask you to quote your source over and above the Shulchan Arukh. As you appreciate, the Shulchan Arukh (“SA”) cannot be understood at face value. The Beit Yosef (the lengthy work the Rav Yosef Karo authored prior to compiling his condensed Shulchan Arukh) lists the sources and motivations for his final rulings in the SA, the many commentators on the SA elucidate and rule on the issues, etc.

    Do you have a posek who has ruled that same gender yichud is prohibited for people with same sex attractions?

    The SA in Even HaEzer 24 that you refer to states, “Jews were (never) suspected of homosexual relations or bestiality, hence there is no prohibition to be in seclusion with these. And if he distances himself even from seclusion with males and animals, this is praiseworthy. the greatest of our Sages would distance animals (from themselves) so they would not be in seclusion with them. And in these times when the licentious (individuals) are proliferous, one should distance himself from seclusion with a male.”

    It is clear from the SA wording that there is no “prohibition” but rather one is advised or ought to avoid seclusion. This is further explicitly stated by Rav Yosef Karo himself in his Bet Yosef based on the majority of Rishonim. The Be’er Hetev on the SA rules explicitly that this is not a “requirement” but rather an additional act of piety.

    It is thus apparent that your statement “If a male has a homosexual predilection, then it is forbidden to be halachically alone with another male. There is no argument about this Halacha and there can certainly be no argument of its applicability in our age” to be accurate at all. It is not necessarily “halachically forbidden” and it is inaccurate that “there is no argument…”

    Is a homosexual who does not avoid seclusion with fellow males transgressing the SA? No.
    Should he possibly refrain from this and to what extent is the applicable – that is another issue.

    Importantly too – your lengthy critique of Greenberg with regard yichud with males (specifically since there are poskim like Rav Soloveithchik and the Tztitz Eliezer – and Rav Moshe Feinstein in certain instances – who do not prohibit seclusion with adopted children) is moot.

    I agree that Rabbi Genende’s actions are questionable and if Greenberg publicly support flaunting the Halakhah then he should not be given the opportunity to speak in an Orthodox forum.

    Most importantly – sensitivity for the struggles of people with same gender attractions is essential. Maintaining a Torah life is extremely difficult under these conditions, and cannot and must not be compared to philandering men who struggle “to keep his pants on when his eyes wander.”

    Judging and criticizing the public activities of Rabbi Genende in inviting Greenberg to speak and Greenberg’s calls to flout Halachah (if he does this) are legitimate.
    Personal attacks in the private domain of Greenberg’s life and a lack of sensitivity for the very real struggles of all those with same sex attractions is illegitimate and in direct contradiction to the biblical commandment of loving your neighbour as yourself, and transgress the laws of Lashon Hara.
    Morally and ethically – would it not be wise to live by Hillel’s dictum of “do not unto others as you would not have done to yourself”?

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    1. Thank you for your response. I believe you have misread the intent of Rishonim. I did quote the Rambam from whence I believe the Beis Yosef enunciated the prohibition. Yes, I have discussed this with Mori VRabbi, and my understanding is correct. If you check, you will find that I contend that a homosexual should also not attend today’s standard male mikvaos. I also discussed this with Mori VRabbi and he agreed.

      I appreciate your sensitivity regarding this matter and your largely irrelevant pointers to Rav Waldenberg or Rav Moshe both of whom were more lenient in general, like the Rav, as you point out, but neither addressed this grave issue. Please don’t closet ME as someone who is not acutely aware of the difficulty and sensitivity of this condition. Indeed at work, a gentile homosexual academic who had two children and kept to himself confided in me of all people and when he left brought me a bottle of wine (which I could do not much with). My issue is with attempts to mould Judaism to fit the ism of the day. Our Mesora is inviolable, and whilst the Rambam and Beis Yosef couldn’t imagine someone reverting to Midas Sdom engaging in homosexuality or bestiality the reality is that homosexuality is here, and there are nebach people who struggle with what looks like a genetic predisposition. Steven is undoubtedly a nice guy. If however he wishes to create his own Torah She Baal Peh which contradicts Chazal, then he should not be so brash as to proclaim he is still Orthodox. Indeed, in Melbourne the biggest Kiddush Hashem he could do in my opinion is not focus on which grouping he belongs, but to spend a few weeks trying to interact with otherwise irreligious homosexuals and help them to adhere to the rest of Torah and Mitzvos. To me, that would be a most WONDERFUL contribution. Engaging in what will be a gentle joust with Ralph Genende will not, in my opinion, help any homosexual. In addition, society is much more attuned to the difficulties these Yidden have, and I personally have never experienced callous uncaring approaches to them.

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      1. Yichud with males & Mikveh etc.
        Rav Hershel Schachter is a recognized posek and so his psak in this regard is quite legitimate and certainly binding for his talmidim (and he most certainly does not need my approbations!).
        However:
        Does Rav Schachter say that this prohibition is part of the original decree of yichud? Does he say this is a logical extension of the decree? Does he say that this is an external/additional requirement based on the ‘spirit’ of the original decree? Is this a matter of added piety?
        These nuances are important.
        Adoptive parents & children
        The point of my quoting Rav Moshe and the Tzitz Eliezer (Rav Waldenburg) regarding adoption is to indicate that there are legitimate Halakhic opinions that do not prohibit yichud with an adopted child.
        If Greenberg – or anyone else – lives by these more ‘lenient’ rulings (I question whether ‘leniency’ in this matter is not rather stringency in caring for the parents and child’s emotional well being and development) this is perfectly acceptable and someone who prefers the more stringent views should not take issue with him. Feel free to disagree with Rav Moshe’s ruling, but do not berate someone who lives by that ruling.

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        1. I must say I’m taken aback with your question. Rav Schachter is applying the exceedingly simple Takonas Chazal to a time where it MOST DEFINITELY is relevant.

          As to Yichud, if you think that for one minute either Rav Waldenberg or Rav Moshe or the Rav would extend their leniency to Toevah, then I’m afraid you are guilty of gross misunderstanding of the Halachic process. It’s Good that Steven has supporters but we draw a line, and that line is unambiguously clear according to Mesora and Steven may not re-interpret it as he will face the possibility of being Mamash an Apikorus given he has learned.

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  4. Mr Hurwitz I do not think that you are a posek, as Yichud being permitted certainly does not allow 2 gay people to permanatly live together. Please let us know the Halacha re officiating to ‘marry’ 2 males? Even making 7 brachot (although slightly altered- but using Hashems name in vain.
    I feel you are attacking those who defend torah values rather than Genende and Greenberg who believe the Gay lobby is more important than Torah!
    How sad.

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    1. I am not a Posek.
      Therefore I will also not parry in Halakhah with you – your questions as to the specific details/prohibitions regarding two homosexual males should be addressed to a posek. (My thoughts are that the issues are not as clear cut as you present them.)

      The sole point of my commenting on Isaac’s original post was not to argue with the aim but rather the method.
      Should people “defend Torah values” in the blogosphere? Yes.
      Does it matter HOW they do this? Of course!
      Is it sad that I agree with most of Isaac’s intention yet disagree with his method? I maintain that it is essential for open, productive debate that is l’shem shamayim.

      I am simply claiming that the same – and possibly more effective – results of the post could have been achieved by a more respectful piece that omitted a number of the points I have raised as problematic.

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      1. I must say I’m taken aback by your accusation. I was as generous as truth would allow and relatively sedate without ad hominem attack. BUT I was not be bullied by political correctness when it comes to blatant undeniable Halacha, that doesn’t even need a Posek for the actual act given it’s a simple Pasuk that is not interpreted differently by any Mesora. Only Reform will create a new meaning.

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      2. IMHO, Sholem’s comments greatly contribute to the refinement of this discussion and indeed promote a fair and balanced debate lehagdil Torah u’la’adira, and of course Isaac deserves much credit for initiating and moderating this relevant discussion and many others facing the contemporary Torah world.

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        1. I agree. I particularly enjoy comments where it is clear the commentator has thought, researched and written. This is not an easy topic to write about without unwittingly offending or being subject to taunts of ‘you’re just homophobic’. May Eliyahu herald the impending coming of the Mashiach, when such questions will expectedly be dealt with in a peaceful manner.

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