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.

The Admor of Amshinov, Rav Sholom Shimon Kalisch זצ’’ל

In another blog I was asked to post the picture by a commentator, but I can’t recall the article! Anyway, I have in our dining room a picture of the Rebbe זי’’ע. I just took a picture of it with my iPhone. He was very well-known. In Lubavitch he is known because the Rayatz instructed his Chassidim, when the Rayatz was in hiding from the authorities, and unable to respond to their questions to only ask R’ Sholom Shimon. In addition, at the wedding of the last Rebbe, R’ Sholom Shimon walked into the Simcha in the wee hours of the morning while the Rayatz was saying a Ma’amar Chassidus. He must have sensed R’ Sholom Shimon had come in, because in a very rare occurrence, he actually stopped saying the Ma’amar Chassidus until the Rebbe from Amshinov had sat down. In Amshinov, there is also a tradition which I have seen written, that says there is only one sefer that has to be learned to understand all Chassidus, and that is the Tanya of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Interestingly, I heard Rav Schachter saying that a Scholar is now working on an important Sefer comparing the Tanya to the Nefesh Hachaim of R’ Chaim Volozhin, the prime student of the Vilna Gaon (who did not sign the Cherem against Chassidim). The word is that he finds the thoughts and approaches close to identical. I also heard the Rav (Soloveitchik) say this, although he qualified it by saying that the differences are advanced and he doubts many actually understand the differences. The Rav was unique of course in the sense that he knew both those Seforim inside out, and had been taught Tanya by his Lubavitcher Melamed when a boy (but that didn’t matter because the Rav had a superior intellect, as is well known).

As for me, I know nothing about either! The current Amshinover Rebbe in Bayit Vegan,  is well-known as one of the Tzadikei HaDor. He doesn’t get involved in politics, and is a truly incredible Oved Hashem. My only connection is a nostalgic familial one, because my grandmother, Toba Frimet Balbin ע’’ה (née Amzel), who I loved very much and was the engine behind the Balbin family, was from Amshinover Chassidim. She and my Zeyda Yidel are buried in Israel, and I still remember Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner ז’’ל speaking about her before her coffin left from Essendon Airport. Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’’ל told me that she used to bring him a present every Purim. I never knew that, and he told me they were all around his house!

PS.  I got this picture from Chayi Glick (nee Rotter), whose mother I believe stems from Amshinov and whom I cajoled incessantly to bring back the picture from New York.

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How much time do Rabbis put into their Drashos?

I have had recent and distinct pleasure reading the magnificently articulated and profoundly original drashos of Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm (may he have a speedy recovery). It struck me that I’ve probably never heard that style of quality Drosho in Melbourne. I was exposed to the emotionally laden but never judgemental tantalising drashos of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick ז’ל and the fire and brimstone and sometimes judgementally powerful drashos of Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Groner ז’ל. I listen to their sons, and there are semblances of their father’s styles (this is natural), but in essence I haven’t experienced true uniqueness.

I enjoy the care, research and effort that Rabbi Sprung puts into his Drashos (on the occasions that I hear them). I am not attracted to the style of Rabbi Genende. It’s almost apologetically left-wing and seems to use external sources for no other reason than to show that they have been read and incorporated. Rabbi Lamm also uses external sources, but it flows ever so naturally and augments his broad Rabbinic knowledge.

Many other Rabbis effectively parrot or paraphrase a nice thought from the Lubavitcher Rebbe or the Baalei Mussar, which whilst authentic, I sometimes find lazy. Some like to use cute stories. Unfortunately, many of them are hagiographic. I have heard Rabbi Kennard once and found him succinct, clinical and well-organised, but perhaps (at least for me) lacking an element of emotion, call it fire-power. No doubt that’s a natural stylistic phenomenon. If I am to hear a Drasha that isn’t emotionally laden, then I’m awaiting a brilliant unique insight. I don’t have time for the joke a minute style of Drosha either.

To be fair, I am an outlier. Most people are probably very happy with the Drashos they hear. I like to ask myself two questions:

  1. Have I been inspired to actually do or try to do something that I haven’t done, or being doing well, after the Drasha
  2. Have I been inspired to research the topic myself after the Drasha

If the answers are no, then those Drashos disappear like a distant memory.

Perhaps I have been spoiled by the internet. My iPhone brims with super quality drashos and insights. If we are to grow as a community, I feel that some Rabbis perhaps need to put much more time into their Drashos, and, yes, even publish these. They also have to realise we aren’t dumb. I know when I’ve heard it a few years before 🙂

How much world-standard Torah is actually published in Melbourne? Do we have a ‘Chief Rabbi’ in Australia capable of such or are we more caught up in Askonus.

It is true, that not all Shule Rabbis are born orators. Do they have to be in today’s day and age, or is it more important to excel in pastoral care and impart that “feel good” image?

I admit, I undoubtedly have a bias. I like a Chidush, a new insight. In the least, I enjoy being mesmerised by the sheer breadth of halachic knowledge that some impart on a weekly basis emanating from the Parsha (e.g. Rav Schachter or Rav Usher Weiss). Undoubtedly, I am an outlier and atypical.

Don’t even get me started on the lack of simple manners (forget Kavod) that exist primarily at religious functions when a Rabbi/Rov/Roov gets up to speak for a few minutes.