What if homosexuality really is biologically based and therefore something inborn, not something learned or adopted? Would this change the negative halakhic (Jewish legal) view of homosexuality?
I ask this question because a new study just published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems to have proven homosexuality…
… to be just that – biologically based:
…The researchers used MRIs to determine the volume and shapes of the brains of 90 volunteers—25 straight and 20 gay members of each sex. They found that the straight men and gay women had asymmetrical brains; that is, the cerebrum (the largest part of the brain, which is responsible for thought, sensory processing, movement and planning) was larger on the right hemisphere of the brain than on the left. In contrast, they found that women and gay men had symmetrical cerebrums.
The team next used PET (positron emission tomography) scans to measure the blood flow to the amygdala, that part of the brain controlling emotion, fear and aggression. The images showed how the amygdala connects to other parts of the brain, giving them clues as to how this might influence behavior. They scanned subjects' brains when they at rest and did not show them photos or introduce other behavior that might have been learned.
They found that in gay men and women, the blood flowed to areas involved in fear and anxiety, whereas in straight men and lesbians it tended to flow to pockets linked to aggression.…
How should halakha (Jewish law) view homosexuality in light of this?
I think there are several options:
- Nothing changes. The Torah is eternal. Science is wrong.
- Nothing changes. The Torah is eternal. Science is correct but people must learn to control their desires. A person could be born with the genetic predisposition to rape or steal. We would not therefore remove rape and theft as crimes.
- Everything changes. Being genetically programed from birth to be attracted to the same sex is not the same thing as rape or theft. Rape and theft are sins against other human beings. Homosexuality is a bein adam l'makom sin, a sin between man and God. It is much more akin to a ritual violation than a crime. Now that we know gays and lesbians have no real choice, that they act out of genetic compulsion, homosexuality should no longer be a sin.
- A lot changes. While we cannot rewrite the Torah we can rewrite the halakha. Treat homosexual behavior as something to avoid. But, if the temptation is too strong and a person gives in to his (or her) desires, so be it. If God chooses to punish, God will punish – we will not do so ourselves. I believe halakha generally does not recognize ones (compulsion) as an excuse for things we would call psychological or emotional in nature. But it does recognize ones for physical compulsion, and one could make the case that having brains that are physiologically and physically different (the findings of the new study) counts as physical ones. If so, gays and lesbians would not be culpable for their actions – as long as those actions were bein adam l'makom, between man and God, in nature, something homosexuality certainly is.
In the not too distant future, the science involved will be much more definitive, and Orthodoxy won't be able to dodge the issue any longer. (Of course the same holds true for Fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, etc.)
Here's how I think the Orthodox Jewish world will react when that day comes:
- Extreme haredim (like Edah HaCharedit and most hasidic groups): #1.
- Slightly less extreme haredim (like Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Lakewood and its affiliates): #2.
- Modern and Centrist Orthodoxy: #2 publicly, #4 privately when counseling gay and lesbian Jews, but only if #2 has already clearly failed. (This is similar to how they already deal with issues like Noah's flood, the Tower of Babel, etc.)
- Left wing Modern Orthodoxy (Yeshivat Chovvevei Torah, for example): #4 publicly, #3 privately.
So? What should be done now? In your mind, does that differ from what should be done as the evidence gets even clearer?
Either way, what would you do? How would you pasken (decide the law) if you were a rabbi?
If I were the gadol hador, the leading rabbi of the generation, I'd rule #4 – and then I'd keep working to find a way to rule #3.
[Hat Tip: Concerned.]