Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - May 7, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening and welcome back
to Toward a Meaningful Life with yours truly, Simon Jacobson.
Tonight I decided to do a topic which is quite sensitive,
but at the same time, as with many sensitive topics, quite
Toward a Meaningful Life has been coined
A Show for Skeptics and Seekers, one that addresses
frankly and candidly many of the issues that we struggle with,
and this show is part of a series that weve entitled,
Everything You Wanted to Know About Judaism but Were
Afraid to Ask.
This particular show will be on homosexuality.
Obviously, being a sensitive topic, some listeners may feel
that its not appropriate for all family members, which
is your decision; at the same time, the reason that I decided
to do this topic, although it too may be controversial, is
that its been in the news a lot lately, and its
something that people from all different backgrounds, whether
religious or secular, have many issues with.
I decided to do this topic because of several
personal experiences Ive had of people speaking to me
in my classes and in private that I found really important
and compelling to address. Let me begin with a letter that
I received from one of our listeners and I think youll
get a sense of where Im coming from.
Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
Im facing a serious personal dilemma
that I know is an issue for many people. Having attended some
of your classes and heard a few of your radio shows, I appreciate
your candidness and your knowledge base, and therefore have
the confidence that you will be able to reply to my quandary
in a sensitive and informative manner.
Getting straight to the point, my brother
is gay. He announced this to the family last year and to say
that this has been a source of agony would be a gross understatement.
It has been a source of misery and has forced us all to review
our entire lives, shaking things down to the core, putting
in question beliefs that my entire family always felt safe
and secure with.
Being an observant Jew myself, Im
having a compounded dilemma. In addition to the personal,
psychological and emotional issues involved, how do I, as
a Torah observant Jew, deal with my brother? What should be
my attitude toward him? Ostracization? Should we invite him
to the seder table? And what if he insists on bringing
his friend along?
On a broader level, what should be the
Jewish communitys attitude? Should we be welcoming those
who have chosen this [lifestyle] into our synagogues; give
them an aliyah; allow them to be a chazan (cantor)
The questions are many, the pain and anguish
are deep. I have asked these questions to my rabbi and many
rabbis without receiving an adequate reply. Frankly, I was
met either with discomfort or incredulousness. Attitudes range
from repulsion and complete revulsion to rejecting gays outright
No one was able or willing to address
these issues directly and sensitively, and most importantly,
in the spirit of Torah.
This is a letter I received recently, among
many questions and conversations that Ive had
in the last few months particularly, but over the years in
general with people who are struggling with this issue, not
necessarily in an academic, theoretical way, but really personally,
whether its a family member or friend, or a child. So
when I read this letter, I felt that this is not just an issue
on a Biblical or a religious level, but on a personal, psychological
one, and if this show is not going to address issues like
this, then what is it going to address?
So I decided to talk about this topic. Obviously,
given the limits of a one-hour radio show, its going
to be difficult to exhaust it on all levels, but let me first
begin by voicing my own personal feelings.
Whenever one talks about the issue of sexuality,
on any level, I think its important to qualify that
were immediately delving into and getting involved into
something that is subjective and emotional for people.
The reason for this is that we all have a sexual
personality. No one is neutral when it comes to that. Therefore,
we all have attitudeshealthy or unhealthy, but we have
themand those attitudes are very deep rooted, embedded
in our psyches, often from young childhood on, so whenever
you discuss a topic like this, its extremely difficult
for everyone, including myself, to step aside and say, Okay,
how can we address this in a objective, dispassionate light?
You can do that when it comes to issues like
physics and mathematics, even other philosophical quandaries
that are not that personaltheyre easier to discuss.
But when it comes to this, that emotional subjectivity gets
in the way of the discussion, because if someone is invested
in a particular choice that he or she has made, or is invested
in a life that they feel is meaningful or is giving them some
type of nurturingagain whether its healthy or
unhealthy is not the issueit is uncomfortable for anyone,
including myself, to challenge that, because youre challenging
someones comfort zone, and comfort zones, particularly
ones that are deeply rooted and deeply embedded in our sexual
consciousness, are very, very difficult to broach.
Its hard to find a person whos ready
to sit down with you and say, Okay, lets objectively
review this without any preconceived notions, because
none of us are without preconceived notions when it comes
to sexuality. And frankly, the topic of homosexuality, as
the questioner who wrote me this letter asks about marginalizinghow
we address someone, in this case a brother, whos chosen
to be gayis one that immediately, as he put it, brings
people to one extreme or another. Some are repulsed by it
and simply dismiss people who have chosen that, and others
are completely accepting and feel that they should have equal
rights and that it is a legitimate lifestyle choice equivalent
Is there anything in between? I felt its
important to begin with this disclaimer, particularly, as
I said, because the topic is emotionally charged, and thats
why, with any question that will be asked, whether it will
be from callers who call in by phone, or my own, will definitely
be colored somewhat by our own personal attitudes and our
own personal emotions on this topic.
With that being said, I want to begin with an
overview from the perspective of where I come from. Everyone
has his or her perspective, including myself, and just to
put this in a context, when dealing with a topic like this,
its important to distinguish between peoples choices
and people. I give a class every Wednesday night on the Upper
West Side of Manhattan (which incidentally, youre all
invited to, at 346 West End Avenue, corner of 89th
St. at 8pm), and there was someone who came to the class who
considered himself gay. He felt comfortable speaking to me,
so he invited me to give a talk to a group of his friends
who, one would say was a group of gays (I assume that they
were all gay), and I agreed to discuss and present my thoughts
on the matter based on Torah, based on a spiritual template
and intimate spiritual experience that I personally
been exposed to in my own life. To say it was a captive audience,
one cannot: it was quite hostile, actually, but I felt comfortable
saying what I had to say, because I felt that I would sincerely
try to transmit my feelings.
The first thing I said was, Listen, I dont
want to be on the defensive here in speaking to you. I dont
want to be accused in some way of undermining your rights
to make choices or your personal rights and discrimination
and all of that.
The first thing I want to state is that one
must distinguish between a person and the persons choices.
I find it offensive, I said, that things have become politicized,
where if somebody disagrees with your lifestyle choice, or
any other choice that you make, it means that they invalidate
you as a person.
Thats not correct. I can have a child
who may behave in a way that I dont find appropriate,
and I can still love the child unconditionally, yet that doesnt
mean that I have to condone or endorse every choice that child
makes. So clearly we have to distinguish between the two.
Often, when something is politicized, if you
want to know what is a good litmus test of the politicization
of any given topic, see if people can distinguish between
choices and the people themselves.
The Torah, on which this show Toward a Meaningful
Life is based, is essentially based on the belief that
every human being has a soul, a Divine image in which they
were created, that is the inherent right of every human being,
man, woman and child throughout their entire lifetime. Nothing
can be done to destroy that soul, because it is G-d-given,
and that remains consistent no matter what choices a person
For me, that is the prevailing factor in communicating
with anyone. Whatever sexual choice a person may makeheterosexual,
homosexualthat soul is always there. At the same time,
accepting that and respecting someones soul and therefore
loving them for that, does not mean that none of us can make
mistakes. I make mistakes just as every individual is capable
of, and does make, mistakes.
What does a mistake do to your soul? It doesnt
destroy your soul but it definitely closes off some of the
channels of your souls expression in this world.
So I said to this group, The first thing
that I want to state here is, I love you all. Unequivocally,
unconditionally. You are human beings created by G-d, and
the choices you make are between you and G-d, and this love
is regardless of your choices.
At the same time, I dont necessarily
have to embrace the choice you make in order for me to accept
you. I dont believe that you should be discriminated
against; I think that a human being is, as I said, divine,
yet, at the same time you have to realize that the choices
you make have consequences.
A second point that Id like to make
is that the issue, from my perspective, is not one of subjective
repulsion or subjective liberalism here. In other words, the
issue is not about whether Im repulsed or some individual
is repulsed by a certain lifestyle. The issue is more a question
of right and wrong. And this touches on the core of the entire
issue, which goes far beyond homosexuality, per se, it goes
into the area of sexuality, of life itself, of love, of intimacy.
It comes down to, as human beings with personalities, how
do we see our sexual personalities, and is there such a thing
as an objectively sexual lifestyle that is correct and one
that is not correct?
Now, if a person makes a choice and says, Listen,
this is arbitrary. Anyone can really choose what they wish,
then the axioms of that type of discussion are different than
if we agree upon and say that no, there is a certain definition
of sexual personality.
Now, for all practical purposes, since Im
the host of this show, I have to state a certain axiom from
where I come from, and that is, since G-d created a human
being, and thats the reason we have that Divine right
to personal freedom, and we all have to love one another unconditionally,
G-d also defines our sexual personality, and what is best
for a human being to express him or herself sexually.
The fact that human beings may say, Well,
my tendency or my lifestyle or my choice is different,
well, we have to weigh that against the backdrop of what our
quintessential personalities are in life.
The fact is, people can distort their own personalities
in many areas, but even though theyre comfortable with
it, it doesnt mean that theyre living up to their
So from my point of view, we live in a time
of crisis in the area of sexuality and its incumbent,
and it behooves us all, to look at ourselvesand the
Torah helps us look at ourselves in that lightas to
what does it mean to be a sexual human being, what is sexuality,
what is intimacy, and whats the healthiest and strongest
way to use that as a tool to self-actualize, and actually
sanctify our personal lives.
With that being said, I know Ive dropped
a few little bombshells here, even though theyve been
brief, but I just wanted to lay out the groundwork for the
discussion here tonight and reiterate again that it is a sensitive
topic, one that is charged and where people have opinions
of all extremes. Coming from a Torah approach, I want to clearly
state that its time that we have a meaningful dialogue
on a topic like this, one that does not have to cater to any
of the two extremes, whether its religious extremism
that completely marginalizes and dismisses other peoples
choices, or whether its condoning or accepting anyones
I think that there is an in-between place, and
it has a lot to do with the tone and you can even call it
the ambience of the discussion. I dont believe in the
fire and brimstone approach, because the fact is that even
according to a religious perspective (where the Bible clearly
states that homosexuality is not an option), the point is
that its not an option because G-d said that sexuality
is to be lived up to a certain way, and other styles, no matter
how comfortable they may be for a person, do not allow a person
to live up to his or her greatest potential.
At the same time, that doesnt mean that
someone who is struggling with the issue (and Im sure
many people have struggled with this issue of homosexualityits
not something that people just fall intotheres
much agony that goes into those choices), should have it be
dismissed; rather, we have to address it in a serious and
in a very personal way, which frankly is much easier to do
one on one, but I think that this show is a good platform,
Of course one of the aspects of this issue,
recently in the news, has been the Reform Judaisms ruling
where they overwhelmingly passed a resolution that the relationship
of a Jewish same-gender couple is worthy of affirmation through
appropriate Jewish ritual.
Thats one of the issues thats been
in the news recently. Here is, I believe, a first within Judaism:
that a denomination called Reform Judaism has clearly stated
their condoning of and affirming this type of lifestyle.
So Id like to hear from the callers some
of your opinions on that ruling, like, what exactly is the
problem with that ruling if you feel theres a problem
with it; do you agree with it, do you disagree with it? What
do you think is the attitude that Jews should have toward
it? How do we address the fact that in the Bible theres
a clear statement that homosexuality is not an option, that
its considered an aberration; an abomination? How do
we deal with that?
I am specifically avoiding commenting on this
ruling because Id like to discuss it more in the context
of the entire picture. When you talk about the entire picture
of sexuality, (which as I said is an issue that goes far beyond
homosexuality, the real issue is, in general, what is sexuality?),
I think Id like to share one or two points in discussing
that because I believe that would put things in context.
By no means am I a doctor or a psychiatrist,
and therefore I speak from a particularly spiritual, Torah
perspective, which I think is important to state. At the same
time, of course, the issues that are discussed when dealing
with homosexuality are: is it nature or nurture? Is it the
gene, the gay gene, as it has been called? and
so on. I think that to do justice to this topic, it has to
be addressed in an objective medical and scientific forum,
but I believe that the Torah and the spirit of the Torah,
and particularly its views on sexuality have much light to
shed on this issue.
I think if we were able to create some type
of incubators where we could interface the scientific and
medical community with the Torahs profound and comprehensive
views on sexuality, we could probably come up with a very
clear understanding that would transcend the political side
of it, because theres no doubt that politics have played
a big role here. Actually, I would recommend, if any of you
are interested, a very fascinating book that Ive read
recently called Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth,
written by Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., where he really does
a very extensive overview of the entire issue of homosexuality
and the politics of it.
I dont want to quote too much of it (it
would be good if any of you listeners actually read that book,
because he touches upon the issue in a way which Im
sure wont be to the liking of everyone who reads it.
Nevertheless, whether someone agrees or disagrees with it,
its definitely legitimate enough to deserve rebuttal
from those who disagree with it; it presents an academic,
medial perspective on the issue). Essentially, one of the
points he makes is that he personally, and many of his colleagues,
have treated homosexuality as an aberration and something
that was hurting peoples lifestyles, and helped bring
change to people who were really committed to change.
To change entirely? Thats another question
that he addresses, and one of the important points that he
made was that even though one can argue that homosexuality
has some natural causes, or that theres a gene or a
genetic element to it, still there are genetic causes to many
illnesses and no one would argue that being genetic we cannot
battle disease. In addition, genetics, too, is a very complex
study. What is genetic? What is nature? How much do nurturing
and early childhood affect our brain cells? There are so many
factors involved when youre talking about hereditary
and genetic elements. But even if we say that its genetic
does not mean that we cannot or should not overcome it. An
additional point: we all have dispositions, for example, many
of us are born with a mean streak. We may be born with many
predispositions that are not necessarily the best for us,
and our job is for us to channel and discipline them.
The issue here is not one particularly exclusive
to homosexuality; it is relevant even to heterosexuality.
A person can behave in a very distorted heterosexual fashion.
That too has to be disciplined and channeled.
What Judaism, and the Torah, teaches is that
sexuality is a sacred force in our lives; its a holy
sacred force that when used properly can be the most powerful,
potent element that can help you to be not just a loving person,
not just a healthy person, but to reach the heavens directly.
It helps you sanctify your life; it helps you self-actualize
and be the best you can be.
At the same time, sexuality is also a potent
force that when misused, or when not channeled properly or
disciplined, like any potent force, like nuclear energy, can
create much destruction, as we see. Sexuality has been the
force of building great good in our lives and it can also
be the force of unbelievable corruption, addiction, and obsession,
that can drive people to behave in ways that are completely
irrational and not in the spirit of anything that is healthy.
So the issue of genetics is not one that is
to be dismissed lightly. So that we should just say, okay,
genetically someone is that way, so therefore, thats
it: we must accept two legitimate lifestyles. It has to be
looked at from a medical/scientific point of view. And there
are many doctors who will argue and say that even if it is
genetic, that does not necessarily mean that this is the healthiest
way for a person to express him or herself sexually.
On the other side, there are many who say that
genetics is complicated because there are other factors involved;
for example, what happens if a person through early childhood
has had a certain experience: whether it was a distant father
or an overbearing mother, or whatever it is, there are many
psychological forces that cause people to have certain predispositions
in their sexual preferences. Forget about homosexuality. Even
in the heterosexual world. And isnt that legitimate
enough? If a person, due to his or her childhood experience
(forget about genetics) has certain leanings, why should that
not be legitimized? So here the issue is not one of, what
are the forces that influence us, its rather, what is
the healthiest way to be a sexual human being, the healthiest
way to express our sexuality.
I think that the challenge in our time, the
crisis of intimacy, is to get to the root of the problem instead
of the politics of it. We must be able to somehow transcend
human subjectivity (as much as possible) and get to the root
of it. What is really going on at the root of these issues?
Okay, lets go to the phones. We have Joseph
on the line.
Caller: Hello. I think Rabbi Jacobson
you already touched upon what I wanted to bring up. I think
that perhaps from Judaism and perhaps other religions theres
the concept that G-d put some people to a particular testsome
people are put to the test with stealing, for example, while
another person isnt tempted.
For example, I think that thy neighbors
wife, even though theres no parade for it, has
been somewhat legitimized in the same mainstream society that
rejects homosexuality and other forms of sexual deviation.
Everybody is put to his particular test.
Jacobson: Joseph, I think thats
a very good point; I didnt really make that point but
I appreciate your call. Do you have an opinion on the Reform
ruling about this issue?
Caller: Sorry, I have to say that I dont
consider Reform Judaism because I think its an oxymoron.
The Orthodox Judaism belief is that [the Torahs] unchangeable,
even when sometimes it seems that in certain generations certain
rabbis make certain declarationsbasically were
still following the same blueprint, and the word Reform is
Orthodox Judaism I think only
arose because people came up with the idea of Reform Judaism.
Once upon a time there was no Conservative, Reform
was just Judaism.
Jacobson: Good points and I thank you
Joseph for your call. Both your points are well taken. The
point of there being a challenge in life is an important one
because the fact is that all of us are challenged, and its
hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone elses challenges.
In no way can we judge another persons challenges because
if you were in those shoes you may not be able to withstand
it yourself. But I think thats part of the importancethat
even if we come with a Torah perspective that sexuality does
have a definition given to us by G-d, the mysteries and mystique
of sexuality and intimacy have been given to us and blessed
by G-d, and at the same time teaches us how to actualize them,
we still need to have that sensitivity, because many people
are faced with serious sexual challenges in their lives and
this goes far beyond, as stated earlier, homosexuality. It
touches upon heterosexual lifestyles as well. We live in a
time when sexuality is, at best, confusing, and at worst,
one can call it a real holocaust because, as you hear people
say, you cant live with them, you cant live
without thempeople have a real crisis of intimacy
and I think this crosses and touches all people today, no
matter where we come from.
Lets go to Rebecca on the line.
Caller: Hello Rabbi. My brother is in
his 60s; Im in my 40s, and he has been with
his partner for about 40 years. They met when they were both
young men, and I think ideally I would have loved my brother
to have been married and to have had a family. I think in
my heart of hearts that would have been my preference. But
they have had such a stable relationship, probably the only
stable relationship in my immediate familyIm divorced,
my sister is divorcedand I guess its very hard
when someones partner has become like a brother to me,
to think of it in terms of an aberration. Because I see around
me so many heterosexual couples to whom the word self-actualize
doesnt even enter into their relationship; theres
so much negativity there. And these two men (again, in my
heart I would rather it hadnt been the case) but particularly
his partner toward my brother, we came from a rather dysfunctional
familya lot of violenceif it wasnt for this
partner, I dont know if my brother would have been here
today. He might have committed suicide years ago. Its
when parents have children who are
gay they have images of them going in and out of these relationships
and its very self-destructiveand many of them
dobut occasionally you do have people who are truly
partners for many years and its really very difficult
to negate it as much as you would like to, but you cant
because you see the validity of it there in their lives together.
Jacobson: Rebecca, I appreciate your
call. This show is not for people who just agree with everything
I say. I want to ask you a question. Based on what youve
been saying, should we condone homosexuality based on the
exception, for example, in your brothers case?
Caller: You know, its an issue
that I grapple with all the time. I have another woman friend
who has married, divorced, had very destructive relationships
with men, and in her early 30s, began a relationship
with a woman and has basically declared herself a lesbian
for the last 15 years. I find that a little bit more troublesome,
and theres a part of me that thinks its a by-product
of her bad relationships with men. So its easier for
me not to condone that.
Its something I grapple with. I wish I
had an answer.
Jacobson: Let me ask you a question.
Forty years ago, when he made that choice, how did you feel
Caller: Well, I was a kid. Now Im
45. So all of a sudden I remember this young man being in
Jacobson: And your parents?
Caller: My father passed away many years
ago. No one came out in those days and I think
my parents were in denial for many years. My father loved
this guy as a son and accepted him. He would come to our house
for holidays, etc. I dont think my father ever mentally
verbalized it, and my mother never did either.
Jacobson: Were there any religious experiences
in your family life?
Caller: Mixed marriage. Jewish and Catholic.
Both obviously not condoning of homosexuality. But religion
didnt really enter into the picture.
Jacobson: Well if I may say, listening
to what youre saying, I think what youre describing
is more of a testimony to the sorry state of sexuality and
heterosexuality in our society than an endorsement or tribute
to homosexuality. I personally, and I say this with all respect
to your brother and to yourself as well, I personally see
that based on two evils, he chose the one that brought some
nurturing and some comfort, and the sorry state of it is that
there was no alternative. In the sexual environment that children
grow up in in high schools today, and I state it again for
the record as Ive said several times on the show here
tonight, theres a sorry state of sexuality thats
affecting all of us. As a matter of fact, I find that most
people are offended by homosexuality for the wrong reasons.
Theyre offended for personal reasonstheyre
repulsed by it, they cant identify with it, they cant
relate to itand not for the reason that Im stating
here, that G-d gives us sexuality and also tells us the tools
how best to experience that sexuality.
There are men who decide that their personal
genetic impulses is to have a different partner every night
in a heterosexual relationship and theyre completely
uncommitted. Thats equally unhealthy. And as a result
I think that many people turn to homosexuality almost because
of the damage in the sexual area, this being almost some type
of outlet, and I say it again with all due respect. Im
not judging your brother and Im not talking to him as
an individual. Every individual has to be loved for who
he or she is, but nevertheless, it just states how bad
things are that he could not find expression in a heterosexual
Im sure that youll hear fire and
brimstone people who will completely dismiss your brother's
life. Im not ready to dismiss that because I believe
that within the root of any drive lies something sacred; however,
the expression of it can either be healthy or not. And thats
where sexuality comes into play, when I see somebody who is
in general behaving in a sexually aberrant fashion, my goal
is not to have them experience abstinence or celibacy, but
to try to channel and get to the healthy root of the need
that they have and find a healthy outlet of expression. Because
imagine what type of father your brother would have been.
Jacobson: Hes not on the phone
here so I cant say much to him, but I say it to you,
what you can do about itI dont know if you should
or could, but your call and your description of your brothers
situation gives me very mixed feelings. On the one hand Im
happy to hear that somebody had some happiness in his life,
but on the other hand, in a way, it confirms how bad things
are, if you know what Im saying.
Ill tell you a story. I remember there
was a guy who came to one of my classes. He was clearly stoned
when he walked into my class, possibly on LSD or something.
And he asked me a question. He said he lost his religious
faith as a young man, and he regained it through drugs, through
LSD. He discovered G-d through LSD. And he asked me what my
opinion was on the matterthis was in front of a group
of about 50-60 peopleand they wanted to see if I would
give an endorsement now for an acid trip as a way of finding
G-d. For many, that was the way.
Obviously I was not going to do that so I said,
You know, Ill give you an example. A person is
G-d forbid in an accident, and theyve fallen into a
coma. And nothing helps. The doctors say the only thing well
try to do is give them an injection of drugs to shake up the
system, to wake him up so to speak. Youd never give
a healthy person that type of injection.
Yet this may work. So lets say the person
is revived. Whats the answer? The answer is that there
are healthy ways of waking up from a comatose state. You were
in a spiritual coma, I told this fellow. For some reason G-d
planted into some plants and chemicals, in some artificial
way, the power to induce a spiritual experience. But once
youve come there, there are healthy ways to experience
it. To me its a sad testimony to the state of religion
that it could not bring G-d into your life in a relevant way,
and that you needed some type of massive injection, so to
speak, to get you out of the coma.
But now that youre out of it, you should
be going and speaking to people, to young men and women who
are now what you were like back then, facing similar challenges
and telling them theres a healthy and natural way to
achieve a transcendent experience.
I think the same is true with sexuality. Human
beings need love and nurturing in our lives. And if we dont
find it in a healthy way, well find it in an unhealthy
way. And what well do is well begin to justify
it, snowballing the healthy and the unhealthy. Youll
say, well, it may not be completely healthy but it has healthy
elements. And look at how many heterosexual relationships
break apart, as you described, in divorce.
So from my perspective, we expect people to
live up to the divine image in which they were created in
the highest standard. Why cut corners? Just because we live
in a society that has screwed up so many areas of sexuality,
should we undermine, should we not live up to our greatest
Thats what I would say to your brother
and to his partner as well. I would say that they both have
potential thats far beyond what theyve experienced.
So in a way, under damage control circumstances, theyve
made the best with what they have. But theres the best
under certain circumstances, and then theres better.
Thats generally my view on the topic. So I appreciate
the call and I hope that my comments are taken in the right
Caller: Oh, absolutely. Thank you very
Jacobson: Okay, well go to AJ on
Caller: Good evening. I must compliment
you on your very intelligent way of handling this very sensitive
subject. But people have to understand that religion is not
a moving target; its not something thats supposed
to be convenient for everyone regardless of what they might
happen to choose. The Ten Commandments were specific and there
has to be some sort of specificness in religion, otherwise
its not going to be religion.
For instance, sado-masochism and masochism is
hardly something that we would want to condone, and yet it
takes on some very sexual aspects to it time and again, and
something like that has to be dealt with and tried to be removed.
So, people have to understand that if youre going to
say a thing as a religion, and there are objective truths,
you have to come to some point where everything is not just
a convenience thing, its got to be objective some time
Jacobson: Very well articulated and I
really appreciate it. Youve hit the nail on the head.
I do agreebecause its either anarchy or some type
of objective higher truth, and particularly when it comes
to sexuality, which we are so subjective in, we cant
really be trusted with our own feelings because its
just too powerful. I mean, which person has not been consumed
at some moment with some sexual passion? We know how distorted
and how far we can fall when were consumed in that way.
So I appreciate your call. Any other thoughts?
Caller: Well, Id just like to mention
that there are, in the animal fields, animals that marry for
life, like the lone wolf. Theres a marriage and thats
it. If one of the partners dies, thats not just with
Jacobson: I think the dove as well.
Caller: Hes a lone wolf for the
rest of his life. They choose partners and thats it.
Jacobson: Is that why theyre called
Caller: Yes. Well the one that didnt
die. That one becomes the lone wolf. Never remarries.
Jacobson: Thats very romantic.
Okay, thank you for your call, AJ. We have David on the line.
Caller: Hello, Rabbi. Thank you for taking
my call. I wanted to ask your thoughts on something. It seems
to me that a lot of the commandments in the Bible, or most
of them, make sense in a social way, very obviously, such
as the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt
not bear false witness, and so on. If you break those commandments,
its very clear that youre harming other people
and harming society. And the thing that Ive tried to
figure out, and I hope you can talk about this, is the restriction
against homosexuality. In what sense would you be harming
society if you broke that rule?
Jacobson: Okay, thank you David for the
call. Youre touching upon the issue itself which I hope
Ive addressed somewhat. Whats key to point out
here is, the perspective that Id like to present, is
not just about damaging society, its about damaging
oneself. When we speak about a G-d that created the system,
let me just make a comparison. You buy a computer. You come
home with a new computer and theres a computer manual
that tells you how to use it. Someone will say, well, I dont
want to follow the manual, Ill just use it any way I
wishat the risk of destroying their computer, erasing
their hard drive.
So the engineer of the machine has given you
a blueprint, a manual, how to use that machine most effectively.
Once youve mastered that, the skys the limit.
You can use the machine, perhaps even discover things that
the engineer himself didnt put into that machine, once
you follow those guidelines.
If thats the case with a machine like
a computer, how much more so with an organism called life,
existence itself. Particularly the complex individuals that
we human beings are, and part and parcel of that is our sexual
personalities, which perhaps, within the human system is the
most complex of the complex. As we see, it continues to mystify
us, it continues to be misunderstood, it continues to be the
secret to life itself, the secret to intimacy, the secret
to love and nurturing. So the belief is that the Torah is
the operator's manual for life. It is your guidebook, your
operators manual how to live your life in the best way
When a person does not follow an element in
the Torah, its not just a crime against society, its
a crime against yourself. Its like when you put your
hand in fire and your hand gets burned, no one is going to
suggest that the fire is getting even with you or that theres
some conspiracyits the natural cause and effect
of our system. That certain things help that system grow and
certain things damage the system. When it comes to sexuality,
thats the case.
Its hard for us to accept because wed
like to sometimes just follow our own hearts and just live
the way wed like to live, but essentially, that leads
Now Im not getting into an argument which
way you want to choose your life, everyone has his or her
choice to make and thats between you and G-d, but I
will say that there is a strong argument to make that we have
a soul, and sexuality is one of the most powerful tools of
how to access your own soul. Its not just about how
to have children and its not just about procreating
and its not just about nurturing or pleasure, and having
an intimate partner in your life and having the type of comfort
that sexuality brings, its about accessing your soul,
of reaching the most deepest, intimate resources of your personality.
When sexuality is healthy, it spills over and
affects your entire life. You become more creative, you become
more upbeat. Youre a happier person. It affects your
work. It affects your relationship with other people and friends.
Unhealthy sexuality, rest assured, is always
connected to isolation. It becomes compartmentalized. It may
be pleasurable for the moment, but it does not spill over
into the other areas of your life in a healthy way. It may
spill over, but more as an obsession that destroys or compromises
part of your life.
Healthy sexuality is all encompassing. It becomes
something that is seamless, part of your entire life. Because
the intimacy that it reveals, that opens up, opens you up
on many levels. So there is a manual, and the operators
manual called the Torah tells us what is healthy sexuality
and what is unhealthy sexuality.
That doesnt mean that unhealthy sexuality
isnt powerful and completely unhealthy. It means that
it could have a healthy kernel, but it could be packaged in
I mean, I dont even know if there is such
a thing as healthy sexuality in the world that we live in
today. But were all aspiring to reach that health. The
thing that disturbed me most about the Reform ruling was,
without getting into whos an authority, but the ruling
itself, I mean, what are they tampering with here? If we believe
in a G-d, that G-d gave us rules of how sexuality is to be
lived up to, I mean, shouldnt we be asking G-d what
G-d says about sexuality, not any group of rabbis? This isnt
a consensus issue. Its not an issue of new medical breakthroughs.
Its an issue of what is the healthiest way you can be
and way you can live to your greatest potential. Unfortunately,
many of us have succumbed to a certain resignation of lets
make the best with what we have. We live in a dysfunctional
society, with dysfunctional families, so we make do with the
best of what we have.
The Torah says unequivocally no. You can live
a meaningful life and live up to your highest potential, and
why should you undermine that? Why should you in any way undercut
your greatest abilities?
Thats what this is about. So this is much
more than just an issue of homosexuality, of the limitations
Some will argue the issues of homophobia of our society. It
may be true that people are very homophobic. But even if people
are homophobic, it doesnt mean that homosexuality is
the best way to be a sexual human being. You know, it could
be that were all limited, and this maybe is an opportunity
to finally get to the root of seeing ourselves as divine human
beings, and seeing sexuality as an inherent component in human
growth and in the capacity of a human being to reach the greatest
So in answer to the question that was just asked
to me, I would say that this isnt just about harming
society necessarily. While I believe that if you harm yourself
you also harm society, this is about harming yourself, its
about living up to your greatest potential and then ultimately,
I think that theyre interwoven.
Why do we mobilize the police force and the
fire department when someone wants to jump off a bridge? You
could say, suicide is between him and G-d. Hes not harming
anyone. Lets talk about the suicide of a loner, of an
individual who doesnt have a family. But society has
determined that if you allow someone to commit suicide its
a crime against the entire society, its the standard
of life. Sometimes we have to protect people from themselves,
from their own self-destructiveness.
Now this is a touchy area. Im not suggesting
there should be legislation in every private area of a persons
life. Our goal here is to find, as individuals, as a grassroots
community, to live up to our greatest potential and to do
everything possible to achieve that.
So let me go back to the original question on
this show and that was the letter that was sent to me. What
should be the attitude of a Torah-observant Jew to his brother
whos announced to his family that hes gay.
My response is very direct. He is your brother
and you have to love him unequivocally and unconditionally.
He should be invited to a seder, he should be invited
to the shul, the synagogue, and should be treated like
a human being. He is a human being, hes not an animal.
Regardless of his choices. And he should be treated with that
type of love. We should not allow ourselves to succumb to
At the same time, if you truly love someone,
you want them to be the best they can be, to live up to the
greatest potential they have. And I think as a brother (Im
speaking to the writer of that letter) you should do everything
possible to encourage him to explore his sexuality, to explore
what intimacy really means from a divine, Torah perspective.
Theres much to be said about the exploration of our
inner souls. Understanding the depth of your soul helps you
understand the depths of your sexuality.
A person may have strong homosexual leanings
and wants to choose that lifestyle, but there are ways to
address that in an intelligent manner. Obviously, your brother
may be very emotional and subjective about it; he may not
be open or responsive to anything. I still would not give
up on him. Hes your brother and you have to do everything
possible. Encourage him to come to a class. I would suggest
the reading of this book that I mentioned by Dr. Satinover,
Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth.
I ultimately believe in the integrity and the
honesty and sincerity of people. Even subjective human beings.
Each of us has the ability to rise above our subjectivity,
which is critical when addressing a topic like this, because
you can be doing the greatest disservice to yourself, particularly
in your sexual life, if you just allow yourself to be consumed
by the immediate passions, the immediate view or the immediate
condoning of -- thats based on politics.
How would you like to find out one day that
your sexual life could have been so much more profound, so
much more intimate, and so much healthier, but simply the
politicization of gay politics in some way has undermined
that. And I think its very important to realize that
we dont want to build systems based on individual passions,
individual distortions and sexual preferences, because particularly
in the area of sexuality, a society without rules around sexualityand
when I say rules, I dont mean superimposed rules, I
mean divine rules, divine channels with which to express itwill
be a society that destroys itself.
Lets just take a moment for a station
ID. This is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson.
Were on every Sunday from 6-7pm at 1050AM. You can contact
me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or at our website: www.meaningfullife.com
or by mail at Meaningful Life Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern
Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
Id like to also invite you to my weekly
Wednesday night class in Manhattan which is an in-depth discussion
of topics like you hear here on the radio. Its at 8:00pm,
346 West 89th St., corner of Riverside Drive. All are welcome.
No matter what persuasion, what background, male or female.
Please, point yourselves out to me. Id love to meet
any of you who come to the class.
Finally, Id like to say that since we
are in the 49 days between Passover and Shavuos, theres
a book called The Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the
Omer. You can obtain it by calling us at 1-800-3MEANING
(1-800-363-2646) as well as by email at email@example.com.
I would also like to thank the sponsors of this
particular show and namely Ivan Stux and James Garfinkel and
many of the other supporters who have always been helping
us to bring shows like this on the air. I hope to be able
to bring more frank, candid topics like this one that we can
all talk about in a very humane way, in a loving way, but
at the same time without compromising our standards. I do
believe the Torah offers a blueprint for life, a blueprint
that becomes a standard that makes us better than we think
we can be, better than we expect of ourselves, and theres
nothing greater than to be able to hear from someone, whether
a mentor or a parent or a system that says to you, as good
as you think you can be, heres something that can make
you even better. I expect more of you.
And I think this controversy and this topic
about homosexuality, as any topic, is really a catalyst and
an opportunity to address our own intimate sexual lives in
a deeper way. Whenever theres a challenge, it forces
us to dig deeper into our treasures, into our resources and
see what we come up with. So for me, I embrace this dialogue
on whatever level it may be. Obviously were looking
to experience it in a way thats humane and also one
that we communicate instead of one driven by politics or personal
So youve been listening to Simon Jacobson
with Toward a Meaningful Life and please listen again
next week, 1050AM, 6-7pm every Sunday. Thank you and good