By HaRav Yisrael Rozen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
"The Torah spoke of four sons: One who is wise, one who is evil, one who is simple, and one who does not know how to ask. What does the evil one say? What is this service to you – to you and not to him. And since he removed himself from the community he has rejected the essence. Dull his teeth... If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed." [From the Haggada of Pesach].
Homiletic experts from all the generations have delved into and analyzed the four sons: the essence of their questions, the suitability of the replies we give, and mainly the fact that they have all been invited to the same place – our Seder table. Speakers of the last generation have added a fifth chair, meant for a son who doesn't even make it to the Seder. Not only doesn't he know how to ask the questions, in fact he has no interest in asking, and he might well block his ears so as not to hear anything. And even so, our speakers tell us, and rightly so – we maintain a warm corner in our hearts for him. "For as I speak of him, I will yet remember him. Therefore my insides pine for him, I will have pity on him..." [Yirmiyahu 31:19]. Women speakers of the last generations, who are working hard to translate the Torah into a feminized format, will also present a group of four daughters, in an effort to maintain equality. (What do you call the bad daughter? Evil? A shrew?)
Sermons will be made, and I will make my own attempt to add my words to the issue which is called "containment" – that is, everything can be included, everything is treated in the same way. This word, which comes from the realm of psychology, is today used to denote acceptance of and compassion for the "other" – whether he or she is different, strange, and even a bit eccentric – just as they are, without any hint of rejection, without preaching to them, and without trying to make them change their behavior or their outlook. I can partially identify with this concept, but with one important limitation: The "other" must be aware that he or she is different and that his behavior is wrong as far as I am concerned. In this case, there is indeed room for friendship, a partnership, a combination, and a conversation. From my point of view I do not flatter him but act in accordance with the definition: "containment."
Let us return to the Seder table and to family containment. Many religious and Torah-true families find it difficult to accept sons and daughters who have strayed from the path, and who have removed the yoke of the mitzvot (partially or completely). However, the Seder table calls out to all of them and "contains" them, placing special emphasis on the "evil one" who sits on the sidelines. We must have only praise for the communities of the east, who during many generations have developed the techniques of "containing" those who stray from the path of Torah – people who come to the synagogue on Shabbat and then continue as on a weekday, but they still define themselves as "traditional." Reform Jews, on the other hand, who parted in anger from the Ashkenazi communities, do not exist in the eastern communities, and they are certainly not "contained" in the communities of Ashkenaz.
I have in front of me a document with the title "Halacha and Containment," by the "rabbis of Beit Hillel and their wives," which was distributed in the synagogues on Shabbat Hagadol. (Since containment in Hebrew is "hachala," the Hebrew title is a play on words: " Hachala V'Halacha.") The rabbis of this modern-Orthodox enterprise produced a "position paper in the spirit of halacha," as they put it, which calls for opening the hearts and the gates of the communities to people with a homosexual orientation. If I understand correctly, this would even include same-sex "marriages" of either men or women. Well, the son might ask, but in this case the father totally rejects such "containment" using the building tool in his hand, as Shammai once did under other circumstances!
I am not opposed to some simple elements included in the document about the need and the positive effect of outreach to sinners and not to reject them, and about the positive halachic attitude towards those who sin because of an innate urge, and about such things as "spiritual rape," and more. However, I have sharp criticism about subjects that do not appear and as a result about the containment approach, which has evidently led to instability of the 14 rabbis (including some I know personally, and whom I do not understand) and the 7 women who signed the "ruling," as it is called. (I note in passing that the title "ruling" on a halachic position which is mainly based on a world outlook reminds me very much of the rulings of the "Conservative Rabbinical Court.")
Just what is missing in this document? As is noted in the Haggada, we should "remove from the community" all those who pride themselves in sporting a peacock's tail in order to make their sins into a banner for all to see . We cannot "contain" one who is proud of his or her sin and is a member of a sinful organization. The goal of such a declared organization is to draw other people into the circle of sin, and to provide legitimization of a forbidden pathway. Anybody who is part of such an ostentatious group cannot be accepted, and they should not be "contained" in any of our communities (the family or the Seder table is different, and this should be discussed separately). This absolute diagnosis is totally missing from the above "ruling," and it is clear from publicized material that the purpose of the document is to show appreciation for the progressive approach of Beit Hillel, which knows how to "contain" everybody!
Here is the main point in summary: It is not possible to "contain" institutionalized single-sex "families" within a community (and it is unclear whether this applies to a family grouping around a Seder table). "Chessed hu - It is a sinful act" [Vayikra 20:17]. "Tevel hu – it is an abomination" [18:23]. And it is also "hevel" – a vain approach. I wonder: Will these people react in the same way to men who marry Gentile women? Perhaps the answer is yes, who can know the spiritual depths of Beit Hillel? I want to note for the authors of this "ruling" that even among the abominations of Egypt, they never stooped to "writing a Ketuva for men" [Chulin 92b].