Monday, September 15, 2014
Mazal Tov?- Thinking about our reaction to the recent brouhaha at Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa
Recently, Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa has been in the news after they wished, and then retracted, a “mazal tov”, to an alumni of the yeshiva, upon his engagement to another man. The yeshiva explained that the initial mazal tov had been a mistake, based on a misreading of the name of the man who was not from the yeshiva. I have no interest in examining the story and agreeing or disagreeing with the yeshiva’s actions. It is easy to pontificate from 6000 miles away, saying what I would have done. One of the Roshei Yeshiva, Rav David Bigman, has said that he will be addressing this on his own, and I look forward to hearing what he says. What I would like to do is to think aloud about the reaction to this story.
One thing that ought to be clear is that wishing someone a mazal tov has no halachic status. Simply put, it is the Hebrew equivalent to saying “Congratulations!”. As such, it should be recognized that any analysis of the propriety of saying “mazal tov” to a gay couple, be it from a yeshiva or from an individual is not a halachic issue. Wishing mazal tov to a gay couple should not be conflated with the halachic status of homosexual behavior, as it is separate issue. I am certain that we would all be okay wishing a mazal tov to somebody who is not observant upon their marriage, despite the realization that the couple will not be following the laws of taharas hamishpacha. I am trying to figure out why there should be a difference in the two cases.
One suggestion which I have heard from several people is that by wishing a mazal tov to a gay couple, we are validating or giving legitimacy to the marriage. I find this objection rather odd. What exactly is the concern? Do we really believe that there are gay couples who wish to marry who are refraining from doing so due to the fact that they think the Orthodox community is opposed to their actions, who will now do so after we say mazal tov? Does saying mazal tov to a non-observant couple legitimize not keeping hilchos taharas hamishpacha? Does it legitimize premarital sex? Other issurei kareis?
Others have suggested that a distinction needs to be made between what individuals do privately, versus what a yeshiva does publicly. Again, I wonder why this would be so. If there is value in being supportive, kind and understanding to someone who is struggling with their homosexuality , or for that matter, someone who is accepting of their homosexuality, why should the yeshiva be different? I am not suggesting that every yeshiva must wish mazal tov in this case, but at the very least, why shouldn’t a yeshiva that wants to, do so? Is it better for the yeshiva to stay involved in a talmid’s life, or to give a message that we only value you when you do exactly what we wish? Which approach is more likely to lead to this couple wanting to live as halachically correctly as possible?
As a community, there are certain questions that we need to ask ourselves. Are we being as kind and sensitive as possible to all members of our community? How do we act towards people who struggle differently from us? Are our feelings on matters like this based on ratzon HaShem, which includes kavod hberiyos, or just based on personal discomfort? While I recognize that there might be various responses to the questions I have asked, it is important that, at the very least, they be asked and dealt with an honest manner. I would hope that we are okay with struggling with complicated questions, rather than offering facile and simplistic answers.