In anticipation of today’s primaries, Rabbi Yehuda Levin, spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada issued a statement calling on Jews to vote for family values candidates.
Candidates who support abortion on demand, the homosexual agenda, liberal attitudes towards pornography of any sort — are antithetical to our way of life and it is forbidden to support or vote for them.
Our former president, internationally acknowledged as the premier legal decisor, Rabbi Moshe Feinstien was most vigorous in condemning abortion on demand and the homosexual agenda and we take his legacy as our guide.
What intrigued me most about this statement was its source. What is the Union of Orthodox Rabbis?
As it turns out, it is not affiliated with the Orthodox Union. In fact, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is aligned with the Orthodox Union, was founded because the Union of Orthodox Rabbis (also known as Agudas Harabbonim) was too conservative.
According to Jerome Chanes:
The RCA was founded in 1935 because the existing Orthodox rabbinical organization, Agudas Horabbonim, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, made up of Yiddish-speaking, European-born-and-educated rabbis, refused to accept rabbis who had been ordained at Yeshiva University. The RCA today is the largest and most geographically representative of the Orthodox rabbinical organizations. The Agudas Horabbonim still exists, but is little more than a paper organization.
But as Rabbi Levin notes, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein — considered one of the great rabbis and halakhic scholars of the 20th century — was the president of Agudas Harabbonim, which means that it must have been a fairly significant organization at some point.
Along those lines, I was struck by Rabbi Levin’s assertion that Rav Moshe had vigorously condemned the homosexual agenda. The question of Judaism and homosexuality is at the fore of communal discourse today — even in the Orthodox community — but I wouldn’t have thought it was a major issue for Rav Moshe, who passed away in 1986.
Did the idea of a “homosexual agenda” even exist in the mid-1980s?
According to Wikipedia, the rise of the “homosexual agenda” did indeed occur after Rav Moshe’s death: “The term ‘the gay agenda’ was first used for political purposes in 1992 when the Family Research Council published a video series called The Gay Agenda as part of a pack of materials campaigning on homosexual issues and the ‘hidden gay agenda’.”
However, it seems Rav Moshe did make public pronouncements against homosexuality. Indeed, Rabbi Steven Greenberg has a whole chapter about Rav Moshe’s position in his book Wrestling With God and Men. And Rav Moshe’s confrontation with the issue arose in a fascinating way.
In 1970, a Swiss publisher discovered the manuscript of a Torah commentary attributed to the 12th Century Rabbi Yehuda HeHasid. Rav Moshe and some of his contemporaries tried to stop the publication of the book, claiming it was a forgery because of supposed heresies that it included.
Among those heresies: The commentary gives a reason for the prohibition against male homosexuality; according to the manuscript, male homosexuality is forbidden so as to ensure that men marry women and procreate.
But Rav Moshe forcefully rejected the possibility that there could be a reason for the prohibition against homosexuality. He wrote:
It needs no reason since it is an abomination, despised by all the world. All understand that transgressors of this sin are corrupt and not members of civilization at all. And when the reason is sought for this prohibition, the asking of such a question removes [from the prohibition] all obscenity, shame, and disgrace, and completely disparages it.
Because of this “error” Rav Moshe ruled that it was forbidden to publish the manuscript. Of course, in order to justify banning the book, Rav Moshe also had to rule that it was not really written by Rabbi Yehuda HeHasid — who was fully acknowledged as a great mystic and rabbi.
So what happened to the manuscript? The publisher insisted on its authenticity and published it anyway.