Rabbi Boteach takes on DADT

Editor’s note: I’ve been looking for articles for some time for Jewish thought on DADT. This is an interesting perspective.

Read the full post here

Gays Have a Right to Serve their Country

Every person has a right to serve his country, gays included. All have a right to serve their country openly without hiding who they are. It’s kind of odd that so many heterosexuals who are not prepared to make that kind of sacrifice, refusing to enlist in the military and preferring instead to live as armchair warriors, are condemning those with a patriotic passion to fight for freedom.

The other day a woman called my radio show on WABC 770AM in NYC to argue with me. She was adamantly against the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ She said a homosexual lifestyle was dirty and against the Bible. I asked her whether she had children of military age and whether they, as good, clean, heterosexuals would enlist in place of the gays whom she would ban. She responded, “They are doing other things to serve their country.” I thought so.

Homosexuality is a religious sin. The Bible makes that much clear. But it is not a moral sin. Rather than being like the moral (and religious) sin of adultery, in which lying, deception, and injury to an innocent party are committed, homosexuality is an infraction between G-d and man. In that sense it is akin to lighting a fire on the Sabbath, an act strictly forbidden by the Bible. No moral sin has taken place, but it is forbidden on religious grounds.

I am a Rabbi and I take the words of the Bible seriously. But I will not call gay men and women names, I will not become a homophobe, and I will not make the error of mistaking sins that are deeply unethical, like ‘Do Not Steal,’ with those that are simply irreligious, like gay men living together.

On the same radio show a member of the military called in and said, having served with homosexuals in the military under ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ he too was opposed to the reversal of the ban. ‘Too many gay men hit on me in the showers and the barracks, and were pretty aggressive about it, for me to think that they should ever be allowed to serve openly in the military. It will only make things worse.” To be sure, I don’t agree with the sentiment. I have worked with gay men and have become very close to many of them and they have yet to hit on me even once. Granted, I am about five-foot-six, have a bushy beard, and have a monopack rather than a six-pack. But jokes aside, even if I disagree with the sentiment I respect the veteran offering the opinion because he actually served. He fought, he sacrificed, and he has earned the right to a strong opinion on the matter. I believe his opinion is flawed in that it is probably more of an argument for the complete and utter separation of men and women in the military than it is against the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ Still, he is a veteran and has earned the right to be strongly heard. The rest of us, however, who have, for the most part, put personal considerations like fear of injury or love of making a little bit more money that what’s on offer in the military ahead of giving our country a few years of our lives, and perhaps life itself, should perhaps be a little bit more humble about elevating our opinions on a par with those who have enlisted.

Read the rest at the above link.

It raises some good questions…is service member opinion more relevant than non-service member in a country where civilian control of the military is one of our saving graces?

Statistics concerning sexual violence raise the only strong ethical argument I can think of, as one must do in a wall-of-partition state, considering a significant portion of sexual assaults are on men by men who identify as heterosexual. Ironically, this was one of the strong arguments against women serving in a gender-integrated force. But even the gender-based assaults occur, which is extremely unfortunate, and prevalent enough that we spend a significant amount of time in sexual assault training as a force, more so than any other occupation outside of rape counselors and police investigators.

Anecdotally, two years ago, a rather significant gang rape occurred on Fort Indiantown Gap, in Pennsylvania, during a unit’s drill weekend. Introducing women to the force, for good or for ill, put intraservice sexual assault on the table as a sadly common ordeal.

So, I’ve indicated before that we must brace ourselves, that introducing openly gay service members will add another victim class to the military. I’m not as concerned about being hit on by men as I am seeing guys that I come to respect and admire being targeted for sexual violence merely because they are gay. It’s not far-fetched. But is it an argument in favor of DADT when in spite of the threat of sexual violence, women in uniform have brought great credit and value to the uniform?

Personally, I wrestle with this issue. On one hand there’s a Torah-observant Jew that can’t condone the Conservative Movement’s end-run around halachah to permit gay marriage, but on the other, there’s living in a society where when the argument against something is primarily a religious one, the law cannot abide by that standard. Yes, my objections to murder, rape, theft, and just about anything are just as rooted in religion, but there’s a direct line of causality that the law can recognize. It’s very difficult to substantively do the same with homosexuality.

Ugh. Why this has to be the focus of folks’ concern for the military while we’re in the midst of two wars, and always on the brink of more, is beyond me.


  • I find Rabbi Boteach’s take interesting. His point about it being a religious sin and not a moral sin makes complete sense, and I don’t know why I never picked up on that.

    I do have one issue with your argument on creating another “victim class”. By using that as an argument against gays serving, you are punishing victims for the unacceptable behavior of their perpetrators. Not allowing women to serve since they might be mistreated is not a valid argument for me. You could just as easily replace women with Jews, African Americans, Asians, etc.

    I have no moral or personal issues with gays serving. My main stumbling block is the practical and logistical dilemas. How do we arrange for billeting and hygiene facilities? It seems no more practical to put gay men (or women) together than it does to put heterosexual men and women together in rooms or showers. You end up with this complex matrix of compatible rackmates that is highly impractical, and that’s without even considering bisexuals. So it seems there are only two options: (1) Everyone lives, sleeps, bathes together regardless of sex or sexual orientation, or (2) Everyone gets their own room with their own bathroom and own shower.

    I’m all for option #2, but what do we do aboard naval vessels? There simply is not enough room.

    This may sound like a petty argument, but the average civilian does not have to live in such close quaarters and face these kind of problems. I don’t shower in fear of being raped by other men, and I think it is ridiculous when people directly associate homosexuality with rape and sexual assault, but I think as human beings we deserve resonable stanadards of privacy. Would women feel comfortable showering with men?

    So, I 100% feel gays should be able to serve in our military, but I think we need to tackle the practical issues in order to make that happen. It’s no longer a “moral” issue for me, simply one of working out the details. The problem is that those details are very complex and often very expensive to change.

  • Capt Rubin,

    My victim class concern is really more of a preparatory idea than a strong argument against. The hostility to DADT’s repeal at the rank and file level, accompanied by the ground-up nature of EO and sexual assault reporting systems, should leave DADT repeal advocates concerned about what happens after.

    A provision for it ahead of time would be prudent, but it’s as you talk about, I’m concerned that the civilian emphasis on ending it will leave gay service members exposed.

  • GMC(SCW/SW) Peter M Michelson (Ret)

    Capt Rubin,

    been a long time Sir. With all do respect Sir I have to agree to disagree. Here is why. as a Navy Chief looking out for my Troops was my number ! concern. All of my troops in order to make sure the division and department ran smooth. Having to appease social groups goes against the Laws and Codes of all Branches of the Military. So you are saying you approve. But have the Top of the Top Brass of eaxh branch of Service who are respeonsible and accountable for for their forces going to have a real chance to weigh in and be lissen to? We have our own set of Laws the UCMJ. are you saying we as the Protectors of our Nation have to change our Military Code of Justice to appease some social group that behaves against the Norm? Let chat all things Jewish. First off the Center of every Family according to Jewish Law is the Wife and Mother for she gives life and is the center post of the family. So let ask this question how are you going to tell me that two men or two women who get married going to reproduce? In order for the Military Machine to run smoothly and in automatic we need not have more social problems then we already have ie: single girls stupidly getting pregnant wasting taxpayer dollars so the can give birth have no husband or father in the picture. Drinking and drug problems, spousal abuse, child abuse, gangs, the list goes on. The entire point of joining the Military is a sent of belonging to something bigger then yourself and to improve one’s life. To learn to follow Orders, we follow orders or things go FUBAR and people die. Keep the social sexual problems and lifestyles in the public arena, and let’s make our military as strong as possible so we can WIN, and when the job is completely done bring home the Troops. Lets not do what this adminstrations wants to do cut and run as this will result in failure causing us to go back and weakening the strength of our Nation. Using the KISS princple We are suppose to be the Strongest Fighting Forces in the World not some Jerry Springer Freak Show. These thoughts are in MHO and since I have served Honorably, have been deployed about 12 times in 22 yrs I do think I know from Deckplate experience. Shabbot Shalom.

  • Chief,

    I agree with some of your points there, but I don’t think we are just appeasing some social group. While I personally think that homosexuality is not natural (in the context of Judaism and what I consider a natural order of life), it is a reality. I don’t think Wiccan is a true religion, but I still accept their right to believe what they do and be full citizens and serve their country. I can’t pretend to know what it is like to be gay, but I can imagine being part of a minority that is discriminated against due to my beliefs. These people want to serve their country like the rest of us. If we can get over the practical hurdles (that I mentioned above), then there isn’t a valid reason in my mind to prevent it.

    As for the senior leadership, they are split. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is *for* lifting the ban. Regarding the Jerry Springer comment, I think our young enlisted *heterosexual* Marines have far more drama with their shenannigans than I could possibly imagine with an occasional homosexual in the unit. The level of promiscuity (male and female) often involving married persons often turns my stomach – and that is a moral issue and one punishable by the UCMJ.

    I won’t be attending any rallies in support of lifting the ban, but I also won’t be standing in the way of lifting the ban, or fostering negative attitudes towards them serving. I do have concerns about the practical challenges, but as long as those are addressed, I side with the majority of those serving today, and would have no problem serving with them. I didn’t always feel this way, but the longer I have served the more open I have come to the idea. Some of that has to do with Marines I am fairly sure are gay that have performed as well or better than their peers.