Gays and Judaism were recently discussed in the summer 1993 issue of the Public Interest. Since the author of the article, Dennis Praeger, had been identified a few weeks before in Insight as a political conservative and Jewish traditionalist, one might have expected to find here an attack on sexual perversion based on Leviticus 18. And Praeger docs mention that in the Mosaic law a man who lies with another man is committing toavah, an abomination punishable by death. He then points out that homosexuality was not only a grievous offense in the Bible, but one likened there to such hideous acts of defilement as incest, carnal relations with animals, and human sacrifice.

Praeger might have gone further and noted that in Leviticus 18:24 divine judgment is threatened against nations that sanction such pollution {tumah). Thus the Canaanites will be vomited out of their land and dispossessed by the Hebrews for practicing sexual perversion. Such practices are characteristic of those particularly wicked nations, like the Canaanites, whom the Hebrews are to destroy in response to a divine commandment. Though such statements would offend Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and other Jewish communal leaders now lumping anti- Semitism and homophobia together, the Jewish heritage does provide the most vehement and merciless condemnation of homosexuality yet produced. Unlike those who speak for Judaism, homosexuals are right to hate the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Its views on gays are far more shockingly hostile than what one encounters among today’s self-proclaimed religious conservatives.

Despite his reference to a few of the relevant phrases from Leviticus, Praeger goes on to smother the full force of the Hebraic judgment about moral polluters. Once settling his reservations (the term may be too strong) about homosexuality, he reaches for liberal banalities. For example: “It goes without saying, but again it needs to be said [for whom?], that to hurt a homosexual, to be insensitive to a homosexual because of the person’s homosexuality, is despicable.” Moreover, “hi general not hiring a person because he or she is gay is morally indefensible”; “a homosexual can be as decent a human being as anyone else.” Though Praeger claims that he believes in the moral authority of the Bible, clearly his use of the terms “moral” and “decent” in these remarks have nothing to do with biblical judgments. They seem to have been lifted from editorialists at the New York Times or from social workers trying to express deep thoughts.

Praeger offers another nontraditionalist and non-Hebraic opinion when he explains: “I regard these people [homosexual acquaintances] as no less worthy of friendship than my priest friends whose celibacy I do not agree with, or my bachelor friends whose decision not to marry I disagree with.” Needless to say, Judaism has never viewed homosexuality and celibacy in the same light. Though Jews have traditionally elevated the married over the unmarried state, in obedience to the Bible’s first commandment, celibacy has never been, for Jews, a capital offense or a ritual abomination. Jews have certainly not been commanded to root out people who practice celibacy, as they have those who commit sexual perversion. In ancient times there were Essene communities of Jewish monks and at least one Talmudic sage who chose not to marry out of devotion to study.

Praeger appears to know even less about world history than he does about Judaica. He insists that most cultures have been awash in homosexuality, and therefore the heterosexual institutions of the West built by Jews and Christians are “a terribly difficult and unique thing.” In support of his contention, Praeger cites a variety of questionable sources, from anecdotal material about the private lives of Roman emperors, which Edward Gibbon drew from the court chronicler Suetonius, to an unmistakably pro-gay and anti-religious study of culture and sexuality brought out in 1988 by the sociologist David Greenberg. Praeger is almost touchingly naive in the way he ascribes validity to unproved reports about homosexual activity. Though the late chief rabbi of Great Britain, Joseph Hertz, seems to have anticipated Praeger when he referred to the “abyss of depravity” separating the Hebrews from the Greeks and Romans on the homosexual question, it is not at all clear that the abyss was as big as either might imagine. Up until recently, before the onslaught of gay ideology, historians and anthropologists still asked sensible things about the nature and extent of homoeroticism in classical cultures. How socially widespread was homoerotic behavior among the Greeks and Romans? Did it typically involve sexual relations, or was it mostly confined to other, less interesting forms of male bonding?

In any case, it is clear that outside of the contemporary West, mostly North America, no society has ever tolerated homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexual marriage. Even homoerotic Greeks were expected to marry and procreate, and the Greeks placed moral emphasis on procreative responsibilities, paidopoiia, as the Hebrews did on the precept “Be fruitful and multiply.” he, whose scholarly universe seems coextensive with American journalism, has no sense of these facts. Like Hebrews but unlike the gay friends whom he showers with the same social esteem as celibate priests, pagans valued the heterosexual family, even if they permitted kinky things to go on outside it. The American gay movement does not come from classical civilization, but from a quintessentially modern alliance between social engineering and sexual deviance. And the percentage of our population engaging in alternate lifestyles remains considerably lower than the media suggest. According to an extensive survey on habitual homosexuality recently concluded by the Battelle Institute, that figure currently stands at about one percent. Homosexual advocates have cooked their figures not only for our own practicing gays but for those they allege to find in other times and places.

One would have hoped that Praeger might have seen through this. Perhaps he did but decided to play it safe. Being “insensitive” to gays can, after all, be hazardous to one’s journalistic well-being. Two weeks earlier an announcement had appeared in Jewish newspapers across the country about the formation of a “new Washington-based Jewish think tank,” in which Praeger will be participating with Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Daniel Pipes, and Irving Kristol. The “conservative approach to social issues” that Praeger and his colleagues take seeks to be “compassionate.” From this description and from Praeger’s observations on homosexuality, it is clear that Rabbi Saperstein, Mr. Foxman, and the liberal American Jewish Congress will not have to engage in a protracted cultural war. Again we shall see in practice the noisy operation of a nonopposition, or of what Samuel Francis once dubbed, perhaps in annoyance, “the harmless persuasion.”