Holy Hell!

How do you tell someone who has solicited your opinion that their work is offensive and vile?

From time to time, I am asked by my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for my feedback or editing of their work.  I have been a “freelance” editor in that respect for nearly a decade, and I am always willing to give my two cents and suggest revisions to make the writing stronger.

I also have cultivated a diverse set of friends and acquaintances over the years, and enjoy reading pieces that challenge me intellectually, or cause me to revisit or re-think my own perspectives.

Be very careful what you ask for, I learned again today.

Last week, I received an email with an attached manuscript.  The sender, an old college acquaintance, is an orthodox Jew who has written a novel-length work built around the premise that all violence in the bible is morally justified.  His intended audience consists of not only fellow orthodox, but non-orthodox Jews like me, and even non-Jews.  He wanted my perspective, to see if his writing had broad appeal.

After finishing a lengthy and involved trial, I sat down today to begin reviewing his work.  As I read, I started composing an email response addressing specific parts of the book: this part needs development, this part could use editing, please don’t assume that we all know what happens to David in Chapter 20- that sort of thing.

As you might expect, I found some of his arguments less than compelling, but his task to defend the bible from a modern moral perspective is intriguing, and I tried to help.  Then, nestled under the broader heading of “capital punishment in the Bible,” I arrived at the section about homosexuality.

Now, as most people know, the bible is not ambiguous in its treatment of homosexuals.  They are to be put to death, via the use of of large rocks thrown by the community, in public.  I was interested to see how he would raise a defense, how he would side-step and justify this edict, which most modern readers- even Republicans- will view as extreme and indefensible.

I was not ready for what he wrote next.

That section was, by a country mile, the most vile, despicable, and utterly offensive treatment of homosexuality I have ever encountered, and I was raised in Kentucky.  The author refers to homosexuality as a disease, a crime against life itself, and argues that the death penalty is appropriate because, like Down’s Syndrome, one day it might be cured.

One page into his treatment of homosexuality, I resolved to give up, to end my critique with something along the lines of “I made it this far, but cannot continue.  I find this terribly offensive.”  However, as previously noted, one of the reasons I read is to challenge myself, and I am not often exposed to views that differ so fundamentally from my own.  I forged ahead.

The writing got worse, the assertions bolder and more odious, and the ultimate argument- one of my favorites, for the record- came down to “homosexuality causes societal problems such as murder, because science cannot definitively prove otherwise.”

I shudder to think that this perspective might be indicative of acceptable attitudes towards homosexuality in the insular, orthodox community in which the author studied.  That community is in New York, the erstwhile crown jewel of diversity and acceptance.  Let me be clear that I am not referring to all Jewish orthodoxy, just the particular subset with which this writer associates.

To be frank, I have absolutely no idea how I am going to respond to this aspiring author.  I have deliberately omitted his name from this critique, but will show no such restraint should this vile work be made public.

For every step we have collectively taken towards equality and acceptance, this served as a shocking reminder just how far we have yet to go.  This is a topic on which I do not “agree to disagree,” and this author, who knows well my politics, has invited some rather blunt criticism and feedback.  He will not be disappointed.


Published in: on February 11, 2014 at 2:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How did he cope with stoning women to death for sex before marriage?

    • Clare, great question, he actually dodges it by maintaining that the punishment was seldom carried out, since it required two witnesses and other legal niceties (things not mentioned in the bible itself, but in the “oral tradition”). He continued that since marriage is holy, undermining marriage through premarital sex is tantamount to a denial of God, hence the harsh punishment.

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