According to the rabbi, the religious public must rise above its feelings of aversion and soften the "aggressive" attitude towards homosexuals and lesbians.
Rabbi Lichtenstein heads the Har Etzion Yeshiva, one of the national-religious public's most important Torah institutions, and is considered one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy.
A student of his, Dov Karoll, heard his comments on the treatment of homosexuals in the religious society and published them in his blog.
"To be fairer and more honest with ourselves and with our communities," Karoll wrote on behalf of the rabbi, "let us understand that if you deal only with the use of the term 'to’eivah,' you can only push that particular envelope as far as you push the cheating on the weights and the measures – so all the revulsion, the moral energy, that you bring against that, you should bring against this, too.
"That's not what happens today."
Higher standard of communal integrity
Lichtenstein addressed the claim that "sodomy" is defined in the Torah as "abomination" – a definition not given to every religious offense, noting that it also applies to the failure to support the poor and to deception in trade.
"I’m not in favor of homosexuality, God forbid," he clarified. "But we do need to agree to abide by a greater measure of honesty in dealing with that community than I think at present applies."
The rabbi then presented his student with a rhetorical question: "Which is a greater sin – desecration of Shabbat or homosexuality? Is it appropriate and fair to say to our communities that we have no problem with all of the Jewish people's sins… but that there is only one scapegoat?"
He further noted that while homosexuality is a personal prohibition in the Torah, the failure to give charity is described as a public sin. Therefore, he said, the religious society's strict treatment of homosexuals is wrong.
Rabbi Lichtenstein blamed the gay community for the situation as well. "It created such a buzz because it's very aggressive, and the response was that some of the people on our side became aggressive too."
Nonetheless, he believes that "the fire that burns in many hearts today, and the fears which go beyond the revulsion, are beyond what I think is proper."
'Very unfortunate' people
The rabbi himself has mixed feelings towards people with homosexual inclinations: "I have a combination of – I wouldn’t say revulsion, that may be too strong a term – I certainly have criticism, disapproval, but tempered with an element of sympathy."
According to Lichtenstein, homosexuals are "very unfortunate" people who don't live a normal life and don’t have biological children, and it is wrong to see them as fully responsible for their inclination.
He added that he had heard from many psychologists that their gay patients "would be very happy if they could cure them."
The Kamoha association for gay Orthodox Jews said in response to Rabbi Lichtenstein's remarks, "We are pleased to hear that through the comparison to Shabbat desecrators, the rabbi placed a mirror in front of the public, demonstrating that many times the fear of homosexuality does not stem from halachic considerations but from pure homophobia.
"Kamoha respects the rules and spirit of the Halacha, does not march in parades and views the connection with the rabbinical world and religious public as extremely important," the association said in a statement.
"We are glad that a senior rabbinical personality like Rabbi Lichtenstein chooses to voice his opinion openly and without fear."
However, the association expressed its dissatisfaction over the use of the word "unfortunate" towards homosexuals, explaining that "we are not unfortunate, but live a more challenging and complex life.
"For the challenge to be easier, it's time for the rabbinical world to take a further step – to the phase of answers and response. Rabbi Lichtenstein himself has raised the questions of a homosexual cantor, adoption of children, accepting the child into a yeshiva, etc, and it's time to deal with them.
"We invite the rabbi to one of Kamoha's monthly meetings to discuss the issues and look into ways to advance them."