Engaging in Serious Debate: A Response to the Reduction of Professor Koller’s Position

By: Anonymous  |  September 15, 2019

By Anonymous YC Student

A YU student has, in the Commentator, attempted a response to Dr. Aaron Koller’s now-infamous position, taken in his YU Observer article, “On Halakha and LGBT” — “In a clash between halakha and humanity, opt for humanity.” Chernigoff understands: “In a clash between the explicit will of God and our own modern sensitivity to human feelings, he chooses the latter.” But it is an unserious understanding, and one which robs his response of confutational fuel. By humanity, Dr. Koller means not the supremacy of “sensitivity to human feelings,” but the supremacy of “deeply held values,” and he names these — respect and non-discrimination.

This difference will be readily apparent to the close reader. The Torah has values, and our responsibility to act in accordance to them is not bounded by its dicta. When Dr. Koller cites the Talmud for proof, he is not, as the Commentator article accuses, looking for indication “that it is permitted to discard explicit Biblical verses when they fly in the face of our sensibilities.” Dr. Koller’s argument is both more subtle and more worthy.

The true argument, that the Talmudic sages believed God-given human reason could arrive at situation-specific moral conclusions which better reflect the benevolent will of God, than an absolutist reading of the Torah, and that His will could never conflict with His intended results; that it was incumbent upon us to ensure that no one, on the basis of an interpretation which so conflicted, caused their fellow tzelem elokim pain, invites serious questions. Are respect and non-discrimination truly Torah values? Why should we, on the basis of human reason, be more certain in our grasp of God’s ethics than that of His law? How much authority do we have to use pre-Talmudic sources l’-halakha?

But whether you agree with him or not, Dr. Koller isn’t a cardboard cutout pulled straight from Ben Shapiro’s podcast; he’s a serious opponent with a serious argument. Let us — right now — stop tilting at windmills, and engage in the real debate. It’s harder, but it might accomplish something.