Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not in Our Name - Gay Bashing and Orthodox Rabbis

These last several weeks have seen a spate of suicides of gay teenagers who gave in to despair after being harassed and bullied at school and on the streets. There have also been several violent attacks on actual or perceived gay people. Against this backdrop Brooklyn's very own homophobic rabbi Yehuda Levin joined with Carl Palladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, in gratuitously spewing anti-gay hate on television.

It's easy enough to say this is somebody else's problem and look the other way, but in light of our own history and authentic Judaism's view of the world I for one cannot do so. We ought to know that when the human rights of one group are diminished, we are not far behind. And we ought to be outraged by the violence being perpetrated against actual or perceived gay men, because we Jews, Orthodox Jews in particular, were victims of the same kind of violence in the not so distant past. To venture out of doors with a kippa [skullcap] on one's head was to become a walking target for rowdy young Gentiles with nothing better to do than pick fights on the street with Jewish boys. For both gays and observant Jews, the violence and bullying stemmed from the same stereotype - that we were patsies, weaklings unable or unwilling to defend ourselves. And even if this common bond did not exist, our Torah teaches that all human beings carry the image of God and are entitled to respect and dignity. That should be axiomatic, but it seems to have escaped some prominent Rabbinic figures. Steven Greenberg, the first and so far only openly gay Orthodox rabbi wrote an article for the Jewish Week describing his experiences on moving to a new city and entering an Orthodox synagogue there. The rabbi of the shul asked him to leave, and told him that the ruling had come from a rabbi whose authority exceeded his own. I don't get it. No ruling could be issued unless someone asked for one, and that someone presumably was the synagogue rabbi. And in the absence of a recognized Sanhedrin, there is no rabbi whose authority exceeds that of the mara d'atra, the synagogue rabbi, in the confines of that synagogue. It sounds like that synagogue rabbi is a wimp, but it gets worse. Rabbi Greenberg spoke on the telephone with the rabbi who gave the order barring him from the synagogue. It turns out that this man is a prominent Rosh Yeshiva. Rabbi Greenberg told him that he, Rabbi Greenberg, was attempting to find a way for young gay and lesbian Jews to remain part of the Orthodox community, and that some of them become so desperate that they attempt suicide. The rabbi responded that perhaps it is a mitzva for them to do so; that since they are guilty of a capital offense they might as well administer their own punishment. Huh? Suicide is now a mitzva for people who commit capital offenses? Never mind that homosexuality is not a capital offense, only anal sex is, and many of these conflicted young people have not had anal sex. I never heard of any rabbi, let alone a so-called gadol, saying the same for people who violate Shabbat, curse or strike their parents, or commit any other capital offense. Only a qualified Sanhedrin may carry out the Torah's death sentences, and in the 2000-year absence of a "court of competent jurisdiction" these sentences are left to God. Rabbi Greenberg writes how he experienced extreme difficulty keeping his composure. I feel his pain; similarly situated, I doubt if I would have been able to keep my own.

I wish Rabbi Greenberg had informed his readers of this prominent Rosh Yeshiva's name and that of the Yeshiva he heads. Perhaps he gave the man his word that he would not, in which case he has to keep his word. Perhaps he feels divulging this information would be lashon hara, but here the Jewish public needs to know, since we presumably revere him and relate to him as an authority figure. It should be obvious that we cannot accept the authority of a "leader" who regards suicide as a mitzva. We must make it crystal clear that such a vile man does not utter such abominations in our name. Each one of us should sign the online pledge to speak out against anti-gay harassment and bullying; it might just save a life.

Since the Slifkin affair, the haredi rabbinic leadership has been piling outrage upon outrage and failing us at every turn. It is increasingly difficult to give these people the benefit of the doubt - that they are ignorant, or senile, or prisoners of an old world that no longer exists. It is becoming evident that the Torah world is being led by evil and godless men. Heaven help us all.

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Blogger Jeff Eyges said...

Yehuda Levin, Daniel Lapin (see my comment below), their colleagues and those who support them - they're a collective chillul HaShem.

Thu Nov 11, 07:02:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Did you see my latest post yet, about R. Kaminetzky's visit to my shul? I wish somebody would have asked him or R. Horowitz what they would do if their child or student told them he was gay. They didn't seem to be in the mood for tough questions.

Thu Nov 11, 07:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jeff Eyges said...

Yeah, I read it a little while ago.

They never are in the mood for tough questions, Zev. Not our kind. How many wings does an angel have? This is the sort of question they can handle. What to do about a rabbi who rapes children? That, they don't want to be bothered with.

Thu Nov 11, 08:18:00 PM EST  

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