Jewish Standard's Decision Fuels Worthy Debate
The Teaneck-based publication's move to apologize for printing a same-sex wedding announcement has helped advance an important debate in the Jewish community.
Before reading a recent opinion article by Englewood-based Rabbi Shmuley Boteach "Homophobia is itself an abomination,"my idea of the rabbi was limited to his friendship with Michael Jackson. Now, I learned that his brilliant talent for public relations is accompanied by a thoughtful halakhic view, which is appropriately rooted in tradition and in life.
Rabbi Boteach, being honest to his commitment to Jewish law and to his heart, contextualizes homosexuality and homophobia. He writes:
"As an orthodox rabbi who reveres the Bible, I do not deny the biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. Rather, I simply place it in context. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children."
Rabbi Boteach tells you that if you choose to single out homosexuality - or gay sex, concretely - as a standard of lack of commitment to Jewish law, you are homophobic, which may itself be a violation of Jewish law.
He is not mentioning the Teaneck-based Jewish Standard newspaper and the debate it fired up a month ago, when it published the wedding announcement of a same-sex couple, Justin Rosen and Avi Smolen, by now married by Jewish law if not by American law. Yet Boteach's article helps us contextualize the debate.
The newspaper was gushing in the first few days. It published the announcement, then quickly apologized, saying it would never happen again, only to rescind and to regret its apology. But this wave of hyperactivity succeeded in fostering a vivid debate in both the Jewish and gay community.
There are two ways to engage in a debate, around action or instead of it. We may criticize some of the apologies of the Jewish Standards and how it handled the debate, but at the end of the day, its action is irreversible. The debate was stimulated by a worthy decision that we should hope is a sign for the future. As expected, many disproved the Standard's progressive move, but importantly, the homophobic voices gave rise to people in the heart of the community who publicly endorsed it. I think Rabbi Boteach says, too, that it's an individual discretion and responsibility to decide which rule is more important than the other. There are very many rules (mitzvot), so Boteach suggests exercising decency, common sense and a sense of perspective in our most important decision of all: priority.
Rabbi Boteach ends his article, pleading his "religious brethren is this: Even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflict with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, rather than simply find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame all of America's ills."
It seems to me that the Jewish Standard followed rabbi Boteach's advice: The conflict in the community is evident by the editors' conflicting tango between action and regret. To the Jewish Standard's credit, the conflict surfaced by a decision to move forward. They prioritized inclusion that would steer a worthy debate over exclusion that may pass quietly, as inaction often does. So positive action can still be a new Jewish Standard. This is good news.