A Tale of Two Responses

letter-447577_1280

I’m grappling with how to reconcile two recent episodes, one from earlier this year and the other very much in this week’s news, that seem contradictory. Allow me to present the perceived conflict and perhaps some perspicacious reader can help sort things out.

Item One: In an October 3 story, the JTA reported on the resignation of Boris Kapustin from his longtime post as leader of one of the Ukraine’s largest Reform congregations, located in the Crimean town of Kerch.

While Ukrainian Reform leaders cite Kapustin’s age and health concerns as reasons for his resignation, Kapustin told JTA his resignation stemmed from his opposition to the movement’s acceptance of same-sex commitment ceremonies.

‘I don’t want to participate in a movement that has organized a chupah for lesbians, which happened in Moscow this year,’ Kapustin said. He was referring to Rabi Nelly Shulman, who officiated at an April 2 commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. . . .

There were also repercussions within the Progressive movement, as Reform is referred to in the region. In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the movement’s Moscow-based umbrella group. In August, a Reform congregation in the Ukrainian town of Pavlograd wrote to all Reform congregations in the country, urging them to ‘renounce all religious contacts with the people who committed that crime,’ a reference to the lesbian ceremony.

Here’s the relevant part of the story:

Responding to the wave of criticism from their communities, the six Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have agreed to ban such ceremonies for the time being, saying that post-Soviet citizens, including Jews, are not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality. . . .

Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, the Kiev-based leader of the Reform movement in Ukraine, said that Reform Jews who criticize the ceremony ‘completely misunderstand Reform Judaism, which teaches tolerance and respect toward the choice of each and every individual.’ Nevertheless, when Dukhovny is approached by same-sex couples who want to arrange such a ceremony, ‘I tell them that neither our community nor society is ready for this.’

Juxtapose this with Item Two, which by this writing needs little introduction: the planned, now apparently canceled, march through Jerusalem. In this case, appeals to the organizers and other supporters of the march, based on the deep pain it would cause and the violation of religious norms it would represent, as well as the strife and violence to which it would lead, have fallen on deaf ears.

Proponents flatly rejected relocation of the march to Tel Aviv, where such processions occur regularly, by invoking principle. “This is a struggle for the character of Jerusalem and for the State of Israel,” said Saar Menanel, a homosexual city councilman. Meretz’ Ran Cohen deplored the suggestion to cancel the march, saying that “it is incumbent upon the police to tackle those who would harm others for their beliefs.”

Two scenarios in which the progressive push for recognition of homosexual rights has run up against strong opposition, and two very different responses by those carrying the banner of progress. In one case, the decision is taken to deny couples their deep desire to have their relationships sanctioned in the eyes of G-d and man, because “neither our community nor society is ready for this.” In the other, it is resolved to press ahead with a provocation and affront of gargantuan proportions, despite the obvious reality that the city’s and the nation’s citizens, are “not ready for this,” to phrase it gently.

But is there truly, as I put it earlier, a contradiction here? Might one not employ the Talmudic resolution of seeming contradictions which goes, in the Aramaic: gavra a’gavra ka’ramis?! Translated literally, it means: are you throwing one man atop the other?! That is to say, in our context, that what six Reform clergyfolk do in Ukraine need not, perhaps, be reconciled with what the march organizers and fellow travelers do in Israel.

In response, I would only ask: does that mean that we might do well to approach said Ukrainian clergy members to fly into Israel (all expenses paid, of course) to testify before the High Court on how the former, proud members of a heterodox Jewish movement that supports homosexual equality, sympathize nonetheless with Jerusalem’s Orthodox citizenry in this case and support the march’s cancellation, since “neither their community nor society is ready for this?” What can I say, but that somehow I don’t see it happening; nor do I sense the true reconciliation of these two episodes is that of gavra a’gavra ka’ramis. (For support for my intuition, see Reform clergyman David Forman’s recent JPost piece on the march.)

I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I hesitate to voice them , lest my carefully burnished reputation for eschewing cynicism and promoting tolerance be called into question. And besides, I’d be interested to see what readers think about this. Anyone?

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. Ahron says:

    Daniel,

    You wrote: “However, I think that overall, the Israeli Charedi community (and because of the universal power held by the leaders of that community, accountability ultimately lies with them) went overboard in their violent riots protesting the parade.”

    I understand this position and sympathize deeply with it. I think the homosexual parade incident is just the latest in a waterfall of events to demonstrate that the Haredi community–for its own good and the good of the Jewish nation–needs to rapidly acquaint itself with modern and non-destructive forms of sociopolitical participation and protest. For goodness sake: What’s the excuse not to??? But hey: If Charedim don’t want to learn effective means of sociopolitical influence… it’s not like secular Israelis are going to complain.

    >“You say that the attitude of “M’ah la’asot?” “What are ya gonna do….?” is “probably the healthiest attitude possible” for society as a whole. Let me ask one final question: Does that apply to Charedi society as well, or only secular Israeli society?”

    The attitude of “What are ya gonna do….?” is a healthy attitude for any society to take towards private behavior behind closed doors simply because inquiry into people’s closed-door lives is useless and anyway unattainable. I think the attitude is healthy whether taken by religious or non-religious society. But I don’t think that attitude is healthy when it comes social standards and behavior beyond closed doors. Outside the lintel of your house or hotel room is a broader social structure, the shape and future of which is determined by the activities and standards that reign there. Homosexuals cannot assert the “behind closed doors” claim to tolerance while simultaneously parading their lifestyle and (formerly) private activities through the marketplace. The two are contradictory and mutually exclusive–once you’re in the marketplace you’re also in the marketplace of ideas. Such, however, is not the case with private individuals.

    And that’s why I do not believe that, becauce of these protests, one should ipso facto conclude that Charedim “reject homosexuals”. On the contrary: I have never witnessed or heard of a raucous charedi protest against homosexual individuals in some random private residence. Those types of protests don’t exist because charedim have no interest in barging into everybody’s private life. The current protests began when a public group chose to target Jerusalem with public activities that are an existential contradiction to Jerusalem. That’s it, and the resulting protests really bear little connection to the separate question of chareidi or Torah-rooted attitudes towards homosexual individuals.

  2. Daniel says:

    Ahron,

    You make a lot of valid points, and I agree with most of them. However, I stand by my choice in combining the terms “homosexuality” and “gay people” in this context. The protests did not differentiate between the sinners and the sin. The posted signs make no separation between accepting gay people and accepting homosexuality. The sinner and the sin were equally demonized, and frankly, I find that offensive.

    The sin of the homosexual act is one of “bein adam l’makom,” (“between mand and God”). In other words, it is no one else’s business. I realize that marching in a pride parade necessarily puts private actions in a public light and thus subject to scrutiny. However, I think that overall, the Israeli Charedi community (and because of the universal power held by the leaders of that community, accountability ultimately lies with them) went overboard in their violent riots protesting the parade. Instead of taking the opportunity to cogently and eloquently explain the Charedi position on the sin of the homosexual act, the rioters lumped together the sin and the sinner, and they deserved to be called on that.

    I agree with you that institutions like the Jerusalem Open House have an agenda to substituted Judeo-Christian values with their own Leftist viewpoint. I further agree that they are wrong. However, I reserve the right to criticize the rioters for going about their protest in the wrong way.

    The gay community, if they are truly committed to a “live and let live” type of existence, should stand up against the excesses of parades such as these. At the same time, Charedim need to remember that what happens between man and God is none of any one else’s business. As of now, the public perception of Charedim is that they are against gay people just like the homosexual act.

    You say that the attitude of “M’ah la’asot?” “What are ya gonna do….?” is “probably the healthiest attitude possible” for society as a whole. Let me ask one final question: Does that apply to Charedi society as well, or only secular Israeli society?

  3. Ahron says:

    Daniel,

    The distinctions you draw are very important. You mention two terms in particular: “homosexuality” and “homosexual individuals”. But you combine the two when you say “There is a very big difference between accepting homosexuality/gay people and accepting the excesses of the parade.” Speaking for myself: I do not accept the excesses of the parade–the origins of which, on a macro scale, have to do with a rebellion against the structure of the West and the Biblical ethos which enabled it to strive for grandeur. (There are other psychological themes as well.)

    I also do not accept homosexuality . This means that I consider it to be unhealthy and un-ideal. I greatly value the heterosexual ideal that has fueled the West’s growth–the ideal that desexualized the family and society and freed our minds to explore and expand. (Based on election results in the US, the large majority of Americans also feel this way. I think that would be quite a surprise to most Israelis’ perception of America…) I consider homosexuality as patently unacceptable as all of the other censured practices that the Torah describes as revolting to God and thereby forbidden. (This commandment was given at a time when homosexuality was rampant and considered normal).

    I do, however, accept “gay people”–the phrase that I think you inadvisedly combined with “homosexuality” above. “Accepting” homosexual people means: I acknowledge them as people, even as decent, loving, lovable, serious and moral people if they earn those traits as all of us strive to. They are obviously Created in the Divine image in the same sense as all humans (how could they not be?). And if they wish to conduct themselves in a manner that I find unacceptable behind closed doors then that is their business, and I will not get involved. This does not change my judgment that homosexual conduct is, aside from the issue of God’s orders, simply unhealthy and not proper for fellow human beings (particularly males) to engage in. But you know what the problem is? I know that my own yetzer hara (drive for the forbidden) is very strong. And therefore, I am not going to hate somebody because of what their yetzer hara compels (or tries to compel) them to do (why would I?). I don’t know what their struggles are like–I have enough work to do dealing with my own problems! I believe that most Israelis are willing to leave homosexuals alone just as most Americans are. (Just look at the US ballot questions: In all but one of dozens of cases, American states have voted to constitutionally enshrine the definition of marriage as male-female–yet those same voters are famously libertarian in their don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitudes towards what goes on in private . i.e. One standard for society, but do what you will when you’re alone.)

    So I do believe that the above polls represent, at least, Israelis’ attitudes towards the parade and towards homosexuality. I have almost zero doubt that most Israelis’ attitude towards homosexuals is: “M’ah la’asot?” “What are ya gonna do….?” In other words: We don’t accept homosexuality as normal, but let them be; there’s nothing to be done about what people wish to do in private. And on the social scale that is probably the healthiest attitude possible.

    But let’s realize that the idea of a public parade that celebrates sexual transgression in Jerusalem is an ipso facto embodiment of excess and exhibitionism itself. (It is difficult to conceive of something that would be more excessive and exhibitionist!…. perhaps a cookout with beer and pork chops in Riyadh?) And here I think is the crux of this issue: I’ll mildly paraphrase my absolute favorite line from the very sharp comedienne Margaret Cho: “I’m just plain [promiscuous]–so where’s my parade?” And there are two answers: First of all society recognizes the sheer silliness of “celebrating” something that has existed forever behind closed doors and is just plain normal anyway. Secondly, society realizes that there’s no virtue in being promiscuous. The standards of Western society state that one should ideally invest all of their energies and effort and heart into one meaningful relationship not many meaningless ones.

    And that is why there is not even a concept of a “parade” that seeks to “celebrate” people’s personal sexual nature of promiscuity–it’s just boring and nobody’s interested in “celebrating” it anyway. Yet there is a drive to “celebrate” the personal sexual nature of homosexuality… Why? The goal of the homosexual marchers (at least the leaders) is not “acceptance” (a commodity they long ago acquired throughout North America and Western Europe) but primacy: the subversion of the Jewish / Judeo-Christian value structure, and the conversion of Western society to their alternative value structure. A value system in which homosexuality is equivalent to heterosexuality (and in which, naturally, other sexual acts presently rejected by society will also “progress” to become equivalent). It is only the perceived novelty and mystique of homosexuality in the public mind that creates the conceptual space for so outlandish an idea as a “parade”. And opponents of the attempt to swap value systems have also been tossed into self-doubt by the Leftist tactic of labeling opponents of Leftist agendas as “homophobic, bigoted, biased, reactionary, intolerant, extremist, (insert label here)…” (In other words: ‘If you disagree with us it must be because there’s SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU!’) But the agenda here is obvious. After all: What’s the point of a BBQ with beer and pork chops in Mecca if not to tell the people there: “We will destroy your value system–and we spit on you for it” ?

    So my ballot: Homosexual “parade”? No. Homosexuality? No for society. People? Always. And I think most Israelis feel that way too.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    If you’ll pardon the Treif proverb, “In a plate of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed”.

    Reform Rabbis in the former USSR (may it rest in pieces) have a large agenda to implement. Acceptance of homosexuality is part of this agenda. If they have to give up on this tiny sliver to get the rest accepted by their congregations, so be it. It’s like an Orthodox Rabbi who engages in Kiruv and decides not to worry about teaching Talmud for now.

    The open house that organized the homosexual pride march in Jerusalem, OTOH, is all about getting homosexuality accepted as legitimate behavior. The organizers can no more give up on this agenda then an Orthodox Rabbi can engages in Kiruv could perform an intermarriage ceremony.

  5. Daniel says:

    Ahron,

    I don’t think that the polls you cite have any bearing on our discussion. Personally, I don’t think that the Gay Pride parade should be held in Jerusalem either. Further, I stand firmly in the camp that protecting the free speech of the participants in the parade is not in any way paramount to security.

    However, the issue at hand is the acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual individuals. I am frankly at a loss as to how the exhibitionist free-for-all nature of these parades is tolerated by homosexuals. I cannot speak for anyone, but I don’t think that being gay automatically means that you support such public displays of exhibitionism. Most gay people likely want nothing more than to be accepted and left alone. Calling attention to a cause by flaunting the very worst of it is not going to gain acceptance.

    There is a very big difference between accepting homosexuality/gay people and accepting the excesses of the parade. While it seems that most Israelis feel that the parade would go too far, Israeli society as a whole is known to be quite tolerant and open.

    I don’t think that those polls reflect the Israeli society stance vis a vis homosexuality, but rather its stance regarding the parade and its excesses.

    Finally, I was only using the term “progressive” because that is what the original article labeled the movement. The question of whether the movement towards a more open and “free” society is progressive or regressive (the biblical world just before Noah comes to mind) is a debate outside the scope of this blog post.

  6. Ahron says:

    >“In Israel, for better or worse, the community and society as a whole have come to accept homosexuality. It is only the religious right-wing that has not accepted it.”

    Sorry to fire this artillery shell into your assertion, but….

    Telephone poll of a representative sample of 612 adult Israelis (including Arab Israelis) carried out by Geocartographia for Israel Radio’s “Its All Talk” on 8 November 2006:

    1. Do you support holding the gay pride march in the government area in Jerusalem?
    Support 24.1% Oppose 67.0% Other 8.9%

    2. Is protecting the rights to free speech of the participants in the gay pride march planned in Jerusalem worth the security and financial costs to the State?
    Worth it 22.9% Not worth it 75.4% Other 1.7%

    75% of Israeli society is a bit broader than just the Chareidim…. or just the religious. Daniel wrote: “In a situation where there is universal rejection of a progressive stance, it was wise of the Reform movement to back down.”

    I will simply note the assumption that it is a “progressive” stance to be pro-homosexuality. Why not just call it what it is: a Leftist stance.

  7. Ahron says:

    I’ll step up to bat.

    Based on some limited knowledge of Russian culture, it seems that homosexuality is regarded in Russia (and Ukraine) as about as close to “abominable” as one can get in contemporary society. I’m not sure if this is due to religious traditions (obviously a complex subject given Soviet history), or due to a psychological/cultural based aversion. In fact, I am certain that the revulsion goes far deeper than religious conviction–homosexuality is simply something that Russian culture finds detestable. Perhaps because of Russian military traditions?…or cultural pride?….or concern about the future of their nation….etc? (I don’t know the answer yet but it’s fascinating. If there are more learned scholars of Russia here I’d love to hear your input).

    One interesting aspect is that while Russia was the center of contemporary Leftism, via the USSR, its culture never embraced some of the more extreme Leftist trends that powered their way into the West–one of those trends being the acceptability of any relationship, and animosity against male/female identity and roles. The Westernized (well actually Left-ized) centers of Reform Judaism though have accepted those trends. And David J. Forman’s JPost article is a model of the Leftism that is establishment Reform’s contemporary heart.

    The traditional religious response to sin, in a nutshell (at least among Jews) was embodied by the verse in Psalms that “sins will be gone from the Earth” and later embodied (in the gemara) in Bruria’s famous advisory to her husband to be careful not to personally hate certain bad people. This principle then entered the West transmuted into the famous Christian maxim “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And such was the traditional rejoinder to perceived intolerance by religious folk: “Hey you guys! You can hate the sin, but just remember to love the sinner…”

    But D. Forman tells us that there is no need to specifically love the “sinner”–because there is no sinner. Because there is no sin. Unless, according to Forman, we accept homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality, we are “perverting religion” and “dooming religious gays and lesbians” to suicide (in all seriousness–this is what he writes). He states that traditional Jews “fail to understand” that the Creation story, describing humanity as Created in God’s image, predates the commandment against homosexual activity (I did not follow the logic here). Jews who oppose homosexuality and believe it to be non-normal are “blindly applying” the Torah–“written at a particular time-frame in human development”–to “realities [in] today’s world”. The opponents of the march are “religious bigots” and “fundamentalists” who are trying to “cover for repressed sexual tendencies.”

    And so the narrow personalization of morality–the “Death of Right and Wrong” with its replacement fixation on personal emotions–is complete. Most importantly, the very notion of sin–i.e. of wrong–needs to be ended lest our “bigotry” continue….. So why do we have a Torah again?

    Perhaps in the end both branches of Reform, Ukranian and Western, are merely bowing to the trends and preferences of their own societies.

  8. Daniel says:

    There is a fundamental difference between the situation in Ukraine and that in Israel. In Ukraine, the Reform rabbis came to a conclusion that the community as a whole was not ready for the progressive stance advocated by the Reform movement.

    “Responding to the wave of criticism from their communities, the six Reform rabbis working in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus have agreed to ban such ceremonies for the time being, saying that post-Soviet citizens, including Jews, are not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality. . . .”

    The comparison to the present issue in Jerusalem is not accurate. In Israel, for better or worse, the community and society as a whole have come to accept homosexuality. It is only the religious right-wing that has not accepted it. Israeli society did not stand up to the Open House and protest the parade. Charedim (and other religious groups) opposed the parade based on their own religious beliefs. It is unfair to hold a democratic society to the beliefs of the fringe (that is a strong word, but applicable in this case).
    If the situation were such that Israeli society as a whole were “not yet prepared to accept the Reform movement’s liberal approach to homosexuality,” then the two would be more comparable.

    In a situation where there is universal rejection of a progressive stance, it was wise of the Reform movement to back down. However, there in nothing close to universal rejection of homosexuality in Israel, no matter how loud and violent the Charedi protests have become.