In the end, despite pleas to spare Judaism’s holiest city the shame of a spectacle celebrating the rejection of Judaism’s moral code, the “Gay Pride” parade took place as planned in Jerusalem.
Had hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews from Jerusalem and across the country flowed into the Holy City’s streets, the event — which drew a mere 2000 participants — would have been quickly overwhelmed. The 7000 policemen assigned to keep order would not have had an easy time.
The Orthodox numbers, readiness and sense of outrage were certainly there. Tel Aviv has regularly played sponsor to such spectacles mocking the Torah, but Jerusalem is the focal point of Jewish prayers, and its population is heavily Orthodox to boot. Indeed, the Holy City was purposefully targeted by the parade organizers in order to assert their belief that no place on earth should be free from the promotion of licentiousness. [Well, almost no place; last year, one of the event’s organizers was asked by a reporter why the parade would not enter Christian or Muslim areas of the city and explained “We don’t want to offend them.”]
So, in the face of such an unmistakable provocation, all it would have taken to summon a massive Orthodox protest would have been a mere call from a handful of Orthodox religious leaders.
But the call never came. On the contrary, the leading rabbinic figures in Israel asked their followers to ignore the parade. An announcement on the front page of the haredi daily providing the views of the non-Hassidic “Lithuanian” haredi rabbinic leadership, instructed that yeshiva students not take to the streets but should rather demonstrate in private, through prayer; it instructed every yeshiva dean, too, to ensure that his students did not protest publicly.
The head of the largest Hassidic group in Israel, the Gerer Rebbe, also made his will known, that the parade should be ignored by his followers. The implicit message from the religious leadership was that, as King Solomon famously taught, there is a time for everything; and their judgment was that the current time was one for profound sadness and prayer, not public confrontation.
A relative handful of individuals did try to disrupt the parade. But the vast majority of Jerusalem’s haredim, although deeply anguished by what they considered a brazen invasion of immorality-pushers, heeded the calls to turn inward rather than out.
And so, in the end, the paraders — although fewer than the 10,000 that organizers expected — marched down a central Jerusalem street, heralding their message that “anything goes” in the realm of intimate human relations, celebrating the “diversity” of behaviors that Judaism condemns in no uncertain terms. The message was one of “freedom” — license to act without moral compunction.
Each Sabbath between Passover and Rosh Hashana, it is customary for Jews to study a chapter of the “Ethics of the Fathers” — a tractate of the Mishneh known as Avot. On the Sabbath preceding the march in Jerusalem, the week’s chapter included the aphorism: “Who is a strong person [Hebrew: gibbor]? One who conquers his inclination.”
It is an idea as simple as it is profound. While much of the world may measure strength and courage (both concepts inhere in the word gibbor) in the currency of musculature or risk-taking, the Jewish definition goes far deeper. The truly strong, truly courageous individual is the one able to face his or her desires and, in the interest of a higher purpose, deny them.
The dichotomy of the two definitions of strength was almost perfectly evident mere days later. Two groups showed their true colors, one by embracing and flaunting almost every imaginable “inclination,” the other by squelching their own inclinations, in the service of a higher imperative.
It was a contrast nicely captured by an Israel Broadcasting Authority television news broadcast. For several minutes, a split screen on Channel One presented two images. One showed an exhibitionistic rejection of inhibitions; the other, a tearful prayer gathering held in another part of Jerusalem, where 3000 religious Jews recited Psalms and special prayers in the hope that G-d might spare His city further debasement.
And so, in the end, there was “pride” and there were prayers.
And there was frailty (in the guise of “freedom”) and there was strength.