Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thoughts On The Gay Pride Parade

It has been a while past the event, but the same is likely to happen next year, so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the matter.

I think that the gay pride parade in Jerusalem was an OK thing, that people should not have been so vocally condemning it, and that they should not have made such counter-rallies. In fact, perhaps some of the non-chareidi yet religious folks should have marched with their brothers and sisters in the parade.

1) First and foremost, Israel is not a theocracy, and this is a good thing even and perhaps especially for religious people.

We learn in the beginning of Yerushalmi Sanhedrin daf 1b:
תני קודם לארבעים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית ניטלו דיני נפשות ובימי שמעון בן שטח ניטלו דיני ממונות. אמר ר"ש בן יוחי בריך רחמנא דלינא חכים מידון.
They taught: Forty years before the Temple was destroyed they {=the Romans} took away {from the Jews} the right to judge capital cases and in the days of Shimon ben Shetach they took away the right to judge monetary cases. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: Blessed be the All-Merciful {that they took away the rights to judge such cases} for I am not wise enough to judge.
Thus, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai looked at the lack of ability to impose religious law, even though Jewish religious law is a good thing, as a blessing from Hashem, for with this right comes responsibility, and with extreme humility he did not think he was ready for such responsibility.

Nowadays in Israel, it is a boon that religious law is not (in many instances) imposed, for the question is whether those who would impose it would impose it correctly. There are different standards and interpretations of religious law, and not necessarily is the most frum interpretation the religiously correct one.

Would you like Meah Shearim standards of Tzniut imposed throughout Israel, even in secular neighborhoods and even in religious neighborhoods where the standards of tzniut are differently defined? In America, a long Biz jeans skirt is the uniform of the Beis Yaakov girl, but in Meah Shearim it is dressing like a zonah. Look what is going on in Ramat Beit Shemesh, with a desire to impose Meah-Shearim modesty standards on another community.

Should all buses be mehadrin buses? Are colored blouses for women allowed? If "a trade is poison," such that it is forbidden to learn a trade, would we impose this interpretation on all irreligious and religious people? If army service is forbidden? Must chassidic groups daven actually bezmano? Must we keep Shabbos until the latest possible zman for it to go out?

Different groups have different definitions of the proper religious law, and the fact that Israel is not a theocracy means that religious groups of Jews are free to practice their religion.

Besides the fact that as Americans, we appreciate the right to free assembly, even of people we disagree with. Aside from that. If not being a theocracy means that we cannot ban free assembly of a group at odds with halacha, this is an acceptable price to pay for the fact that we, too, can practice our religion, even if others disagree with it.

And the fact is that Israel is a secular state, and we are free from having to determine and impose on others our interpretation of the law, even if it be the correct one. Baruch Hashem that this is so!

If we tell a group that we disagree with religiously that they cannot walk in Jerusalem to proclaim their beliefs, how can we object when chareidim disagree with our rights to walk certain streets when not in accordance with their beliefs? Christian leaders protested the gay parade, but how would they react if Jews blocked a Christian march from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, because it was promoting idolatry?

2) Another issue is the chillul Hashem involved. You think people don't already know that Orthodox Judaism does not consider homosexuality halachically acceptable? Of course they know that. But for the sanctity of Jerusalem, they will not be silent.

However, what do the secular Israelis see, and what does the world see, when they see this parade and these protests. They are tinok shenishba, and they have an altogether different approach to this reality. An anti-parade rally, with people calling homosexuality an abomination, can easily be interpreted as a hatred and intolerance rally, and they will think that Judaism is a religion of hatred and intolerance.

They will see a parade of smiling people wearing gaily (pun-intentional) colored clothing, and then they will see pictures of the counter-rally, with scowling, angry people wearing black and white. Does this present a pretty picture?

3) Furthermore, the parade was not people actually engaged in homosexual behavior, which they certainly could engage in within Jerusalem without anyone protesting. This was a parade. Perhaps a parade celebrating something counter to the holiness of the site, but it was just a bunch of people marching.

4) Finally, there is an issue of talking past one another. Perhaps some of the intent of holding the rally in Jerusalem rather than, say, the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, is to be "in-your-face" to the religious character of the site. But it was also a pride parade.

What is the idea of a gay pride parade? It is something like a civil rights march, saying "I am a human being, and you should not suppress me."

If no one had made a big deal the first time, this could well have been a non-event.

If, on the other hand, you protest it and draw attention to it, yelling about how they are committing abominations, and they should not be marching in Jerusalem, what do you think the reaction of the gay community will be?

They are not malicious evil-doers who decided to be gay because they are league with Satan and because they hate God. They have these sexual urges, and given their sociological background, which is one of tinnok shenishba, they really think that this is their identity, and that people who try to suppress them are haters and backwards-minded people. Faces with these protests, they will see all the more reason to make a gay pride parade, bigger and better, year after year, specifically in Jerusalem, and that this is the moral and right thing to do!

The following exchange, from an article titled "It's a Shame Parade," by a "journalist" for Arutz Sheva and the leader of the parade is telling:
I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was something to the theme that they had won and made their march, and they will continue to march and people will see they are not animals and not an abomination.

As you see, I was right in front when i took this photograph. As soon as Noa stepped down from the truck, I approached her and said, "Noa, it doesn't matter how many times you march, it will always be an abomination." I saw her eyes twinge or wince as if she felt a 'sting'. She probably thought I was going to congratulate her, or ask for an interview, but when she heard what I said, she was like a statue, and kept a smile pasted to her face. She then shrugged her shoulders at me and walked toward the other media crews who would want to interview her. "It will always be an abomination." I called after her. I hope she went to sleep that night hearing those words echoing in her head.
Note the difference. Noa said that "they had won and made their march, and they will continue to march and people will see they are not animals and not an abomination." In other words, that they, the gay people are human beings and are not abominations. Tamar, the journalist, replied that it will always be an abomination.

They vs. it. Noa is talking about identity, and that is why they are marching. A parade for human dignity. Tamar views this as advocacy for the action, making it into a parade to bolster and support sin.

Do you think after Tamar told this to Noa, Noa will say, "OK, she has shown me the error of my ways, that I have been sinning?" Or will she say to herself, "Ouch. Someone who hates me and considers me an abomination and thus an animal has gotten to me via press credentials. I have to march more next year to oppose the haters and call out for my own dignity and that of my fellows?" I would guess the latter.


Anonymous said...

The issue is that gay parades all around the world turn out to be not simply marches for human rights and equal treatment, but mass orgies in which half-dressed people engage in improper behavior in public view. This happens now in Tel Aviv, and given time will likely happen in Jerusalem (if it hasn't already). Such a "parade" would be offensive even if the participants were heterosexual, and no less so given they are homosexual. There is no excuse for violence, and using the word "abomination" may be counterproductive. But that does not mean that the parade is simply a call for human rights with which we must identify.

Anonymous said...

R' Josh:

This is about an attempt by political activists to make a statement and to attempt to further their agenda - its street theatre writ large. Please don't advocate encouraging such garbage.

Not cooperating with their propaganda is entirely appropriate - if it is done smartly with sensitivity to the "optics". It does not mean that we hate homosexuals, merely that we do not accept the left wing agenda of destroying traditional social institutions. I would thus have preferred low-key and dignified public statements by Orthodox also by traditional "secular" representatives condemining the "parade" because of what it was - a piece of street theatre.

P.S. I very much enjoy your blogs and appreciate your hard work.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

r' josh:

great post! thanks for the source from Yerushalmi Sanhedrin... i've been thinking that way for a while now, glad to see we've got some weight on our side.

anonymous #1:

if you knew anything about the history of the jerusalem LGBT community you would know that their parades are the most tzniusdik, respectful, *religious* pride parades in the world.

after all, conceptions of the moral rightness of who's sleeping with who aside, they're yerushalmim like the rest of us. they know what's appropriate and what's not.

Anonymous said...


Even if that's true of the Jerusalem community, it may not be true of those who come to the parade from other parts of the country. And it's certainly not true of the tens of thousands of people from around the world who were invited to come to the World Pride parade in Jerusalem two years ago, before it was canceled.

If the Jerusalem homosexual community is behaving "modestly" now, it is most likely because they are relatively few and weak. Not because, unlike homosexual activists anywhere else in the world, they are committed to respecting and/or understand other people's sensitivities.

I remember reading about someone - may have been one of the parade organizers - who was asked why the parade didn't go through East Jerusalem, and who answered that "we don't want to offend the Christians and Muslims". But offending the Jews is apparently OK. I don't see how being a "tinok shenishba" can account for that worldview.

joshwaxman said...

As far as I've seen reported, it (mass orgies) hasn't happened already in Yerushalayim. And perhaps given guidance by friendly religious who otherwise would not march, it would not happen. There is also the potential here for kiddush hashem, for condemning the sin but not the sinner, for improving relationships with the secular even as we disagree with them.

in terms of not offending Muslims and Christians, they still wanted to do something in Yerushalayim. And they did not plan the route to go through Meah Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Besides the potential that this was a PC way of saying that they did not want to risk bloodshed, because of low expectations of the Arab reaction to this.

Regardless, once you start campaigning for imposing restrictions on assembly for your own (correct) religious feelings, where does society draw the line?

Anonymous said...

It's misguided to try to "make a statement" without being sensitive to how people will actually construe you statement. The nuances of your motivations are inevitably lost and you are judged by the people you associate with.

If you exert political pressure against the parade, many people will think you don't regard gays as human beings - even if you simply want the public domain to be free of flagrant sexual expression.

If you march in the parade, many people will think you regard homosexual behavior as perfectly legitimate - even if you simply want the government not to control people's private sexual lives.

The message we want to give homosexuals is that we value them, but we can never (in a moral sense) accept this particular behavior. I don't think that either marching or protesting is likely to further that message. For that reason, had I been in Jerusalem at the time, I think I would have refrained from involving myself with either "side" of the debate. As bad as it feels to not be able to argue for what is right, the side effects of unintended messages are worse.

joshwaxman said...

It's a great quote from Sanhedrin, and I've been saving it for the opportune time. :)

As a group which could make a clear, short statement to the media, it might be possible.
Regardless, I intended it mostly as a rhetorical point -- rather than protesting, we should rightly be marching with them.

As a matter of practicality, well, I was in Yerushalayim the day of the parade, and I did exactly what you describe. I didn't go to the protest rally, and I didn't go to the parade. I visited my cousins instead.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

Hi all.
First of all - Great post, Josh.
Now for my comment: I talked with a lot of people here in Israel about this parade, and when I write people, I mean charedim, religious and not (yet) religious. Most of them said the same thing, and I agree: The gays has the right to do the parade and say what they have to say - they demand equal rights, not being called abomination, etc.
Never the less, they don't have to do this in Jerusalem. Even not religious people said that this is only hurting them because they doing this only to make the charedim go mad and make noise by this.

Josh - Israel is not America, even if many people want it to be that way. Here, we have democracy but we have other principles too, such as concern about religious traditions and having sensitivity to other's feelings, even if you don't agree to any part of their lives.

Shabat Shalom to all of you.

joshwaxman said...

You make some good points.
From speaking to a few non-chareidi religious, I saw the same attitude. I wonder, though, whether even the typical secular Israeli can empathize and more importantly put himself into the mind of the secular *homosexual* Israeli. In general, I don't think your typical Israeli from whatever religious background (charedi, dati, secular) really tries to see things from the
perspective of other groups with whom he disagrees.

I could well imagine that the secular homosexual Israeli is not thinking along these lines. Rather, he/she could be thinking that Jerusalem is the site where there was violence directed at gays at gay pride parades in the past, that the chareidim are yelling about how the gays are abominations and that it is all the more *important* to bring this message home to the *haters* in their very environment, to achieve a moral victory and show the haters that they will not win at suppressing the gay people's humanity and rights.

Because of this general issue of seeing things from perspectives they do not agree with, I would also imagine that the homosexual secular Israeli misunderstands and miscasts the chareidi reaction.

I agree that Israel is not America, but I do think that some aspects of American culture/attitude are quite positive, and could do well as exports. In terms of "having sensitivity to other's feelings, even if you don't agree to any part of their lives," this goes both ways. It is true that these secular homosexual Israelis are not having this sensitivity to the religious feelings of the chareidim. But it is also true that the chareidim are not "having sensitivity to other's feelings, even if you don't agree to any part of their lives," where the others are the homosexuals.

All the best,


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