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Virtual Talmud

Is Rabbi Stern saying that the gay-rights activists should have known better than to plan their march in Jerusalem, or is he saying that the gay-rights parade organizers should have shown more consideration to the ultra-Orthodox, by not planning their march anywhere in Jerusalem?

It seems as if Rabbi Stern is suggesting that the gay-rights parade activists deserve part of the blame for the violent nature of ultra-Orthodox protests. I couldn’t disagree more.

If they were marching through Mea Shearim or another ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, I would agree the parade was being needlessly inconsiderate. But, as far as I understand, they are marching in the center of town, culminating (if they are following last year’s route) at Liberty Bell Park, right in the heart of Jerusalem’s tourist district.

I am sure Rabbi Stern and I would agree that Jerusalem is a holy city. As rabbis, we also would probably agree that it is a shame to see cafes open on Shabbat in Jerusalem. But it is precisely the kind of coercive and destructive behavior the ulra-Orthodox are taking around the parade that drives so many young Israelis from the beauty of our religious traditions.

What a different message could be given if haredi (the ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic leaders called upon their followers to show ahavat Yisrael (love of one’s fellow Jews), perhaps by launching a campaign to invite a gay person to Shabbat dinner. That would do something productive in furthering the spread of religious observance throughout the Jewish state and open a dialogue to help each side see the human face, and pain, both sides are experiencing.

Jerusalem is a holy city. However, my idea of holiness is found not only in Shabbat and tzniut (modesty), which I observe very differently than do the haredim, but in respecting the image of God in people, especially those with whom I may disagree, even vehemently.

Jerusalem is the spiritual and political capital of the entire Jewish people, not just the haredim. To abandon our claim to this city would be tragic. That is precisely why the gay pride parade should take place in Jerusalem. We may disagree about whether or not Jewish law permits gay relationships, but that is no excuse for endangering life, as did the haredi violence this week. The Jewish law I study does not permit endangering others in this way.

This leads me to my next point. If Israel is to have any moral legitimacy in arguing against violence perpetrated by fundamentalist Muslims, then Israel needs to maintain the rule of law within its own borders. The ultra-Orthodox can march all they want in protest, peacefully. But the Israeli government should crack down swiftly and decisively against these violent protests.

There cannot be a place for this kind of activity in a state that models for the world how religion and democracy can live harmoniously together. The values of democracy and the equality of all people comes from our Torah. This message is one of the ways Israel can serve as a light unto the nations. But we do not serve that cause when Israel enables such dangerous and unethical behavior by allowing it to spread.

I totally disagree with Rabbi Stern. The gay parade has every right to be in Jerusalem. I say this not because I am liberal, but because I deeply believe in the values of our Torah and our covenant with God. We should remember that the Second Temple fell because of sinat hinam (hatred between Jews), which is precisely what the ultra-Orthodox are showing to the gay activitists.

–Rabbi Susan Grossman

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