If a community’s respected religious leaders preach, over and over again, that gay people deserve to be killed, isn’t it inevitable that someone will try to kill them?
That’s one of the lessons from today’s stabbing of six people at the Jerusalem Pride Parade. Of course, it was also the lesson ten years ago at the same parade, when the same criminal did the same thing, with the encouragement of some of the same rabbis.
I was there ten years ago, marching with my boyfriend about 50 feet behind the people who were stabbed. The situation was tense from the beginning. We were pelted with rotten eggs (some reported being hit with feces), shouted at, jeered.
Like today’s parade, we didn’t march near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. We started at the downtown pedestrian mall, not far from the Burger King, and ended in a park near my apartment in Southern Jerusalem. We didn’t go anywhere near the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, or the Old City.
But yes, we were in Jerusalem – not Tel Aviv, where we “belonged.” Jerusalem, the holy city, with a 30% ultra-Orthodox population whose rabbis routinely spouted hateful words about us. I don’t mean words like “faggot” – I mean words like impure, whore, fornicator, idolater, abomination, enemy of Israel, animal, beast.
To religious Jews, these are more powerful than mere hate speech. They classify us as criminals under Jewish law, and thus enemies of Israel who will bring divine collective punishment. Gays have even been blamed for Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Killing us is an act of self-defense.
Ten years later, none of this has changed.
It’s not just the same would-be murderer who brandished a knife at the parade. It’s also some of the same rabbis, making the same comments. It’s the same posters plastered on the walls of Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. It’s the same newspapers – including The Jewish Press, Hamodia, Yated Neeman, and Yeshiva World Publications – the last of which, even today, described the parade as the “Abomination Parade.” “Abomination,” by the way, is actually a poor, hateful translation of the Hebrew word Toevah, which is used in the Bible to describe not only male anal sex but idolatry, the eating of shellfish, and Israelites and Egyptians having a meal together. A better translation is “taboo.”
But then, we know that this murderer wasn’t going after shrimp-eaters.
It’s also the same mystifyingly thin police coverage. In 2005, there was no one standing between us and the protesters; it was a terrifying encounter. That seems to have been the case in 2015 as well. How could the same man who attacked in 2005, who was released from prison only three weeks ago, who wrote a “warning letter” to Pride March participants, and who even went on Haredi radio saying “these impure people want to defile Jerusalem,” not be under surveillance?
How could any man dressed in the distinctive all-black Ultra-Orthodox costume not, at the very least, be stopped and questioned by police? (Apparently, the murderer was, in fact, briefly accosted – and then let go.)
The Jerusalem police have never liked the Pride Parade – more on security grounds than anti-gay ones, although motives are always hard to discern. For several years, they refused to grant a permit at all, forcing the “parade” to take place in an athletic stadium miles from the center of town.
And although formal investigations into the 2005 stabbing absolved them of responsibility, it seems odd that a police force charged with maintaining public safety in a country at war with three of its five contiguous neighbors can’t guard a parade that travels less than one mile along a route routinely cordoned off for politicians, holiday celebrations, even a ludicrous Formula One race.
But I don’t blame the police.
Nor do I blame the government. Agree or disagree with his foreign policy, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been the most pro-gay leader in Israel’s history, visiting an LGBT Center after an attack several years ago, and issuing strong condemnations today. Some of his pro-gay statements may be dismissed as propaganda (“pinkwashing”), and he has dragged his feet at times. But no one can deny the many pro-LGBT actions of the governments he has led. Considering most of those have been made up of the Right and the Far Right, that is no small feat. (Further-Right politicians such as Naftali Bennett also condemned the attack.)
Nor do I blame the mainstream rabbinic establishment. The Chief Rabbis have condemned the attack. Most poignantly, Rabbi Benjamin Lau (first cousin of Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau) addressed the parade participants directly, speaking at the end of the route and saying, “I ask forgiveness in the name of the Torah.”
Nor do I blame every Orthodox or Haredi Jew. As Tom Canning, Director of Development at the Jerusalem Open House and one of the organizers of the March, said, “We don’t see them as our enemies and we don’t think this act is a sign of the sentiment in Ultra-Orthodox Communities.”
I do, however, blame the leaders of those communities, here and in Israel, for an unremitting chorus of hate speech, hateful actions, and, at best, standing by idly while their neighbors’ blood is spilled.
It is one thing to have an expansive view of the halachic prohibition on male anal sex, or even to believe that the secular legitimation of same-sex relationships will impact public morality for the worse. It is quite another to tolerate (or promote) the kinds of statements routinely made about LGBT people in the Haredi (and sometimes, Modern Orthodox) press and public square.
Just as a torrent of anti-semitic exhortations will inevitably lead to violence – an article leads to a chant leads to a swastika leads to an attack – so too a torrent of anti-gay exhortations.
Erez Harari, a psychologist who works with gay Orthodox Jews, agreed, saying he sees the effects of communal anti-gay animus every day. “The entire Orthodox community is responsible for this attack when it cultivates a culture of hatred toward fellow Jews rather than acceptance and tolerance,” he told the Forward. “Major changes need to happen and the leaders of the Orthodox community need to step up and do more to put a stop to these atrocities. Silence is complacency.”
Post-hoc condemnations are nice, but a meaningful response will have to go further than handwringing (or handwashing, as the case may be), and prevent the next attack before it happens. Specifically, individual Haredi rabbis and organizations such as the Agudath Israel, Rabbinic Council of America, and Orthodox Union should:
1) Ban as assur (forbidden) as lashon hara (evil speech) all incitement against LGBT people, by individuals or organizations.
This includes the exploitation of children by the Israeli far-right group Lehava. It includes any pashkevil (poster) that distorts our lives and encourages violence. It includes any use of the term “homo” or “toevah” to describe gay people in the media. And condemn means condemn: in a public statement, reiterating that while we may disagree about Halacha, such speech can lead to violence and must be cut off at the source.
2) Share the stories of actual Orthodox LGBT lives.
While still maintaining the halachic opposition to homosexuality, depict what Haredi LGBT people are actually like, as opposed to the horrible stereotypes common in the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox media. Samples: the films DevOUT, Trembling Before G-d, and Eyes Wide Open.
3) Support, or create, organizations like Eshel to provide meaningful, affirming counseling for LGBT Orthodox Jews and their families, finding ways to get along and maintain relationships.
Conversely, do not advise any family to disown their gay child, and do not accept those who do. Eshel (which, full disclosure, I co-founded) is a small, independent organization. It should be a program at every large Orthodox shul, and officially sanctioned by the RCA, Yeshiva University, and others. (Eshel does not take a position on Halacha.) Relatedly, the RCA, OU and Agudath Israel must stop standing in the way of Jewish Family & Children’s Services from helping LGBT Orthodox Jews.
4) Officially, on “letterhead,” renounce all forms of “reparative therapy.”
Interestingly, none of the Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox press even reported that JONAH, a Jewish “reparative therapy” group, was found guilty of fraud. Meanwhile, Aish.com, one of the most visited Jewish sites on the Internet, has only three articles on homosexuality, all of which are by people who have claimed to change their sexual orientation.
5) Stop trying to use the secular government to discriminate against LGBT people.
You know that there is no halachic problem with providing health insurance to a gay family, or providing gay people healthcare and other services. So stop pushing for “religious exemptions” in order to do so. Stop pushing to delegitimize same-sex civil marriage when you’ve been fine with interfaith civil marriage for decades. And stop fear-mongering about the effects of LGBT equality on your values. When it comes to the secular government, how about you just leave gay people alone?
6) Modern Orthodox rabbis are implicated too.
Mordechai Levovitz, Executive Director of JQY and one of the tireless activists on behalf of LGBT Orthodox Jews, said today that moderate Orthodox leaders have a responsibility as well. “If a rabbi is “tolerant” and “welcoming” then he needs to take on the responsibility of caring for those hurt by his own community,” Levovitz said, “not relegate all the support work to fringe outside gay groups that they don’t want to be officially connected to. It’s offensive to hear these moderate Orthodox rabbis make themselves seem so good by saying that they are welcoming. We don’t need welcoming. We need protection, defense, healing, clinical work.”
These steps would be a productive start. But to be honest, even neutrality would be better than what we’ve got now. Since the last attack, we’ve had ten years of Ultra-Orthodox hate speech. Today we saw some of the results.