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As An Orthodox Rabbi, The SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Gives Me Pause

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - AUGUST 03: Israelis take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem on August 3, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi /Getty Images) Image by Getty Images

As the rabbi of an Orthodox Union-affiliate, U.S. Orthodox synagogue, I greeted the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case with a deep and painful ambivalence. It is, without a doubt, vital for the religious freedoms of individuals to be firmly protected and articulated. Such protections are the bedrock of religious life in this country, and have contributed so much to the flourishing of our own American Jewish community. I therefore support the Court’s re-affirmation that the state should not “base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or a religious viewpoint.”

Yet, at the same time, the dignity, self-worth and tzelem Elohim — intrinsic Godliness — of every person, regardless of sexual orientation, must also be upheld and insisted upon continually and vigorously. This is true of all people generally, and more specifically for those people and groups that are regularly denied such a recognition of worth, dignity and equality. Within the U.S. Orthodox community, we have many gay congregants, members, friends and family who are regularly subjected to painful and exclusionary actions and rhetoric. Many have been forced out of our shuls and schools, others have taken themselves out, and still others resolutely struggle in seeking to remain members of their kehillot. With this understanding, the Masterpiece ruling can be understood as yet another instance of gay people being treated as “less than,” as not fully equal citizens — or humans.

Given the knowledge and awareness of these irreconcilable tensions, I therefore disagree with the statement from the Orthodox Union following the ruling. The O.U. statement disregards the fundamental tension between these two issues, and instead solely focuses on and celebrates the former, that of religious freedom. It at no point acknowledges the ongoing suffering and marginalization that gay members of our communities experience. Additionally, the original statement of Mr. Bane, which insinuated that the existence of gay individuals is simply a “cultural fad,” was offensive and unacceptable. Thankfully, it has been removed from the current version of the statement.

I do not pretend to have easy answers to these questions. Perhaps a better response to the ruling would have been to shev v’al ta’aseh; to remain silent in the face of impossibility. Regardless, as the rabbi of an O.U.-affiliate synagogue, I am certain that the O.U. statement speaks neither for me nor for my Orthodox shul and community.

For more perspectives on what it is like to be an Orthodox and LGBT Jew, I recommend watching and reading these pieces as a start.

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