Pride and Puissance

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.

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9 Responses

  1. BitzyA says:

    I have a simple question. Where in the torah does it say it is assur for a homosexual not to parade in the streets of jerusalem? While the torah does forbid RELATIONS between two men, It does not forbid participating in a parade. Furthermore, many of the people at this parade were non jews, how can we impose our value system on them? I am a frum jew and i just cant figure out what all of the fuss is about. Let them do what they want to do. If we all make a big deal out of it, it will become just that, a big deal.

  2. SM says:

    Not demonstrating was clearly right.

    The march was clearly wrong. It established nothing except that people who have the freedom to offend should chose not to exercise it.

    But the proposition that the ‘natural inclination’ of the Yeshiva students is to head straight for the nearest violent punch up is deeply disturbing and I assume is not what was meant.

    Accordingly, no accolades are due for doing what was clearly right, simply because there existed an alternative which was – equally clearly – wrong.

  3. Loberstein says:

    I recently had occasion to attend a family simcha and converse with a Conservative rabbi who had just returned from the Rabbinical assembly convention that had dealt with gay rights. I asked him if his members were even aware that his movement had legitimized gay rabbis and unions to whatever extent they did it. He admitted that this issue was not on their radar. In fact,when my relatives overheard our conversation, it was like a bolt out of the blue. They were amazed that their rabbi and others didn’t disaprove of it , if not actively then passively in the manner of “let’s do it and get over it and move on”. Interestingly he told me that he was sure that in another few years the orthodox would come around to this point of view, I told him never. He said no the orthodox are moving towards egalitaianism more than anyone would have imagined and other changes and it is just a matter of time. I told him that it just isn’t so and would never happen. He said time would tell.

  4. Garnel Ironheart says:

    By holding prayer and tehillim vigils instead of rioting, the religious Jews of Yerhushalayim did the best they could under the circumstances. Any visible protest, after all, would have been twisted by the media into a chilul Hashem. In the end they demonstrated faith in Hashem despite not having events go the way they might have liked them to do. That’s the ultimate difference between “us” and “them”. They get mad when Hashem doesn’t give them what they want. We sigh and try davening harder. Maybe next time Hashem will listen to us.

    To BitzyA – in a free country like Israel, one is allowed to parade and allowed to publicly offend. Having said that, one must ask the following question – why were Arab (ie Muslim and Christian) neighbourhoods avoided? Because, in the words of the parade leaders, they didn’t want to offend those groups.

    So here you have it. The parade’s purpose wasn’t so much to show pride as to offend the religious JEWISH population in Yerushalayim. That, in itself is cowardly and contemptible and the paraders should be treated in that fashion. They deserve nothing more.

  5. BitzyA says:

    Garnel- Maybe its because being that it is OUR JEWISH country we respect the religous views of others. Judaism doesn’t force itself on other people, i am not offended by the parade because my beliefs arent their beliefs.

  6. Garnel Ironheart says:

    Let’s take things in historical context. This isn’t the first time a group or religion has taken upon itself to offend Jewish sensibilities. Perhaps we should be happy they’re doing it by parading and not pogroming.

    All those movements are in the dustbin of history or about to enter it. This group will too and a hundred or two hundred years from now, our descendents will be blogging about some other group defiling the streets of our holy city. No reason to get especially excited.

  7. David Farkas says:

    Rabbi Oberstein, I 100% agree with you, but this rabbis conception of who “orthodox” jews are is probably much different than your own.

  8. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    Dear BitzyA,

    There is, to my knowledge, no explicit Torah prohibition against a homosexual marching in a parade, any more than there is against the proverbial placing of a housecat in a holy ark amid the Torahs.

    But what there is is the (equally proverbial) “fifth Shulchan Aruch”, which renders many things religiously objectionable even if there isn’t a “chapter and verse” prohibition forbidding it. Perhaps you can imagine other groups of sinners (for instance, those prone to violence) whose demonstration of pride in their iniquities you too would find objectionable.

    What is more, greater awareness of this particular vice (especially its “proud” celebration) is one that many observant Jews do not wish to enter the consciousnesses of their children. Young people’s sexuality can at times be fluid, and open to influence (yes, I know that is a politically incorrect assertion, but it is one that I base on wide reading of the medical literature on the subject – and on my experience as a high school rebbe and principal for nearly two decades). Parades, by definition, “parade” things before the community. Parading this was objectionable to countless Jerusalem residents – and, come to think of it, doing something in front of someone that offends him or her is indeed forbidden, as per the Gemara in Chagiga that prohibits the squashing of a louse before someone repulsed at the sight.

    To SM: I didn’t imply that the natural inclination of yeshiva students was to engage in violence, G-d forbid, but rather that the natural inclination of most religious Orthodox Jews would be to protest a chilul Hashem publicly (and peacefully). Thus the alternative of a massive peaceful protest was very much a possibility. But the Gedolim felt it was not the right path here.

  9. es58 says:

    There’s an article today on where a former very significant “leader” and spokesman in this area, and publisher of magazines that strongly promoted it, has renounced his position (after being involved from age 14 to 30). He says he’s done it for his religion (not ours) He also realizes that it was all about lust, and every time he felt challenged, he recognized that was what it was, and persevered. We can take a mussar from his behavior; I’m sure there are many challenges that are less strong than that one, and we should have the advantage of far greater clarity as to our responsibilities.

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