Wednesday, March 29, 2023

On Thursday, August 3, Jerusalem held its annual March for Pride and Tolerance, often known simply as the Gay Pride Parade. 2017 marks the 16th year of the event. And just like every other year, 2017’s march did not occur with unanimous support. Plenty of religious Jews are against the decision for gay pride to be expressed in such a way in Israel’s capital. Among the dissidents was Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Aryeh Stern. Rabbi Stern expressed that he feels that the fact that the parade took place mere days after Tisha B’Av was troubling because “the essence of this parade is contradicting the trend of Jerusalem as a holy city, and that is the city we want,” he said in an interview to Army Radio.

It is easy to understand arguments against such a parade being held in Jerusalem. There are two very well known verses in Vayikra (18:22 and 20:13) that seem to provide reasons to hesitate. The Torah makes it very clear that homosexual relations, at least between two men, are forbidden. Many argue that to express a clear desire to violate these commandments, as a pride parade would most likely do, is an abomination, just as committing these acts would be.

But there is another side to consider.

There is another oft-quoted pasuk in the Torah, not far from the aforementioned Vayikra verses. In fact, it is sandwiched in the perek right between the two. Perek 19, pasuk 18 states: “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is one of Rabbi Akiva’s favorites. We all know the Yeshiva Boys Choir version, and we all know that it is a klal gadol in the Torah (and now we all have the tune stuck in our heads as well). But pasuk 17, though less well known, is also important. It states, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” Jews who are against pride, and see no way for a proud homosexual lifestyle to exist within the realms of Torah, would do well to remember this verse.

Is it possible for those who express such hatred and disgust toward some of their brothers and sisters to also fulfill these commandments of love? Some of the protesters, both in person and online, clearly feel hatred and disgust toward members of the LGBTQ community, based only on the fact that they are members of the LGBTQ community. They are fulfilling the second half of the pasuk, perhaps, if they feel that they are “rebuking [their] fellow” for sins that they have the potential to commit. But both halves of the pasuk need to be upheld. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” makes it evident that protesting people for expressing who they are is typically seen as being hateful in one’s heart.

Fortunately, we as a Jewish community are moving forward. The outrage when there was a terror attack—perpetrated by a Jew—at 2015’s pride parade was powerful and a positive sign that we stand together. The stabbing and resulting death of Shira Banki, 16, sparked anger and sympathy from across the world and the Jewish religious spectrum. Rabbi Stern himself expressed sorrow for the fact that Banki’s life was cut short due to violent hatred. But does it really require an attack to inspire the Jewish community to unite and support its own?

Israel usually does accept those who may be on a different path.The opportunity to march while being proudly and religiously Jewish is one that only Israel can truly offer, especially after Chicago’s Dyke March, in June, removed those carrying Jewish flags from the proceedings. Israel is also the only Middle Eastern country to have a pride parade at all. Chief Rabbi Stern, for his part, has said that he would accept homosexual couples at his congregation in the same way that he accepts those who are not Shabbat observant. Steps have been taken to extend acceptance to members of the Jewish LGBTQ community. And yet, when there is a march, there is still a sense of disapproval.

The Reform and Conservative movements have largely accepted the status of gay Jews as being full members of their communities. The Chabad movement feels that a Jew is a Jew, and that all Jews, no matter what mitzvot they do or do not keep, should be welcomed as family. Though many Orthodox Jews say that it does not matter what one’s sexual orientation is, a lack of discussion about the issue is not encouraging to those who wish to express themselves more freely. It is true, of course, that silence is preferred over angry protesting. However, if we want all of our fellow Jews to feel comfortable in their Jewish lives, it will require more of a sign of support than mere silence.

The pride parade is an important expression of solidarity for the Jews who are part of the LGBTQ community. For the Jews who are marching, it is a way to express the parts of themselves that they may have had to hide. It is also an opportunity to see that there are others like them. This year’s theme of the Jerusalem march was “LGBTQ and Religion.” The marchers are people who want to be proudly Jewish while also being proudly themselves. Over 20,000 participants marched, well exceeding the expected number. Clearly, Jews—even religious, Orthodox, observant, committed Jews—are members of the LGBTQ community. That is a fact. An often unacknowledged fact, but a fact nonetheless. It is past time to end the protests, and it is also time to end the silence. It is time instead to be open to discussion. Most Jews do not have hate for their brothers in their hearts. Rather, most Jews love their neighbors as themselves. Now is the time to show it.

By Ariella Shua

 Ariella Shua is a graduate of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School and the Nativ Program in Israel. She is a rising freshman at Johns Hopkins University and a Jewish Link summer intern.


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