In last week’s Jewish Link there was a disturbing and in my opinion truly bigoted article titled “Objecting to Two LGBT Bills,” by Rabbi Nosson Shmuel Leiter (January 7, 2020). In this article the rabbi claims we should encourage our legislators to vote against a bill that is introduced by New Jersey to “require school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards,” which is the summary of the bill provided by the state of New Jersey.
Rabbi Leiter falsely and so hurtfully views this bill as a way “to propagandize the LGBT lifestyle to kindergarteners and up in the public schools.” He goes on to encourage the readers of this article to tell our elected officials that we will not reelect them if they vote for the bill because he feels that “by teaching children to respect, welcome and include even flagrant practitioners of of LGBT acts, the schools themselves erode the natural revulsion for such transgressions and even cultivate admiration for them, all under the fraudulent pretext of education.”
This is such a scary thing for a rabbi to say. and so contrary to the fundamental teachings of every educator I had the dear privilege of learning from. In the Jewish community no matter what yeshiva or school you went to, we always learned that you should love and welcome all people because unless you are God you have no right to attack or belittle anyone no matter who they are. I request all readers to ask themselves this: Why would we discourage our elected officials from performing the most Godly act, something even three-year-olds are taught to perform, and that is making sure all children are welcomed and treated nicely.
One area where Rabbi Leiter and I agree, though, is that we are responsible for the immoral actions of our legislatures that we vote for, especially due to the public chillul Hashem involved. Although if one truly believed that they are responsible for their legislators’ actions, they would not discourage them from voting for an Avraham-like bill that is put in place to welcome and let all children feel at home in their schools. They would demand they vote for it because not welcoming someone based on the words of God is the greatest chillul Hashem I could personally think of.
Also, while we are on the topic of chillul Hashem I can’t fathom why Rabbi Leiter would have Jews call upon elected officials to be bigoted. In my opinion, that is a true chillul Hashem. I always remember from elementary school that before all field trips our teachers would say, “You are representing the Jewish community; be kind and respectful.” If we expect and demand this basic idea from children, then I don’t understand why Rabbi Leiter would encourage the polar opposite from adults who are meant to be role models.
For the readers who don’t agree with me, I offer you a legal argument as to why we should not discourage the passing of this bill. I am no legal or constitutional expert, and will never claim to be, although I do remember sitting in seventh-grade American history class and learning about the concept of separation of church and state and how it comes to play in these types of situations. Rabbi Leiter claims that we should discourage our elected officials from voting on this bill because the Bible says it is wrong. The idea that an elected official should vote to discriminate against and not welcome a child in a government-run institution (which is an utter violation of the law), based on a biblical passage, is a dangerous idea that goes against the fundamental ideals of America and her legal system.
Ironically, Rabbi Leiter claims that by allowing “this nonsense” (referring to LGBTQ+), to be taught in our public schools, it will ultimately facilitate the push for it to be taught in Beis Yaakov schools and yeshivas. There is no reason to be concerned about the government pushing yeshivas to teach this, because in America we have a separation of church and state, which if the reader may recall, Rabbi Leiter appears to want to forgo.
So if there is anyone out there who does not morally agree with me on LGBTQ+ rights and does not want the teachings in their child’s yeshiva, this bill is not your greatest threat: Rabbi Leiter’s call for elected officials to forgo separation of church and state is. My friend Akiva Lieber had a interesting idea: In a war for the very souls of Jewish kids, here and around the world, we need to be understanding and welcoming to all people no matter who they may be.Jacob Horn
10th grader at TABC, Teaneck