Human Rights

Gay Pride in Jerusalem

Jslem_open_house There is a "Gay Pride" march scheduled for Jerusalem this Friday.  It’s the most controversial issue to hit the Holy City in quite some time.

For the last week, charedi ("ultra-Orthodox") protestors have been blocking streets, setting fires, and threatening to harm the marchers.  A few days ago Jerusalem’s mayor, himself a charedi Jew, had rocks thrown at him by some of his fellow charedim because he was allowing the parade to go on.  The headline for the article describing the incident in Yediot Achronot read "protest, certainly; violence, God forbid!"

I am pleased that the mayor, Uri Lupolianski, has not yielded to pressure from within his own community to cancel the parade.  The organizers of the parade are being sensitive to the religious community.  It will not be taking a route through religious neighborhoods.  The marchers will not be "strutting their stuff" in a provocative fashion in Mea Shearim.

The charedi need to learn the lesson of religious tolerance.  As the mayor said, it is fine to protest; what’s not fine is violence.  There have been posters in the religious neighborhoods offering a 20,000 shekel reward to anyone who kills a gay or lesbian marching in the parade.  I don’t know what Torah those guys are studying, but not that’s not something that would be condoned by any Torah or Talmud that I’ve learned.

Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in New York has opened a Jerusalem Open House emergency fund to accept donations to defray the costs of security.  You can contribute by clicking here

The blog One Jerusalem correctly points out that "Incidents such as this only indicate that some serious problems still exist concerning democracy and human rights in the State of Israel. "  Yet he then says maybe the parade shouldn’t be held in Jerusalem.  That attitude is akin to blaming a woman in mini-skirt if she gets raped.  It’s not acceptable.  The hallmark of a free and democratic society is the ability to publicly present your point of view.  The price of living in a democratic society is that people you disagree with are allowed to present THEIR points of view.  If the charedi don’t like "Gay Pride" parades, they could try moving to Saudi Arabia where they would not be subject to such scandalous displays.

The following statement has been circulated by Yedidya, Shira Hadasha, Yakar, and a few other of the more enlightened Orthodox communities.  I believe it very appropriately sets out an appropriate response from people in the religious community.

“And they shall answer and say ‘Our hands have not shed this blood.’”

We, members of religious communities in Jerusalem, wish to absolutely disassociate ourselves from words that have been heard in recent days with regard to the “Gay Pride” march that is supposed to take place next Friday in Jerusalem. These words have included incitement toward and understanding of violence, attempts to quash freedom of expression, and contempt for other people.

As citizens of Jerusalem, and as people who see ourselves as an inseparable part of its religious community, we are unable to keep silent when we hear threats of serious violence, especially in light of the fact that similar threats were actualized at last year’s parade. We are conscious of the fact that the campaign of incitement against the march is being described as having the supported of all segments of the city’s religious community, and it is essential to make clear that many, many from this community are in fact disgusted by it. We particularly regret that some of the representatives of the religious educational system, in which our children study, have taken part in this incitement.

This declaration does not constitute support for the march itself, or expression of any position at all regarding its appropriateness or correctness. Among us there are many divergent opinions on the subject, and we respect the right of all sides to express them. But along with this, the seriousness of the words which have been said in recent days obligates all leaders of the community to distance themselves from any hint of incitement or understanding for violence. This affair proves how short the distance is between stifling freedom of expression for those whose beliefs and opinions disagree with our own, and serious violence. The connection of extremist elements and lawbreakers with respected religious leaders, whose ways we usually agree with, nonetheless obligates them to open their eyes and return them to behaving like the “pure ones of Jerusalem.” Lip service will not be enough to prevent violence, and if the expected threats materialize (without protest), the more responsible members of the community will also not have clean hands.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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