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Steven Bayar

Of Pride flags and rainbow cookies

Do two Orthodox communities in New Jersey believe that being LGBTQ+ is a communicable condition?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2019.06.14_Tel_Aviv_Pride_Parade,_Tel_Aviv,_Israel_1650031_(48092879727).jpg
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2019.06.14_Tel_Aviv_Pride_Parade,_Tel_Aviv,_Israel_1650031_(48092879727).jpg

Liberal Jews often view Orthodox Judaism as a monolithic, homogeneous culture. Nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, there is more disparity in the different versions of orthodoxy than there is in all of the liberal tradition. And we are finding new versions of orthodoxy all the time.

For instance, we learned last week that there is a version of Orthodox Judaism in Highland Park, New Jersey — one that believes it is possible to become gay or lesbian just by seeing a rainbow pride flag! Why else would two Orthodox congregations insist that flags near their property be removed?

This is not so far-fetched. After all, didn’t Moses and Aaron avert a plague afflicting the Israelites when they “looked” at an idol (goodness gracious me!) Aaron was holding? So, kudos must go to these two congregations for “updating” the Torah for today.

Shall we talk about the Constitution of the United States and the concept of separation of church and state? Flags on public property should not be subject to religious sensitivities. Or should we talk about the rabbinic concept of “dina demalchuta dina” (the law of the land is the law)? The flags were placed in the township by the civil authority, so by what right does an orthodox rabbi have to demand their removal?

Perhaps the elephant in the room is that on this issue Orthodoxy is on the defensive. LGBTQ+ is making inroads into Orthodox Judaism, and (anecdotally) in some congregations gay members have been accepted by the community and the clergy. Orthodoxy finds itself condemned in the court of public opinion (if not the authorities) by its continued reticence to confront issues of domestic abuse, child abuse and agunot. Its clergy are beset with pastoral issues they were never trained to handle.

But if you think these two Highland Park Orthodox congregations are the most radical when it comes to modern scientific theory of communicable conditions, consider the Passaic, New Jersey rabbi who counseled the owner of a bakery in nearby West Orange not to accept any orders for rainbow pride cakes and cookies. He evidently believes the condition is communicable through food coloring!

Ironically, veteran protestors know these Orthodox congregations and rabbis have done more “for” the movement they do not support. By taking these stands, they have galvanized support from those who might have stood on the sidelines.

And they have done Orthodox Judaism no favor either. There are a significant and growing number of Orthodox clergy and congregations who struggle with this issue on a daily basis, and they are coming to realize that being gay, if a sin, is no more a sin than desecrating Shabbat. And I can’t remember the last time a person given an honor in services or counted in a minyan was asked if he was sabbath observant.

Way to go Highland Park!

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar recently served as Interim Rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in San Antonio, TX. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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