Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Scouting and Outing

Yesterday’s decision by the Boy Scouts to lift the ban on gay youth highlights the dramatic journey American society has taken on this issue. While the decision does not go far enough (there is still still discrimination in hiring gay adult leaders), the “evolution” in attitudes is still remarkable. In 2001 I addressed this issue in a column entitled “On Scouting and Outing,” a piece that highlights my own evolution, and the Conservative Movement’s, on this issue. But I proudly stand behind most of what I wrote then, while maintaining pride in the many positive effects scouting has had on American life.

I wrote then:

Admittedly, the question of sexual orientation and religious values is not a simple matter. My congregation is at odds with some in my movement in that we do not discriminate based on sexual orientation in our hiring policies or in selecting board members. I also advocate the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis, although I can understand the concerns of those who do not.


The issue here for me, however, is not whether the Torah is endorsing a particular sexual orientation; it is a question of simple discrimination. Yes, there are times when boundaries must be drawn — the Pope should not be accepted to rabbinical school, for example, without first converting, nor should I be admitted to the College of Cardinals. But this is not one of those times. Jews, of all people, understand the pain of prejudice, and the combined afflictions of AIDS and violent gay-bashing are wake-up calls that all of us must hear. Further, while I do not subscribe to the notion that everything stemming from the religious right is evil, this is a case where Christian fundamentalists are trying to impose their own perception of God’s will on the boy scouts and on the rest of us. Therefore, I support the resolution issued in January by the leadership of the Reform movement, calling upon local scouting chapters to publicly amend their charters to affirm non-discrimination.


I have no illusions here that even a mighty cry of Jewish protest will change this policy. It won’t. Scouting, like the American flag — and like God, for that matter — should belong to all of us, not merely the religious right. But the B.S.A. is right now a captive of Ashcroftism, and we aren’t going to change that. Nonetheless, like the lone prophet outside of Sodom, we protest not so much to change the policy as to ensure that this policy doesn’t change us.

In the end, the world has come to realize that what was once thought to be a moral choice and a mere lifestyle selection is, quite simply, not that. When the light bulb went on and people realized that, one of the most contentious issues of the day dissolved into thin air. There are still dangers out there – hatred and narrow mindedness beyond belief (as evidenced last week in the East Village) – but barriers are falling everywhere, in Rhode Island and Minnesota most recently, and even the N.B.A.

Now that the B.S.A has righted one wrong, we can go about the very hard work, all together, of teaching our boys and girls to make the right moral choices, including the choice not to bully other kids and the choice to dedicate their lives to repairing the world.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307