Avi Novis-Deutsch

This rabbi is flying the Pride flag — and it’s about time

The message that everyone is welcome to enter through my door is at the heart of my approach to Judaism
Pride flag on office door (Avi Novis-Deutsch)
Pride flag on office door (Avi Novis-Deutsch)

Today I hung the Pride flag with the Star of David in the center on the door of my office. I am heterosexual, a rabbi, and dean of the Conservative Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, which trains rabbis, prayer leaders, and leaders in public life, and promotes Torah study in Israel.

The main question I ask myself is what took me so long to do it.

For me, hanging the Pride flag on the door of a rabbi’s office is a statement that this office is open to every person, that everyone – transgender, heterosexual, asexual, gay, bisexual, lesbian, or anything else – is welcome to enter. This view is a foundation of my religious approach and of my understanding of the role of a rabbi.

The need to be proactive in expressing this view stems from the fact that there are other, contrasting, voices, such as that of the chief rabbi of Jerusalem (where Schechter is located), and the fact that many members of the LGBTQ community and, specifically, those within it who are religiously observant, experience an immense emotional challenge that is often accompanied by a sense of non-belonging and non-acceptance.

The choice to hang the Pride flag with the Star of David in the center stems from the need to stand with the members of the Jewish LGBTQ community in Washington, DC, who were forced to fight for their right to carry those flags in the Dyke March there an incident that calls upon us to remember that we must never join a struggle on behalf of a specific identity in order to reject other components of people’s identities.

Our obligation as a society to extend a hand of acceptance also stems from basic humanist and Jewish values, as well as from the command “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16). The suicide rate in the LGBTQ community, particularly in the transgender community, is much higher than the average in the population. Acceptance by the community, and particularly by rabbis, can be a force for good, and with God’s help lower the suicide rate.

It is also our duty — for the same reasons — to extend a hand to divorced parents, survivors of sexual trauma, immigrants from Ethiopia, people suffering from poverty, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, and anyone in need of support and a place to belong.

Of course, my door is also open to those who believe that Jewish religious law forbids sexual relations between people of the same sex, and people whose opinions differ from mine. My protest is not against any particular Jewish halachic law, it’s against those whose turn their positions into a license to verbally and physically harm those who are different from them.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi-Novis Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, which trains Masorti/Conservative spiritual leadership for Israel and the world.
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