Undoubtedly, the funniest Jewish story in weeks took place last Sunday, at the NY City Gay Pride parade, when Haredi activist Heshie Freed, a.k.a. Jewish Political Action Committee, hired a small band of Mexican men, dressed them up as kind of cartoon Haredim — including a Purim black hat with fake side locks and small fringed talitot, handed them anti-gay signs with a variety of slogans and sent them off to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street to espouse loud objections to homosexuality from a supposedly Jewish point of view.
The NY Times, which broke the story on Sunday, and every news outlet that has picked it up since, concentrated on the truly bizarre phenomenon of vehement opponents of the gay lifestyle being too busy to express their rage in person, hiring non-Jewish stooges in their place.
It’s funny, and Heshie Freed, whose JPAC meetings are likely not crowded affairs, added yet another comic touch when he told the Times reporter that “the rabbis said that the yeshiva boys shouldn’t come out for this because of what they would see at the parade.”
There was also some slapstick, at the end, when a 19-year-old woman punched one of the fauxthodox men in the eye.
So a good time was had by all.
Except that Gawker, which picked up the story from the Times on Monday, included several photographs that highlighted the signs Heshie’s Latino protestors carried, and most of them represent an inaccurate reading of Jewish Law regarding male homosexuality.
— Gawker (@Gawker) June 30, 2015
For one thing, there is a lack of nuance in the general slogan, “Judaism prohibits homosexuality,” because “Judaism,” while adamant on sex between men, has precious little to say about sex between women, and even 12th century scholar Maimonides, who objects to it, ranks female homosexual sex as foolish misbehavior — certainly no death penalty there.
The larger statement on the same sign, “Judaism prohibits Homosexuality, Leviticus 20:13,” presents a crucial misunderstanding of Jewish law, both in its lack of nuance, as well as its misunderstanding of the very dynamics of Jewish Law.
Leviticus 20:13 reads: “And a man who lies with a male as one does with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination, they will certainly be put to death, their blood is upon them.”
Putting aside the Jewish rules of evidence, which would make it practically impossible to execute such a couple, the real subtlety here is in the definition of the transgression as being the engagement in homosexual penetration, mimicking heterosexual intercourse, and not in being homosexual.
In fact, unlike references to other lawbreakers, such as a thief, the prohibition in Leviticus 20:13 is not against being homosexual or looking homosexual, or even engaging in non-penetrative sex with a fellow homosexual — it is decidedly against one aspect of homosexual behavior, as 11th century scholar Rashi puts it: “the way one inserts a brush into its case.”
This is far from suggesting that Jewish Law endorses homosexuality, it decidedly does not, and it forbids most known aberrant and incestuous sexual behaviors, but in every case our rabbis have used nuance and subtlety, as befits a tradition based on laws. And in that wiggle room, Jews have been able to discover for themselves a modus vivendi that allowed them to remain within the fold.
But wait, there’s more: the complete sign, carried by a mexicorthodox-for-hire, reads: “Judaism prohibits homosexuality, Leviticus 20:13, that is why G-D sent AIDS to punish male gays.”
That statement, borrowed directly from the Westboro Baptist Church, with its notorious “God hates gays” signs, should not be on the same sign as the word Judaism.
First, for the record, the little known eleventh commandment reads: “Thou shalt not start a sentence with ‘Judaism says.'” When one deals with a 3,500-year tradition, 24 canonized volumes of Scripture, 60 volumes of Mishna, more than 60 volumes of both versions of the Talmud, and an ocean of legal decisions, delineating that one thing that “Judaism” has to say about anything is the task of charlatans and fools.
Also, “Judaism,” as one of its operating principles set up by Maimonides instructs, has nothing tangible to say about our completely ethereal God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says God.” (Isaiah 55:8). The only way God communicates His will to the Jews is through His commandments, as interpreted by our sages.
So that to represent the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s as punishment from God for gays would have to also mean that God punished straight men and women who fell prey to the disease, as well as the hemophiliacs who died from receiving tainted blood in those years.
That’s not to suggest that God did not punish the AIDS sufferers — similarly that He did not punish the victims of the Holocaust — only that, absent a bona fide prophet to tell us so, we don’t claim to know.
And so we went and messed up a funny story about a Charedi guy who hired Mexicans dressed as Hassidim to protest the parade.
Our work here is done.