Whose needs are we serving?

Back in September, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale’s (HIR) printed announcements included a mazal tov to the parents of a gay male who was about to be married. The announcement prompted intense criticism, especially from the more conservative segments of the Orthodox community.  Since HIR is a member of the Orthodox Union (OU), tremendous pressure was put on the OU to articulate a policy about such announcements, which the OU ultimately did.  (You can read more about this at https://www.jta.org/2017/12/13/news-opinion/united-states/liberal-orthodox-synagogue-will-not-announce-lgbt-weddings-following-complaint.)

I am an Orthodox Jew for whom the OU supposedly speaks, and I have the following to say about the OU politicizing this issue at the behest of its more right-leaning constituents: Do not be surprised that when you choose to politicize an issue, it becomes politicized.  The OU’s choice to focus on this particular issue, and to politicize it in pursuit of the latest round of the “who really represents Orthodoxy” war gains very little, and hurts innumerable LGBTQ individuals by thrusting them into a political arena where they do not wish to be.

In my (admittedly) limited experience, most people want to live their lives without fear of being judged or marginalized. LGBTQ individuals face struggle enough squaring what they know their identity to be with what messages society and religion give them about who they are. They certainly don’t need the additional burden of being politicized.

Many will argue that a synagogue wishing a mazal tov to LGBTQ individuals who choose to commit to a non-heteronormative relationship amounts to a “hekhsher” of that sort of relationship.  Please.  LGBTQ individuals have difficult enough lives in an Orthodox community without your “help.” Failing to recognize that LGBTQ individuals populate all walks of life, including Orthodoxy, ultimately results in a failure to serve them.  Identifying as LGBTQ ought not result in being deprived of a spiritual life, as well as access to poskim and poskot familiar with halakha who can guide them in the incredibly complex matter of leading a life committed to observance and being LGBTQ at the same time. They ought not be forced to make a choice between the two.

Institutions ought to be very self-aware when they make a choice to wish a mazal tov to a gay couple or not, and consider whose needs they are really serving. They also ought to have the honesty to be forthright about it.

About the Author
Daniel Geretz grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the founding rabbi of Maayan in West Orange, New Jersey. Daniel works in chaplaincy at Center for Hope Hospice in Scotch Plains, NJ and also at a local hospital. Daniel is in the process of completing his training to become a certified chaplain.
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