By Niv Elis
Dismayed. Disappointed. Disgusted.
These are the adjectives commenters posted in response to a statement by The Jewish Standard, a New Jersey weekly, declaring that it will no longer publish marriage announcements for gay couples. The decision came in the wake of the first gay engagement to grace the paper’s lifestyle pages, honoring Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen.
Following its publication, reports the Standard:
A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.
The accompanying decision to stop running gay wedding announcements aroused a massive influx of criticism, pressuring the editorial board to reverse its decision. One writer suggested that the paper change its name to “The Jewish Double Standard.”
The incident demonstrates the contentiousness of a debate over gay rights that has been going on for years, but has only recently started to make headway in the Orthodox community. Informed by the 2001 documentary Trembling Before God, the focus of the discussion has moved from simply questioning the religious legality of homosexuality to examining the ethical implications of ostracizing gay Jews. Last week’s shocking suicide by an outed gay freshman at Rutgers university accentuates the humanitarian dimension now central to the conversation.
“There are plenty—and probably a very strong majority—in the Orthodox world who think even acknowledging publicly the suffering of gay Orthodox Jews is out-of-bounds,” points out Steven I. Weiss in his excellent Slate article on the topic. Loosening rules on homosexuality by definition strains the adherent philosophy to which the Orthodox subscribe. But there are indications that “a critical mass of Orthodox aren’t going to ignore the problem completely.”
Support groups such as Jewish Queer Youth and the cleverly named OrthoDykes have popped up to offer guidance for distressed, religious Jews questioning their sexuality and gender identity. This past July, a group of Orthodox Rabbis cobbled together and signed a statement on homosexuality, grappling with the human implications of the Jewish law in a very serious way. It opens with the declaration that “All human beings are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (kevod haberiyot).”
Given the strong feelings, religious convictions, and high stakes on both sides of the discussion, it seems unlikely that it will be resolved at any time soon. In the meantime, all eyes will be on New Jersey’s Jewish Standard, eagerly anticipating on which side of the gay Jewish debate it will ultimately fall.