Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics

These articles from the New York Jewish Week and the Jewish Daily Forward do a wonderful job telling us what happened. The usual suspects are all there: a faith-based organization, a homosexual scandal, a Facebook protest group.

What it doesn’t properly convey is, how did we get here? So a gay alumnus was barred by his yeshivah high school’s administration from attending his 10-year reunion with his same-sex partner — so what?

The Orthodox don’t like the gays. Isn’t that all we need to know?

Not really.

I’m trying to collect my thoughts about high school, about openness, about sexuality and spirituality and about the history of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, at one time a standard-bearer of Modern Orthodoxy in America. But I keep coming back to the prophet Yeshayah.

In chapter 55, towards the start of the Haftara reading for public fast days, Yeshayah haNavi speaks in God’s name: “כִּי כַּאֲשֶׁר יֵרֵד הַגֶּשֶׁם וְהַשֶּׁלֶג מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְשָׁמָּה לֹא יָשׁוּב–כִּי אִם-הִרְוָה אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְהוֹלִידָהּ וְהִצְמִיחָהּ; וְנָתַן זֶרַע לַזֹּרֵעַ, וְלֶחֶם לָאֹכֵל. כֵּן יִהְיֶה דְבָרִי אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִפִּי, לֹא-יָשׁוּב אֵלַי רֵיקָם: כִּי אִם-עָשָׂה אֶת-אֲשֶׁר חָפַצְתִּי, וְהִצְלִיחַ אֲשֶׁר שְׁלַחְתִּיו.”

(Just as the rains and the snows fall from the sky and do not return without saturating the earth that it may sprout and blossom, giving seeds to the sower and bread to the diner: so will these words exiting my mouth not return to me empty, but they will complete their mission and accomplish my will.)

Therein lies the difference between us and God. God, it is traditionally asserted, knows the inner thoughts of every living thing, and sees the future to its farthest conclusion. We rarely know the end results of any of our actions.

Flatbush was a great place for me. I grew up in Brooklyn in a Modern Orthodox family. I was a smart kid with a vivid imagination and a bit of a passive-aggressive streak. I believed in fairness, in the Judaism I was taught, and that God was truly good and was looking out for all of us.

I still smile when I think about high school. I didn’t want to graduate and leave it behind. I have fond memories of most of my teachers, and fonder memories of rikudim (Jewish dancing) in the gym every Rosh Chodesh, pizmonim (Sephardic songs) in the school sukkah every fall, and yearly “Seminar” shabbatonim where had my first encounter with what you might call a “hippy-dippy-singing-soulful” way of being Jewish.

And while I do credit the Yeshivah of Flatbush Elementary School & High School for giving me a Jewish education that has been the envy of my peers for my entire young life, I know that the biggest thing I learned there was to love Judaism.

Judaism was deep, and challenging, and profound. It was there in the slowest songs and the quickest layups. Judaism was informed and compassionate. Science, history, and literature were crucial to being Jews. So was caring about current events and social action. We were skilled Hebrew speakers and Zionists because we were taught to see Jewishness in our bodies. And just as all of us kids were a collection of individuals, so was Judaism.

I learned that “the living words of God” actually were plural. In Chumash class we learned commentaries of the Sefer Hachinuch, the Rambam, Ibn Ezra, Rashi, and more. In Gemara class we learned using the multiple lenses of the Ran, the Meiri, the Bach, Tosafot, etc. Rationalists. Mystics. Universalists. Particularists. Chassidim. Mitnagdim. Every unit in Halacha class addressed the differing practices of the various Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities.

This is the lesson: We all had a place in Judaism. And most of the Judaic studies teachers I had were willing to sit and listen to you outside of class if you didn’t feel like you did.

Friends of mine who grew up outside the Orthodox world are frequently astonished to learn just how diverse Orthodox communities are. They’re often more astonished to discover that respect for diversity was something I learned in my yeshivah.

But here’s the problem: Sometimes, after you’ve given kids positive Jewish formative experiences, and taught them to be true to themselves, they go off and do things you don’t approve of.

Until this particular issue came up however, everyone was welcome at the high school reunion. There was no “tsitsiss check” or religious litmus test, no approved favorite movie or banned political opinion. People showed up, they brought guests, they shmoozed and ate and re-connected with their classmates. It didn’t matter what you named your kids. And it didn’t matter what halacha you may have broken in your life. Nobody asked you to testify as to which hashgacha certified your existence as kosher.

So when Mr. Eisenberg, the administrator, claims that “there are standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community. All of our graduates are welcome to attend our reunion but only those involved in recognized halachic relationships may register to attend as a couple,” I don’t buy it. The standards of halacha that guide the Orthodox community surely exist — but they cover a lot more than the gender of who you date and marry.

Modesty rules. Ethical business rules. Rules for sabbath observance. Sexual practices of heterosexual couples.

Would you like more examples?

Holiday celebrations. Mourning customs. Communal prayer.

The Flatbush administration has no answer for what makes homosexuality so different from other violations of Orthodox norms, that gay and lesbian alumni may not even be acknowledged to exist.

Is gay male anal sex prohibited by the Torah? Sure, but so is a man having sex with his menstruating wife, and no one has ever gotten kicked out of a reunion for that. And I’ve never heard of anyone – gay or straight – getting it on at their high school reunion.

What about lesbianism? According to the majority of halachic sources, anything two women might do sexually together is prohibited as pritsut (immodesty). Maybe Flatbush should start dis-inviting alumni whose Facebook profile pictures don’t conform to the school dress code, too.

All other prohibited sex acts between two Jews of the same gender occupy middle grounds of halachic severity. Sort of like muktzeh on Shabbos. Uh-oh, pet somebody’s dog on Saturday afternoon? Your presence at the “10-year” will be shameful to the school! The administration may deny that you ever attended!

So much for “Orthodox standards”.

On the other hand, there are many compelling reasons why Flatbush should have taken another path. As a Modern Orthodox institution, YOF supposedly believes in the value of secular knowledge. Every month, more data and reports are published by researchers exploring the biological basis of sexual orientation. We know that homosexuality is not something that can be chosen — shouldn’t that simple fact be cause for an approach based in empathy? Can you honestly blame someone for finding a partner who makes them happy, though they must violate halacha in the process, if their alternative is a life of solitude and loneliness? Agunot get all the sympathy in the world because they have no halachic way to get hitched. Mamzerim too. Consistency would dictate a similar attitude towards gays and lesbians.

Someone posted to the “Open Flatbush Reunions” Facebook protest group that the talmudic dictum “Whoever embarrasses his fellow in public, it as if he has committed murder” should have been heeded here.

Another imagined the scene among the Patriarchs in Canaan: When Avraham Avinu greeted visitors at his tent, did he check if they were homos first?

I wonder if the Flatbush administration thinks it can send 28-year-olds to detention. Someone who attends their 10-year reunion is looking to reconnect with peers. Or maybe show off a little. They’re not there seeking approval from Rabbi Levy, Mrs. Sanders, or any other principal.

As for me, one day I hope to be as lucky as the alumnus around whom this controversy started, with his iron self-confidence and his happy five-year relationship. I only began to come to terms with my own sexuality years after he did, when I’d already gone through most of my college career. It was a very difficult time for me, and I lost hope more than once that I’d make it out whole and content with myself. But among the thoughts and struggles, and the condemnations and resentments that churned through my mind, two memories from back in high school stood out. In a weird, strange way they were my first positive encounters with what it meant to be gay.

Number one: A chumash teacher of mine, addressing the famous verse in Vayikra “You may not lie with a man the layings of a woman” and some misconceptions about its implications, bellowed across the classroom to make sure he was understood: “Gay sex isn’t prohibited by the Torah because it’s ‘gross‘, or because it’s ‘dirty‘, or because ‘gays are bad‘. It’s prohibited by the Torah because it’s prohibited by the Torah — and you should always treat everyone with respect.

Number two: A classmate had returned from visiting colleges, and turned around to face another classmate who’d just made a (teenage-boy-typical) joke questioning another kid’s sexuality. “You’ve got to stop,” he said, “I was just up seeing a college and I made a joke just like that to someone. He actually was gay and he was insulted! You can’t say stuff like that to people.

Is it typical for a seventeen-year-old in the late 1990′s to have a better instinct for derech erets than a 50-year-old in the late 2000′s? If so, I’ve got faith for that coming future of rainbows and sunshine chugging down the line towards all of us. But I’m more inclined to believe, in my cynicism, that everyone is basically the same, and that the YOF administration is just playing politics, like every other communal institution. They don’t want to endanger funding from wealthy homophobes in the local Syrian community. Or engender more derision from the local Ashkenazi charedim, who always could be counted on to say that a co-ed school – where girls learned gemara, where most of the students went on to university, and which taught classes like Biology & Tanach as if they were serious subjects – “wasn’t a real yeshivah anyway”.

Back in the day, the Yeshivah of Flatbush was a revolutionary school. It was founded in the 1920′s, before almost every other jewish day school in the U.S. It was religious and Zionist before the State of Israel was even founded – and through the end of the century, when I attended, all religious classes were still taught exclusively in Hebrew, to students who had been taught to communicate in Hebrew. Y.O.F. was the first Orthodox school I know of to employ a female Talmud teacher, who herself was one of the first graduates of the Drisha Scholar’s Circle program. For a long time, not only was it the largest yeshivah day school in the western hemisphere, but an extremely high percentage of the student body had parents who were alumni, and who couldn’t imagine sending their children to another school, even if they had to be bussed in more than an hour each way from exotic Highland Park, New Jersey, or far-off Cedarhurst, Long Island.

After 80 prestigious years, you’d think the administration wouldn’t feel a need to whitewash their alumni’s biographies. A friend once quoted a Leonard Cohen song to me. Standing in the shy morning light, surrounded by chilly breezes and the smell of pine trees, she taught slowly, intently: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything — that’s how the light gets in.” In the end, all we’ve got left is truth and reality, and it’s only by being true to yourself – gay, straight, Jewish in an orthodox or heterodox way – and to the reality of the people your life has bound you to – children, parents, teachers, students, friends, coworkers – that you come into your own in dignity. I think my old high school could use a little more dignity right about now.

59 Responses to “Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics”

  1. This is definately a challenge for a lot of Jewish institutions.

    For example CHAT (the Community Hebrew Accademy of Toronto) is by far the largest Jewish highschool in Canada. They have students who range from totally secular to modern orthodox & modern ultra-orthodox.

    The school is supposedly for the entire community. But they refuse to teach about the plurality of Jewish thought outside of the orthodox faith. For example, when a rabbi is teaches about homosexuality or adoption they never mention that many streems of Judaism (Conservative, Reform, and some progressive Orthodox groups) reject the traditional halacha on this issue. Rather they simply teach the orthodox line.

    That is not community and that is not Klal Yisrael. If we are one people, then let us learn as one in honesty. Let the full breadth of Jewish thought be taught and debated. It can only serve to help us understand one another and grow stronger as a community.


    TomC · January 18th, 2008 at 12:03 pm
  2. TomC, was it really necessary to complain about your school? I think not. Sounds like you’re angry. You need to make a new blog and facebook protest group.


    Bobo · January 18th, 2008 at 12:18 pm
  3. To clarify, I spoke about CHAT specifically to point out that this is an issue that goes beyond one school.

    That said, I may have gotten carried away and written more than was needed to make my point. Apologies. It’s a passionate issue.


    TomC · January 18th, 2008 at 12:24 pm
  4. yasher koach :)


    rebecca m · January 18th, 2008 at 12:26 pm
  5. Please take note that the gay alumnus himself was not banned from the reunion. Actually, YOF went out of their way to make sure he knew he was welcome. YOF treated him with extraordinary respect. And the alumnus himself made this issue known, not YOF. YOF did not embarrass the alumnus but it sure looks like the alumnus tried to embarrass YOF.

    I think we can all acknowledge that no matter how you slice it, homosexual relationships are forbidden by halacha. Why would you expect an Orthodox institution that is under halachic auspices to welcome a homosexual partner to a reunion? Because it is a pioneering institution? DOes that mean that it should set aside its halachic standards? All the examples you gave, (women learning/teaching Talmud, teaching Ivrit b’Ivrit, Zionism) of YOF being a revolutionary school are instances of courage and forward-thinkingness, not condoning violations of halacha. Why would it be courageous to ask YOF to condone a very public violation of halacha? I think it’s courageous of them NOT to condone it, in the face of 21st century secular social values.

    As far as allowing other violators of halacha (people who don’t keep Shabbat or Taharat HaMishpacha) to attend their reunions, I think we need to resort to a little intellectual honesty here. Those halachic violators are not “in your face” or making any sort of statement like “Down with Shabbos and Mikvah.” Treating a homosexual partner like a spouse would be making a sociological statement that gay relationships were entitled to the same status as heterosexual relationships; and YOF was very clear that they were unwilling to make it. They are not saying that gay people are bad people (again, they clearly welcomed the alumnus); they were saying that they were not going to disavow the halachic issue.

    Please read my blog post at derechtaken.blogspot.com/2008/01/putting-orthodox-back-into-modern.html.

    Thanks.

    -WG


    WebGirl · January 18th, 2008 at 1:34 pm
  6. Terrific column.

    My own memories of the school are less rosy than yours – in large part due to what I remember as retrograde opinions among teachers and students on a variety of topics, including but not limited to homosexuality. (Other reasons I recall include a strong current of favoritism and nepotism that seemed to permeate everything the school did. I wonder how they would have reacted if the person in question was the son of a board member of major donor? Differently, I suspect.)

    I had rabbis who compared homosexuality to kleptomania as a disease that wasn’t necessarily its bearer’s fault. At the time, I was fairly sheltered and knew no gay people myself, but I felt an inherent need to object.

    15 years later, my circle of friends is more diverse and my feelings of shame at the school’s behavior more extreme. Given that this was a get-together and not some event halachic ritual, Flatbush could have handled this situation in a far more genteel and sensitive manner. I’m saddened but not at all surprised that they didn’t.


    Shari · January 18th, 2008 at 2:35 pm
  7. yasher koach indeed!


    jewandme · January 18th, 2008 at 3:12 pm
  8. WebGirl writes:
    Treating a homosexual partner like a spouse would be making a sociological statement that gay relationships were entitled to the same status as heterosexual relationships; and YOF was very clear that they were unwilling to make it.

    Does YOF allow alumni to bring unmarried opposite-sex partners to reunions?


    BZ · January 19th, 2008 at 11:28 am
  9. Does YOF inquire whether the hugging (hetero) couples have dunked before hugging?


    Amit · January 19th, 2008 at 12:35 pm
  10. Thanks for writing this, CW?, it’s always great to hear a personal connection to a story.

    WG wrote: I think we can all acknowledge that no matter how you slice it, homosexual relationships are forbidden by halacha.
    Well, no, that’s exactly the point: we cannot all agree on that. Different denominations have found halakhic permissions for homosexual relationships. And within Orthodoxy itself, there are varying opinions. It seems your comment is a quick reaction without reading the post, or the linked articles. Perhaps you’d benefit from reading “Wrestling With G-d” or seeing “Trembling Before G-d.”


    feygele · January 19th, 2008 at 4:13 pm
  11. WebGirl:

    All the examples you gave, (women learning/teaching Talmud, teaching Ivrit b’Ivrit, Zionism) of YOF being a revolutionary school are instances of courage and forward-thinkingness, not condoning violations of halacha.

    That’s a good point. And I would like to point out that nowhere did I claim that comtemporary Orthodox halacha contains any opinion that would render same-sex sexual acts muttar.

    What I was trying to say with the examples you quoted was only that Flatbush never used to be a place that was beholden to the status quo. Flatbush has the ability here to stand up and say that ahavat yisrael and derech erets are more important to them than jumping on the homophobia bandwagon. Their current policy amounts to a witch-hunt.

    Since when did “treating someone nicely” turn into “condoning their every action”? I remember being taught that you can (and SHOULD, in most cases) do one without the other.

    No one is demanding that Flatbush lie about halacha. We just think they could use a little menschlishkeit.


    chillul Who? · January 19th, 2008 at 6:32 pm
  12. BZ….according to the article in the JW, they allow alumni to bring fiances.

    Feygele….Forgive me for my lack of clarity. When I referred to “halacha” and “halachic,” I was referring to mainstream, normative Modern Orthodox halacha (i.e. let’s say the hashkafa of Yeshiva University or the RCA), since YOF is a mainstream, normative Modern Orthodox institution. Of course other denominations have found halachic accommodations to homosexuality. As far as the varying opinions within Orthodoxy, those who regard homosexuality as halachically acceptable do not fall from the majority mainstream spout and YOF can’t be held accountable to those hashkafot.

    As far as “Wrestling with God” or “Trembling Before God” go, they are pop-cultural works about the struggle that frum gay people have, trying to straddle two worlds. “Trembling Before God” was a good movie and it increased my awareness of this issue, but what does that have to do with halacha?

    Look, you can disagree with the halacha, and that’s fine; I respect your right to disagree with it. But it is what it is. You also have to respect YOF’s right to make this call.

    I really do believe this is all about mutual respect. Think of an Orthodox shul where some members drive to services on Shabbat. So the shul will say to them, ok, you want to violate halacha and drive to shul, that’s fine, you are very welcome to join us here, but the parking lot will still be closed on Shabbat. If you want to drive on Shabbat, respect the shul and park around the corner. It’s the same sort of thing. YOF is saying, do what you want, sleep with whomever you want, date whomever you want, we still respect and welcome you, but please respect us as well and leave your gay partner at home.


    WebGirl · January 19th, 2008 at 6:47 pm
  13. Thanks Shari for sharing your memories of h.s.
    I know that I tend to idealize things in my memory (“always look on the bright side of life” and all that), but these are the memories that have lasted for me. I benefited a lot as a kid from being a Flatbush student, but I know that there were plenty of crappy things about being in school there too.


    chillul Who? · January 19th, 2008 at 6:55 pm
  14. I just want to say that it was very painful for me to attend my YOF reunion without my partner. Everyone else introduced me to their spouses or showed me photos of their families but I felt I could not share my family with them. My partner lost out too because she did not get to learn about that part of my life. Their exclusion of my partner and my true life may have been for them a halachic policy decision but for me it accomplished making me invisible to people I was trying to be visible to after 25 years.

    It has been this policy that has prevented me from supporting my alma mater financially.

    At YOF we learned about Ahavat Yisrael, Hachnasat Orchim and the commandment not to embarrass others. These values should extend to my family and not just me. It is not clear to me why those principles are suddenly trumped by the rather minor rabbinic halacha forbidding lesbianism.


    Batshemesh · January 19th, 2008 at 10:18 pm
  15. WebGirl,
    thanks for speaking up. you’re saying what i wanted to, but better than i would have.

    we are talking about a normative halachic institution here. All of the heartfelt ideas here are indeed important, and for a teacher to bash guys is of course inapropriate, but if we changed our halacha based on contemporary feelings like the ones expressed here, we’d be… Conservative Jews. Sorry. The rules on homosexuality trouble me more than probably any other halacha, but as an Orthodox Jew I follow it. And I trust any institution who defines themselves as Orthodox to follow it. Bringing a gay partner is highly indicative that you are violating an issur d’oraita that carries the death penalty. I mean, how much more serious a halachic violation do we need until we stand up to secular morality? I agree with webgirl, i think that it’s highly courageous for a Modern Orthodox institution to take the steps that they did- including both inviting the alumnus, and not allowing the partner.


    BearsForIsrael · January 19th, 2008 at 10:33 pm
  16. Webgirl writes:

    “Those halachic violators are not “in your face” or making any sort of statement like “Down with Shabbos and Mikvah.”

    This is so often the argument: that homosexuals are “in your face” and should be excluded even if others who are violating halakhah are included. But let’s be intellectually honest here. Not every Shabbat or mikvah violator feels guilty or does their Orthodox-halakhah-violating behind the curtains. Many of them believe they are doing nothing wrong, and may even believe other Jews should follow their example. (Reform rabbis, for example, are not excluded from YOF reunions because of their beliefs or actions, nor are Conservative Jews who believe it is halakhically correct to drive a car on Shabbat.) The reason Sabbath violators don’t have a “movement” is not because they don’t believe in their right to have a haircut on Shabbat or have sex without benefit of mikvah (though it is true that Sabbath is not an identity issue as is one’s sexual orientation). It’s because doing things on Saturday, or not observing niddah, is perfectly normative in American society and they don’t _need_ a movement to be accepted. Further, those people might even be more problematic halakhically since they don’t have any biological pull toward the issur d’oraita _they’re_ violating. The idea that only queers are “in your face” is simply wrong.

    If the definition of “in your face” is what people can see during the YOF reunion, then if I am not having sex on the dance floor, I am no more in your face than anyone else at a YOF reunion.


    Yeilah · January 19th, 2008 at 11:00 pm
  17. Yeilah, you make some good points about the inconsistency of not excluding other “in-your-face” halachic violators such as people who are not Shomer Shabbos and who don’t keep Taharat HaMishpacha and might be very vocal about it. But remember, YOF did not exclude the gay alumnus from attending. And frankly, anyone who is “in your face” about violating halacha at the event of an Orthodox institution shouldn’t be there. If a Reform Rabbi attends a YOF reunion and starts preaching about how stupid Shabbos is and how misogynistic Taharat HaMishpacha is, he or she should be asked to leave. Respect the institution or don’t attend the event. Period. I recently attended a funeral at a Reform synagogue, and I didn’t go on about inappropriate it was to have mixed seating or music or flowers at a levaya. If I was really upset about those things, I wouldn’t go. It’s not my thing, but that’s my issue. When I am there, I respect the institution and their hashkafa. Why is it wrong to expect the same thing when the shoe is on the other foot?
    ———————————-
    Batshemesh, I am so sorry that you felt this pain. I mean that. It must be terribly challenging to be a gay woman in Orthodox Jewish circles. I actually feel a little bit of that type of pain when I attend yeshivish affairs and I am the only woman in the room above the age of 30 who is not married with kids. I know it’s not the same thing, but I can empathize with being an outsider. And there is nothing I can say to speak to that.

    But why do you say that “At YOF we learned about Ahavat Yisrael, Hachnasat Orchim and the commandment not to embarrass others…It is not clear to me why those principles are suddenly trumped by the rather minor rabbinic halacha forbidding lesbianism.” The Rabbinic halacha forbidding lesbianism is hardly minor. Just because it is not d’Oraisa in origin (as it is with gay men) doesn’t minimize it. You would be hard-pressed to find a Modern Orthodox rabbinic leader who would say that a lesbian lifestyle is halachically acceptable. And in what way were you embarrassed at your reunion? Did YOF point a finger at you in any way and make fun of you for your lifestyle? And were you not welcome at your reunion?
    ———————————-
    Bottom line—-I think that when you wash away all the p.c. platitudes of both sides of this matter, what emerges here is the underlying issue that YOF is a Modern Orthodox institution. If this were, say, the Mirrer Yeshiva that did not allow the alumnus to bring his homosexual partner along, I doubt anyone would blink an eye. But somehow, Jewish society-at-large expects MODERN Orthodox Jewish values to level off to secular Jewish values and feel some sort of outrage when halachic realities don’t allow for that. It’s a hard pill to swallow that the Modern Orthodox litmus test is not quantitatively modern (how far to the left can we push the envelope?), but qualitatively modern (does this practice really conflict with halacha or not?). As a Modern Orthodox Jewish woman, this distinction defines my Jewish practice and gives credibility to my hashkafa.


    WebGirl · January 20th, 2008 at 3:25 am
  18. Web Girl writes:
    BZ….according to the article in the JW, they allow alumni to bring fiances.

    Ok, so that dispenses with the “spouse” argument, or the “recognized halachic relationship” policy (assuming these fiances haven’t actually done erusin). And what about fiances who live together? Are they allowed to come to the reunions even though they are openly violating yichud, “in your face”?


    BZ · January 20th, 2008 at 7:27 am
  19. BearsForIsrael writes:
    All of the heartfelt ideas here are indeed important, and for a teacher to bash guys is of course inapropriate, but if we changed our halacha based on contemporary feelings like the ones expressed here, we’d be… Conservative Jews.

    I’m no fan of the Conservative movement either, but come on, you can do better. If you think something is wrong, then say why you think it’s wrong, rather than just implying that anything that Conservative Jews (or straw-man versions thereof) think is right is self-evidently wrong. Studies show that a majority of Conservative Jews also believe that 2+2=4. I hope that’s not sufficient reason for Orthodox Jews to believe otherwise.


    BZ · January 20th, 2008 at 7:31 am
  20. BZ, regarding the fiances point, aren’t you really splitting hairs here? Look, YOF made no secret about why they didn’t allow the gay partner to come to the reunion. YOF was simply not willing to make the social statement that gay relationships were halachically okay. They have no hidden agenda by allowing some people and not others. It’s kinda besides the point to try to find other exceptions to the “violation of halacha rule.” I don’t think people who are engaged to be married and living together are really trying to make any social statement about the halachic acceptability of their relationship.


    WebGirl · January 20th, 2008 at 8:22 am
  21. Chillul who: Wow. That was powerful on a lot of levels.

    1. You really summed up the situation well, as far as how a lot of us Y of F products feel about the reunion issues.

    2. About how I personally feel regarding the halacha and the reuinion problem – “Is gay male anal sex prohibited by the Torah? Sure, but so is a man having sex with his menstruating wife, and no one has ever gotten kicked out of a reunion for that.” – brilliant.

    3. The two anecdotes, really really important to tell and retell.

    Thanks for taking the time out to sum it up so well.


    Elie · January 20th, 2008 at 8:53 am
  22. YOF made no secret about why they didn’t allow the gay partner to come to the reunion. YOF was simply not willing to make the social statement that gay relationships were halachically okay.

    Does not compute. A does not imply B.

    When you have a family reunion, a neighborhood meeting, or a block party, does a guest’s presence mean that you are sanctioning their every action?

    This inability to think clearly about this topic or make logical analogies to other situations/issue is the number one flashing neon sign that there’s something homophobic in the air, not something halachic.


    chillul Who? · January 20th, 2008 at 9:01 am
  23. I don’t think people who are engaged to be married and living together are really trying to make any social statement about the halachic acceptability of their relationship.

    Once again, does not compute.

    Why is this so difficult to get? People who are gay and have boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses/partners AREN’T TRYING TO MAKE A STATEMENT. They do it because “Lo tov heyot adam levado” — human beings were built to need companionship. Do you honestly believe that a gay person would be straight (or celibate) if they weren’t “trying to push an agenda”?? That’s rediculous and offensive.

    Somebody asked me a question once, “How come, when a man & a woman hold hands on the street, they’re just expressing their love, but when two men or women hold hands they’re making a political statement about their sex life?” The answer is they’re not. You the bystander are projecting your assumptions and prejudices upon them. Because love is something that everyone can empathized with. Calling it a “political thing” is just a way to harden your heart, dehumanize, and ultimately make it impossible to relate to gays & lesbians as human beings instead of some kind of ideological enemy.


    chillul Who? · January 20th, 2008 at 9:10 am
  24. Webgirl, Chillul Who? already made this point, but I find it strange for you to argue that as long as a Reform rabbi doesn’t get on a soapbox and argue against Shabbat, he or she is not “making a point,” but I am making a point just by existing and being with my partner. I am not, in fact, making a point by attending a reunion. I am just sharing my partner’s life, which is what I normally do. If I made an impromptu speech about LGBT rights, I might expect the administration to be upset, but barring that, my existence shouldn’t be rendered invisible as if it is some kind of public expression of opinion.

    An ordinary Orthodox shul doesn’t prevent me from walking in simply because I walk in with my partner. Neither should YOF.


    Yeilah · January 20th, 2008 at 10:13 am
  25. Web girl, I appreciate your empathy. I am no longer Orthodox and have found a vibrant Jewish community that accepts me. I actually avoid non-pluralistic Orthodox communities because I prefer to be in spiritual communities that can love people even while maintaining their own religious commitments. I know this is not easy but I believe this is necessary for a compassionate and humble Judaism.

    I am not asking YOF to be less Orthodox. I am asking them to be more loving in their Orthodoxy. I have been in Orthodox environments (synagogues, etc.) where everyone knows the shul’s halakhic position but gay couples are not ostracized. It is hurtful that my alma mater, which was like a parental force in my life, cannot do the same.

    You seem to think that if YOF accepted me to the reunion then they accepted me period. But that is not true. Ishti k’gufi.


    Batshemesh · January 20th, 2008 at 11:08 am
  26. Ok, I’m going to step back.

    I’m not sure why the arguments are going this way, but I’m still going to address them because I think they are important. This is not about whether or not homosexuality is ok. This is not about whether or not homosexuality is a choice (personally, I don’t think it is). This is not about love. This is not any sort of judgment on gay lifestyles. This is not about ANY of those things. These questions are a hell of a lot bigger than the blogosphere.

    That homosexuality is forbidden by normative, mainstream Modern Orthodox halacha is not something I came up with. It’s not even something I’m happy with. It’s certainly something I struggle with, having a gay, frum friend, and seeing how tormented he is. The passion, frustration and sadness that comes out of the gay Jewish community is heartbreaking. I truly mean that. I have no words. But that’s not what this is about.

    This is about a private Jewish institution that is run under halachic auspices. You may think those halachot are unfair. You may think those halachot are being interpreted the wrong way. I genuinely respect your right to think that and all this dialogue is a good thing. When this institution has an event, it is entitled to abide by those halachot. Instead of accusing the institution of being homophobic, understand where it is coming from and respect that place.

    On a separate note, I am going to once again ask for intellectual honesty. Can you really tell me that there are no political overtones to this issue? That the issue of bringing a gay partner to an event is as completely apolitical as, say, not keeping Taharat HaMishpacha or not being Shomer Shabbat? That all of these issues are on equal apolitical footing? Can you really say that?

    Perhaps you are saying that in an ideal world, there shouldn’t be any politics connected to gay issues. I can understand that. But looking at the actual picture, is this truly the case?


    WebGirl · January 20th, 2008 at 12:10 pm
  27. BZ- i’m not saying that i think everything the Conservatives do we shouldn’t. I’m saying that just because modern orthodox jews are ‘modern’ doesnt mean they accept a secular view of halachah. i am pointing out that only conservative jews pretend to be following halachah while really are using secular values to promote halachic change- as opposed to using the ideas of judaism to think about what orthodoxy was really allowing in the first place, which is how the modern orthodox would like to think about it. (and don’t tell me it’s otherwise, i’m constantly around AJU rabbinical students and professors who are open in their claim that this d’oraita issue should be binding.) look, this whole discussion of halachah and homosexuality is completely dishonest. every time you bring up feelings, i feel bad, but then have to take a step back and say, with respect, this is the life i chose. it’s not the one you did, or the one you have to. but respect my choice, and respect the choice of the school. if you dislike what their doing, write letters, don’t give money- which is exactly what’s been hapening.


    BearsForIsrael · January 20th, 2008 at 1:26 pm
  28. I think a key question here is how are other non-halachically-acceptable spouses treated?

    If someone married a non-Jew (who did not convert) would that spouse be able to attend a reunion?

    If an agunah re-married anyhow in a civil ceremony or got a Reform rabbi to do it, would her husband be allowed to attend? (Or if a male student married an agunah….)

    What about if a Cohen married a divorcee? If someone married a non-orthodoxly-converted Jew-by-choice? If an otherwise acceptable marriage was presided over by a Reform rabbi in a ceremony that included unhalachic (by Orthodox standards) aspects?

    The alumnus was “welcome” to attend the event without his partner. So my question is, is their insistence on only attending with a halachically-approved spouse consistent? If so, then I think they have a firm policy which they are standing by, and people might like it or not like it, which is fine. But if they allow other non-halachically-acceptable spouses attend, and they are singling out this one issue, then that’s a more shameful situation in my opinion.


    curious · January 20th, 2008 at 2:49 pm
  29. Webgirl: You invite “intellectual honesty” and then ask “Can you really tell me that there are no political overtones to this issue? That the issue of bringing a gay partner to an event is as completely apolitical…” As I see it, it would even be more of a political statement for him to attend the event WITHOUT his partner. Attending solo would be a PUBLIC statement about shame and hiding (even if no one picked up on the statement being made – he and his partner would know), while attending the event with his partner is simply about bringing his full self to an important communal event.

    For me, I attend events of this kind in the Jewish world with my partner because I share my life with him. I was once invited to Shabbos dinner by a rabbi who asked if I could leave my partner at home so that he wouldn’t have to explain “it” to his kids. I didn’t want to bring my partner to his Shabbos table to make a political statement. I wanted to bring my partner because we always spend Shabbos together. That’s what couples and families do. It’s about love, not politics.


    Gregg · January 20th, 2008 at 6:57 pm
  30. WebGirl, why is it so easy for you to believe that an engaged couple that is living together and wants to attend a reunion together has no political agenda, but a gay couple that wants to attend a reunion together does? Am I misreading? Did you mean that it is simply more politically fraught for gay couples, or that their actions are more likely to be politically motivated?

    If the issue is the former, why should a mitzvot’s political importance affect who should be allowed to bring a partner?


    SarahChaya · January 21st, 2008 at 12:22 am
  31. BearsForIsrael writes:
    All of the heartfelt ideas here are indeed important, and for a teacher to bash guys is of course inapropriate, but if we changed our halacha based on contemporary feelings like the ones expressed here, we’d be… Conservative Jews.

    BearsForIsrael also writes: i’m not saying that i think everything the Conservatives do we shouldn’t. I’m saying that just because modern orthodox jews are ‘modern’ doesn’t mean they accept a secular view of halachah.

    Reaction:
    Long before there was a Conservative Movement – someone (could it have been Hazal reacting along with the people?) did not like the Torah prohibitions of the Rebellious Son (all but defined out of existence), the laws canceling debts in the 7th year (prozbul enacted), prohibition against loaning money to fellow Jews with interest (heter Iska), taking a eye for an eye (made it the value of an eye).

    Even today someone, not as I recall the Conservative rabbis, found a way around the Torah prohibition of Shmita – sell the land to non-Jews.(Similar solution for Hametz on Pesach and for neutering a pet).

    The idea of changing (reinterpreting) Halacha in reaction to contemporary feelings is as old as the Talmudic phrase “Puk Hazi” (Go out and see how the people in our communities act and feel).

    It is a failure of some in the Othodox world to embrace the principles that have always been a part of Halacha
    and yet criticize the Conservative Movement for adopting an approach that had always been normative.

    It may be that the process has been stretched at times in the Conservative world. Yet I, for one, am glad that we do not stone our rebellious children and I am glad that we can find a way to embrace Gays and Lesbians (note that none of the Tshuvot adopted by the Conservative world on the issue of homosexuality has yet permitted what the Torah seems to prohibit. None of the Tshuvot OKed anal sex).

    But keep in mind that Hazal also states “EIT Laasot Hefer Toratecha.” In crucial times we must defy the Torah and take the necessary actions.


    Reb Student in Israel · January 21st, 2008 at 5:56 am
  32. WebGirl writes:
    You also have to respect YOF’s right to make this call.
    and
    When this institution has an event, it is entitled to abide by those halachot.

    No one is questioning whether YOF has the right to do what it wants. If it were otherwise, we’d be hearing about a lawsuit rather than a Facebook petition. But that’s not the point.


    BZ · January 21st, 2008 at 6:07 am
  33. [...] a friend of mine wrote this post for Jewschool: Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshivah High School Reunion Politics. It’s a response, along with the Facebook petitioning that’s been going on, to a recent [...]


    On high school reunions, halacha, nostalgia and everything in between. « lizrael update · January 21st, 2008 at 10:39 am
  34. It sounds like a lot of YOF students are in favor of a more open, less discriminatory reunion. perhaps enough to organize a separate reunion on their own terms?


    sarah m · January 21st, 2008 at 11:51 am
  35. Great and passionate discussion! Just wanted to post a few relevant links:

    The ‘Open Reunions at Flatbush’ Facebook Group:
    harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=21124240888&ref=mf

    The ‘Open Reunions at Flatbush’ Online Petition:
    (Useful if you lack facebook.)
    www.ipetitions.com/petition/openreunions/

    The ‘Open Reunions’ Facebook group (for students/alums/affiliates of any school, wanting to express support for the Open Reunions concept):
    harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7373088426


    Erez · January 21st, 2008 at 12:22 pm
  36. So let it be stated for the record that WG has compared a flesh-and-blood human being to a car.


    B.BarNavi · January 21st, 2008 at 1:32 pm
  37. Reb Student,
    Please don’t bring the conservative Tshuva into this, because it’s pretty unrelated- that being despite that fact that people on the law committee like Brad Artson DO in fact think that homosexual sex isn’t an issur d’oraita.
    I love it that Conservative Jews bring out the same tired examples of how the Orthodox are hypocrites by wanting to change things back in the day but not now… but a number of those things, like rebellious son are in the Gemara, which I, if not you, hold is part of the God-given Torah. Yeah, the pruzbull is a rabbinic workaround, and i’d by lying if i said i’d studied it in depth… but yet again, are we violating a ‘toevah’ with a death penalty violation by doing that? i dunno. also, with due respect to the conservative law committee, Gaonim they are not. and in terms of the modern day shmitta stuff… i’m the wrong person to talk to about this, because i’m one of the few modern orthodox jews who’s not a religious zionist.
    Damn, fine, I’ll talk about the t’shuva. As my Orthodox rabbi would say, it’s unrealistic. It says that gay people can do everything BUT sex. And high schoolers can freak dance with each other and not mess around. right. But even more distressing about the t’shuva seems to be this notion that all d’rabbanan prohibitions can be swept aside if we feel like that. have fun with that.


    BearsForIsrael · January 21st, 2008 at 2:29 pm
  38. The YoF response should be understood as part of a generational shift in attitudes toward gays. “Is it typical for a seventeen-year-old in the late 1990’s to have a better instinct for derech erets than a 50-year-old in the late 2000’s?” You betcha!

    About a dozen years ago, an article published by the Orthodox Union said that opposition to homosexuality was a tactically wise approach, which would bring disgruntled Conservative and Reform Jews into the Orthodox fold. American Jews didn’t like the hardline Orthodox approach to Shabbat and kashrut, the article argued, but they would appreciate the hardline stance against gays.

    To the credit of everyone, except for the authors of this piece, this didn’t happen. When Orthodox leadership wanted to take a stand against letting Congregation Bet Simchat Torah march in the Salute to Israel parade, the rank-and-file parents of yeshiva students couldn’t understand the fuss: How is a gay shul any more treif than a Reform temple?

    I suspect that YoF is getting far more flack than they anticipated. They’re not going to back down publically at this point, but I suspect they’ll make sure this isn’t an issue five years from now.


    Reb Yudel · January 21st, 2008 at 2:30 pm
  39. but a number of those things, like rebellious son are in the Gemara, which I, if not you, hold is part of the God-given Torah.

    Which Gemara manuscript is the God-given one? And since Rashi, the Rif, etc., all had different versions of the text, which of them was the biggest kofer?


    BZ · January 21st, 2008 at 6:13 pm
  40. Re: politics, one has to understand that if a GLBT person wants the right to be by his or her partner’s bed in the hospital, that is regarded as “political” by some folks in this country, or even as “having an agenda,” even though it’s really a matter of basic human decency. So, while I understand this is a controversial issue for YOF and sympathize with their plight (re. donors, halakhic viewpoint, etc.), I can’t regard a potential guest and his/her same-sex partner as “political.”

    Re: revelation: Even according to the standpoints I have seen in the Talmud itself, the entire Gemara (as opposed to the fuzzily defined “oral law” which is given in statements throughout the Talmud) was not given by the Kadosh Baruch Hu, unless you hold that all comments ever made by a student of Torah are actually from Sinai, as the midrash says. If the Gemara was supposed to be a Divinely revealed text, it would not constantly record disagreements about the law. Yet I’ve seen people go even farther than BearsforIsrael and suggest that Genesis Rabbah was also given by God and therefore no one is allowed to disagree with a rabbinic midrash. Parts of the Orthodox world continue to add more and more stuff to what is “revealed and unchangeable,” thereby proving the opposite point: what is revealed and unchangeable doesn’t seem to be so unchangeable.


    Yeilah · January 21st, 2008 at 6:46 pm
  41. B.BarNavi, let it be stated for the record that I have no idea what the hell you are talking about. If you are trying to insult me, please don’t even bother explaining, k? This is supposed to be a peaceful, respectful exchange of ideas. Do you hear me insulting or belittling anyone who disagrees with me? Back off.

    BZ…point well taken about the “right” and you’re right, that isn’t the argument. I guess I’m saying that we should respect that right and respect where YOF is coming from and why they did what they did.

    Sarah M, I actually thought of that too, having the alumni organize the reunion instead of the school…as long as it’s not a competing reunion but the only reunion, I think that’s a great solution. If it’s a competing reunion, that could get very divisive.

    SarahChaya: “WebGirl, why is it so easy for you to believe that an engaged couple that is living together and wants to attend a reunion together has no political agenda, but a gay couple that wants to attend a reunion together does? Am I misreading? Did you mean that it is simply more politically fraught for gay couples, or that their actions are more likely to be politically motivated? If the issue is the former, why should a mitzvot’s political importance affect who should be allowed to bring a partner?”

    What I’m saying is that for any Orthodox yeshiva to allow an alumnus to bring his gay partner to a reunion is a political statement by that yeshiva. It shouldn’t be that way in an ideal world, but it is that way in this one.

    Gregg: “It’s about love, not politics.”

    Actually, this issue is not about love. It’s about halacha. And unfortunately, it’s also a little about politics. I refuse to debate this point from an emotional point of view…the Yeshivah wasn’t thinking about love when they vetoed the gay partner. They were thinking about halacha and the public statement that they would be making by allowing him to attend.

    If you are saying that you go places with your partner because you love him, not to make a political statement, then my response is that I get it and respect that. But that’s from your pov as an indiviual, not the Yeshivah’s. The Yeshivah is not one individual; it’s an institution.

    Curious-
    You bring up an interesting point. I have an acquaintance who is an agunah. We are talking a horrible case here…her husband beat her and has been withholding the get for years. She cannot go on any religious singles shabbatonim or attend frum singles parties that are run by Jewish organizations, because every time she has tried to do so, she has gotten rejected, since she is halachically married. She cannot join Frumster or SYAS. It’s terribly unfair. Believe me, there is no person of sanity whose heart doesn’t break when he hears about her case, but unfortunately, halacha is what it is, and she is an eishet ish. It’s something to think about when trying to sort out the YOF issue. I guess my point is, sometimes halacha is really hard and unfair. But that doesn’t mean you can set it aside. Individuals can but not institutions.

    Yeilah-
    LGBT Rights is a cause/political movement. Chillul Shabbat is not a cause/political movement. Not keeping Taharat HaMishpacha is not a cause/political movement.

    chillul Who?:”What I was trying to say with the examples you quoted was only that Flatbush never used to be a place that was beholden to the status quo. Flatbush has the ability here to stand up and say that ahavat yisrael and derech erets are more important to them than jumping on the homophobia bandwagon. Their current policy amounts to a witch-hunt. Since when did “treating someone nicely” turn into “condoning their every action”? I remember being taught that you can (and SHOULD, in most cases) do one without the other. No one is demanding that Flatbush lie about halacha. We just think they could use a little menschlishkeit.”

    What does this mean in practical terms? I don’t understand what you are suggesting. I think using “a little menschlichkeit” is a very subjective notion.

    Again, I can’t argue this from an emotional place. I’m sure that this alumnus’ partner is a very nice person, so emotionally, of course I want the partner to come to the reunion. But this is not about emotion. This is about YOF as a halachic institution (broken record I am, I know). you simply cannot expect a halachic institution to publicly acknowledge a relationship that goes against halacha, even if someone gets insulted by that.


    WebGirl · January 21st, 2008 at 6:50 pm
  42. This is a beautiful post. So sensitive. The suicide rate in the gay and lesbian community is significantly higher than in the straight community. Children who have to run from home are called “throw-aways.” And then there’s this movement to “correct” them. I think this word, “gay”, is a real misnomer, if not intentional like referring to prostitution as holy. Being gay is anything but gay.


    therapydoc · January 21st, 2008 at 8:16 pm
  43. If this was about YOF making sure that it does not recognize Halichicly Impermissible Relationships (call them HIRs) then what would have happened would have been different. Since not all people (even among the Modern Orthodox!?) agree on what is and is not an HIR the YOF would write a pamphlet on its standards. The pamphlet would be sent to alumni with the reunion invitation. Then, YOF would make a blanket statement that no alumna/us would be permitted to bring a date with whom she/he is partnered in an HIR.

    Clearly that is not what they did, and it is not what they intended to do. This is not about YOF not wanting to recognize HIRs. This is about YOF not wanting to recognize only a very small subset of HIRs: homosexual relationships.

    That the sex act assumed to be included in the male form of this HIR is referred to as a toayvah does not make it its own class of HIR. There are other commonplace HIRs that are chayav mitah. Lesbian couples and gay couples who swear to never have anal sex are being discriminated against just as much as gay couples who have no problem having anal sex. This is NOT a special HIR. This is just special discrimination.

    If YOF wanted to be sure not to condone all HIRs this would be a question of halacha or maybe a question of nosiness. As it stands, it is an issue of homophobia.

    This is not a halachic issue, but it is a political issue. It is not political because when a homosexual brings her/his significant other to a reunion she/he is demanding that the institution condone the relationship. It is a political issue because “political” in this case means that it has been previously singled out by others in previous instances of anti-homosexual bias. Would allowing homosexuals to bring their partners to reunions be consistent with YOFs current stand on all other halachic issues other than on the issue of homosexuality? Yes. Would YOF be seen as less of a halachic institution if they allowed homosexuals to bring their partners? Maybe. So the question is, is it appropriate for the YOF to discriminate based on sexual orientation in order to curry favor with or validate other people who are anti-homosexual.


    SarahChaya · January 21st, 2008 at 10:02 pm
  44. I wasn’t “lucky” enough to attend a Jewish high school. We moved a lot and my folks couldn’t afford to live in Jewish neighborhoods or even send me to Hebrew school while I was growing up.

    I wound up going to public high school in a semi-rural Oregon town where my sister and I were the only Jewish kids. I was surrounded by evangelical Christian students who were all laying bets to see who could convert me first. High school sucked for the most part, but it also helped me to get really clear on who I was and how I wanted to live when I got far enough away from it all, in both distance and time. When I graduated, I could count the people I would genuinely miss on one hand.

    I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with my class president (the lead organizer of our reunion) when I received an invitation to our ten-year reunion. Homophobic in high school, “Tom” admitted that his wife had helped him have a “change of heart” about gays and about acceptance of other kinds of people in general. He thanked me for my candor, and advised me to remember that many in our class had never left our small-minded town. “I and my wife would be happy to see you and meet your girlfriend,” he said, “but maybe you shouldn’t tell anyone where you park.”

    My classmate’s candor in turn was a gift. It helped me to decide that there wasn’t really any compelling reason for me to go to this, or any, reunion. I closed the door on the school and the town and haven’t missed anything by doing so.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been truly blessed to find my place in a warm, loving, caring Jewish community which celebrates me and the gifts I bring — and who gathered to celebrate my marriage to my partner almost five years ago, with my rabbi’s blessing. Getting clear can be painful, but it sure makes it easier to know how and where you want to give of your money, time and energy in this life.

    If you can’t feel good about supporting an institution financially because they don’t endorse a more open, accepting attitude, then that administration has brought it on themselves and you shouldn’t feel the least bit conflicted about walking away. At least I wouldn’t. There are too many good organizations, communities and just plain good people out there in need of your energy who would welcome you with open arms, to spend too much time pining for acceptance from a community where you may well die holding your breath while you wait for them to change.


    beth · January 21st, 2008 at 10:21 pm
  45. WebGirl writes:
    B.BarNavi, let it be stated for the record that I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.

    I believe B.BarNavi was referring to this passage:

    Think of an Orthodox shul where some members drive to services on Shabbat. So the shul will say to them, ok, you want to violate halacha and drive to shul, that’s fine, you are very welcome to join us here, but the parking lot will still be closed on Shabbat. If you want to drive on Shabbat, respect the shul and park around the corner. It’s the same sort of thing. YOF is saying, do what you want, sleep with whomever you want, date whomever you want, we still respect and welcome you, but please respect us as well and leave your gay partner at home.


    BZ · January 22nd, 2008 at 12:08 am
  46. BZ, thanks for clarifying. B.BarNavi, allow me to introduce you to the concept of an analogy.

    Good grief.


    WebGirl · January 22nd, 2008 at 5:27 am
  47. BearsForIsrael writes: Please don’t bring the conservative Tshuva into this… people on the law committee like Brad Artson DO in fact think that homosexual sex isn’t an issur d’oraita.

    Reaction:
    It was YOU who brought up the issue of how the Conservative Movement relates to Halacha. Look at YOUR post. YOU made the following statement before I posted anything on the subject:

    “but if we changed our halacha based on contemporary feelings like the ones expressed here, we’d be… Conservative Jews”.

    I only reacted to your statement by pointing out that Judaism’s history, going back to Talmudic times and up through present times,has taken contemporary feelings into account when interpreting Halacha. I presented about eight examples. YOU chose to focus on the Gay issue which hardly received an emphasis (although I did touch on the subject).

    Indeed, I stand by my assertion that Orthodox rabbis found a way around the laws of Shmita, neutering pets, having Hametz in the home on Pesach, and more. They certainly took contemporary feelings into account. You chose to focus on the mention of Gays and maybe you need to ask yourself why that stuck out in your reading of a post that was really about the idea that what you attribute to the Conservative Movement I hold is basic to Jewish law through all times.

    I would add that it is really unfortunate when one forms an opinion on the basis of false information, facts, and premises.

    Brad Artson is NOT on the Law Committee. His name was Not attached to any of the Tshuvot that were approved.

    Yes, his ideas are, perhaps, more progressive than some on the Law Committee but then there is autonomy of thought in the Conservative Movement (even while conforming to decisions that one may follow despite wishing they were more progressive). Just as is the case with many Orthodox rabbis.


    Reb Student in Israel · January 22nd, 2008 at 6:08 am
  48. Reb Student in Israel writes:
    Indeed, I stand by my assertion that Orthodox rabbis found a way around the laws of Shmita, neutering pets, having Hametz in the home on Pesach, and more. They certainly took contemporary feelings into account.

    I don’t know anything about neutering pets, but Hillel (who came up with the prozbul), whoever came up with mechirat chametz, etc., were not Orthodox rabbis. “Orthodox” Judaism (as well as the other contemporary denominations) didn’t exist before the 19th century.


    BZ · January 22nd, 2008 at 9:02 am
  49. There are a some halachic considerations that should be governing any discussion of Jewish couples, of whatever orientation. There is a principle of tzniut, modesty — “everyone knows why the bride enters the chuppa, but whoever discusses it merits a decree of 7 bad years.” And there is the principle of dan l’kav z’chut — we must strive to put every person’s actions in the best possible interpetation.

    There are some couples who fulfill all of the halahic sexual restrictions, Biblical and Rabbinic; some who fulfill none; and some who are strict with the Biblical prohibitions and ignore the Rabbinic prohibitions. (Personally, I consider that third category under-rated and no-doubt under-reported). Without piercing the halachicly-mandated veil of modesty, we have no way of making a halachic judgment on any relationship. For YoF or others to argue that a same-sex relationship is halachically impermissible, then, is itself a halachically impermissible judgment.


    Reb Yudel · January 22nd, 2008 at 1:03 pm
  50. BZ writes:I don’t know anything about neutering pets, but Hillel (who came up with the prozbul), whoever came up with mechirat chametz, etc., were not Orthodox rabbis. “Orthodox” Judaism (as well as the other contemporary denominations) didn’t exist before the 19th century.

    I quite agree. Look at my first post. That was my point. The process of change and reinterpretaion( while taking into account the community’s feelings and action)has gone back, at least, to the time of HAZAL. It continued with Orthodox rabbis (although it has slowed in many Orthodox circles today).

    I did not mean to imply that Hillel was Orthodox. The Orthodox “Movement” is the newest of the big three (please don’t spam me-I appreciate Recon,Alef, and other Movements). It came about in Germany in reaction to Gieger and, to some degree Frankel.

    In the States it was a reaction to Reform (following disappointment with the reactionof others that brought about the founding of JTS).

    To change the subject for a moment (sorry to the Flatbush people for the digression) I would like t say that in a time of the recreation of a Jewish state we need to find a better solution than selling our lands, Hametz, and pets to non-Jews. This may have been fine for diaspora living – but I am sure rabbis can do better.


    Reb Student in Israel · January 22nd, 2008 at 2:54 pm
  51. [...] best response I’ve seen so far is on Jewschool, where a gay alum of the Yeshiva of Flatbush writes about why and how the school is being [...]


    Your Moral Leader » No Gay Partners At Yeshiva Of Flatbush Reunion · January 24th, 2008 at 2:11 pm
  52. I just found this blog entry and would like to begin by saying how refreshing it was to read such a well reasoned and written piece about such a sensitive topic.
    I am also a YOF alumnus who in no way agrees with or supports the exclusion from reunions of any graduate’s partner because of his or her sexual orientation. I think it is wrong and bigoted. I do, however, understand why an institution, which prides itself on following a bigoted halacha, would act in such a way without necessarily being homophobic.
    While I think there is legitimacy to the argument that YOF should not discriminate between which halachically proscribed relationships/ lifestyles (mihalel shabbos, eating non-kosher, etc.) it discriminates against, I do think it is dishonest to say that homosexual relationships do not fall into a unique category.
    When a graduate brings his or her same-sex partner to a reunion, everybody there knows that the two are engaged in a halachically forbidden relationship. While it is possible to offer “kosher” explanations of what the same-sex guest is doing there (they are roommates or really, really good friends), a consequence of America’s coming to terms with homosexuality is that people simply don’t find such stories at all plausible anymore.
    Contrarily, when it comes to all the other examples that have been given (prohibited heterosexual relationships, non-observance of ritual halacha, etc.), nothing about the graduate’s or graduate’s partner’s presence at the reunion makes it at all obvious that s/he is engaged in anything halachically proscribed. Both the shomer shabbos and pork-eating alumni wear a kippah at the reunion. The unmarried couple who lives together looks no different from the engaged couple sitting next to them. While one could argue that a married woman who comes to the reunion without a head covering is in a similar situation as the gay partner, the unfortunate difference is that without asking, it is impossible to know whether she is married, engaged, or in a relationship heading in that direction (This, by the way, is also an often overlooked difference between unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples. While it can be suggested that neither engages in any sort of sexually intimate acts, the heterosexual couple can one day have a halachically permissible sanction to physically share their love, while the homosexual couple cannot. As such, it is often assumed that while the heterosexual couple can merely wait it out, there is no way the homosexual couple would wait for something which will never come).
    As I see it, the bottom line is that YOF has its own bigoted version – ironically – of the US military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Basically, any alumnus may come to the reunion with his/her partner as long as the relationship can be reasonably explained by the outside viewer as being halachically permissible and the graduate does not make a point of flaunting the contrary.
    Unfortunately, gay and lesbian graduates do not have this option because the obviousness of their halachically proscribed relationships are not something they can choose to hide if they bring their same-sex partners to reunions.
    I am deeply saddened that YOF has chosen to adopt such a policy but I cannot say that I think it is arbitrarily picking against whom it discriminates. The fact, however, that such a policy can be justified by a halachic institution in no way obviates it from grappling with all the homophobia that pervades the Orthodox (and entire) world.


    surprised? · January 28th, 2008 at 2:33 am
  53. nitpicking again:
    surprised wrote:
    “Both the shomer shabbos and pork-eating alumni wear a kippah at the reunion.”
    well, no. While you might not bother to attend a Torah VaDaas reunion without a yarmulka,
    plenty of people come as themselves to Yof F reunions. That means without yarmulkas (although, obviously, you can be a perfectly religious SY without a kippah), with non- Jewish spouses, with well-known “transgressions” involving famous careers.
    I appreciated your point, it was interesting.
    Nonetheless I feel like something is wrong here. I cannot put my finger on it without just saying outright ‘rechilut’ about what I saw there as a student (and I am trying not to do that).
    I just never got the feeling that one could convince administrators (and some teachers) to stop doing something merely because it was halachically problematic. I will think about how better to phrase this sense I have, but in the meantime, the above sentence is the best I can do to explain to WebGirl why this seems “convenient” rather than just an Orthodox school doing things the Orthodox way.
    sorry this went on to long!


    lizzy · January 28th, 2008 at 10:45 pm
  54. I think the key point here is not whether or not homosexual conduct is prohibited by the Torah, but why this particular “sin” is elevated to such an extreme level. Nowhere in the Bible does it lay out a hierarchy of sin — so why should this one transgression (if you view this as a transgression, which as a gay man with a strong connection to his ancestors, personally I do not) take such a central position in this world? That’s the real issue here, and it’s something that Foucault recognized over a century ago, that society’s homophobia is not a hallmark of prudeness, but instead reveals a latent obsession with private, sexual relations.

    Until your school prohibits anyone who had a cheeseburger for lunch from coming to the reunion, they are hypocrites, plain and simple.


    Jonah K. Haslap · February 26th, 2008 at 8:16 pm
  55. hey everyone,

    I’m a Flatbush grad here and since the issue pretty much passed this probably won’t be read much but i’ll comment anyway. First off, I was orthodox and stopped being orthodox because of the hateful things teachers said. Some people there should not have been allowed to teach. While diversity of opinion is indeed important, lack of empathy or enlightenment towards reality should not be tolerated in teachers. In terms of homosexuality, people are people, some are gay, others straight, others bi-sexual, people for the most part have no control over their sexuality and while you may disagree with their lifestyle, you should not judge it. G-d created some people gay so deal with it and don’t pretend it doesn’t exist – all you do is anger people who are rooted in reality and show that you are intolerant and do not acknowledge the facts of life – or care about them. This policy hurt alumni – bottom line. Do onto others as you wish others to do onto you.

    Richie


    Richie Hecker · March 9th, 2008 at 1:28 am
  56. This whole controversy is much to do about nothing. I probably have more criticisms of the school than most people, having been an alumnus and a parent of a student but HERE THEY ARE RIGHT.
    The school is an ORTHODOX Yeshiva Day School. The rule is what the rule is, and whether we like it, or find it to be politically correct is not the debate here. The school abides by ORTHODOX Jewish doctrine, and those that attend the school, or send their children to the school know in advance what the schools policies are going to be.
    Are there many NON shomer shabbat people, non keeping kosher people involved with the school. ABSOLUTELY, but the school is not required to open on Saturday, or serve or allow them to bring to the school non kosher items. The same rule applies here. If the young man in question chooses to live an alternative lifestyle, that is his right as a human being. IT IS NOT the schools responsibility to welcome his life-partner to a school function when that very relationship goes against the schools principles.
    Additionally, there are VERY few people complaining about the Yeshiva’s actions. Those on this and other boards represent a very small percentage of the total alumni of the school.


    Jeffrey Krantz · March 23rd, 2008 at 9:38 pm
  57. [...] and Hypocrisy: Yeshiva Edition Yanked from Jewschool, a guest post by chillul Who?, who may or may not reveal his LJ persona [...]


    Homophobia and Hypocrisy: Yeshiva Edition « Oy is Yo, Backwards · March 27th, 2008 at 11:45 pm
  58. Do they probihbit a non-Jewish opposite sex spouse at the reunion? What about visible tatoos? If this individual showed up alone, would he be told that he’s not allowed to speak of his relationship? Would somebody who had “gender reassignment” surgery be prohibited from attending (alone)? All these are halachic violations that are “obvious.”


    Shlomo · April 22nd, 2009 at 7:57 am
  59. We are talking about REUNIONS here, not halacha. We go to a reunion to see our old classmates with whom we may or may not have remained friends with. For me it’s about the people we went to school with and the choices they made in their lives that they choose to share with their former classmates. If they think it’s important to bring a significant other to the party that should be their right. What if a classmate married out? In other words she married a GOY! Hey it happens. Does she have the right to bring her Black movie star husband to the reunion? It’s her life and if she wants to share her choices with the rest of us so be it. It doesn’t mean the school okays mixed marriages. If a classmate married a Reform Jewess who is now a RABBI should that be deemed unacceptable? I have just received my invite to the 50th of the class of ’63. To the alumni committee it seems to be another chance at FUND RAISING. Sell the school and ask for a handout. Leave your dough to the school seems to be the message, or at least a nice, fat donation. My opinion is that the reunion should just be for fun, no politics, no judgments. And no appeals for handouts. And certainly each person should have the right to bring a date, spouse or not, irrespective of race or religion. It’s a REUNION not a REFERENDUM.


    Ray Antoky · April 10th, 2013 at 9:15 pm

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