Our local “Jewish” weekly newspaper has gotten itself into a pickle of its own making. Several weeks ago, it decided to publish in its wedding section a notice (with picture) of two beaming Jewish males who are “marrying” each other in a ceremony next month. This provoked a storm of criticism from the Orthodox and traditional communities, and – to their credit – the editors of the “Jewish Standard” retracted, sort-of apologized, committed never to do it again, and all in the name of Jewish unity.
The storm subsided, and the tsunami was unleashed – a deluge (think Noach’s flood) of disparagement and condemnation by the non-Orthodox, leftist, and secular wings of the Jewish world, along with the homosexual lobby that went so far as to link the retraction to the unfortunate suicide last week of an outed Rutgers student as another example of “intolerance.” Since the legitimization of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is one of the most pervasive causes reported today (under the guise of civil rights), journalists have been swooping down all week from across the world on our fair township. I have been called by six reporters – print and electronic media – to comment, which I have not, until now. What to make of this spectacle ?
The “Standard” is a typical “secular” Jewish weekly. Its style and substance is non-Orthodox (occasionally anti-), and its politics are decidedly left-wing – pro-Democrat, pro-Oslo, pro-abortion, etc. – and the Torah’s views on any issue are assumed to correspond to those of the New York Times’ editorial page. Most people receive the paper because they donate to the local Federation, which deducts a portion of their contribution and forwards it to the paper (and some shuls and temples apparently do the same). In return, the Standard disseminates information about Federation campaigns, fund-raisers and other events.
I have not read the paper in over a decade, having tired of the simplistic liberalism that informed every commentary, embarrassed by the anti-Torah screeds that were presented as legitimate, Jewish points of view, uncomfortable by the reporting of matters so indecent that I would not have wanted my young children to see it, and not least of all, disgusted by the constant mischaracterization of my views and opinions when I was interviewed. For a decade, I have adhered to an unwavering policy of not returning their phone calls, and not responding beyond “no comment” when they accidentally caught me. In a word, boycott, and I have publicly urged my congregants to do the same. Some listen, some don’t, and that’s life. Somehow, I don’t lack for information on community events by not reading that paper, and, for years, when people have complained to me about this or that offensive item, I have smiled and explained patiently that “I don’t read that paper, nor should you. And if you did not read it, you would not be so agitated now.”
That is how I reacted when the publication of the “wedding” announcement was brought to my attention by several distressed congregants. I simply did not know – or frankly, care – whether the Standard printed such announcements, and was even a little surprised that they had not done so in the past. I was even more pleasantly surprised when they retracted after the initial onslaught, for they have not always shown the greatest deference to Orthodox sensibilities in the past.
There is logic, not to mention good taste, in their retraction. The Standard, I am told, does not print intermarriage announcements, and therefore can simply enunciate a policy that it does not celebrate any union that violates the Torah – a clear and consistent course of action.
The second (nuclear)explosion now has the Standard scrambling for an effective and cogent response, assuming they don’t retract their retraction. It is an unenviable position: on the one hand, a second retraction will likely lead to mass cancellations among the Orthodox population that still reads it, as it should, and that decline in circulation will certainly affect their advertising rates. On the other hand, their base has always been the non-Orthodox community whose commitment to Torah and Jewish causes is waning from generation to generation, and who now perceive the right of homosexuals to equal treatment across the board as a sacrament.
And they are in a tizzy for a number of reasons. Aside from the blather about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the like (which liberals have taken to applying with great selectivity these days) their discontent is grounded in several contentions: firstly, that the Standard has never hesitated to advertise anti-Torah messages, from non-kosher restaurants to programs that desecrate Shabbat and other holy Jewish institutions; secondly, their newfound piety is just pandering to the Orthodox at the expense of the unity and happiness of the broader Jewish community; and finally, and quite naturally, the issue for some always boils down to the question: why are the Orthodox trying to squelch the true and genuine love of two men for each other ? Can’t they just live and let live ? Who could be against love ?
Well, that is not quite the issue, and the analogy to intermarriage is compelling. The latter also involves forbidden love that is repugnant to the Torah, and should not be legitimated in Jewish life notwithstanding its prevalence. One who aspires to Jewish standards (pardon the pun) should naturally embrace the Torah’s standards of right and wrong, of the permissible and the forbidden. As such, although the Standard’s acceptance of advertising of a variety of sins is lamentable, that – a $$$ issue, after all – is not at all similar to the celebration of a marriage that is antithetical to Torah and the death knell of Jewish continuity. Nor is that “pandering” to the Orthodox; it is merely the recognition that, like it or not, the Orthodox bear the burdens (and privileges) of the preservation of Torah and Jewish life. We are carrying the water (good pun – “there is no water like Torah” [Bava Kamma 17a]) for the rest of Klal Yisrael. Without exaggeration: but for Orthodox Jewry, Torah and the Jewish people would be lost within a generation – and that is why we should be “pandered to” in this matter, in kashrut, in conversion, in areas of marriage and divorce, and on any question of elementary morality and Torah tradition.
The anguished left claims that the Standard is not representative of the Jewish community because homosexuals are also part of the community and have a right to be treated as such. But not everything that a Jew does is necessarily “Jewish.” We have our share (hopefully, small) of misfits, murderers, thieves, perverts, gangsters and miscreants of all sorts – but nothing they do in the satisfaction of their desires is “Jewish” such that it deserves recognition and acclaim by the Jewish community. Newspapers often detail the sins and failings of man – but they need not celebrate them. These types of announcements are celebrations of sin, and so have no place in any organ that carries “Jewish” on its masthead, or seeks to uphold a “Standard” of any level.
The “Standard” now runs the risk of alienating at least one major demographic group in Jewish life. They could have dodged this bullet entirely by consulting a friendly Orthodox Rabbi, who could have advised them of the likely reaction in our community. They could have rejected the announcement, but for the allure of appearing trendy and progressive and hip to the contemporary immoral norms. They could maintain the high road of tradition, or they can cave before the fusillade of leftist anger and recriminations and proclaim to all the vacuousness of the “Torah” professed in the non-Orthodox world.
In a sense, they are hoist on their own petard, with the conceptual flaw that is the undercurrent of every movement outside the Torah framework: in any cultural conflict, whose will prevails – G-d’s or man’s ? Which should take precedence in American Jewish life – the norms of the Torah or the US Constitution ? Whose word is more relevant in modern Jewish life – Rabbi Akiva’s or Thomas Jefferson’s? The Standard has customarily chosen man, the Constitution, and Jefferson – and now is entrapped in the consequences of those choices that afforded its readership the expectation of continued, slavish adherence to modernity at the expense of tradition.
They need a Houdini-like escape from the ideological shackles in which they are chained, and I await with fascination their response to the outcry on the left. They have a great opportunity to send a message that the Torah is the heritage of all Jews – whether embraced fully or not, and whatever the personal level of observance, and thereby sanctify G-d’s name. I hope they seize that opportunity and remind the world that the Jewish people, after all, do have standards that are eternal and enduring.
UPDATE: I have been informed that just a few hours after this was published, the “Standard” retracted their retraction and apologized for their apology, without committing to any future policy.