In honor of the Gay Pride Parade that recently took place in Jerusalem, I am reposting one of my first published articles. The article, entitled A Proud Nation, appeared in Tikkun on November 9th, 2006. I actually really like this article, it is still one of my favorite pieces. Enjoy.
A Proud Nation
By Roi Ben-Yehuda
Make no mistake about it, the Gay Pride parade that is scheduled to take place this Friday in Jerusalem is nothing short of a litmus test for Israel as a democracy. Can you imagine a gay pride parade taking place in Mecca, Tehran, Kabul, or Baghdad? You can’t. And the reason you can’t is because these places lack basic freedoms. But Israel is different. Israel takes pride in being the only democracy in the Middle East, a title that will ring hollow lest the government protects the right of its minority citizens to free speech and public demonstration.
The arguments against the parade have ranged from the sophisticated, to the absurd, to the immoral. Some have argued that since the parade will undoudbtly incite violence, the right to life should take precedent over the right to free speech. Others have said that in the name of tolerance and respect, that the parade should be cancelled or rerouted to Tel-Aviv. Still others have called out that Jerusalem is a sacred city, and the presence of gays will desecrate its holy grounds.
Fortunately, all these arguments, in one guise or another, have been rebutted. The potential of danger, cannot eliminate people’s right to free speech and demonstration. If that would be the case, then every group that would feel offended would resort to the threat of violence or violent behavior to get rid of the source of their indignation.
Likewise, the idea that in the name of tolerance and respect the parade should be rerouted is equally unacceptable. The French-Arab intellectual Amin Maalouf responded to this type of reasoning best when he wrote that, “Traditions deserve to be respected only insofar as they are respectable – that is, exactly insofar as they themselves respect the fundamental rights of men and women.”
Finally, the notion that the mere presence of gays and those who support them will foul the hallowed grounds of Jerusalem, rest on accepting a particular religious moral construct as normative. Jerusalem, the city, as sacred space is not a legal concept, and the idea that gays are an abomination has no place in the moral discourse of those who have respect for human dignity. In short, none of these arguments are sufficient for putting a halt to the demonstration.
Lost in these debates is an unquestioned assumption that needs to be addressed: namely, that homosexuality is an affront to Judaism. Many orthodox Jews do indeed consider homosexuality to be an abomination. In the Torah, it states that “if a man copulates with another male as one copulates with a woman, both of them have acted abominably; they shall be put to death… [Leviticus 20:13]
Yet in the heat of the moment, what people often overlook is that the word abomination appears all over the Bible (122 times in all). It is used for eating non-Kosher animals [Deus 14:3], to describe the act of man who remarries his wife after she married another [24:4], to describe bringing improper sacrifice to God [Deut 17:1], to describe acting with envy, and to describe shedding innocent blood [Proverbs 3:32, 16:22]. Given that all these are considered abominations, why are the religiously orthodox able to live with some and not with others? Are not all abomination created equal?
Whats more, is homosexuality really prohibited by the Torah? As mentioned above, the prohibition against homosexuality comes from an interpretation of two Leviticus passages which state that males should not lie with other males as if they were females. But the text itself is not so clear cut, and is subject to multiple interpretations. First off, we should note that the prohibition is directed at males only. The Torah says nothing about female to female relations. Next, we need to ask what does it mean to for a man to lie with another man “as one lies with a woman”? [Leviticus 18:22]
Rabbi Simcha Roth, an authority on Jewish law, has written that the major prohibition intimated by Leviticus is that of anal sex and not homosexuality. In other words, what the Torah disallows is for a man to treat another man as he would a woman – i.e. penetrate him. In his essay “Dear David: Homosexual relationships – A Halachic Investigation”, Roth writes that, “If the Torah is prohibiting the specific act of anal penetration of one male by another; it follows that the two verses of the Torah are not a blanket prohibition of homosexuality.”
Going beyond this less-exclusive interpretation, the American Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach summed up the matter beautifully when he wrote that , “Religious people should finally get over their all-too-apparent homophobia and reverse the discriminatory policy which says that homosexuality is an aberration marked by God for special censure. Like heterosexual men and women, gays are God’s children, capable of bringing light and love to a planet whose darkness is caused not only by sin but also misguided judgmentalism.” Amen to that.
It must be remembered that as much as Judaism is the religion that gave us Leviticus 18:22, it is also the relgion that gave us the divine commandment “You should love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypts.” [Deut 10:19] And who is today’s strangers, if not our gay, lesbian, and transsexual brothers and sisters.
Religion should unite us, engendering a spirit of compassion and loving-kindness in all. If it fails to do so, its usefulness will become obsolete. The great irony of the gay pride parade in Jerusalem is that it manages, in the name of bigotry, to unite orthodox Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Israelis and Jews across the world would be wise to ask themselves if these are the type of bed fellows that they really want.
I began this article by stating that if Israel wants to march in the Democracy Pride Parade, then it must act in congruence with its democratic principles. Likewise, if the Jewish people want to live up to the biblical injunction to be a “light unto the nations”, they must reject the hatred and bigotry espoused in their name and take pride in their mighty spiritual and universal heritage.