Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Rush to Judgment

Last week an unknown gunman rushed into a community center for homosexuals in Tel Aviv and murdered six people in cold blood.
Let me first put priorities in order: Murder is terrible and must be condemned in the harshest of terms. The victims, their personal lifestyle choices, their sexual orientation - make not one bit of difference. We must mourn and combat violent crime with all our strength.
At the same time, the Torah still forbids homosexuality. I cannot and will not change that fact simply because teenagers in a gay center were the victims of a violent crime.
And, most surprisingly, while the perpetrator is still at large, everyone seems to know who is to blame. It's God. Or anyone who believes in the Torah. And the more you seem to adhere to the Torah, the more blame you deserve.
The rush to judgment seemed to begin even before the police arrived at the scene of the crime. It was a chareidi - at least it probably was. And if it wasn't, the mass killings resulted in the anti-gay rhetoric spewed by chareidim, most notably Shas. At least that's what you heard here in Israel. Don't get me wrong, but I haven't really heard Shas officials, rabbis, politicians - anyone - make much of any comment about the gay community in Israel. When the gay community insists on having a gay pride parade in Yerushalayim, then people from numerous political parties respond. But can someone point to a comment, lecture, speech or tirade where a chareidi incited violence against the homosexual community?
But the rush to judgment didn't just come from the secular Israeli press. Apparently, it also exists in the Orthodox community as well.
Take a look at this prayer penned by Rabbi Dov Linzer, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City. The prayer (which is rather long) states,
"Help us to value every member of our society for whom he or she is, to care for them, to support them, and to recognize that they are an equal part of our community כגר כאזרח יהיה. Give us the strength to fully actualize – in our speech and in our actions – the maxim that כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה, that the entirety of the Jewish people, straight and gay, is interwoven with and responsible for every one of its members.
We cannot change the past, but we can work to change the future, so we pray, O Lord, that You accept our mourning and our prayers, and give us the strength to change."

At face value, the prayer is right. Leaders of a community must take responsibility for terrible crimes and ask what went wrong, and how murder could happen in their midst. But which leaders? The prayer assumes that the "cause" of the murders was of course religious intolerance. We have no idea who committed this crime and why he or she did it. We don't know if it was a hateful anti-gay activist, as everyone assumes, or someone else entirely. While the press here would love it to end up being an ultra-Orthodox kollel student with a big beard and long payos, what if it turns out to be a gay teenager angry at his or her friends in the center, or a someone who frequented the center and for whatever reason took out his frustrations on those who he knew best? (Truth be told, shooting up anything doesn't really seem very chareidi. Throwing diapers? Lighting garbage? That I could believe. But most chareidim wouldn't know how to take the safety off an automatic weapon.)
Rabbi Linzer believes that the ultimate culprit of the violence is our belief that homosexuality is against the values of the Torah. In our unwillingness to accept homosexuality as a lifestyle, we are guilty of planting the seeds that sprouted this terrible violence.
Well I'm sorry, but I disagree. I can stand against a lifestyle without hatred - and I do. I stand against murder of any Jew. But I will not apologize for the values of the Torah that instill in us a sense of holiness and sanctity - no matter how unpopular they may seem today.