Warning: the gaypornblog.com link in this story opens a page with explicit adult content. The story above and the Edge New England link in it are safe to view.
Note: the survey results have changed markedly since going to press, and at the time of publishing this article they are:
2 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
Letters to the editor should be no more than 250 words and may be edited for length and content. Only letters sent to firstname.lastname@example.org will be considered for publication. Please supply an address and daytime phone number for verification.
My norms are not your norms
AS A proud gay Jew, who follows the Orthodox practices, I found little comfort in last week’s article “Tackling homophobia in the schoolyard” (AJN 24/02). They may preach against judgment, but that gives them no right to belittle us. “Universal norms” is not a “heterosexual union” Rabbi Cowen; that is your norm, in the same way that my norm is to be with someone of the same gender.
As for Rabbi Gutnick, your suggestion of submitting to celibacy is something to be ashamed of. It’s extremely narrow to perceive sexual diversity as purely physical and then to suggest that they deprive themselves of the same pleasures as everyone else. We don’t just need to be treated as equals, but we need to be recognised as equals. As with you, I too was created in God’s image – don’t ever forget that!
There is an Orthodox medium: accept and live. I pray that others of sexual diversity find the same strength to look beyond the community’s “tolerance” and seek those who accept: and most importantly, that they accept themselves.
Sexual orientation and the dignity of difference
THE AJN should be congratulated for publishing a plurality of rabbinic and other views about schools programs to combat bullying.
Bullying and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation is as much a scourge as is bullying and vilification on grounds of faith, race or ethnic origin.
Teaching high-school students that some people happen to be homosexual (or happen to be Jewish or black or from a minority ethnic group) celebrates only that they should enjoy the dignity of difference, a phrase that hails from the most hallowed halls of Orthodoxy.
Rabbis opinions should not be silenced
RABBI Fred Morgan’s criticism of Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen’s attitude to homosexuality in “The realities of the human condition” (AJN 24/02) is based on relativism. But if no behaviour is “normative”, is anything normal? And is it not a rabbi’s and ethicist’s task to give guidance?
Our homosexual brothers and sisters, treated with love and respect, should celebrate their acceptance. Instead, some demand that their sexuality be celebrated. And some ridicule religion, but demand the utmost respect.
The Safe Schools Coalition Victoria website reveals a homosexuality-promoting group ensconced in a university, with programs even for kindergarten children. Sensitivity programs are fine, but the indoctrination of a minority ideal isn’t.
A society that values tolerance and prizes free speech must respect the right of Rabbi Dr Cowen to air his views. Those who disagree with his views should debate them, instead of trying to silence him, as though he was a blasphemer.
The right way to tackle the scourge of bullying
A WORLD that is threatened by terrorism and is exposed to violence and immorality in the media is a breeding ground for anti-social functioning among both children and their adult role models. It is no surprise that bullying in schools and through social networking sites is on the rise. We need strong remedies to address the problem of bullying.
Do I want my Jewish children in school today to have their moral and ethical education regarding bullying initiated by our present day government answerable to every lobby group?
Even if some of what they propose to teach is on track in their “Safe Schools Coalition”, I know with a mother’s love that some of the methods they espouse are far from appropriate for any school age child.
We should be most grateful to Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen who has courageously spoken out in these challenging times against a “politically correct” but dangerously flawed approach to bullying.
Inspired by the greatness of his own father who helped to bring healing and peace wherever his work took him, Rabbi Cowen’s writings show us how to return to the universal values, the moral and ethical absolutes of Torah and the Noahide Laws.
The Torah absolutes simplify everything. Our children learn that God is greatly good and that we are all made in His image therefore we all have great goodness.
A child with good self-esteem who feels loved and wanted at home and who is modelled good behaviours will not become a bully.
St Kilda East, Vic
Halacha is out-of-date on homosexuality
AS a heterosexual atheistic Jew I would like to address the GLBT issue featured last week. I am one of the very large number of Jews in Melbourne who do not believe in God, the divinity of the Torah or any other supernatural phenomenon.
I have learnt much ethical wisdom from many Jewish sources, but I believe they are all ultimately human in origin. There are however numerous aspects of halachic law I see as archaic, immoral and tragic. Some have fortunately been relegated to a status of inactive irrelevance by rabbis of previous centuries. These include the laws permitting slavery and polygamy. I see the biblical prohibitions against homosexuality as now crying out to be similarly shelved in the backwaters of Jewish history. Halacha actually recommends capital punishment for homosexuals in certain situations.
Jews more than most should have learnt from history that it is evil to persecute minorities and threaten them with execution.
I believe homophobia is as offensive as anti-semitism, and homophobic attitudes within the Jewish community must be challenged by every rational and responsible Jew.
To ignore homophobia is to condone it. I encourage those who are committed to orthodoxy to challenge their rabbis to be courageous on this issue.
Why the rabbi has got it wrong
IN an article recently published in the Australian Family Association journal, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen writes that the real goal of the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools is “the teaching and validation of homosexual behaviour at the early stages of child education”. He further argues that homosexual behaviour is a moral wrong.
Rabbi Cowen is essentially claiming that the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools has an agenda hidden behind the overt purpose of eliminating bullying behaviour.
This claim deserves condemnation for two reasons:
Firstly, because it seeks to discredit a program aimed at protecting vulnerable young people in our community.
Secondly, because it validates the discriminatory attitudes on which the bullying behaviour overtly relies for its justification.
Even accepting that Rabbi Cowen himself agrees it is unmistakeably clear to “all good and reasonable” people that “the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped”, arguing that homosexuality is abnormal behaviour undermines any anti-discriminatory message.
Writing from his religious perspective Rabbi Cowen reflects the attitude of religious authorities down the ages when he says that “however common or strong homosexual impulses may be in certain individuals, that will not make homosexual practice permissible”.
That position has ever been used by some to justify the vile persecution of those who are different to the majority.
We stand alongside those Jews and others who firmly believe that we need to be accepting of the wide variety of sexualities that are manifest in our community.
Bullying and exclusion – whether by schoolchildren or by rabbis, or indeed by anyone else – needs to be combated. Regardless of traditionalist religious interpretations, it is vital that the Jewish community, and the wider community, become places of inclusivity and belonging.
DR JORDY SILVERSTEIN
Australian Jewish Democratic Society
24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
In an article published in a journal of the Australian Family Association, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, founding director of The Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, expressed his concerns about programs to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. In the wake of the controversy, Rabbi Cowen explains his position, while Rabbi Fred Morgan, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Dr Jonathan Barnett share their opinions on the issue.
2 Mar 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
Pride and prejudice … and Purim
Given our historic struggle against discrimination, as Jews we can relate to the struggle of those who suffer prejudice as a result of their sexual orientation, according to Professor David Shneer. And Purim, he says, provides the perfect opportunity to show our solidarity.
IN the northern hemisphere, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people annually commemorate and celebrate the June 1969 Stonewall Riots, in which patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York City said “no” to another police raid of a gay bar, and started a three-day pitched street battle, which some call the first open display of gay political street activism.
Since 1969, those gays, then gays and lesbians, and now LGBTI people along with their friends, family, and allies commemorate this historic event with parades, festivals, and marches.
It was convenient that those angry people, fed up with police brutality, rebelled against it in the US summer of 1969. Who wants to march in an annual commemoration parade in the middle of winter (although Americans and their Puritanical selves seem to have a fondness for frigid Christmas parades in winter).
In Australia, it proved too much to continue marching to commemorate Stonewall in the winter, so in the early 1980s, the commemoration was moved to February and March and called Mardi Gras, coinciding with the Christian carnival of celebration before the long, hard period of selfabnegation called Lent. Over the last 30 years, Mardi Gras has become, like its cousins up north, perhaps less political and certainly more commercial. (After all, when the Australian Tourism Board supports it, you know it has become commercial.)
In the United States, June has become pride month, even at the federal level, as the Obamas host a Gay Pride Party. As good Americans, Jewish communities began figuring out how to incorporate June’s gay pride month as something significant for Jews as Jews, not simply as gays who happen to be Jewish.
Since the early days of the Stonewall Riots, gay and lesbian synagogues held “Pride Shabbat” events to coincide with local parades in the metropolitan areas that had gay synagogues like New York, London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. More than 10 years ago, Progressive synagogues began holding their own Pride Shabbats as a way of showing that they were open and welcoming of LGBTI Jews, and the trend has only increased.
In 2012, in Denver, Colorado, no bastion of American progressivism, Keshet, the national LGBTI Jewish organisation, will hold its fourth annual “Pride Seder” over Passover, with more than 150 attendees and cosponsorship from such “radical” organisations as the Anti-defamation League, the august Reform Temple Emanuel, and several Conservative synagogues. In June, it will host a community-wide Pride Shabbat event, again with co-sponsorship from most major Jewish institutions, aside from Orthodox ones, who are still reluctant to be publicly supportive of LGBTI Jewish celebrations even if they are more and more supportive of LGBTI Jews.
June is a tough sell on the Jewish calendar, but an easy sell conceptually to the Jewish community. After all, pride celebrations are primarily about political and civil rights, something that Jews are all too familiar with. In the late 18th century, the United States and the French Republic granted Jewish men citizenship, forever establishing the idea that Jews should be grateful to other citizens for the idea of their political and civil rights. In 1948, a group of countries called the United Nations granted Jews a nation-state, forever establishing the idea that Jews should be grateful to other nation-states for Israel’s creation and potential survival. Jews know something about feeling like guests in other peoples’ countries and, at their best, embrace political and civil rights for other people denied those rights, no matter the denomination of the Jew. Because Pride is generally organised around political and civil rights, it is not challenging for Jewish communities to support these celebrations.
But in Australia, Jewish communities have an opportunity to do something more profound – engage Mardi Gras on Judaism’s terms through the lens of Purim. Purim is, after all, Judaism’s Mardi Gras, its fat holiday of carnivalesque celebration. But unlike Christian Mardi Gras, a day of transgression before the real work of bodily discipline, for Jews, Purim is at its core about the holiness of transgression and, in the words of Rabbi Elliot Kukla, “the redemptive potential of masquerade”. The rabbinic adage that on Purim Jews are commanded to drink “until you do not know (ad delo yada),” is about releasing Jews from their social norms to see the infinite possibility in each person and in each experience.
Like Yom Kippur (or as the rabbis punned on it in Hebrew, yom ha-kippurim, a day like Purim), Jews suspend our daily rituals and our daily realities.
On Yom Kippur, we do this by abstaining, and on Purim we do this by revelling in worldly pleasures. Even the Rambam recognised how important Purim was to the future health of Jews and Judaism as he dreamed about the Messianic age when: “All prophetic books and the Sacred Writings will cease to be recited in public during the Messianic era except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just as the five books of the Torah … will never cease.”
This year, Mardi Gras and Purim fall in the same week, a clear sign to take seriously the sages’ call to break down boundaries and celebrate hidden identities. So, no matter your religious background, level of observance, or denominational affiliation, get out and celebrate this Mardi Gras. The Rambam wouldn’t have it any other way.
Professor David Shneer is director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Queer Jews. He recently visited Australia as a keynote speaker for the annual Australian Association for Jewish Studies Conference.