Saturday, July 23, 2011


In April I saw an interesting series of question sent out via the JQYouth e-mail list-serve. I did not notice any responses to the message at the time but made the conscious decision of responding by ways of a blog past once we reached July (the reason for this decision will be clarified below).
In the post-YU Panel-and-Statement-of-Principles Jewish world:
1.       “What reactions {have] you[ ] seen, both positive and negative, since the panel in your synagogue, around your circle of friends, family members, and daily life?”
2.       “[D]id th[e] intended dialogue occur? “
3.       Has there been any impact on the international or local (referencing NYC) scale?

This month marks the one year since the Statement of Principles was first published. In this time, the list of signatories has been updated and edited on multiple occasions. The list of individuals lending their support to the Statement include respected rabbis and professionals such as Rabbi Shlomo  Riskin and the Rabbis Angel. While impressive, I do not think that approaching the Statement as a starting ground is proper.
While the Statement marked a beginning, it is not to be viewed as the dawn of an era of communal discussion or change. Discourse on the status of gays, lesbians and, to some extent, bisexuals in the Jewish community stems back at least two or three decades (really it goes back even farther). During most of this time, however, the conversations were limited and the problem was seen as one to be dealt with by the rabbinical elite. Since the turn of the millennium, this view slowly changed. What was once cautiously swept under the rug and recognized only in silence or among the closest of confidants began to slip into common discourse. The film Trembling Before G-d, the books by Rabbis Rapoport and Greenberg and the founding of JQYouth as well as JONAH unknowingly set the stage for the YU Panel and the Statement to occur. Thus, the Panel and the Statement should not be viewed as the cause from that reactions should be evaluated, but rather as the culmination of ceaseless efforts to insert the problems that gay Jews face into the homes and everyday lives of Orthodox Jews. With that sentence I may seem to be contradicting myself, but this is not the case. Only one year since the Statement’s issuance, we have not yet had enough time to gauge its impact and can, at this point, only see it for what it followed, not what it began.
With that in mind, I would respond to the author of the questions as follows: The Statement and the Panel are the intended reactions to many years of tireless effort to give the dilemmas of Gay Orthodox Jews a human face. They were the intended dialogue. While it is hoped that both mark not only the end of one period but the start of another, it is too early to claim definitive results, positive or negative. We are in the midst of a new history being written, one that is still too fresh to be read or understood.