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Jewish newspaper: "Sorry for being so inclusive! It won't happen again."
October 5, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Two weeks ago, a Jewish newspaper in New Jersey, the Jewish Standard, published a wedding announcement for a same-sex Jewish couple. Now they're apologizing for it and saying it won't happen again.

In an editorial, the newspaper writes:

A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.

The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.


A slew of opposing comments follow on that page.

Although the Jewish Standard claims to be "not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life," it is based in Teaneck, NJ, home to a large number of Orthodox Jews. Yet, as previously discussed on Metafilter, not all Orthodox Jews disapprove of homosexuality; there has been much discussion of it within the Orthodox Jewish community, and a few years ago there was a documentary about it. Most other Jewish denominations embrace LGBT people and LGBT rights, particularly Reconstructionist Judaism; Reform Judaism is accepting as well.
posted by Tin Man (152 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Representatives from that [orthodox] community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation..."

Don't wanna cause the Orthodox to have any second-hand anguish, so cause these two fellows some first-hand anguish. Classy.
posted by notsnot at 7:21 AM on October 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Hey, they have deep sensitivities.
posted by grobstein at 7:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can anyone translate the reader comment in Hebrew on the apology page? Google fails pretty hard with

On Peer enough Gar Pervma stone Giastrashate tires pretty Zeitung: Swiiga Ayeara Fiskalaach. Arbate Auip Ayeara Iigaena Frablamen Farr Air Edam fed systems and trouble Peer Macht der von Aondaza Arasta. Air Wilt Awaaktereiven enemy and earlier Hamasa'xuelstan von Aidishakiet, must Ann Mitt Ayeara Iigaena Giamiinda Air Vweist Weill ganz gut Whipple Tree Giapenen zikh Cwisne.
posted by jquinby at 7:26 AM on October 5, 2010


Perhaps same-sex Jewish couples across the country should make a habit of submitting a wedding announcement to the Jewish Standard. Let them know the expressions of love they're stifling and the money they're missing out on.

Can anyone translate the reader comment in Hebrew on the apology page? Google fails pretty hard with

It's Yiddish, not Hebrew. Google gives
And the extremely devout who have rapidly the newspaper: sweat your piskelekh. Work on your own problems for which you make in March troubles for the rest of us. If you want to sell all homosexualistn of Judaism, lift with your own community because you know full well how are between tree!
posted by jedicus at 7:28 AM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


I forgot to mention: this reminds me of the incident last month where a newspaper apologized to its readers for showing Muslims celebrating Ramadan on September 11.
posted by Tin Man at 7:29 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, that's a little better anyway. Sweat your piskelekh indeed!
posted by jquinby at 7:30 AM on October 5, 2010


Christ what assholes.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:32 AM on October 5, 2010 [39 favorites]


See? We have homophobic religious bigots just like you!
posted by Joe Beese at 7:34 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I always have mixed feelings about the involvement of religion in issues of gay rights. On the one hand, since religion is a powerful force in our world, it would be very helpful if that force were to be used for good purposes such as the advancement of gay rights, and the creation of a more tolerant society which does not inflict needless suffering on people by trying to force them into a sexuality which is not theirs (as Elton John says in the song "All The Girls Love Alice", "it's like acting in a movie when you've got the wrong part").

On the other hand, it is ironic that the Jewish Standard does not want to publish same-sex wedding announcements on the grounds that such announcements would be divisive. The existence of religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc., is the most divisive element of human culture and is currently causing more violent conflict than anything else. One form of fairy tale is not compatible with another. Each religion claims to be the One True Faith and is not prepared to accept the legitimacy of competing religions. I think that religion would not necessarily be a bad thing as long as there was only one, but once you have two or more, there's gonna be trouble.

Added to this problem is the fact that it is a tremendous struggle to obtain any kind of tolerance from religion given that the fundamental texts of the major religions contain elements of homophobia built in. Even though the bible does not devote very much wordage to the issue, there are a few very nasty quotes that the religious can use to justify their bigotry. And rather than trying to reform religion, it seems much more efficient to just abandon it in favor of agnosticism (for those who prefer the humility of admitting that the knowledge of the human race remains very limited) or secular humanism (for those who dare to reach a reasonable conclusion based upon existing scientific knowledge). In a purely intellectual sense, religion is already obsolete. People cling to it desperately but it really doesn't make sense (and I hope that you are not too shocked to hear that from me).

I fully understand why Jews do not want to abandom Judaism, the religion for which so many have been killed or otherwise abused by anti-Semites for the past thousand years. After such a heroic and painful struggle, why admit defeat now? But Judaim has long ago outlived its usefulness. Time to move on.
posted by grizzled at 7:34 AM on October 5, 2010


jquinby - its actually Yiddish, not Hebrew. Here's the yiddish translation from gtranslate

And the extremely devout who have rapidly the newspaper: sweat your piskelekh. Work on your own problems for which you make in March troubles for the rest of us. If you want to sell all homosexualistn of Judaism, lift with your own community because you know full well how are between tree
!

posted by jourman2 at 7:35 AM on October 5, 2010


Oops should have previewed
posted by jourman2 at 7:36 AM on October 5, 2010


We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.

Yes, why don't we, as a Jewish community, not debate anything controversial at all? *rolls eyes*
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Better let their readers know to keep the teevee turned off, lest they accidentally see Mayor Bloomberg's gay marriage support ad.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


When I was growing up in Virginia our synagogue's rabbi was an older gay British woman. Of course we were very reform, but still...
posted by cyphill at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the recent story involving Senator Jim DeMint saying "if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn't be teaching in the classroom" and "(When I said those things,) no one came to my defense . . . But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down. They don't want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion."

The idea that freedom of religion is freedom to discriminate on the basis of religion is just nonsensical to me. If you believe your religion opposes homosexuality, then you should by all means be free from being forced to practice homosexuality. That's where your right to swing your fist of religious freedom ends and secular society's nose begins.
posted by ND¢ at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [46 favorites]


The reader comment is in Yiddish (which is written in Hebrew script), not Hebrew. Which is pretty odd to me - I don't read the Standard, but it's a smalllll subset of Jews that speak Yiddish as their primary everyday language now, and they're not likely to live in Teaneck or hang out on the net.

Google translate gave this:
And the extremely devout who have rapidly the newspaper: sweat your piskelekh. Work on your own problems for which you make in March troubles for the rest of us. If you want to sell all homosexualistn of Judaism, lift with your own community because you know full well how are between tree
!
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:40 AM on October 5, 2010


Metafilter: sweat your piskelekh.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:42 AM on October 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Strange, the Orthodox Jews I've met have been so welcoming. Then again, they've been nearly all women. One of them has even sort of become my Jewish grandmother -- when I worked in her office, I used to filch her Paula Young catalog and read it cover to cover before slipping it back into her mailbox. (Now I have my own delivered right to my house.)

It's funny how it is almost always the men, defending any perceived slight against the patriarchy. Homos are the ultimate threat. Imagine the fear in their whiskered eyes as they observe a crowd of thousands gathered to pay their respects to the recent teen suicides, reverently singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as if it were a hymnn or a protest song, instead of just a ditty from a kids' movie popularized by a famous drug addict.

We are coming for you, old man.
posted by hermitosis at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Apparently Jewish Standards in New Jersey are quite low.

I actually speak a little Yiddish. Let me see if I can translate it better:

OY SUCH A SHANDEH THAT WE SHOULD HAVE SUCH BUSYBODY JEWS! MIND YOUR OWN TUCHAS, NOSEY! WHEN DID THIS BUSINESS BECOME YOURS, NU? FEH! YOU SHOULD GROW LIKE A TURNIP WITH YOUR HEAD IN THE GROUND!

That's a very rough translation.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:44 AM on October 5, 2010 [79 favorites]


Which is pretty odd to me - I don't read the Standard, but it's a smalllll subset of Jews that speak Yiddish as their primary everyday language now

Whenever I see something like that, I assume they're doing it to hide it from other listeners or people reading. For instance, at work, if I want to say something bad about somebody to my friend, I'll say it in French, since we're the only two that would understand.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:44 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's a great idea. As gay marriage is very divisive, the newspaper should not publish any wedding announcements until everyone is legally allowed to marry.

I actually blame Reform (and, to a less extent, Reconstructionist) Judaism for a lot of this. As a general rule, there is acceptance of Orthodox Judaism being "real", and everything else people who cannot or will not be good enough Jews. Reform Jews continue to support Israel, which doesn't actually consider their ceremonies actually Jewish. Publications worry about hurting the Orthodox Jews, figuring -- correctly -- that everyone else will accept their (harsher) standards. YMHAs get stricter with kashrut, with separation of men and women . . . and Reform Jews just accept it, or move on to non-religious areas, leaving Orthodoxy as the public face of Judaism.
posted by jeather at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Most other Jewish denominations embrace LGBT people and LGBT rights, particularly Reconstructionist Judaism; Reform Judaism is accepting as well.

This is true. It's also true that Orthodox is the smallest of the three major denominations and the one furthest from the beliefs of the majority of Jewish people, although they enjoy pretending to speak for all Jews and for Israel.

I highly recommend the documentary linked to in the OP, by the way. It's just the story of several gay Orthodox Jews and the various ways they have dealt with their struggle.
posted by callmejay at 7:50 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So you're okay with just me just smiling at you and pretending to respect your weird mystic and dietary customs

שאַ שוין.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:51 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Boy howdy, do I love it when organizations that purport to represent people from the entire spectrum of Jewish life and practice turn around and say 'HAHA, JUST KIDDING.'
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:55 AM on October 5, 2010


[few comments removed - COOL IT with the name calling and the taunting, thanks, ffs. A thread about a Jewish newspaper isn't the place to make your invisible sky monster pronouncements, go to metatalk or go away.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:04 AM on October 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


And there's me thinking the rest of us had nothing to teach Jews about bigotry, hatred, discrimination and persecution.
posted by londonmark at 8:06 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Real Jews love arguments. I call shenanigans.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:06 AM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


If you have two Jews in a room, you have three opinions. And one Jewish organization trying not to make waves so it doesn't lose its funding.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


But Judaism has long ago outlived its usefulness. Time to move on.

Huh? It's possible to be religious without being a bigot. Yeah, many of the bigots you've ever known have been religious, but then again, many of the non-bigots you've ever known have been religious too.
posted by incessant at 8:12 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never flagged a post in MeFi and I never will but I came close here - thread seems doomed but I'll try, out of some respect.

Son of holocaust survivors and ex-yeshiva-boy here (expelled if people care):

If the marriage had been a black couple it would also upset the vast majority of orthodox jews who speak yiddish as a primary language and they would be extremely offended as well, but the paper would never have apologized.

But it's OK with a gay couple because in out society, it's no problem to openly kick the shit out of gay folk. It's "controversial" to mention gay.
posted by victors at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Don't wanna cause the Orthodox to have any second-hand anguish, so cause these two fellows some first-hand anguish. Classy.

That's not exactly what this is about. This scandal isn't about causing the Orthodox community "anguish" but is instead part of a larger battle between the three mainstream American sects (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) to define what Judaism is as a religion and culture.

The Torah prohibits homosexuality in Leviticus. The Orthodox view this as an injunction from G-d. The Orthodox are Torah literalists -- they believe that the Talmud as it exists today was literally given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai. For centuries, a great deal of discussion, research and scholarly study has gone into this subject. Some of the conclusions that are accepted as (if you'll excuse the term) gospel are considered arcane, confusing and contradictory by non-Orthodox somewhat observant Jews such as myself. The Orthodox are also religious reactionaries -- much as William F. Buckley famously described conservatives, they might be accurately described as "standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'"

Since the Torah prohibits homosexuality and the Orthodox view this as a commandment from G-d, they feel they are obligated to preserve Jewish dissent to gay marriage. For most, this seems to mean that they do not want gay marriage allowed or accepted within the Jewish community. A select, very Orthodox few rabbis speak out against federal legislation of gay marriage. There have been multiple rabbinic injunctions against gay marriage from the Orthodox community.

Reform Judaism's official stance is acceptance of gay marriage. My understanding is that the vast majority of Reform rabbis will perform them. Conservative Judaism's official stance is rather complex and has historically been quite controversial. For the moment, they leave the decision to perform gay marriages up to individual congregations / synagogues / communities. I would like to think many if not most will do so, but I'm not sure that's the case.

One reason for the difference between the Orthodox and these two larger, more liberal movements, is the latter feel that Judaism should change and adapt to some changes in modern social values over time. They might raise the argument that tolerance and kindness towards other Jews is also a Talmudic injunction.

Many Orthodox seem to believe that this adaptability to modern social mores is a dangerous liability, and will dilute and eventually destroy the religion.

There is a fascinating breakdown of this in the book: "One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them." I recommend it highly. But the scandal that arose in the Orthodox community after the book was published is even more telling. The book is a compilation of email correspondence between Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch (the executive director of ARZA) and Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Reinman. For 18 months, they debated a number of issues and the emails accurately present two very divergent perspectives of Judaism.

After it was published, the two rabbis participated in a book tour, but Reinman pulled out after their second appearance. After initially giving the project their blessing, the Orthodox council in New Jersey subsequently demanded he end the tour, since appearing on stage with a Reform rabbi would give the Reform movement legitimacy. (Rather ridiculously, the smallest, most religious Jewish sect, the Orthodox, doesn't recognize the largest, least observant Jewish sect: the Reform movement.)

The Orthodox seem to be afraid of losing their authority, and of seeing a religion they value destroyed by modernization. Their position isn't surprising when thought of in that context. I think it's disgusting to embrace intolerance and hatred over desperately needed change in attitudes, but unfortunately not surprising.

It's upsetting that the NJJN's editor buckled under to pressure on this issue, especially after he penned such a fantastic editorial in August: Sharia-Phobia. I wish he had once again taken a stand for tolerance and acceptance. But it seems money speaks louder than holding to one's values.
posted by zarq at 8:14 AM on October 5, 2010 [28 favorites]


Attenion Jews: You are smarter than Catholics. Act like it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:15 AM on October 5, 2010


Nice to know my people can get with the hate-y judge-y too. Sigh.
posted by dry white toast at 8:17 AM on October 5, 2010


Pretty inspiring, actually -- reading through the hundreds of comments in that editorial announcement, I have yet to see a single one that defends the exclusion of same-sex announcements.
posted by hermitosis at 8:17 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So in an effort to bring the community together, they will decide to exclude a segment of that community. Brilliant!
posted by inturnaround at 8:20 AM on October 5, 2010


I know we've brought it up before but people who are interested in where this line is drawn in Judaism might really enjoy the documentary Trembling Before G-D [link goes to Hulu but it's available other places online, here's their website] which explores the (sometimes) messy overlap between Orthodox Judaism and the increasing worldwide acceptance of gay partnerships and marriages among Orthodox Jews. Much more hopeful than this one newspaper decision would make you believe, in some way.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Attenion Jews: You are smarter than Catholics. Act like it.

I left Judaism after my bar mitzvah. Didn't step into a synagogue for more than a decade after that. My wife is the first Jewish woman I ever dated.

When we met with the rabbi who married us in El Paso several months before our wedding, he asked me why. I told him that I had been so disgusted by my local Jewish community's actions towards my parents when they divorced that I made a conscious choice to walk away.

He thought about this for a moment, then said, "We rabbis have a saying, you know: 'Judaism would be a wonderful religion... if it weren't for all the Jews.'"
posted by zarq at 8:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [11 favorites]


I know we've brought it up before but people who are interested in where this line is drawn in Judaism might really enjoy the documentary Trembling Before G-D [link goes to Hulu but it's available other places online, here's their website] which explores the (sometimes) messy overlap between Orthodox Judaism and the increasing worldwide acceptance of gay partnerships and marriages among Orthodox Jews.

Seconding, thirding, nthing this suggestion. It's a wonderful, yet frustrating movie.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2010


Picture a two-dimensional plot. The x-axis is "intensity of observance" from 0 (never attends or prays) to 10 (attends or prays daily). The y-axis is "orthodoxy of beliefs" from 0 (believes teachings are totally fiction) to 10 (believes teachings are literally word-for-word from God). Judaism would stick pretty tightly to the x=y axis. Reform in the lower-left, conservative in the middle, orthodox in the upper-right. There'd be some fuzziness and grey areas, but in general that's how they bunch.

Christianity, on the other hand, from what I understand of the differences between the denominations, would have clouds all over the plot, and some of them would even occupy the exact same area.
posted by Plutor at 8:30 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry, but if a private paper decides what they want to do, they do not have to do things those at this site would prefer, so long as no laws are being broken. I support gay marriage, and I note that the NY Times runs marriage announcements on its pages...this paper caters to orthodox population, mostly, and that group in general does not believe in gay marriage. It is their right to believe that and it is the right of the paper to market their paper as they see fit.
Now, go forth and sin no more, those who would tell them what they should do.
posted by Postroad at 8:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


they believe that the Talmud as it exists today was literally given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai.

I think you mean the Tanakh. The Talmud is a massive and contradictory compendium of Jewish law, folk tales, and recipes, and one aside that discusses the size of rabbinic penises.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


It is their right to believe that and it is the right of the paper to market their paper as they see fit.

Nobody has disputed this, so there is no need to apologize as though you were contradicting people.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:39 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sorry, but if a private paper decides what they want to do, they do not have to do things those at this site would prefer, so long as no laws are being broken.

Who the fuck said they were? "I disapprove of you doing this" =/= "You have no right to do this."

Reader disapproval is something that scares the crap out of print publications.
posted by Epenthesis at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2010


Many Orthodox seem to believe that this adaptability to modern social mores is a dangerous liability, and will dilute and eventually destroy the religion.

In other words, they're exactly like every other stripe of religious fundamentalist.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you mean the Tanakh.

Yeah. That's what I meant. Thanks. :)

I was worried that this thread was going to die a quick death and after writing all that I didn't review my comment for typos/stupid mistakes before clicking "post."

The Talmud is a massive and contradictory compendium of Jewish law, folk tales, and recipes, and one aside that discusses the size of rabbinic penises.

"Just a little off the top, Mr. Mohel."
posted by zarq at 8:44 AM on October 5, 2010


I happen to know the editor of this newspaper, and can assure firsthand that the backlash after the initial announcement was hard to deal with. Newspaper readership skews older and more conservative than internet readership, and one has to consider one's audience and listen to one's sources and contributors. I think this newspaper would just rather have this controversy disappear.

However, I did say to the editor that, you know all those religious conservative Christians who have problem with gays? They're all caught tapping toilet stalls and paying luggage boys, right? So what's with these rabbis that they have such problems with gays? (And that's got me wondering if there was an individual who wrote Leviticus whether he was deeply in the closet himself.)
posted by Schmucko at 8:44 AM on October 5, 2010


I think this newspaper would just rather have this controversy disappear.

After 20 years in the news business, I think I can safely say -- this is not how it's done.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


this paper caters to orthodox population, mostly, and that group in general does not believe in gay marriage. It is their right to believe that and it is the right of the paper to market their paper as they see fit.

Apparently, this is how they market their paper: "The Jewish Standard is not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life."

If they want to be an Orthodox mouthpiece, they should go ahead and say so. If they want to be a voice for all Jews, they need to think a little bit harder about this.
posted by Tin Man at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2010


Attenion Jews: You are smarter than Catholics. Act like it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:15 AM on October 5


What an incredibly idiotic thing to think.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


Reader disapproval is something that scares the crap out of print publications.

And this is why they did what they did. They probably felt that their main core readers are offended, and we don't know the offline response is. Not everyone is my grandma who emails the paper about every little thing.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2010


one has to consider one's audience and listen to one's sources and contributors. I think this newspaper would just rather have this controversy disappear.

To quote one of the commenters on the newspaper website:
Maybe you’re afraid that you will lose majority of your readers, but what ever happened to integrity? What ever happened to doing the right thing despite what people will think? To being stronger than the weak and narrow-minded. To promote tolerance and love. To be a leader instead of being a victim to your ‘numbers’.
A few years from now, the editors of this newspaper are going to look upon themselves and their decision with great regret, embarrassment, shame, and remorse -- just like any business in the 1960s that used to cater to racism out of fear of losing money or rocking the boat.

What ever happened to courageous journalism?
posted by Tin Man at 8:53 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


they believe that the Talmud as it exists today was literally given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai.

Torah, actually. The Tanakh includes the Prophets and Writings, which nobody thinks came down at Sinai. Although, part of the Talmud - the Mishna - Orthodox Jews do believe is the Oral Torah that God gave to Moses at Sinai along with the five books we all know and love.

My Orthodox high school education demanded I write that, sorry.
posted by lullaby at 8:58 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Schmucks!
posted by cavalier at 9:00 AM on October 5, 2010


cool
posted by clavdivs at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2010


MetaFilter: You Know Full Well How Are Between Tree!
posted by Mister_A at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And this is why they did what they did. They probably felt that their main core readers are offended, and we don't know the offline response is. Not everyone is my grandma who emails the paper about every little thing.

Gee, when you put it like that, their reversal sounds wise. Never mind that now they're hearing from hundreds or thousands of people who would never have bothered to write in if their policy had excluded gays from the beginning.

They absolutely knew what they were doing when they ran the announcement in the first place, and it speaks volumes that they were still willing to backtrack. Did they expect indifference from the Orthodox population? Did they not foresee that this would make matters worse? The lack of professionalism and common sense here is astonishing.
posted by Epenthesis at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: "they believe that the Talmud as it exists today was literally given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai.

I think you mean the Tanakh. The Talmud is a massive and contradictory compendium of Jewish law, folk tales, and recipes, and one aside that discusses the size of rabbinic penises
"

I don't know if that's what zarq meant, but he is not wrong (and neither are you). He was describing the Orthodox POV, which is that the ENTIRE Torah - written (Tanakh) and oral (Talmud & everything else) - was given at Sinai. (Wiki)

On preview, what lullaby said.
posted by yiftach at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2010


Apparently, this is how they market their paper: "The Jewish Standard is not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life."

I was about to say this. They're a pluralistic publication, and their audience is not solely Orthodox. There are several community newspapers devoted to the Orthodox community. Why focus on the NJJN?
posted by zarq at 9:16 AM on October 5, 2010


FPP: A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue.

On the contrary, I'd say these are the shallowest sensitivities conceivable.
posted by brundlefly at 9:17 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say they are pretty deep insensitivities.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the right thing to do is one of the following: publish opposite and same sex marriage announcements, or don't publish marriage announcements at all. Given the sensitivities involved, I should think the latter approach may actually have been the classier approach to take.
posted by davejay at 9:31 AM on October 5, 2010


He thought about this for a moment, then said, "We rabbis have a saying, you know: 'Judaism would be a wonderful religion... if it weren't for all the Jews.'"

This is the exact opposite of my experience. The Torah is an artifact of a brutal, horrible time in our species' history... Jews are people who like arguing about nothing and making delicious fatty foods. (Two things I enjoy)

On that point...Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay marriage. The people who wrote the Torah would have no concept of such a thing. A better statement would be "Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay people". If people want to live by modern moral systems they should accept that Judaism is not something they should support instead of twisting it into something new and unrecognizable with the same name.
posted by EtzHadaat at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


By the way, it's not the NJJN (New Jersey Jewish News). It's a different newspaper.
posted by Tin Man at 9:32 AM on October 5, 2010


basically what jeather said
posted by davejay at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2010


The reader comment is in Yiddish (which is written in Hebrew script), not Hebrew. Which is pretty odd to me - I don't read the Standard, but it's a smalllll subset of Jews that speak Yiddish as their primary everyday language now, and they're not likely to live in Teaneck or hang out on the net.

So it turns out there are a fair number of Haredim posting stuff online — often in Yiddish, naturally — despite the fact that it's supposed to be forbidden to them. ('Course, there still may not be much Yiddish spoken in Teaneck... But elsewhere in the state? Absolutely.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:34 AM on October 5, 2010


can't you just take a laxative for pain and consternation?
posted by Theta States at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2010


I actually blame Reform (and, to a less extent, Reconstructionist) Judaism for a lot of this.

So I guess you blame moderate muslims for the acts of Islamists as well?
posted by cjets at 9:36 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jewish canon derail, I know, but:

zarq: "they believe that the Talmud as it exists today was literally given to Moses by G-d at Mount Sinai."

Astro Zombie: "I think you mean the Tanakh. The Talmud is a massive and contradictory compendium of Jewish law, folk tales, and recipes, and one aside that discusses the size of rabbinic penises."

Actually, zarq had it mostly right the first time. While the Talmud does include a web of legal discussions and commentary recognized to have been written over centuries, the core text that they're commenting on, the Mishnah, is supposed to the codification of the Oral Torah, which according to Orthodoxy was delivered to Moses at Sinai along with the Torah (not the Tanakh). The Tanakh includes the Nevi'im ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("writings," such as the Psalms and the Book of Job), which according to the Talmud were added by the Men of the Great Assembly.

The reason this matters is that it's not actually fair to describe Orthodoxy as "Torah literalism." Orthodox Jews may believe that the Torah was dictated to Moses by God in exactly the form it exists in today, but there's always been a recognition even from the beginning that the words of the Torah require interpretation and study. In rejecting the literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis, Maimonides wrote "One should accept the truth from whatever source it proceeds."

This includes even apparently "cut and dried" prohibitions like the one against homosexuality, by the way. Over the many years, rabbinic interpretation has yielded to social pressure on other fronts, such as the practice of polygamy, and there are definitely those (such as the aforementioned Avi Weiss) who are working within the framework of Orthodoxy for social change, paradoxical as that might seem.

(On preview, what lullaby and yiftach said.)
posted by albrecht at 9:38 AM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


On that point...Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay marriage. The people who wrote the Torah would have no concept of such a thing. A better statement would be "Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay people". If people want to live by modern moral systems they should accept that Judaism is not something they should support instead of twisting it into something new and unrecognizable with the same name.

There is no reason that Judaism cannot change and no reason that it should stay static, exactly as it was 2000 years ago (or 300ish, for many Orthodox and Chasidic Jews). I think that's a major misrepresentation of what Judaism has been about -- yes, it's about the 613 laws, but it's also about arguing and debating about meaning.
posted by jeather at 9:39 AM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gee, when you put it like that, their reversal sounds wise. Never mind that now they're hearing from hundreds or thousands of people who would never have bothered to write in if their policy had excluded gays from the beginning.

Yes, but how many of those people are actual subscribers or leaders in their community? And if they had a policy, then they could have probably been sued over it. As it is, they are now being screamed at by people very far away that had never heard of this paper before for the reversal, but since we don't know what else was/is going on directly, in order to stay in business they probably felt they had no choice.

Is what happened a disappointment? Yes. Is what happened unexpected? No. I, for one, would have been utterly shocked if nobody noticed about the announcement, but for what, we'll have to wait one or two more generations.

The real proper response is for any Jewish LGBT folks currently or planning to advertise with this paper to go elsewhere, or perhaps now someone needs to start a gay-friendly Jewish paper.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 9:40 AM on October 5, 2010


If people want to live by modern moral systems they should accept that Judaism is not something they should support instead of twisting it into something new and unrecognizable with the same name.

By your standards, there has been no such thing as Judaism since the destruction of the first Temple in 422 BCE.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:43 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wasn't the 1st Temple destroyed earlier than 422 BCE? Wikipedia says

The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC when they sacked the city
posted by Schmucko at 9:49 AM on October 5, 2010


I want to reply to the above comment:


But Judaism has long ago outlived its usefulness. Time to move on.

Huh? It's possible to be religious without being a bigot. Yeah, many of the bigots you've ever known have been religious, but then again, many of the non-bigots you've ever known have been religious too.
posted by incessant at 8:12 AM on October 5 [+] [!]


I am not saying that the reason why religion has outlived its usefulness is because religion leads inevitably to bigotry. Bigotry is one of many problems associated with religion, but the most fundamental problem is that religions give us supernatural and non-scientific explanations which are not as good as more modern scientific explanations. God is an unnecessary hypothesis. There are certainly religious people who are not bigots, and some religious people are very fine, admirable people. But religion itself is an obsolete form of explaining the nature of the world in which we live.
posted by grizzled at 9:49 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ironically, if one reads past the initial article and into the reader comments, they will discover that that particular page on the web is a source of great hope about the future of gay rights.
posted by the bricabrac man at 9:53 AM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's sort of amazing how many people are ready, at the slightest provocation, to argue for the end of Judaism. I get it. You don't like religion. It's fab to be you.

But just because you have ideas that have never progressed beyond reading one or two books about atheism doesn't mean that one of the oldest cultures in the world needs to go away because you think it's silly. And there isn't enough space here for me to offer a remedial course on Judaism 101 to get you up to speed, except to say that lumping all religions everywhere together as being equally outdated because they're nothing but a collection of superstitious people huddling in caves trying to understand lightning -- well, you're not exactly a beacon of atheistic light when you make pronouncements that come from such ignorance.

And I say this as an atheist.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:55 AM on October 5, 2010 [31 favorites]


So I guess you blame moderate muslims for the acts of Islamists as well?

I blame people who allow a small, vocal minority to claim to speak for the majority when it turns out that people listen to the minority and pretend they are in fact speaking for everyone. I especially blame the majority who, in essence, support that vocal minority financially. (I grew up going to a Reconstructionist synagogue, and now occasionally go to a Reform one.) I think that the moderate Jewish community is wrong, and is also harming itself in the way it responds to Orthodox Judaism.

I also think there's rather a distinction between "choosing not to publish same-sex wedding announcements" (which is about words) and "acts of terrorism" (which is not).

but the most fundamental problem is that religions give us supernatural and non-scientific explanations which are not as good as more modern scientific explanations. God is an unnecessary hypothesis. There are certainly religious people who are not bigots, and some religious people are very fine, admirable people. But religion itself is an obsolete form of explaining the nature of the world in which we live.

Yes, it’s too bad that Judaism is incompatible with science. If only there had ever been well-known scientific discoveries made by people who were Jewish!
posted by jeather at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Obvious solution: Publish the announcement in the middle of the page, surrounded by commentary.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:23 AM on October 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


Yes, it’s too bad that Judaism is incompatible with science. If only there had ever been well-known scientific discoveries made by people who were Jewish!

I'm very, very sympathetic to this argument.

But there are clearly charedi communities that reject science. Look at what happened to Natan Slifkin. Here's an interview with him on Beliefnet.
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


On that point...Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay marriage. The people who wrote the Torah would have no concept of such a thing. A better statement would be "Judaism, as a religion, would never support gay people". If people want to live by modern moral systems they should accept that Judaism is not something they should support instead of twisting it into something new and unrecognizable with the same name.

This is demonstrably untrue, because certain denominations of Judaism, as a religion, DO support gay marriage and gay people. The idea that Judaism means only what the authors of the Torah meant is obviously untrue, as a quick read-through will prove and the idea that Judaism means only what the Orthodox say it does is just a No True Scotsman argument.

I grew up Orthodox and have been to Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Humanist services as well. I'm personally an atheist. It infuriates me when people act like Orthodox Judaism is the One True Judaism. As Astro Zombie alludes to, Judaism changed COMPLETELY with the destruction of the Temple. The religion afterwards is barely recognizable compared to the one before it.

At no point in history from the time of the Temples until today have a majority of Jews or even a substantial plurality been what we would now call Orthodox.

I'd be fine if the religion and all others disappeared completely, but let's not pretend that only the most fundamentalist version is the "true" one.
posted by callmejay at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


lullaby, yiftach and albrecht, thanks for clarifying.
posted by zarq at 10:45 AM on October 5, 2010


This has been a fascinating thread and all, but I'm dying to know where that aside on the size of rabbinic penises is.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:55 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Reform Judaism is accepting as well.

No kidding. I found out that our former rabbi was gay about a year after he had started, when my wife told me. At all the intervening social events, nobody in the congregation had thought it was worth mentioning (even my wife, apparently...).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:58 AM on October 5, 2010


At no point in history from the time of the Temples until today have a majority of Jews or even a substantial plurality been what we would now call Orthodox.

Could you expand on that? Do you mean a majority was not Orthodox as recognizable today, or not Orthodox as in adhering to the law as it was interpreted by the leading religious scholars of the time?
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:59 AM on October 5, 2010


This has been a fascinating thread and all, but I'm dying to know where that aside on the size of rabbinic penises is.

Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metsia, 84a:

Said Rabbi Yohanan, " RabbiIshm˓el the son of Yose's member was like a wineskin of nine kav; Rabbi El˓azar the son of Rabbi Shim˓on's member was like a wineskin of seven kav." Rav Papa said, " Rabbi Yohanan's member was like a wineskin of three kav." And there are those who say: like a wineskin of five kav. Rav Papa himself had a member which was like the baskets of Hipparenum.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:02 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, that about sizes it up.
posted by binturong at 11:13 AM on October 5, 2010


Do you mean a majority was not Orthodox as recognizable today, or not Orthodox as in adhering to the law as it was interpreted by the leading religious scholars of the time?

Well, both. In ancient times, it was all unrecognizable. In all times, most did not adhere and probably had all kinds of various beliefs.

I think it's true that no rabbis in the Talmud would have considered gay marriage okay, but I don't agree with the argument that because they believed X, only denominations of Judaism which today agree with X are "real" versions of Judaism. Most of the rabbis in the Talmud thought the earth was 6,000 years old and that maggots spontaneously generated from meat.
posted by callmejay at 11:16 AM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Context and analysis of Leviticus 18:22 and homosexuality; all views.
posted by psyche7 at 11:21 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that I read this thread literally seconds after getting a Facebook invite to an event, hosted and organized by an Orthodox Rabbi in his house, about love, relationships, and sex. The final week is a showing of Trembling Before G-d.

Then again, our community also has Orthodox Rabbis gladly posing for cover-page pictures with Reform Rabbis, and everyone admits that's a bit different than in most communities, so....

Going back to the original post: it's a Teaneck paper, and Teaneck is faaarr from the most progressive Orthodox community in the world. It's not as bad as Monsey or Lakewood, but it's going further to the right, it seems.

I would love to see what would have happened in West Coast Orthodox communities...
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:59 AM on October 5, 2010


[take it to email or metatalk folks]
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on October 5, 2010


There is a remarkable tirade from Astro Zombie above, which is apparently directed at me without actually mentioning my pseudonym.

I believe it was not solely directed at you. At least one or two comments disparaging religion were made in this thread that have since been deleted. When he made that comment, yours was not the only one here.
posted by zarq at 12:25 PM on October 5, 2010


Oh, this thread should really have this link in it: Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a
Homosexual Orientation in Our Community

posted by callmejay at 12:28 PM on October 5, 2010


(The link I just posted is signed by a number of the most liberal Orthodox rabbis calling for tolerance of homosexual people but not homosexual behavior. It was widely heralded as a great step, but I see it more as a demonstration of how (at least fundamentalist) religion prevents even the good people from being genuinely open-minded and tolerant, let alone accepting.)
posted by callmejay at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2010


While I'm more than willing to watch people debate the purpose, worth, or usefulness of a long-standing religion with many great traditions (because certainly minds will be changed and Metafilter will stand like Mount Sinai in the Jewish tradition highlights film), inquiring minds really want to know:


This has been a fascinating thread and all, but I'm dying to know where that aside on the size of rabbinic penises is.

Astro Zombie:
Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metsia, 84a:
Said Rabbi Yohanan, " RabbiIshm˓el the son of Yose's member was like a wineskin of nine kav; Rabbi El˓azar the son of Rabbi Shim˓on's member was like a wineskin of seven kav." Rav Papa said, " Rabbi Yohanan's member was like a wineskin of three kav." And there are those who say: like a wineskin of five kav. Rav Papa himself had a member which was like the baskets of Hipparenum.


What's do I convert kav to an understandable unit of measure and how does it convert to Manhunt inches?


(heh, I said unit)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I looked around and everything I found points to a kav as a measure of volume - likely between 1.5 and 2.5 quarts, which makes no sense.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's do I convert kav to an understandable unit of measure and how does it convert to Manhunt inches?

A kav is a unit of volume, about equal to 1.56 liters. So assuming a circumference of 12 cm, i.e., a radius of 12/(2*pi) = 1.9cm, Rabbi Ishmael ben Yose's 9 kav member would be approximately (9*1560)/(pi*1.9^2) = 1237 cm long, or about 40 ft.

posted by albrecht at 12:44 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


The term Torah... refers to the Five Books of Moses—the entirety of Judaism's founding legal and ethical religious texts.

When there are MeFites demanding that we respect any other organization whose founding document labels homosexuality an "abomination", please let me know.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:09 PM on October 5, 2010


Joe Beese, there are (more modern, admittedly sort of "activist" in the sense that people call some US judges activist) Jewish commentaries that the "abomination" being described does not line up with modern-day consensual anal sex within the context of a relationship.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:18 PM on October 5, 2010


When there are MeFites demanding that we respect any other organization whose founding document labels homosexuality an "abomination", please let me know.

Had you reads the link psyche7 provided, you would know that the Jewish founding documents does not do this. We don't actually know what it says, and a lot of people believe it refers to Temple prostitution.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:20 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm more concerned with the founding document declaring cheeseburgers "unclean" and shrimp an "abomination".

delicious cheeseburgers... delicious shrimp....
posted by hippybear at 1:48 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


When there are MeFites demanding that we respect any other organization whose founding document labels homosexuality an "abomination", please let me know.

The US Constitution originally denied certain civil rights to anyone who wasn't a white male landowner. By your logic, America and her citizens do not deserve our respect, despite the fact that we have abolished slavery and given women, minorities and non-landowners the right to vote.

For the majority of Jews, modern-day Judaism has evolved into more than a strict adherence to ancient scrolls. As have most institutions with founding documents.
posted by zarq at 2:17 PM on October 5, 2010


What zarq said.

I understand why Tea Party folks and the Sarah Palin brigade believe in constitutional originalism and biblical literalism, but I have no idea why people who don't believe in such things seem to think that everyone who interprets the same text interprets its the same way.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2010


This includes even apparently "cut and dried" prohibitions like the one against homosexuality, by the way. Over the many years, rabbinic interpretation has yielded to social pressure on other fronts, such as the practice of polygamy, and there are definitely those (such as the aforementioned Avi Weiss) who are working within the framework of Orthodoxy for social change, paradoxical as that might seem.

On a lighter note, my father in law would like the Conservative movement to issue a ruling that makes chicken parve again, so he can have chicken parmigiana.

For the uninitiated, to those who keep kosher, eggs and fish are considered "parve," which means that they're not considered dairy or meat (which can't be combined.) You can eat eggs and fish with either dairy or meat dishes. So you can have steak and eggs, or a cheese omelet. Chicken used to be parve, now it's considered meat. So my father in law missed the boat.
posted by zarq at 2:45 PM on October 5, 2010


delicious cheeseburgers... delicious shrimp....

My entire religion has OCD.
posted by zarq at 2:48 PM on October 5, 2010


jeather wrote I actually blame Reform (and, to a less extent, Reconstructionist) Judaism for a lot of this. As a general rule, there is acceptance of Orthodox Judaism being "real", and everything else people who cannot or will not be good enough Jews.

Not a problem limited to Judaism, and I'd argue one inherent to any religion.

Religion says "faith is good, belief is good, this/these book(s) is/are good". The first two are held up as being extremely important.

So how can the religious moderates really criticize, much less castigate, people for being too faithful? For being too religious? To be religious at all is to say that religion is good, that faith is good. Religious moderates may be disapproving of religious extremists, but they have a difficult time really fighting against them because faith is good.

For a lot of religious moderates, there is very much the view that the extremists have a stronger, or purer, or in some way superior faith. And I've got to say I think they're right to think that. If faith is good, how can one have too much faith? If book X contains the truth, how can following the dictates of book X closely be bad? I can see how religious moderates can be supportive of gay rights, or whatever progressive cause, they're decent people after all. But I can also see how it is very difficult for such moderates to take any real stand against the non-moderates. They do practice a more real, more pure, more intense, more whatever, form of the religion that the moderates have already decided is good.

All religions are experiencing this same problem, this same difficulty. It appears to be inherent to religion in general.
posted by sotonohito at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


On topic I'll join the chorus in saying what a bunch of twits.
The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.
Right, so they will drive the gay Jewish segment apart. Or, I suppose, they rather have stated implicitly that they agree with the Orthodox segment in their belief that the gay segment isn't really part of the community so thus there is no need to worry about driving them out. Bravo.
posted by sotonohito at 2:56 PM on October 5, 2010


but I have no idea why people who don't believe in such things seem to think that everyone who interprets the same text interprets its the same way.

the constitution and the bible are, supposedly, documents to live by. we are, in fact, supposed to be able interpret them the same way. Whatever today's accepted interpretation is applies to everybody - that's called "society."

a text like that either has merit and can be rationally understood and adhered to or it's based on 2000 year old faulty logic, bad data and superstition. when you try to debate someone about the "holy" scriptures you are constantly running into selective editing where parts they personally adhere to are OK to quote and other parts are considered outmoded and irrelevant. this is the opposite of consensus and a lousy way to make global decisions that affect everybody.

the constitution analogy is broken because we, as a collective, have rewritten it and we all agree to adhere to the rewritten version (or whatever the current version is with the ability to rewrite it again if we so chose).
posted by victors at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


So how can the religious moderates really criticize, much less castigate, people for being too faithful? For being too religious? To be religious at all is to say that religion is good, that faith is good. Religious moderates may be disapproving of religious extremists, but they have a difficult time really fighting against them because faith is good.

I'm a religious moderate. I have absolutely no problem telling extremists of any religion (especially Jewish extremists) if they're being hypocritical by being too extreme. I don't see why there should be any conflict in the matter, either. If someone is being an intolerant bigot, wrapping themselves in a cloak of faith isn't going to make me less likely to speak out.

For a lot of religious moderates, there is very much the view that the extremists have a stronger, or purer, or in some way superior faith. And I've got to say I think they're right to think that. If faith is good, how can one have too much faith? If book X contains the truth, how can following the dictates of book X closely be bad?

This sounds nice and may be accurate for some religions, but it really doesn't apply all that well to religious Judaism.

The various Jewish sects apply their own interpretation and priorities to our religious texts. For some, all injunctions have similar authority. For others, some injunctions are more important than others. For still others, injunctions are less a hard and fast rule than a guideline. The way a Jew comports himself with others matters more than adhering to tradition. To Jews, one's level of observance or adherence to faith does not make one a better person. We don't believe in confession or the absolution of sins by a priest or rabbi. You can go to synagogue every day, but what you do outside that synagogue when you interact with other people matters just as much if not more. If you pray every day and keep kosher, that certainly wouldn't counterbalance theft, abuse or murder. Your actions towards others matter much more than your prayers, or displays of righteousness.

I can see how religious moderates can be supportive of gay rights, or whatever progressive cause, they're decent people after all. But I can also see how it is very difficult for such moderates to take any real stand against the non-moderates. They do practice a more real, more pure, more intense, more whatever, form of the religion that the moderates have already decided is good.

I can't speak for others here, but my own religious observance has always been informed and led by my sense of right and wrong -- my sense of justice. People who are intolerant of others, who treat women as second-class citizens, who shun those who are different or deny them rights are not practicing "a more pure, intense, more whatever, form of the religion that" I as a moderate have decided is good. If they're endorsing oppression, then there is something deeply wrong with how they are interpreting our shared religious heritage.

All religions are experiencing this same problem, this same difficulty. It appears to be inherent to religion in general.

All religions seem to have extremists. All religions seem to also have moderates who are unwilling to take a stand against them. I agree that this is a problem.
posted by zarq at 3:36 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how can the religious moderates really criticize, much less castigate, people for being too faithful? For being too religious? To be religious at all is to say that religion is good, that faith is good

Well, okay. And there are religious moderates who believe that faith is good... in moderation. You seem to think that position is impossible or incoherent, but I assure you there are millions of people in the world who hold it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:40 PM on October 5, 2010


Religion says "faith is good, belief is good, this/these book(s) is/are good".

This is not true of Judaism. Not the entirety of it, at least. And there are many, many religions that are rooted in deeds, not faith. So it might be nice to actually discuss the religion at hand here, rather than dismiss it all with an ill-educated wave of the hand and behave as though all were identical.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:42 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


... a text like that either has merit and can be rationally understood and adhered to or it's based on 2000 year old faulty logic, bad data and superstition. when you try to debate someone about the "holy" scriptures you are constantly running into selective editing where parts they personally adhere to are OK to quote and other parts are considered outmoded and irrelevant.

Perhaps Astro Zombie will explain that we "don't really know" that Leviticus 24:14 commands death by stoning for blasphemy.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:54 PM on October 5, 2010


Perhaps Astro Zombie will explain that we "don't really know" that Leviticus 24:14 commands death by stoning for blasphemy.

Here is the awesomest thing though, if he's not my rabbi, I basically don't care! My rabbi is more the mystical type and listens to hiphop and has given me permission to ride elevators on Saturday. He's dreamy.

I'm at the point where I can't tell if you're joking or poking however, so maybe if you have something longer you're wanting to talk about, you can talk about it?
posted by jessamyn at 4:04 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


the constitution analogy is broken because we, as a collective, have rewritten it and we all agree to adhere to the rewritten version (or whatever the current version is with the ability to rewrite it again if we so chose).

In this case, interpretation (through written, codified supplements) is essentially equivalent to a re-write.

All Jewish sects believe the Torah is open to interpretation. That's how the religion changes over time. We don't sacrifice animals any more. We don't stone people to death, keep slaves or practice polygamy. This is why the Reform and Conservative Jewish sects follow some traditions and not others, and why various rules are given higher priority than others according to which sect you follow.
posted by zarq at 4:13 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is a new statement from the publisher:
We ran the wedding announcement because we felt, as a community newspaper, that it was our job to serve the entire community — something we have been doing for 80 years.We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community.We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published.The issue clearly demands debate and serious consideration, which we will do our best to encourage.

James Janoff, Publisher
NJ Jewish Standard
And this may be off the record, but the editor tells me "Oy".
posted by Schmucko at 4:17 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


essentially equivalent to a re-write...This is why the Reform and Conservative Jewish sects follow some traditions and not others, and why various rules are given higher priority than others according to which sect you follow.

but they are not consensus and nobody, and I mean nobody, agrees on exactly the same two interpretation. many of the practicing conservatives and reform jews I know don't believe in god. they are, literally, making it up as they go along. The only difference I found between orthodox and the others is that the former lays out the punishment for not following the rules. The others base acceptance on whether your membership check clears, the amount on which is determined after examining your tax returns.

I could be wrong, but are you arguing that this system is a valid basis for determining whether two men who are in love should be denied the same rights and a man and a woman who make the same vows?

jessamyn: My rabbi is more the mystical type and listens to hiphop and has given me permission to ride elevators on Saturday. He's dreamy.

That's very romantic but again, imo a poor excuse to discriminate against others based on sexual preference. One of the things being asked in this thread is: Is Judiasm a net positive force in the world or a net negative. I have, personally, determined that it is a net negative and therefore abandoned all traditions associated with it because I could no longer rationalize the benefits of hanging out with groovy rabbis (and I did, very groovy indeed) because I saw it as enabling (in the Sam Harris sense) the more insidious aspects of the institution.
posted by victors at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2010


I'd have offered to translate the aforementioned Yiddish comment but (a) it doesn't seem to be there, and (b) the machine translation is much more hilarious.
posted by greatgefilte at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


/rights and a man/rights of a man/ and other typos sry.
posted by victors at 4:31 PM on October 5, 2010


For a lot of religious moderates, there is very much the view that the extremists have a stronger, or purer, or in some way superior faith.

This is definitely not true within Christianity. Evangelical Christians regard themselves true Christians, but "liberal" protestants accuse evangelical denominations of engaging in "emotionalism" and "lacking theological content." This is also apparently not true of Judaism. I doubt if any sect or faction within any religion perceives others as being superior to them in their own terms.

If outsiders to a particular group like to pick out whatever they perceive to be the worst element or behavior within a group and claim it represents the true nature of the whole group, this is still a rhetorical fallacy. That people use this rhetorical tactic doesn't make it a genuine property of groups that what someone perceives as their worst element always reflects their true nature, whether or not group is religious.
posted by nangar at 4:50 PM on October 5, 2010


One of the things being asked in this thread is: Is Judiasm (sic) a net positive force in the world or a net negative.

I would submit that anyone who reads a news story like this one and sees that as an appropriate or relevant question to ask in response may be overreacting in the service of their own personal agenda.
posted by albrecht at 4:51 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is an excerpt from the letter to the editor I wrote and cc'd to the publisher. BTW, the newspaper’s contact information is below if you would like to to share your feedback:

Publisher James Janoff, publisher@JewishMediaGroup.com
Editor Rebecca Boreson, editor@jewishmediagroup.com
-----------------------------------------------

It is this sort of close-mindedness and insularity that has turned off young (and young at heart) Jews from Judaism. It is also what is leading to the slow extinction of our faith as an ongoing concern.

What’s sad is that it does not need to happen. Our shared history is replete with instances where Judaism was saved from obscurity by forward-thinking rabbis who adapted and changed with the times.

In the first century, for instance, Yochanan Ben Zakkai realized that Judaism as a faith would die if it did not give the people right to perform certain privileges that had previously been the sole province of the priests. It was Ben Zakkai who persuaded the newly-reestablished Sanhedrin to replace animal sacrifice with prayer. It was also Ben Zakkai who taught that the heart of Judaism was in the home, not just the Temple in Jerusalem (which had just recently been destroyed anyway!) You can bet that there were those who howled at this as a desecration of Jewish law. But without this willingness to change, we would not have Rabbinic Judaism — and very likely, there would be no Judaism at all.

Is this what the Orthodox really want?

“The old must be made new, and the new must be made sacred.” – Rav Avraham Isaac Kook HaKohen
posted by zooropa at 5:18 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, it's always a little creepy to me when atheists argue that religion should be eradicated from the world. Because how do they imagine that happening except through some form of violence? But it's especially creepy to say things like that about Judaism, which faced a scarily powerful, not so long ago campaign to do just that... I know, I know, Godwin, but seriously how can you call for an end to Judaism without considering the Holocaust?
posted by overglow at 5:18 PM on October 5, 2010


but they are not consensus

So? I don't really understand this as a negative argument. It seems to me that encouraging free will, thoughtful analysis and open minds in religious settings is a feature, not a bug.

Please keep in mind that what follows is my understanding of the way things work. I could be wrong. I'm not an expert.

Here in the US:

Each mainstream movement has its own consensus regarding what aspects of observance are important. This consensus is laid out by an organizing body. Reform. Conservative. Orthodox. There are other sects, and they apply their standards and beliefs in a similar manner. Each synagogue associated with a movement, and even those that are unaffiliated, further distill their values around what they feel is important to their respective communities.

In the Reform and Conservative movements, in many cases, the community will choose to embrace or reject what has been determined in a council. Most of their synagogues try to encourage some sort of Jewish observance outside the synagogue, either through projects, sermons or classes. They don't demand it. To Reform and Conservative Jews, (generally) religious observance is a personal thing. It is not to be imposed by others, nor is it a rabbi's role to shame someone into being more observant. My observation has been that this is not the case in the Orthodox community. Personally, I find that disgusting, highly rude and extremely offensive.

and nobody, and I mean nobody, agrees on exactly the same two interpretation.

Yeah, welcome to Judaism.

many of the practicing conservatives and reform jews I know don't believe in god. they are, literally, making it up as they go along. The only difference I found between orthodox and the others is that the former lays out the punishment for not following the rules. The others base acceptance on whether your membership check clears, the amount on which is determined after examining your tax returns.

For a lot of reasons, I spent many years disparaging institutionalized Judaism.

Having come back into the religion as an adult, I have not seen the money aspect play a factor in my membership in a shul. No one dared asked to see my tax returns when I asked for a reduced membership rate a few years back. Nor have they been anything but welcoming and kind. If the situation was otherwise, I would not have stayed a member.

Regarding the G-d thing, here's my personal perspective: I don't see a point in being a hypocrite, or being a Jew by rote. I don't say prayers I don't understand the meaning of or whose meanings I disagree with. I struggle with some ideas, dismiss others and always try to use my own judgment. My religion serves me, not the other way around and I think that's the way it's supposed to be.

Everyone is entitled to be whomever they want -- to believe what they like. What works for one person may not work for someone else and that's okay! And of course, we're not supposed to proselytize. But if I didn't believe in G-d or get something out of my religion, I wouldn't bother to go through the motions. I don't personally see the point.

I could be wrong, but are you arguing that this system is a valid basis for determining whether two men who are in love should be denied the same rights and a man and a woman who make the same vows?

So we're clear: I think it's a fucking crime against humanity that ANY people are being subjected to intolerance, bigotry and being denied the same rights as anyone else. Be it because of their gender, sexual preference, race, religion or anything else. Everyone deserves respect, decency and to be treated equally. There's no possible justification for not doing so.
posted by zarq at 5:23 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm sitting here feeling guilty for all my typos - must be something in my cultural heritage

I would submit that anyone who reads a news story like this one and sees that as an appropriate or relevant question to ask in response may be overreacting in the service of their own personal agenda.

taken out of context you may be right, which is why I said "in this thread" referring to here and above which happens to be where the discussion landed. Of course I could submit that rabbis complaining about two people in love opens to door to asking the broader questions like who the fuck do they think they are.

seriously how can you call for an end to Judaism without considering the Holocaust?

I suspect most people "calling for an end" would be satisfied if religion was simply removed from public policy discourse. Meanwhile, there might be something in between all the negative consequences of a narrow, divisive superstition and the holocaust - like advocating for using best evidence and rational logic.
posted by victors at 5:27 PM on October 5, 2010


hey zarq - I think I get where you're coming from and so we're clear on my end: people should be free to believe what they want, where they want, how they want, etc.

where we (probably) agree is that judaism, as described in the old testament and talmud is largely irrelevant. your response is to join with other culturally ethnic jews who feel the same way (the extent to which determines which institutionalized branch of judaism you choose) to ignore the bits you don't like and work with the other bits. my response is to junk the whole thing because the good parts are good on their own without having to rationalize the bad parts away. we will never convince each other to change our ways (not in this thread for sure lol) so we're all cool.

we also (probably) agree that while we share the right to believe whatever we want, that right does not automatically become a right to issue those beliefs as public policy - and that's what I was getting at with terms like "consensus" and "determining policy." while you didn't answer directly I think I can infer that you agree that the method by which we determine our personal relationship (or lack thereof) with the flying spaghetti monster should not be the same method used to determine whether is it acceptable that two grown people touch body parts.

ftr I was asked 3 times for my tax returns 9 years ago when looking for a place to hold my kids bar mitzvah (something we considered for my father's benefit). we ended up doing it in my backyard.
posted by victors at 6:10 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a lot of religious moderates, there is very much the view that the extremists have a stronger, or purer, or in some way superior faith.


That's essentially why I left. I grew up in a small midwestern town, a community of about 400 families, and a couple years after my bar mitzah, there was, essentially, a schism. Several of the more 'religious' families started upping the ante, adopting bits and pieces of Orthodox Judaism, and clearly acting superior to everyone who didn't. Of course, rather than just ignore them, a large number of members in the congregation fell all over themselves trying to out-pious each other. The atmosphere of the congregation changed rapidly, and, at the same time, the same sort of thing seemed to be happening in USY, the youth group I belonged to. In their regional meet-ups, there were special meetings that only the super-religious could join, you had to have a letter from your rabbi testifying to your religious devotion. Essentially it was teenagers talking about the talmud and the mishnah, and the 'open house' they'd have once a year was something I truly enjoyed, up until I was asked not to attend because I didn't keep kosher. (The kosher section in Kalamazoo at the time consisted of Best's hot dogs and some Empire frozen chicken breasts. Anything else and we had to drive to Chicago)

The inferiority complex, where the conservatives ape the orthodox to out-pious other conservatives, or reform ape conservative to out-pious other reform Jews, it killed the joy I had in the religion. It's one reason, I think, why so much of the religion can't/won't adjust to match the times we live in. If the Orthodox won't allow it, the Conservative movement will hesitate to even discuss it.

On the other hand, last year when my father died, my sister and I went to Saturday services the next day. It was the first time I'd been in a synagogue in over fifteen years. People who'd watched me grow up came over to me and expressed their condolences, and were a tremendous help to me. I guess the one thing I miss about Judaism, more than anything else, is the tremendous sense of shared community.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:10 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, it's always a little creepy to me when atheists argue that religion should be eradicated from the world. Because how do they imagine that happening except through some form of violence?

Well, while I'm an atheist I don't argue that. BUT your conclusion is not valid... think about it, don't a lot of people wish there was no racism in the world? Well, sure you could do that by killing anyone racist. OR you could do it by changing their beliefs through argument, reason, etc. Most people mean the latter when they talk about eradicating racism. I think most of the people you refer to mean the same thing with respect to religion. It's certainly theoretically possible to eliminate or severely reduce any belief system through reason and debate. The only one talking about violence in this case is you.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:43 PM on October 5, 2010


I would submit that anyone who reads a news story like this one and sees that as an appropriate or relevant question to ask in response may be overreacting in the service of their own personal agenda.
taken out of context you may be right, which is why I said "in this thread" referring to here and above which happens to be where the discussion landed.

The point of Astro Zombie's comment was, among other things, that this thread is NOT the forum for you (or anyone else) to express your sweeping condemnation of Judaism. The discussion "landed there," as it often does, because some people were jumping at the chance to issue judgments based on lazy, vaguely antisemitic arguments about the entirety of Judaism based on a particular objectionable thing that some Jews did.

Judaism is more complex than every description given so far, much more so than you're giving it credit for.

Of course I could submit that rabbis complaining about two people in love opens to door to asking the broader questions like who the fuck do they think they are.

Great question; go ahead and explore that, so long as it's clear who the "they" is you're referring to. The particular people complaining about this marriage announcement and the intellectual community that supports their viewpoints are fair targets for criticism. All of Judaism is not. There's just no way that you can get from the question "Who do these assholes think they are?" to "Is Judaism a net positive force in the world or a net negative?" without it seeming like you have an axe to grind.

we also (probably) agree that while we share the right to believe whatever we want, that right does not automatically become a right to issue those beliefs as public policy

Interesting to note: no part of this story actually involved public policy. In fact, if you'll recall, the two people in the story (both Jews) actually decided to get married, in a symbolic religious ceremony performed by a Reform rabbi, and the announcement of that upcoming event pissed off some religious people. So again, this thread really isn't the place for a referendum on Orthodox Judaism, organized religion in general, or the role of religious institutions in shaping policy.
posted by albrecht at 7:12 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


> it's always a little creepy to me when atheists argue that religion should be eradicated from the world. Because how do they imagine that happening ...

I think, though, that this explains some of the touchy responses to grizzled's comment, along with some anti-Jewish comments that got deleted:

... just because you have ideas that have never progressed beyond reading one or two books about atheism doesn't mean that one of the oldest cultures in the world needs to go away because you think it's silly .... And I say this as an atheist.

I don't think grizzled meant Jewish culture or ethnicity had outlived it's usefulness. (But maybe he didn't think through the distinctions between culture, religion and ethnicity very well.) If you talk about "eliminating" religions, you need to make it clear you don't mean eliminating people or eradicating cultures, because historically "reason and debate" is not how people have usually tried to do that.
posted by nangar at 7:44 PM on October 5, 2010


Perhaps Astro Zombie will explain that we "don't really know" that Leviticus 24:14 commands death by stoning for blasphemy.

Point out the last time it happened, or explain to me why you think it matters today. You've been crapping all over Judaism in this thread, and it's not related to the subject at hand -- the behavior of a few Orthodox Jews in a little NJ town is just a pretext for your blanket condemnation of the religion. That sucks, and I am asking you to stop. Otherwise, I'm just going to steer the fuck clear of this sort of discussion, because it's tough enough being a Jew without having somebody dredge up 2,000-year-old texts as a mechanism for telling you how wretched you are.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:01 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Religion says "faith is good, belief is good, this/these book(s) is/are good". The first two are held up as being extremely important.
Maybe some religions. Judaism is generally about actions, not beliefs. (Arguing about what a text means is for these purposes an action.)

So how can the religious moderates really criticize, much less castigate, people for being too faithful? For being too religious?
Well, perhaps we are part of a very different type of tradition, where out-faithing each other -- though of course many people do it, have always done it -- is not generally part of the plan. Too religious is so broad it's hard to really respond to.

To be religious at all is to say that religion is good, that faith is good. Religious moderates may be disapproving of religious extremists, but they have a difficult time really fighting against them because faith is good.
I think it's a weird sort of lack of understanding in much of the non-Orthodox community, and missing knowledge of Jewish history, so that what they can see is only a bunch of laws that one group of people keep, and other groups of people argue about what it means, and they don't understand the place of argument in Judaism.

For a lot of religious moderates, there is very much the view that the extremists have a stronger, or purer, or in some way superior faith. And I've got to say I think they're right to think that. If faith is good, how can one have too much faith? If book X contains the truth, how can following the dictates of book X closely be bad?
Well, faith is neither good nor bad, but extremism is bad. Any book might contain the truth, but also many interpretations. I can think a group is following dictates incorrectly.

But I can also see how it is very difficult for such moderates to take any real stand against the non-moderates. They do practice a more real, more pure, more intense, more whatever, form of the religion that the moderates have already decided is good.
This is really not accurate. I've decided that I like some aspects of Judaism, based on my inner moral code and who I am (and the fact that I was born Jewish as opposed to some other religion), and I take the good and argue that the bad is bad.
posted by jeather at 8:50 PM on October 5, 2010


some people were jumping at the chance to issue judgments based on lazy, vaguely antisemitic (sic) arguments about the entirety of Judaism based on a particular objectionable thing that some Jews did.

(I've sent you MeMail about this, I would appreciate a response)

The particular people complaining about this marriage announcement and the intellectual community that supports their viewpoints are fair targets for criticism. All of Judaism is not.

um, maybe you can bust somebody for using this occasion to vent anti-Semitism but you don't get to decide what is a fair target for me to discuss simply because others abuse the context.

There's just no way that you can get from the question "Who do these assholes think they are?" to "Is Judaism a net positive force in the world or a net negative?" without it seeming like you have an axe to grind.

You know, there are at least half a dozen personal accounts in this thread about people's experience in the jewish faith. The vast majority of them are positive in that they remain observant in some fashion or another. I was relaying my experience which was different and I concluded 'net negative' therefore I must have an axe to grind (?). You don't know me. I happen to have plenty of axes but this isn't one of them. You can stop saying that now.

no part of this story actually involved public policy.

excuse me, but their actions prove that these rabbis are desperate to shape public discourse about gay marriage and their entire rationale for doing so is based on a judaism - and the fact is, the bottom line to every argument against gay marriage is religion. So, sorry, but it is not a huge, inexplicable leap to get from the actions of these guys to the question of motive and intent.

now, you may argue (as AZ does) that the actions of a few crazies doesn't represent the broader group of self-identifying jews and is therefore irrelevant. in response I would point you at what I consider to be brilliant arguments made in End of Faith that moderate adherence to an irrational system enables extreme adherence to the same irrational system. I happen to agree with this. (Sorry if my summaries of judaism and atheism are not complex enough but please don't tell me what I give credit for and what I don't based on what this format allows.)

what I get from you is that you want to keep the discussion to an extremely narrow area and away from certain areas because some asshat(s) can and have abused those areas for their own evil agendas. well, fuck them. whatever. you want to discuss ideas with me in a less aggressive, hostile tone, I'd love that. you want to be lazy and sweeping and have an axe to grind about them and lump me in with them, well, you can imagine what I have to say about that.
posted by victors at 10:08 PM on October 5, 2010


As a followup to the original story, here's some interesting information (I can't find any verification of it, though):
The editor was forced to write an editorial that she totally disagrees with or risk losing her job.

She is absolutely heart broken over the entire situation.

Members of the local orthodox Jewish community are acting like the Taliban and have threatened the staff with closing down the paper and relieving them of their jobs if they don’t tow the line and print what they are instructed to print regarding this issue.

The clout of the local orthodox rabbis and some of the more vocal and obnoxious members of their flocks is such that the paper, the oldest Jewish newspaper in NJ, feels threatened.

However, our informant writes that if they can be pursuaded that they will be supported in their fight, their intention is to retract the bigoted policy and fight the hatemongers.
posted by Tin Man at 7:53 AM on October 6, 2010


Sorry, here's the comment in which that information is mentioned.
posted by Tin Man at 7:54 AM on October 6, 2010


Holy crap:
chapter2 says:
Oct 6, 2010 at 10:31 AM

It is my understanding that the Jewish Standard was basically being blackmailed. The RCBC, the Orthodox Rabbinate threatened to take away the hechsher, the certificate of kashrut, from any restaurant that continued to advertise in the Jewish Standard if they did not announce that they would never publish another gay wedding announcement. This would effectively put the Standard out of business, as it is advertising and not subscriptions that keeps their doors open, and it would have put the Kosher restaurants, caterers, and other Kosher food providers in the position of having to find another hechsher, which in Bergen county would be hard to do. It would alienate the Orthodox community from all of the liberal Jews who keep Kosher and it could cause financial havoc in the Jewish community. RCBC should be ashamed.
This makes total sense. They control the Va'ad, and there's ample precedent (in NY at least) of kosher restaurants that had served the Orthodox community but went under once the hechsher was removed.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty disgusting if true.
posted by Tin Man at 9:04 AM on October 6, 2010


overglow wrote So, it's always a little creepy to me when atheists argue that religion should be eradicated from the world.

I wasn't arguing that in this thread, because I didn't think this thread was the appropriate place for that discussion. As it happens I do fall into that category, the world would be better off if there were no religion and I'm in favor of trying, peaceably, to achieve that noble goal.

Because how do they imagine that happening except through some form of violence?

I imagine it happening through a changing society that makes being non-religious more acceptable so that people feel more comfortable in leaving their religions. I imagine it happening through a slow drain of people leaving their religion and then no longer raising their children to be religious.

I doubt that religion will ever be completely absent, heck people still believe in astrology and other assorted para-religious things. But I do hope that religion will dwindle in importance until it matters as little in everyday life as astrology, until a belief in religion is regarded as being as insignificant when it comes to daily life, moral belief, etc as a belief in astrology is.

As wildcrdj said, I hope to see religion die out as we see racism (slowly, slowly) dying out.

But I'm absolutely opposed to attempting violence in the effort to end religion, and I'm absolutely opposed to employing legal mechanisms to try and suppress religion.

Education, acceptance of non-religion as a valid choice, and the evils perpetuated by religion (such as this story exemplifies, especially if the rumors of the Orthodox community attempting blackmail are true) will accomplish the goal of ending religion without any violence, except for the potential of violence from the religious as they see their grip on society loosening.
posted by sotonohito at 9:13 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm less familiar with the Kashrus industry than I thought, but how would the RCBC's threat affect things like national hechsherim (OU/khof-K, etc?) Is it that they have a stranglehold on the local people that those places employ? My experience has been that most kosher restaurants have national certifications.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:15 AM on October 6, 2010


I presume it's either because local places require local inspectors or because a lot of places that serve the ultra-orthodox community get certified "Glatt," which, as far as I can tell, is some sort of nonsensical "super-Kosher" that the Ultra-Orthodox use to make themselves even more extra special.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:35 AM on October 6, 2010


My experience has been that most kosher restaurants have national certifications.

Not here they don't. I live in central Jersey and the kosher restaurants in my area are certified by the Vaad Hakashrut of Raritan Valley. Near my parents' house, it's the Vaad of MetroWest. I don't know what it's called in Teaneck, but they certainly have their own. Food products in grocery stores have national hechshers like OU and kof-k, but restaurants are certified locally here.
posted by lullaby at 11:11 AM on October 6, 2010


Fascinating, lullaby. In Baltimore's Orthodox community (at least 5-10 years ago) restaurants and bakeries generally have national hechshers - granted, the Baltimore vaad does national certification as Star-K, but not every establishment had that particular national hechsher.

How horrible that the RCBC is using certification as financial leverage.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:19 AM on October 6, 2010


Maybe I'm less familiar with the Kashrus industry than I thought, but how would the RCBC's threat affect things like national hechsherim (OU/khof-K, etc?) Is it that they have a stranglehold on the local people that those places employ? My experience has been that most kosher restaurants have national certifications.

Va'ad Rabonim are organizations that manage certification of kosher establishments within a local region -- say, a county, or a city. So, there's a Va'ad of Chicago. And (I believe) one for each borough in NYC. Their certification matters to the Orthodox and those more-observant Conservative Jews, who will only eat food that is kosher, prepared according to kosher guidelines. In a city like Teaneck, the Va'ad also keeps a watchful eye on food preparation in places it has certified with a hechsher, by placing someone in the establishment at various times who confirms that not only are the foods being served are kosher, but also that they're not coming into contact with non-kosher items and that they're being prepared properly.

Va'ad certification can make or break a restaurant trying to cater to the Orthodox community. It can also mean big business for a hotel kitchen, trying to cater to Jews who want to hold receptions where kosher food is being served, like a wedding or bat mitzvah.
posted by zarq at 12:16 PM on October 6, 2010


Looks like the New York Times might be working on a story about this whole thing.
posted by Tin Man at 12:17 PM on October 6, 2010


How horrible that the RCBC is using certification as financial leverage.

Granted it's been several years since I, er, cared about keeping kosher, but as I understand, restaurants are typically supervised by someone who can readily come and reconfirm the kashrut of the place. So local authorities probably just make more sense than a national organization.

And not that I necessarily think RCBC is above doing that, but I'm going to need more than an anonymous comment on a magazine website to believe it...
posted by lullaby at 12:34 PM on October 6, 2010


zarq, I was raised Orthodox - I've just never encountered that structure. I've always seen restaurants with national certifications (OU, Circle K, Khof-K, Star-K), rather than "Va'ad of XYZ [county/town/etc.]" I imagine local vaads being the certifying agency allows for (slightly) more petty political stuff like this happening. I know there's already a lot of politics in the kashrut industry.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:39 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe there are mashgichim for different agencies that live/work all over the place, or travel to do what they need to do. (I know Star-K's monthly publication, Kashrus Kurrents, used to include articles by mashgichim detailing their travels to places like China to certify factories that produced chemicals for food use.) And Bergen County isn't exactly the middle of nowhere. That's partly why I was surprised that RCBC is (possibly) a big player in this situation, or even that most places in that area are supervised by them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a financial issue here too, isn't there? A fleishig restaurant requires a mashgiach present all the time, and a milchik restaurant requires one to come in every so often, and so on. And that's paid for by the certifying agency, so divvying that up with local authorities maybe makes sense in that way as well?

I just talked to my sister-in-law, who lives in Teaneck, and she tells me that the RCBC has been the sole certifying organization there for quite a while, and only recently has Kof-K started working a bit in the area as well. I can see why it might be iffy if RCBC dropped a restaurant and Kof-K picked them up. (And they might have different standards anyway?) And, incidentally, one of the rabbis on the RCBC board is heavily involved with the OU.
posted by lullaby at 1:20 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's an interview with the couple who were the subject of the original wedding announcement.
posted by Tin Man at 1:36 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Poking around on the New Voices (place that the interview was originally published) site led me to this - apparently the Standard has issued a retraction to the retraction, sort of (why on facebook, I don't know):

http://www.facebook.com/notes/the-jewish-standard/publishers-note-on-the-wedding-announcement-controversy/436979046996

highlight: "we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community."
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:06 PM on October 6, 2010


I think this out-piousing phenomenon that Ghidora mentioned is an important topic as far as the relationships between liberal and orthodox religion go. One of the reasons the "out-piousing" has worked (unfortunately) is that moderates have let it work. The inferiority complex that you mentioned is internal within the less religious people (and, relatedly, everyone is less religious than someone. This is not limited to liberal circles). Part of that is built into the sin/sinner guilt structure, but most of it is not. The relationships between the denominations and movements of Judaism has been informed by different forms of legitimization and power over time, but these days, in the absence of effective consensus in organizations, claims to legitimacy by religiousness are how a lot of struggles play themselves out.

I grew up in a Reform congregation and had many friends in the Conservative communities nearby. I also participated in some USY and NFTY (Conservative and Reform youth group) things in high school. There was a certain out-piousing and condescension that went on from the Conservative to the Reform organizations, and also within each. (I no longer identify with either of these movements.) But still, the question is who decides that more observant = more legitimate? It seems like both sides, religious and less religious, would have to be complicit in that. To counter this, it would take people expressing umbrage at having their religious observance insulted. When I was younger, I bought into those kinds of power structures more. Now, I would stick up for myself my religious observance in the form I have chosen for it to take, although it is not easy or comfortable to do so. And I wouldn't lend legitimacy to the people who can't accept that.

The context that Ghidora described growing up in is really a bummer, and all too common. What I see among my intellectual friends, the ones who were raised Jewish, is that most people are satisfied to walk away from their unpleasant childhood experiences of religion and write the whole thing off. This is strange, because in almost all aspects of life, these people are curious, open-minded and motivated to learn. I can't blame them for writing off Judaism based on their childhoods--their experiences were not good or compelling. BUT, if their inquiry into Jewish practice ended at 18 (or 13), they can't expect to have an adult relationship to the issues or the faith, and can't expect to make adult judgments about where this should fit into other people's lives (or even their own, although I believe that this is their choice and they have the right to make it). It takes time and effort to find a community that you are comfortable with, especially if in the intervening years you have gotten a lot of education and filled your mind with other powerful influences, as most of us have. But the fact that the default suburban Reform community (or Conservative, or Orthodox) doesn't work for you, that's not equivalent to the whole religion not having something to offer. I'm not putting these words in Ghidora's mouth at all (!), I'm speaking in general. I put in a lot of work to find my current community and my place within it, and I've reaped a lot of rewards. You get out what you put in. Our parents didn't prepare us for this process. Most of them just saddled us with enough guilt not to give up completely.

In the community that I am in now, which happens not to be affiliated with a movement, there is an actual diversity of approaches, and there is respect for this diversity. That attitude is not without its own contradictions, but the community sees it as a serious work in progress. At heart, this is a progressive idea, even when it manifests in more traditional forms of practice than what I grew up with. There is a great deal of work to do if moderate Jews don't want the face of extreme Orthodoxy being what speaks for all Jews in public discourse. Part of this problem is demographic and monetary, as this debacle underlined: moderate Jews spent less money on things that go back to the Jewish community (like kosher products) than traditional ones. Moderate Jews are more likely to intermarry and have smaller families than Orthodox Jews. There are fewer of us who are super committed to these issues, and we have relatively less sway with organizations that require advertisers or fundraising. It's an uphill battle for moderate Jews to be on the front lines of public discourse on Judaism, because most of our lives do not revolve around our identities as moderate Jews. One tactic is to give up completely and leave religion to the extremists. Personally, I would feel a great sense of loss if I had to do that, because I find religion to be very meaningful and one of the best parts of my life.

To bring this full circle, I think of progressive religious practice like what Dan Savage says about straight people getting married in states where gay marriage is illegal. He says, don't let marriage be the domain of religious bigots and jerks. If all reasonable, equality-loving people decide to boycott marriage, then religious zealots will find themselves in complete control of what is undeniably a powerful institution (both civilly and religiously). I don't want to let marriage OR religion be controlled by bigots and jerks.
posted by mtgoldma at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's a New York Times article published today on the story.
posted by Tin Man at 6:08 AM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


mtgoldma, thanks for your comment. I realize you weren't trying to put words in my mouth. Honestly, my moving on from Judaism had to do with my own growth and maturation. Like a lot of fifteen-sixteen year olds, I was being exposed to a great many new concepts, and just sort of moved on. I still treasure the concept of community in Judaism, and as a lapsed Jew, there are times when I keenly miss it (Passover, mostly), but even though I've been invited in recent years, I don't feel I could go, because I truly don't believe, and would feel like an impostor.

I do, though, still remember how much fun prayer was. Services were a joyous time, full of song. Discussing mishnah was interesting. One thing, mtgoldma, I do want to point out, is what you said about having an adult relationship with the religion. One of the main reasons I left, I think, was that I started earnestly reading the prayers. When the torah portion was being read, I would read the English translation. Hell, at one point, my rabbi was seriously trying to get me to consider rabinical school. I think I had a pretty mature relationship with the religion (for a 15 year old). It was just that, after seeing how viscious, petty, and manipulative the god of the Torah was, I really started to question why we sang such songs of joy and devotion to such a tyrant.

While I don't mean to open a nasty can of worms, let me just repeat, what I miss isn't the angry god. I miss the wonderful sense of community and compassion, but yeah, I made my choice, and I'm going to deal with it. Just drink a little extra seder wine for me this year.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:02 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Jewish Channel has obtained a leaked draft statement from the RCBC, or Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

Here's the money quote:
One single RCBC rabbi, who has been consulted by the Jewish Standard on a number of occasions in the past about issues relating to the religious sensibilities of the Orthodox community, did go, with the approval of the RCBC leadership, though not representing the RCBC, to meet with the executive staff of the Jewish Standard. The meeting was characterized by calm, civility and mutual respect. The rabbi communicated that there were a significant number of Orthodox Jews who felt that the Standard had crossed a line by publishing this wedding announcement, and that if the leaders of the paper are concerned about the opinions of these members of our community, they should reconsider their position on this matter for the future.

- At no time did this rabbi or any other RCBC rabbi express any threat whatsoever, financial or otherwise, to the newspaper.
- At no time did anyone representing the RCBC ever contact any proprietor of a food establishment under RCBC Kashruth supervision regarding anything to do with this matter or with the Jewish Standard.
- At no time did anyone representing the RCBC advocate any kind of boycott of the newspaper or force, urge, encourage, coax or cajole anybody else to do so.

Any reports, allegations or accusations implying the contrary are outright lies. They remain outright lies regardless of how loudly they are proclaimed or how often they are repeated.

posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on October 8, 2010


sitting here heartbroken to learn that the RCBC has leakers. (deep breathy oy)
posted by victors at 1:23 PM on October 8, 2010


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