Thursday, October 14, 2010

NJ Jewish Standard & Carl Paladino

While last week's decision by the New Jersey Jewish Standard to apologize for the inclusion of a gay wedding announcement and then retract the apology made big news, I didn't have a chance to weigh in on it. But now, that New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino has essentially done the same thing regarding the anti-gay comments he made to a group of Hasidic Jews, I thought I'd comment on both matters.

Newspapers, and especially Jewish newspapers, will never be able to please everyone. Stating that the newspaper is for the entire community is actually a shortsighted mission statement because every Jewish community will have its factions that neither read nor care about what is published in certain Jewish newspapers. Whether it is the decision to run advertisements for non-kosher restaurants or print interfaith wedding announcements, the Orthodox community will boycott the paper. And a Jewish newspaper that has a bias toward the Orthodox won't be of much concern to a progressive audience.

Ultimately, what happened at the NJ Jewish Standard was neglect. The paper's editorial board and staff neglected to have a thoughtful process about whether to publish gay wedding (and engagement) announcements in the first place. And when there was backlash from the Orthodox, they should have debriefed on the matter, gathered information, and sought counsel from local rabbis and Jewish leaders before issuing an apology. The quick decision to apologize for publishing the engagement of Avi Smolen and Justin Rosen (who, by the way, seem like a very nice couple and will be married by my colleague Rabbi Josh Gruenberg) and then making the statement that the paper will never again run such an announcement turned into a public relations nightmare. It took days until James Janoff, the publisher, issued a retraction of the editor's statement which said, "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."

The engagement announcement of former Camp Ramah in Nyack staffers
Avi Smolen & Justin Rosen, who will be married this month.

In a statement posted to the paper's website, Janoff said the New Jersey Jewish Standard probably should not have reversed its policy so quickly, "responding only to one segment of the community." He said he is now holding meetings with local rabbis and community leaders, and will be printing many of the letters "that have been pouring in" on the issue. Without saying that the paper will print same-sex marriage announcements in the future, my sense is that in time they will.

Now on to Carl Paladino, who I'm convinced is a wish that was granted to Jon Stewart for his last birthday. Today's New York Times reports that the alliance between Republican Carl Paladino and Yehuda Levin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, has fallen apart, with the rabbi denouncing Paladino on Wednesday for his apology over remarks he had made about homosexuality on Sunday. It turns out that Rabbi Levin wrote Paladino's anti-gay speech, so he was obviously angered when Paladino did a 180 and apologized for his "poorly chosen words" and said he would "fight for all gay New Yorkers’ rights" if elected governor.

I'm not really sure how Paladino could be so naive to think that, in the 24-hour news cycle era, his offensive anti-gay remarks wouldn't be broadcast all over the country within hours. During a meeting with a small Orthodox congregation that was arranged by Rabbi Levin, Paladino said that children should not be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality was acceptable, and then he criticized his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, for marching with his daughters in New York City’s gay pride parade. While his comments obviously went over well with the Hasidic group, they didn't play very well for the rest of the world.

There are some pretty funny lines in the NY Times story including Rabbi Levin explaining where he was and what he was doing when he learned of Paladino's apology (emphasis is mine):

Rabbi Levin said he was especially upset that Mr. Paladino gave him no notice that he planned to back away from the comments. "I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich," Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."

So, was it a kosher pastrami or kosher salami sandwich, Rabbi Levin? And I love how he had to mention that it was "kosher." Did he think that folks would question whether he was eating a non-kosher sandwich?

The Times then had to clarify that Paladino hadn't actually become gay (of course):

Mr. Paladino, of course, had not become gay, but had announced that he wanted to clarify that he embraced gay rights and opposed discrimination. In explaining his views, Mr. Paladino and his aides noted that he had a gay nephew who worked for the campaign.

So, what did Rabbi Levin have to say about Paladino's gay nephew?

"He discovered now he has a gay nephew?" the rabbi said. "Mazel tov! We’ll make a coming-out party!"

So, my question is: If the Hasidic Rabbi Yehuda Levin makes a coming-out party for Carl Paladino's gay nephew, will the New Jersey Jewish Standard announce it in their paper? You just couldn't make this stuff up!


Jonathan said...

Is the rabbi that is "marrying" the gay couple a member of the RA. If so how can he "marry" them instead of providing them a commitment ceremony. The Nevins teshuva only allows for commitment ceremony it doesn't allow for gay marriage within Conservative Judaism. It appears to me that some Conservative rabbis such as yourself, Rabbi Miller, are eager to cannabilize Conservative Judaism's halacha for their own more liberal agenda. Am I missing something here? Let me know. Be a sport and post this as it is. And I will attach my own full name and membership in my Conservative shul. Sincerely, Jonathan Loring MA JTS'96 member of Congregation Beth Shalom Pittsburgh PA

Rabbi Jason Miller said...


Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg, a graduate of JTS and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, officiated at their wedding this past Sunday evening. I was't there, but talked to people who were and I saw the photos that several people posted.

What I can tell you is that your trying to split hairs here. What do you mean by "wedding?" Do you use the term to mean solemnizing a civil marriage through a ceremony? If the State of NY allows for same sex couples to be civilly married, I don't see why a rabbi cannot officiate for that purpose.

If you are making a distinction between kiddushin and a commitment ceremony, I don't recall the Dorff/Nevins/Reisner teshuvah doing that. In other words it doesn't stipulate what the commitment ceremony looks like. Some would argue that it's only kiddushin if the man puts a ring on the woman's finger and says "Harei at mekudeshet li..." Well, I can assure you that no man is going to put a ring on another man's finger and say "Harei At." He might say "Harei Atah" but the sages (obviously) don't address that.

If your concern is the civil part of the ceremony, then that is up to the states to enact whether the ceremony (call it a "commitment ceremony" or call it "Kiddushin." The state will say it's semantics anyway) effects a marriage.

If I perform a Kiddushin ceremony for a couple that has already been civilly married, am I performing a wedding? So, would you be happier if gay couples got civilly married first (by a judge or justice of the peace) and then rabbis performed a ceremony?

I don't see how anyone is cannibalizing "Conservative Judaism's halacha" (your term). The CJLS (Law Committee) passed a teshuva allowing RA member rabbis to officiate at these ceremonies and that's precisely what Rabbi Gruenberg did this past Sunday.

When it's your son who is gay and wants to marry another man, please call me to discuss. It's amazing how drastically one's views change when the matter hits home.

Jonathan said...

Rabbi Miller, Can you show where and/or when the CJLS passed a teshuvah allowing RA members to officiate a civil homosexual marriage? I will post here the pertinent issues of a press release regarding the variety of teshuvot passed in 2006 and I can also post another time (because I can't post so many characters here at once) the summary of positions allowed by the Nevins/Dorff/Reisner teshuvot. While it appears that commitment ceremonies are ok with that teshuvot (my capitals follow here) YES THERE IS A DIFFERENCE in that teshuvah between what a homosexual commitment ceremony allowed and wedding ceremony - the latter not even addressed by the Nevins Dorff Reisner teshuva. Go back and read it. So when a Conservative rabbi says Conservative Judaism allows for Gay Marriage, All I can think is, unless you show me another accepted CJLS teshuvah I haven't seen- not just in a mere sentence of what you think you remember of a teshuvah that you dont really want to follow is that either you are ignorant of this aspect of Conservative Jewish law or you and your rabbi buddies want the law to simply fit your own agenda and you never really read these teshuvahs closely because they don't. If my son was gay I'd want him to seek a rabbi for counseling who really knows the parameters of what his/her movement allows. And you Rabbi Miller are not that rabbi. Since when do we agree if the state says someone is married does Conservative Judaism also automatically agree that they are married? A lot of rabbis would have a lot less work if that was true. Sincerely, Jonathan


Rabbinical Assembly Committee
On Jewish Law and Standards
Concludes Meeting On Issue of Homosexuality and Halakha

New York, NY, (December 6, 2006) – The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly concluded its two-day meeting on the subject of Homosexuality and Halakhah, or Jewish Law, this morning. The discussions and teshuvot of the CJLS reflect a deeply shared commitment to halakhah, Jewish Law and the Torah principle of kvod habriot, the God-given dignity of all human beings.
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international professional association of Conservative rabbis. The CJLS is the central halakhic authority for the Conservative movement, which represents more than two million Jews worldwide.
The following statement was drafted at the conclusion of the meeting:

At the CJLS meetings, five specific teshuvot were extensively discussed in a spirit of collegiality and open-mindedness. Two teshuvot -- one authored by Rabbi Joel Roth and the other authored by Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Daniel Nevins and Avram Reisner -- obtained clear majority support. Rabbi Roth’s responsum “Homosexuality Revisited” reaffirmed the prior position, which denied ordination as clergy to active homosexuals and also prohibited same sex commitment ceremonies or marriage. In contrast, Rabbis Dorff, Nevins and Reisner, while retaining the Torah’s explicit prohibition, as understood by the rabbis banning male homosexual intercourse, argued in “Homosexuality, Human Dignity
and Halakhah” for the full normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews. Under this ruling, gay and lesbian Jews may be ordained as clergy and their committed relationships may be recognized, although not as sanctified marriage.
A third teshuva accepted by the CJLS, written by Rabbi Leonard Levy, which upheld the traditional prohibitions, argued that homosexuality is not a unitary condition and urged the development of educational programs within the community to achieve understanding, compassion and dignity for gays and lesbians. There was also some support on the committee for a more comprehensive repeal of the prior ban against homosexual relationships. All authors of teshuvot shared a universal appreciation for the principle of kvod habriot and the welfare of gays and lesbians in our community.
During its deliberations the CJLS did not discuss – nor do any of the papers reflect – any determination regarding gay marriage.