Jewish Press Takes on Gay Suicides

The Jewish Press, a weekly publication focused on the Orthodox Jewish community, has a stinging editorial defending its decision to feature a story about suicide among “religious” Jewish gays. The original story, by Chaim Levin, touched off a great deal of criticism within the paper’s readership and advertisers.  Here’s a bit from the Press’ editorial:

We did not run this article to promote homosexuality. We did not run this article to condone anti-Halachic behavior. We did not run this article to intimate that homosexual behavior could be a Jewish life choice.

We ran this article because, whether one wants to admit it or not, there is a serious problem that some members of our religious community face – day in and day out. It could be your Chavrusah (study partner) in Yeshiva, the guy sitting next to you in shul, or your brother in your very own home. And this is true whether you wear a black hat, a streimel, or a knit yarmulka.

Pretending that there are no frum Jews with homosexual inclinations won’t make the truth go away. It won’t make the internal conflicts they fight with their Yetzer Harah (evil inclination) disappear.

and a bit more:

Following the publication of this op-ed, a number of Jewish Press advertisers were approached and threatened. They were told to stop advertising with the Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press won’t give in to threats and we won’t be silenced.

We thank our advertisers who have notified us they plan to continue with us despite the threatening letters and that they won’t give into threats either, particularly when an article like this one may have very well have saved a Jewish life.

People can do Tshuva (repent) for many acts against Halacha, but what forgiveness can there be after pushing someone so far they would commit suicide?

To understand the significance, it’s important to understand the religious context. The folks at the Religious Newswriters Association define Orthodox Judaism as “[t]he most conservative of the three major branches of Judaism, it strictly adheres to traditional teachings and acceptance of Jewish principles of faith and law.”

The Jewish Press describes itself as part of the Modern Orthodox movement, which is more moderate, which means it is often in conflict with more traditional movements within the Orthodox Judaism, including the Haredi and Hasidic.

Despite being “moderates” within a traditional movement, the decision to come out strongly against the treatment and attitudes towards gays inside Orthodox Jewish families–and call out for special shame the treatment in the most religious–or rabbinic–homes is a brave step.

The stuggles inside the Jewish press dealing with LGBT issues are not new.  In 2010, we wrote about the controversy at New Jersey Jewish Standard which was being criticized by readers for running a story on the marriage of two men.  At that time, NLGJA emphasized that the Jewish press was no different from any specialty media serving a “minority” or unique audience. It cannot pretend that LGBT people don’t exist inside the community and they–and their families–are part of the readership the media is trying to reach and serve.

NLGJA board member Matt Berger, who brought this to our attention, began his journalism career in the Jewish media.  Here’s his take on the controversy:

For me, the key takeaway here is that Judaism is often seen as one of the more liberal religions on social issues, and its community engagement is largely based on the concept of “tikkun olam” or repairing the world. Jewish groups have helped lead the civil rights movement and the fight against genocide in Darfur, but have done less to combat suffering and injustice in their own community.

There are openly LGBT rabbis in both the Reform and Conservative movement and both allow rabbis to perform same-sex weddings. But there is a real disconnect between these movements and the Orthodox, which often side more with Christian conservatives on social issues than with other tracts of Judaism.

There is a responsibility here for the broader Jewish community, including the Jewish media, to speak out on this issue and support organizations like the Jewish Press that are willing to speak about things that have previously been kept in silence.

Using intimidation and threats to pressure the media to hide issues of suffering within the community is the antithesis of “tikkun olam” and goes against everything the Jewish community stands for and has worked for.

So congratulations to the Jewish Press for taking a strong stand against suicide and the treatment of gay young people within the Orthodox Jewish community and allowing articles like the one by Levin to be a part of its editorial mix.

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