Faced with the horrendous crimes of an ultra-orthodox Jew stabbing participants in a gay pride demonstration in Israel, and the firebombing of Palestinian homes and resulting burning to death of an 18 month old Palestinian baby while others in the family are in critical condition and may not survive, many Israelis and American Jews denounced these horrendous acts. Netanyahu and his government ordered a few Israeli settlers arrested in “administrative detention,” the polite word to describe the practice which till now has been used against thousands of Palestinian civilians–arrest without formal charges, often held in detention for months or more without trial, and in the case of Palestinians often tortured. The Israeli settlers arrested did not face what most Palestinians “suspected” of terrorist acts usually suffer: the homes of the family of the suspect are immediately blown up by the occupying Israeli Army in the West Bank. That no such punishment was immediately meted out to the Israeli settler suspects was not surprising, but just another manifestation of the racist treatment Palestinians in the Occupied territory face (though of course we don’t support this tactic against settlers or Palestinians). As many Israeli human rights and peace advocates point out, the firebombing of Palestinian homes is just one of many variants of violence visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, the goal being to make life so difficult that Palestinians will eventually be “ethnically cleansed” and Israel can make the West Bank a fully Jewish-majority part of Israel. I should hasten to add that most West Bank settlers do not participate in acts of violence, though they overwhelmingly vote for extremist right-wing political parties whose policies are racist and whose goals are not fundamentally dissimilar to those of their violent West Bank settler neighbors.
For us at Tikkun, all this has left us stunned, saddened, repenting for these horrific crimes on the part of our people, and all the more determined to insist on the need to end the Occupation and create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, while purging our own peple of the hatred and racism that too many Israelis and their American Jewish allies have been willing to ignore, apologize for, or deny. On the other hand, the attack on homosexuals, equally outrageous and horrendous, does not flow from the policies of the State of Israel, which have been friendly to gays and lesbians in the past decade, but rather from the homophobic perspective of the ultra-orthodox community. Until those attitudes are purged from the orthodox world, gays and lesbians will face oppressive treatment in those communities. As I argued in my book Jewish Renewal, the anti-gay texts in the Torah can be reinterpreted in the same spirit that led the rabbis to redefine all the commands for animal sacrifices to be understood as really commands to pray (avodah zeh hu teffillah). Where there is a communal will there is a Hallakhic way, so just as Jewish religious law has evolved on many other issues, so it can follow the rulings of Conservative Movement in Judaism and make changes in their understanding of Torah on this issue–if the will to stamp out homophobia prevails, as it should.
Below we publish some responses to these events. We will be repenting for these acts at our High Holiday services at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley (click here for more information) and we urge you if you are Jewish to speak to your local rabbis and ask them to explicitly include these issues in the list of “sins” being articulated during the “Al Cheyt” prayers for the High Holidays. The list of “sins” we’ve developed will be online at www.tikkun.org within the next week, plenty of time to approach local synagogues to ask them to include these in their services. If there is no synagogue in your area willing to do that, you are invited to come to Berkeley, Ca. to pray with me! Of course, non-Jews are also welcome to register for and attend these services (and we will be focusing also on the destructive realities of American racism, the growing insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the homeless, and the environmental crisis–issues that are not just for Jews to repent but for everyone!). Please do read the articles below.