Yesterday, the New Jersey Jewish Standard (“the voice of northern Jewish New Jersey” since 1931, according to its Website) published an editorial apologizing for running a same-sex couple’s engagement announcement the previous Friday (right above an ad for a mohel, it so happens). The paper’s editor, Rebecca Boroson, reported that the paper had received an unexpected number of negative comments, and, after talking with a group of unnamed “traditional/Orthodox” rabbis, she came to understand that the announcement had caused “pain and consternation.” For this she was sorry. And readers could rest assured that the New Jersey Jewish Standard will never run such an announcement again.
The statement rocketed around Facebook and the blogosphere. Commenters on the paper’s site overwhelmingly expressed dismay. Boroson’s decision was called “disappointing” and “abhorrent.” More than one person noted the sad irony of the paper apologizing for offending homophobic readers in the wake of the recent rash of suicides by gay teenagers across the country, including, most prominently, at Rutgers—the state university of New Jersey.
The decision seems at odds with the paper’s official mission statement: “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.” By refusing to run paid announcements from fellow Jews, and by kowtowing to but one segment of the community, the paper has chosen to “affiliate” with one “point of view,” doing the precise opposite of “giving expression to all phases of Jewish life.”
As one commenter, Jonah Rank, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, pointed out, “It just might be a Chillul Hashem—a desecration of the God name—when a free publication that writes for and about Jewish causes sinks to the level of engaging in the shaming of an entire percentile of the Jewish population by refusing to acknowledge … their existence. We should not read about a gay union just as much as we should not read about Jews who belong to egalitarian synagogues, Jews who do not keep kosher, and Jews who do not engage in the core Mitzvah of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).”
Another commenter pointed out that she feels “pain and consternation” every time the paper accepts an ad from a non-kosher restaurant or writes about an event taking place on Shabbat. “Will you take note of my pain and refrain from advertising anything that violates halachic Judaism?” she asked rhetorically.
Rabbi Sue Fendrick, an alumna of the Wexner Fellowship now at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, posted, “It is ironic that you use the word ‘pain’ twice in your short retraction, given how deeply painful it is to GLBT Jews, their friends and families and people who care about them, that their lives are not visible in our communities and publications.”
In related news, columnist Dan Savage began an initiative last month called the “It Gets Better Project,” urging happy LGBT adults to post videos to YouTube assuring young, isolated LGBTs that even if they face hatred and bigotry now, their lives can eventually be rich and full.. LGBT teens are three times as likely to commit suicide as straight teenagers, and are far more likely to be bullied. While most coverage of the project has been favorable, there has been some backlash, among other things over the fact that the project allegedly stereotypes religious people as bigoted.
Religious people bigoted? Thoughtful people refuse to play into that stereotype. So do thoughtful publications.
A Statement from the Jewish Standard [Jewish Standard]