Tuesday January 12, 2010

“Tolerance” Panel Causes Uproar at Orthodox Jewish University

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

NEW YORK, January 12, 2010 ( – A Canadian homosexual student at New York’s Yeshiva University has caused an uproar and precipitated a fierce backlash from students and school administration after he organized a panel discussion defending “tolerance” of homosexuals within the school and the wider Orthodox Jewish community.

According to the Yeshiva University student newspaper, The Commentator, the event was organized by the YU Tolerance Club, which was founded last year by Avi Kopstick of Toronto.

The panel discussion, titled “Being Gay in the Modern Orthodox World,” attracted about 700 supporters, many of whom, The Commentator reported, were from other universities, including NYU, Columbia, Queens College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“The crowd largely supported the panelists,” the student paper reported, “with many bursts of applause interrupting the speakers, and numerous audience members writing messages of support on the index cards given out to the audience for the purpose of submitting anonymous questions.”

However, both students at the school and leading Jewish scholars denounced the event.

It was reported that a few hours before the event, a letter was posted around the university bearing the signatures of several leaders in the school, including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, which said in part, “The Torah’s mitzvos and judgments are eternally true and binding. Homosexual activity constitutes an abomination.

“As such, publicizing or seeking legitimization even for the homosexual orientation one feels runs contrary to Torah. In any forum or on any occasion when appropriate sympathy for such discreet individuals is being discussed, these basic truths regarding homosexual feelings and activity must be emphatically re-affirmed.”

The Commentator also reported that Yeshiva University students had posted satirical signs beside the “Being Gay in the Modern Orthodox World” event posters that drew a comparison between homosexuality and another form of sinful behavior prohibited by the Torah. The signs said, “Being Bestial in the Jewish Community.”

The event subsequently elicited heated debate in Jewish newspapers and blogs.

In response, YU president Richard Joel and Rabbi Yona Reiss, dean of the university’s theological seminary, released a statement last week stressing “the absolute prohibition of homosexual relationships according to Jewish law.”

“Those struggling with this issue require due sensitivity,” the statement said, “although such sensitivity cannot be allowed to erode the Torah’s unequivocal condemnation of such activity.”

“Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well intentioned, could send the wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirements of halachic behaviour and due modesty. Yeshiva has an obligation to ensure that its activities and events promote the primacy and sacredness of Torah in our lives and communities.”

Avi Kopstick told the media that his intentions for organizing the homosexual event were misunderstood.

“I think that the rosh yeshivahs and Rabbi Twersky think our goal is to legitimize homosexuality, so gay people can go and have relations with other gay people,” he said, and added that this was not the case.

Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a Rosh or head of the theological seminary, said the panel organizers and participants had brought “shame” to the university.

“Do you have to come out of the closet about every issue and struggle that a person has?” Rabbi Twersky asked.

“It’s not done in any other context and the only reason it’s done in this context is because the way it goes by the non-Jews is the way it goes by the Jews. There the agenda is alternate lifestyle. There the agenda is gay pride. There the agenda is gay marriage. And that’s what’s influencing us” Rabbi Twersky stated.