Hatred was the common denominator Thursday night, shared by a few thousand haredim and religious Zionists who gathered to protest this year's Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem.
Hatred was what motivated these demonstrators, many of whom were under the age of 30, to drop whatever they normally do on a weekday evening, brave police roadblocks and burning trash heaps and buck mainstream rabbinic leadership.
Haredi rabbis did not support the small demonstration that took place near the central bus station. Nor did the rabbis permit their students to cut short their afternoon Torah study, which earns them an exemption from army service and which - haredim believe - is the single most important act a Jewish man can perform.
There were no big league names on the makeshift stage where the haredi activists who organized the demonstration stood and shouted out their diatribes against homosexuality. Indefatigable Rabbi Yehudah Levine of New York, a veteran anti-gay activist, spoke for close to half an hour. Clutching the microphone, his voice - magnified by two clusters of loudspeakers - boomed out into Jaffa Road. Levine bashed Israel's democratic authorities who permitted the spectacle of debauchery taking place just a few blocks away.
"Look at this silly country," shouted Levine, switching from English to Hebrew mid-speech. "Don't our politicians realize that keeping the mitzvot is our secret to survival?"
Hatred spurred these devout Jews to stand and shout epithets together with men like Levine, to cheer or just to mill around indignantly. Ostensibly, it was hatred of a sexual practice that is hated by God; that is called by the Torah an "abomination." But it was more than that. Some of the men who came to take part in the demonstrations seemed suspect of an abnormally abundant amount of hatred for one of hundreds of sins prohibited by God. More than one demonstrator managed to whip himself into a frenzy over the degeneracy of homosexuality as he stood in the crowd listening to Levine and the other speakers.
Perhaps homosexuality is singled out because it undermines the family institution or because it precludes Jewish continuity, at least via natural childbearing methods. But somehow the aggregate hatred expressed Thursday evening seemed more than the sum total of insult to religious sensibilities. And since hatred was the motif, the general atmosphere was palpably depressing and stifling.
Meanwhile, in other parts of haredi Jerusalem, people went about their daily routines. Young yeshiva students, packed into huge study halls, rocked and swayed as they learned Talmud. Young girls tended to even younger siblings. Men rushed to the local synagogue to pray. Charity organizations passed out weekly food packages for the upcoming Shabbat.
"The best thing to do is to ignore it," said one bearded man on Rehov Mea She'arim as he rushed to prayer. He was voicing the opinion of Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh Alter, who heads Israel's largest Hassidic sect. Alter has demanded that the haredi daily Hamodia, which he controls, omit any mention of the gay pride parade. Alter told all his followers to go about their lives as if the parade did not exist, as if homosexuality did not exist.
"A Jew banishes darkness by adding light," said the man, and walked away.
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