As haredi protests against Friday's Jerusalem Gay Pride March heat up, leading rabbis have expressed concern over the adverse educational and spiritual impact of the struggle on their impressionable youth.
The Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Ya'acov Arye Alter, head of the largest and most influential hassidic movement in the country, prohibits demonstrating against the parade.
"The rebbe does not want his hassidim to have anything to do with darkness and ugliness," said a Gerrer hassid and journalist.
He said that Alter imposed a ban on coverage of the march by Hamodia, a haredi daily controlled by Gerer hassidim.
Alter does not want his followers involved with homosexuality, including demonstrating against the march. He argues that his hassidim, especially young children, can be adversely affected just by turning their attention to the issue of homosexuality. They are liable to ask embarrassing questions and get confused. The best strategy is to simply ignore the phenomenon.
Rabbis Yehuda Leib Steinman and Michel Yehuda Lefkovitz, two of the leading spiritual leaders of the Lithuanian yeshiva world, also do not want yeshiva students prowling the streets grappling with police and wasting time that could have been spent learning Torah.
They have expressed their opposition to a call by other haredi rabbis - most notably Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv - to take to the streets and demonstrate.
"We aren't like Neturei Karta or those other radicals," said a student from Ponevezh Yeshiva, one of the country's most prestigious Torah institutions. "A yeshiva student is expected to maintain decorum and good manners."
In contrast, religious Zionist educators are encouraging high-school age girls and boys to take part in a Modesty March that is geared toward providing a kosher alternative to the Gay Pride Parade. The march is slated to take place on Rehov Meiri in Kiryat Moshe, not far from the gay parade route.
Rabbi Eitan Eiseman, head of the Tzvia-Noam chain of elementary and high schools, said that the Modesty March sent out an important educational message.
"Our young people are very aware of what is going on," he said. "Getting them to participate in demonstrations teaches them that Jerusalem is a holy city that must not be desecrated."
Rabbi Daniel Shilo, of the Rabbinic Council of Judea and Samaria, which is planning a prayer vigil on the Temple Mount Thursday morning, agreed.
"Our students must be taught to fight apathy," he said. "There are certain types of behavior that cannot be ignored. We have an obligation to publicly denounce it."
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