Analysis: Rabbis deliberate gay parade

Torn between "need to educate" and need to respond to "liberal onslaught."

The leading rabbis of the haredi world are deliberating over whether to go on an all-out war against the World Pride Jerusalem Parade or to ignore it. The question is potentially explosive. While the leaders of the haredi communities in Israel enjoy a prestige unknown in other sectors of Israeli societya, the passions being awakened by the issue in religious circles, and among haredim specifically, might overwhelm their ability to let the event pass quietly. It is important to remember that in 2005, the rabbis chose to largely ignore the homosexual rights parade. According to Aharon Rose, a scholar of modern haredi thought, this decision was made with good reason. "Children are the center of this world," Rose said. "Their education is everything." And, at the end of the day, "What rebbe wants the children of his community asking him what homosexuals are? It's not pleasant when that happens to a rabbi." According to MK Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), the rabbis are torn between "their responsibility to the education of the youth and of the Jewish people" and the need to respond to the parade's "liberal onslaught" by affirming that Jerusalem is the symbol of Judaism and Torah. The first concern pushes them to stay quiet, while the second demands that they mobilize counter-demonstrations in Jerusalem and around the world. The rabbis have not yet chosen between the two, Ravitz said. No matter how it ultimately decides to act, the haredi leadership is finding that it enjoys far less room to maneuver than in previous years. The forces on the sidelines of the haredi world, such as the growing outreach movements, are steadily forcing their hand. Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, a charismatic haredi rabbi who brings many disaffected youth into the haredi world as ba'alei tshuva through outreach work throughout Israel, has railed against the upcoming parade. An anti-parade flier distributed in Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Mea Shearim and Geula on Tuesday, which offered a NIS 20,000 reward for "anyone who causes the death of one of the people of Sodom and Gemorra," was a more brutal example of the fringe elements attempting to force the leadership onto a war footing. For others, the desire to react loudly, and perhaps violently, to the parade comes from a sense that Jerusalem is their town. The perception that unknown individuals are coming from all over the world to "desecrate" it creates a feeling of communal violation. The virulently anti-Zionist Edah Haredit, comprising almost 10,000 people in Jerusalem and nearby towns, is more powerful than its diminutive size simply because it unabashedly throws its weight around, sending activists to the streets on the slightest pretext. It is a community that still very much remembers the fact that once, before the coming of the Zionists, it controlled Jerusalem. Edah members today are listening sympathetically to religious Zionist rabbi Ya'akov Medan's recent characterization of the parade as sexual liberalism's declaration of victory over monotheism's sanctity of family and society. Paradoxically, the feeling of communal violation among many of Jerusalem's most fervent anti-Zionists has translated into a kind of tactical partnership with the religious Zionist opposition to the parade. Thus, while "rabbis don't know how to go to war" and are seeking to avoid confrontation at all costs, Ravitz declared, he admitted that "events on the ground may dictate [their decision]." The leaders of the haredi world stand at a crossroads. The choice to launch an overt battle against the gay pride parade means entering the Israeli public sphere, a space they have consciously avoided for generations. The angry forces slowly gathering on the fringes of the haredi world may force their hand.