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The Jewish Press Must Not Kowtow to Religious Homophobia

On October 4, the New Jersey Jewish Standard published an apology for printing a same-sex wedding announcement. In that apology, the paper’s editor, Rebecca Boroson, made it clear that the decision to stop running same-sex wedding announcements, and the apology, was in response to pressure from the so-called "traditional/Orthodox" Jewish community. Thanks to the internet, the outrage felt at this editorial decision was felt across the nation.

David A. Wilensky at Jewschool was quick to respond with a letter to the editor. He wrote:

Next week, you will be apologizing to the wider Jewish community for jumping at the snap of some Orthodox bullies’ fingers. You will be forced to apologize to unaffiliated, non-denominational, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews for forgetting that they are the vast majority of the community. Despite your otherwise pusillanimous handling of this journalistic catastrophe, you somehow managed the chutzpah to apologize for the “pain and consternation” you caused a few noisy homophobic readers. When can we expect your apology to the gay community for the pain and consternation you have no doubt caused them? 

Today, the NJ Jewish Standard published a note on Facebook, saying:

We ran the wedding announcement because we felt, as a community newspaper, that it was our job to serve the entire community — something we have been doing for 80 years.We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community. We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published. The issue clearly demands debate and serious consideration, which we will do our best to encourage.

This response seems to have satisfied Wilensky, who wrote: "In the end, kol hakavod to NJJS for recognizing their mistake and rectifying it. And kol hakavod to NJJS for stopping the apologies in their tracks." He even suggested that the NJ Jewish Standard's interest in encouraging "debate and serious consideration" on this issue is an example of "journalism of the highest order." With this last point, I respectfully disagree. 

As someone who has spent more time studying journalism ethics than working as an editor or reporter, I will admit that my opinions are based on idealistic principles rather than experience. Still, I don't believe that "fair and balanced" means giving equal time and voice to "both sides" of an issue. Especially when that issue is a question of equal rights for gay people. A newspaper that says it is "not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life" should not hide behind "fair and balanced" in order to avoid taking a stand and acknowledging that "giving expression to all phases of Jewish life" means including gay Jewish life. Saying that this issue "demands debate and serious consideration" is a practical, political, and cowardly way out.

Exclusion is a form of discrimination and so is giving voice and legitimacy to homophobia in a paper that is supposedly for "everyone." And this type of discrimination is directly related to the sorts of direct harassment and bullying going on in schools and colleges that has contributed to a tragic string of suicides by LGBT youth across the nation. Comedian Sarah Silverman bluntly connects the dots in this video:

The NJ Jewish Standard could not have picked a worse moment to kowtow to the homophobic minority of the national Jewish population.

The It Gets Better Project, started by Dan Savage to give hope and support to LGBT middle school and high school students, has been getting a lot of positive and negative attention. Tablet writes: "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." As much as the Jewish press would like to keep the Jewish community united, religious homophobia is still homophobia and it has no place in publications that are intended for the larger Jewish community.

Here's how you can help:

Sign the petition to tell the NJ Jewish Standard to print same-sex wedding annoucements. ("Encouraging conversation" is NOT sufficient.) You can also participate in Wear Purple Day on October 20th to honor the 6 gay boys who committed suicide in recent weeks/month due to homophobic abuse in their homes at their schools.

Equality is not something that requires "debate and serious consideration." It requires courage and love for all of our Jewish brothers and sisters. It requires us to be brave and take a stand on what we believe in. It is obvious now that there are lives at stake.

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3 Comments

I couldn't agree more with this post. Thank you.

That's not quite what I meant. You are suggesting that I said it is journalism of the highest order to give both sides equal time/column inches to make their point. I certainly don't think that.What I wrote is actually this:NJJS will have to do the same and theyÌ¢‰â‰ã¢ll be better off for it. TheyÌ¢‰â‰ã¢ve stumbled into a great story here, actually. The follow-up articles in the coming weeks, if they pull this off right, can be examples of journalism of the highest order.My point is that they screwed up in the first place, but that in coverage of their community that will result from the screw-up will be good journalism. That is not to say that if both the bigots and everyone else gets to say whatever the hell they want, good journalism will be enjoyed by all. Rather, if what they've stumbled into here is a legitimate concern of their readers--I mean the concern of the majority of their readers, not the loud rabbinical cabal of a minority that tried to bully the newspaper into pretending reality isn't the way it is here in NJ--they'll get great stories out of it.I am saying that if they cover their own screw-up well, that will be good journalism.

You can also sign on to Keshet's Do Not Stand Idly By: A Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives, and encourage the Jewish organizations you are involved with to sign as well.(And then, after signing the pledge, live by it.)

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "The Jewish Press Must Not Kowtow to Religious Homophobia." 6 October 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 25, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/the-jewish-press-must-not-kowtow-to-religious-homophobia>.

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