Honor, not ban, same-sex unions


To the editor:

(re: “Hebrew Institute instructed to cool it on same-sex unions,” Jan. 4)

To begin, I write this as a Jewish woman.

I read the article about the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, a Jewish Modern Orthodox synagogue, having to change a progressive policy of theirs which welcomes lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people to their place of worship. While HIR cannot perform same-sex marriages because they are not condoned by Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, congratulations have always been given to LGBT people who have married — both acknowledged in the synagogue’s newsletter, and with personal congratulations.

The Press article states that HIR “has long been known to follow its own path” within the confines of traditional Jewish law, including its policy and practice concerning LGBT Jews. Now an edict has come down from the Orthodox Union, which is the largest association of Orthodox synagogues in America, saying HIR must now not announce same-sex marriages in their newsletter, or offer such congratulations in public.

Your article says HIR will still include LGBT people in their congregation. But how? Will they be treated as second-class citizens who are relegated to the “marriage closet,” not receiving public acknowledgement of their commitment and their love?

HIR has been known to embrace social justice issues. My question is this: How does an institution, or an individual person (rabbis included) stand up to policies that they know are unjust? Will HIR honor this edict, which does not say LGBT people shouldn’t be allowed into the synagogue, but does say that once allowed in, LGBT people cannot engage in the celebration of their marriage just like other Jews do at HIR?

How will this play out regarding fairness, decency and support of all members of the congregation?

Many LGBT Jewish youth contemplate suicide because of the internal conflict of who they are and their treatment by society. I agree with Mr. Mordechai Levovitz, executive director of Jewish Queer Youth, when he “cautioned against an unyielding commitment to laws without considering their impact on people.” 

There is some comparison here with how Jews were slowly and then devastatingly shut out of full participation in other societies throughout history. 

How can we, as Jews, repeat this error?

I strongly urge HIR to consider not following this new rule. It just isn’t right.

Ariana Holback

Ariana Holback,


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Jennifer Scarlott

Thank you for this thoughtful letter, Ariana Holback. I agree with it in full, and shared my thoughts about this news story in the comments section under the article:


Today, 1/14/18, during the Announcements portion of the program at the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, a participant rose to urge folks to attend what sounds like an important and moving program at the Hebrew Institute -- a "Bedzin Ghetto Exhibit"-- which will include speakers and a film screening. I would very much like to attend. But in good conscience, I don't feel comfortable doing so. HIR, in complying with the Orthodox Union's demand that it not acknowledge or celebrate same sex unions of its congregants, is saying that those congregants are "less than." How can I attend what sounds like a very important and deeply meaningful event at HIR regarding persecution, when HIR engages in singling out and denying and shutting down a persecuted minority?

Sunday, January 14

It must really suck going though life being perpetually offended.....

It also means you pick losing sides and are ineffective. Just some food for thought.........

I don't really give 2 craps about gay marriage or not. Personally I don't care one iota about HIR's stance. That is their business and ultimately it means nothing to anyone. There are plenty of reform synagogues that would love the business, so gays can get married over there. It's actually a perfect example of how market forces can drive social change. Reform synagogues will benefit financially while places like HIR won't.

Funny though how in reality the ones to benefit most from gay marriage will probably end up being the divorce lawyers, who all now have just increased their client base by whatever percentage gays actually make up in our society.

And no, gays are not a "persecuted minority" in our society. Perhaps in Saudi Arabia or other predominantly muslim countries, but here in socially liberal and tolerant America, I'd say gays are anything but persecuted. Gays are also, as a group, extremely successful. They control a lot of industries here in NYC and some of the wealthiest and most cultured people I've ever met are gay. They would probably laugh at the thought that they are "persecuted."

Sunday, January 14