Orthodox Jews have been puzzled as to why so many people leave their community. According to the 2013 Pew survey of Jewish Americans, more than half of all Jews raised Orthodox no longer identify with that denomination. I am one of them.
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I left the community of my childhood partly because I could no longer tolerate Orthodoxy’s double standards on discrimination. The Rabbinical Council of America’s recent resolutions highlight this hypocrisy.
One of the greatest gifts of studying Talmud from a young age was that I learned how to analyze whether people’s words and actions were consistent. Through this lens, I saw many inconsistencies – especially when it came to the treatment of women, gays and lesbians. While the Orthodox community preached ideals of equality and justice, it relegated women to second-class status and treated gays and lesbians as outcasts.
Last week, the RCA put this hypocrisy into focus. The most blatant hypocrisy was that on the same day it issued a resolution condemning racism, it also released a different resolution prohibiting its members from ordaining women as rabbis or hiring women into rabbinic positions. Juxtaposing the two resolutions, they effectively said that while discrimination based on skin color is a “pernicious scourge,” discrimination based on sex is a “sacred and joyful duty.”
The hypocrisy goes even deeper. In its constitution, the RCA commits itself to “help[ing] the continuity of the basic American institutions of equal liberty and justice for all.” The American institutions that define what it means to promote “equal liberty and justice for all,” including the Supreme Court, have made clear, however, that separate but equal is inherently unequal; and the RCA’s decision to prohibit the ordination of women altogether does not even stop at advocating this problematic principle. Instead, it promotes a far more troubling system that is both separate and unequal for women. The RCA may be upholding other principles, but certainly not the American values of equal liberty and justice for all.
The RCA’s hypocrisy when it comes to gays and lesbians is even more disturbing because it has denigrated gays and lesbians using the same exact tactics that it considers abhorrent when used in other contexts. Among the resolutions passed last week was a reaffirmation of a 2014 resolution condemning the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for employing the Three D's: demonization, delegitimization and double standards. Yet, the RCA has employed every single one of the Three D’s against gays and lesbians.
It has demonized homosexuality as “sexual depravity” and associated it with the slavery and infanticide that the Israelites experienced in ancient Egypt. It has delegitimized homosexual relationships by proclaiming, “The only legitimate form of sexual behavior is that which takes place between adult men and women.” And it has held double standards by protesting the legality of same-sex marriage in the United States while remaining silent about the legality of countless other sexual acts and relationships prohibited by Orthodox Judaism: As far as I have seen, the RCA has not issued a single condemnation of the legality of adultery, sexual relations during a woman’s menstrual period, or marriages between Jews and non-Jews, even though all are prohibited by Orthodox Judaism. (It has not even spoken out against the legality of masturbation, which is, according to the Shulhan Arukh, “more severe than all Torah transgressions” (Even Haezer 23:1).)
The RCA has strongly condemned hypocrisy in other institutions. Assuming that its members believe they should be held to the same standards to which they hold others, it would only be appropriate for them to reevaluate some of the double standards they promote within their community. Changing their positions on women, gays and lesbians would be a good place to start.
Ayalon Eliach is a lawyer and a rabbinical student at Hebrew College. He holds a BA in Religious Studies from Yale University and a JD from Harvard Law School. He is passionate about using religion as a source of connection rather than separation in the world. He tweets at @AyalonEliach.