In the streets of Jerusalem on Thursday, thousands of brave people will march for pride and tolerance. In a season marked by tragedy and darkness, they will be casting a Yes vote on hope. And the future.
They know the risks. They've heard the voices – and seen with horror the tragic potential consequences - of those whose vote is a loud, crude No.
Two years ago this week, Jerusalem high school student Shira Banki was slaughtered as she marched in solidarity with LGBT friends in the Pride March. Then as now, the march followed by only a few days the Jewish commemoration of Tisha B'Av. The murderer, the terrorist, had studied in yeshiva the Talmudic teaching that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed on that date because of Sinat Chinam - groundless hatred, hatred for its own sake – which, the sages said, was rife among the Jews of the time.
The lesson was lost on the killer.
The lesson was also lost on the chief rabbi of the city of Safed. Last week, plunging into a debate over discriminatory government policies which amount to an effective ban on allowing gay couples to adopt children, Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu took the lead in opposing such adoptions – by attacking LGBTQ people as a whole.
What does Sinat Chinam sound like? In the case of the chief rabbi of Safed, speaking about LGBTQ people, it can sound conversational, matter-of-fact:
"The word 'sick' is, I think, too mild" to describe them, he told Army Radio.
"This is something which requires treatment. It requires repair. Absolutely."
Rabbi Eliyahu was one of a number of rabbis who wrote to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in support of her stance against gay adoption. Despite their coded language, which carefully avoided direct mention of sexual orientation, they made clear that gay adoption stands "in opposition to human morality, whose source is our sacred Torah."
Using the Hebrew acronym for LGBT, Rabbi Eliyahu summarized their message as follows: "Don't allow the state to become LAHATABistan!"
He said that LGBTQ people were using terrorism to force the system to bend to their will "against common sense" [literally, "in contrast to healthy thinking"].
"Terrorism," he repeated. "There's no other word for it. Today there is a situation of terrorism under which you can’t express an opinion" contrary to the LGBTQ community.
Rabbi Eliyahu is no stranger to allegations that his words have added appreciably to the world's reservoir of Sinat Chinam. In 2010, he led a group of municipal rabbis, all of them civil servants, in a ruling forbidding Jews from selling or renting apartments to Arabs. The ruling went on to state that "The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed."
At the time, the rabbi's neighbor, 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Eli Tzvielli, received death threats for renting an apartment to three Israeli Arab students. But Tzvielli stood his ground and refused demands that he evict his tenants.
This week, as the Pride March neared and warnings about Sinat Chinam began fading from earshot, incitement against LGBTQ people gathered momentum.
First in line was the far-right Lehava organization, which practices hatred and worse against Arabs, LGBTQ people, and anyone else it decides is worthy of harassment - online as well as up close and personal.
On Monday, hours before Tisha B'Av began, Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein issued a YouTube video inviting viewers to join Lehava's protest against the Pride March and against gay adoption.
The video featured the slogan "Jerusalem Is Not Sodom! Don't Give Them Kids!"
"There's no reason to proudly walk the streets of the city," Gopstein says in the video, miming holding up a sign: "'Yes, we're perverts!'
"There's no pride in marching through the center of the city and saying 'We're failures! We can't resist our urges!'"
A recent public opinion survey by the Hiddush organization showed that 79 percent of Israelis favor same-sex marriage.
But Eliyahu was adamant that opinions regarding the LGBTQ community have been distorted by what he saw as the undue influence the community has forced on the society at large.
The rabbi turned aside suggestions that there were many LGBTQ people even among religious Jews. The number of LGBTQ people in all sectors of Israel was greatly exaggerated, he said. "The noise they make is enormous, but their existence is next to nothing."
Statistics that placed the number of gay people in the society at 10 percent were "stupidity and nonsense," he said. He maintained that studies had shown that the actual number was less than 2.5 percent.
When Army Radio anchor Niv Raskin told Rabbi Eliyahu that he was stunned by his comments, the rabbi answered "Why are you stunned? We live in a reality where we have to say "Holy! Holy!" whenever LGBTQ people speak.
"As a society we have to say that the healthy situation to which we aspire and educate toward, is a family with a husband and a wife, who can generate love and bring children into the world. What can you do, when G-d created the world, He did not create it such that a man and a man can bring forth life, and grant life."
"To come along and say, I'm going to invent something new, I'm going to adopt and so forth – that's artificial."
Rabbi Eliyahu also ruled out surrogacy as a means for gay couples to have children. "A child is entitled to two healthy parents, just as G-d created him. When you tell him you're going to get just a mother, or just a father, or two fathers, you're simply harming the child, and we're not going to allow that."
Proponents of change in the adoption policies have noted that many gay couples are much more suited to becoming parents than are heterosexual couples whose homes are the scene of domestic strife and violence.
Eliyahu said the crux of the issue was this: "In general, do we want a child growing up with a father and a father, or a mother and a mother?
"This is not just a bodily matter. It's an emotional matter. Mothers have the warmth and the sensitivity and the love and all the charming feminine traits without which you cannot create a world. And then there are all the masculine traits without which you cannot create a world. A child who grows up with a father and a mother receives the two powers, from here and there, and has a healthy and complete soul."
According to the rabbi, "The joining of the two produces a perfect person." If a child has two fathers or two mothers, he continued, "You are taking half of it away from him."
On Thursday evening, thousands of brave people will walk the streets of Jerusalem, from Independence Park to Liberty Bell Park. May the God who created them all, keep them safe from harm. And from Lehava. And from Rabbi Eliyahu.
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