Ultra-Orthodox Threaten Protest Against GayPride

"Conflagration" shouted the announcement published by the religious court of the Eda Haredit. "We heard a rumor that angered our souls ... because preparations are being made in the temple of the King of Jerusalem for a parade of sin and ugliness of the worst sort, and to bring hundreds of thousands of wicked people from all over the world to contaminate the Holy City and dishonor it."

The members of the ultra-Orthodox court called on "our brothers in Israel, wherever they may be" to prepare for a holy war and gather for a massive demonstration of unprecedented size." Jerusalem WorldPride 2006 is only a little more than a month away, kicking off on August 6 and culminating in the parade on the 10th. Yet the struggle in the religious community is just getting under way, and for good reason. The dilemma: Haredi newspapers do not write about homosexuals and of course the public debate in the ultra-Orthodox community does not take up the issue either.

If they must, they will speak about perverts, acts of abomination and the like. On the other hand, Haredim feel that they must protest against the parade. How can you fight something for which you have no vocabulary?

Beyond the discomfort involved, there is the important issue of education. Many ultra-Orthodox parents would rather let the parade circle the city three times than hear their children asking, "Daddy, what's a homosexual?"

The poster issued by the Haredi Council heralds an escalation of the conflict, but the council is an extreme and marginal part of the ultra-Orthodox community. The Haredi High Court was once nearly as important of the Torah Guardians of Agudat Yisrael, but no longer. The dilemma is further complicated by the biblical warning contained in Leviticus 18. God lists forbidden sexual relationships including, "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman" [Lev. 18:22], warning, "So let not the land spew you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you" [Lev. 18:28].

The editor-in-chief of the Haredi newspaper Hamishpacha, Moshe Grylak, meanwhile, who is usually a moderate man, warns against a new exile as a result of the parade.

Two weeks ago the head of Har Etzion Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaacov Medan, a particularly harsh opinion piece against the parade in the right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon, entitled "Stopping the parade of abomination." Medan heads one of the more moderate national-religious yeshivas. He is Prof. Ruth Gavison's partner in the Gavison-Medan Covenant, which supports secular-religious dialogue and is sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute, among others. Prof. Avi Ravitzky has described the covenant as "the most important and comprehensive attempt to reach agreement on issues of religion and state since the state was established."

In Makor Rishon Modan writes: "It is doubtful whether since the shrine of Tophet in the Ben-Hinnom Valley and the introduction of idol worship into the Temple at the end of the First Temple period has there been such blasphemy in Jerusalem ... [T]his disgrace can be stopped," Medan claims. He suggests holding a rally like the one against the Supreme Court in early 1999. "No police," Medan writes, "will succeed in dispersing such a crowd from the streets that we will block. We will not have to use any violence, God forbid. Our presence alone shall suffice. I am doubtful whether the Israel Police will risk the violence of teargas, rubber-tipped bullets and the like against such a huge crowd for such a trivial purpose as holding the parade of abomination."

Like the tsunami

Two weeks ago Hamishpacha held a meeting to discuss how to deal with the pride parade. The compromise between those who wanted to ignore it and those who believed that silence was impossible was Grylak's editorial, published last week under the title, "Will the earth shake in Jerusalem?" Grylak believes that "the protest will attract huge numbers of people from the national-religious camp, especially the Haredi-leaning ones who like us are repelled by the perverts' attempt to take control of the public space of our lives and our holy city."

Last year an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator, Yishai Schlissel, leaped into the parade and stabbed three participants. Grylak argues that an organized rally will make for a calmer climate and could prevent such violence.

The first letter written by rabbis against the parade was published early this month. Signatories included former chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, a leader in the national-religious sector and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Degel Hatorah. They wrote: "We come to cry out from the bottom of our heart and to awaken the honor of rabbis everywhere to pray, protest and use all their connections and skills against the villainy that the wicked of Israel are planning, the men of 'Sodom and Gomorrah' who want to pollute the holy city of Jerusalem for a full week."

The rabbis noted that the sages prophesied a "great storm" as punishment for the grave sin of single-sex marriage, "just like the tsunami in Thailand that killed hundreds of thousands of men, women and children." They even sought, and found, a special verse for their battle: "For then I will remove the proud and exultant within you" [Tzephania 3.11] [The Hebrew words given here as "proud" and "exultant," aliz and ga'ava, are the Hebrew words adopted by Israeli homosexuals to describe themselves.] This letter actually says more about the difficulties of the battle against the parade than about its power. It was signed by second-string Haredi rabbis, not the important ones. For that matter, it does not even mention a demonstration.

500 will get AIDS

In every religious struggle, there are those who go between the rabbis and the politicians and stir things up. The "machers" in WorldPride are Ephraim Holtzberg and Yehuda Levine. Holtzberg's (toned-down) text is not recommended for the weak of heart. "It is impossible to take the city that is called the throne of God and turn it into San Francisco," says Holtzberg. "This is the Holy Land, not homo-land." He warns that "holding the parade will bring on a punishment that will not leave Jerusalem standing. God will throw us like a ballistic missile. It's 'to be or not to be.' Even the Haredi High Court will say that it's permitted. People will stand on the road, they will be hit and they won't allow it to take place. They won't beat anyone up, God forbid, but let's see them move a million people off the street."

Holtzberg says the argument that they don't want the children to know about homosexuality is "stupid, because in any event a child will ask about the man in the underpants near the Western Wall." He also warns of the possibility of pedophiles participating in the march, and also that "if 10,000 people with AIDS come and let's say 500 people contract AIDS, then the Health Ministry will collapse." Giant demonstrations do not just happen, however. The mass protest against the High Court was organized by former MK Menachem Porush (the father of MK Meir Porush). So far there is no team organizing the anti-Pride parade. It is difficult not to feel that the Haredi power-brokers are playing a game of "chicken" with the police and with the Jerusalem Open House, the community center for gays and lesbians in the capital, in the hopes that the other side will duck first and cancel the parade or at least move it outside the city center, such as to Sacher Park.

Grylak calls on Menachem Porush to take charge of the demonstration. In response, Porush said, "I am doing what the Council of Torah Sages decide, and I have not been given any instructions."

What is his position? "There are things that cannot even be mentioned," Porush says. "The more people talk about it, even to denounce it, the more the opposite goal is achieved."

The modesty parade

Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, known for bringing non-observant Jews back to the faith, is not waiting for the Haredi establishment. He is organizing a giant rally in Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium. He is not attempting to block the parade, however, but rather to offer an alternative. Yitzhak's Shofar news Web site announces that on the night of Tu Be'Av (the Jewish "holiday of love"), "two days before the date that the disgusting people are planning their 'world abomination day," tens of thousands of Jews will gather for an enormous "modesty parade" whose very existence will denounce the abomination and contamination."

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians (late, as usual), are attempting to apply political pressure. Shas has much less problem talking about homosexuality than its Ashkenazi counterparts. "We are totally against it. It's insanity," says Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai. "Our public is outraged. All three religions are against it. Let them have it somewhere else." Yishai plans to appeal to Justice Minister Haim Ramon and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to cancel the parade.

How can you fight something you have no words to describe? "What do you mean? 'The filth parade.'" The director of Open House, Haggai Elad, is careful to keep his expectations. Ten thousand people came to last year's parade, he says. This year he expects double that, with at least 10 foreign delegations. "Every year there are waves of excitement. It's important that we don't get swept away," Elad says. He adds that last year two MKs (Uri Uriel and Meir Porush) sat down on the street and were removed by the police.