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N.Y. Orthodox Community Divided on Marching in Israel Day Parade

May 5, 1993
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Orthodox community here is split on whether to march in the local Salute to Israel Parade on Sunday, following a decision by the parade’s organizers to allow the participation of the city’s gay and lesbian synagogue.

As part of a compromise worked out last month, the American Zionist Youth Foundation, which organizes the parade, permitted Congregation Beth Simchat Torah to march in the parade under a shared banner with the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

But the compromise failed to mollify all the Orthodox groups. Late last month, the Yeshiva Principals Council of the New York Board of Jewish Education voted to withdraw its schools from the march.

Students from the dozens of New York day schools represented by the council have traditionally made up a major portion of the annual march down Fifth Avenue.

The opposition of the majority of yeshiva principals was echoed by the organizational bodies of mainstream Orthodoxy: the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Jewish Congregations of America and the National Council of Young Israel, among others.

But many of the schools most clearly identified with Modern Orthodoxy have decided to march nonetheless. Others have been wavering back and forth, and have not yet made their decisions.

Those Orthodox groups that plan to march say saluting Israel together with non-Orthodox religious denominations and non-religious Zionists never implied an endorsement of those views.

“The Israel Day Parade is a time for all Zionist groups, whether halachic or not, to show their commitment to Israel,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.


Among those marching are the high schools affiliated with Yeshiva University. A university spokesman had no further comment on the decision.

The grand marshal of the parade, Mexican industrialist Marcos Katz, is a major donor to the university.

One source said Yeshiva’s decision to march was made, in part, because of the money that had already been invested in the parade. The school conditioned its participation, according to the source, on Congregation Beth Simchat Torah marching at least half an hour after the Yeshiva contingent.

At the same time, the decision has become the subject of controversy on the Yeshiva University campus, with some of the Talmud faculty leading a fierce opposition to the decision, hoping for a reversal before Sunday.

“It’s a fight for the soul and heart of Modern Orthodoxy,” said sociologist William Helmreich, whose book, “The World of the Yeshiva,” looked at the internal dynamics of Orthodox Judaism.

“If the Modern Orthodox back out, it will mean they’re not a power to be reckoned with. The right-wing yeshivas never supported the march to begin with,” said Helmreich.

But one rabbi who has proudly carried the Modern Orthodox banner and argued strongly for Orthodox participation in the broader Jewish community complained bitterly that he has been betrayed by the Reform movement.

“The big winner here is (Reform leader Rabbi Alexander) Schindler and (the anti-Zionist) Satmar,” said Rabbi Louis Bernstein, a past president of the Religious Zionists of America.

As an example of how the controversy is splitting the Orthodox community, Bernstein pointed to the Yeshiva of Flatbush. The school is not pulling out of the parade.

But faced with opposition by the leaders of the large Syrian Jewish community in Flatbush, many of the students will not go.


Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a member of the Yeshiva University Talmud faculty who advised the day school principals to withdraw, said that the Orthodox withdrawal does not reflect any anti-Zionism.

“No one will interpret our absence as a failure to support Israel. It will be a vote against a homosexual lifestyle,” he said.

He explained that marching alongside a homosexual congregation was more problematic than marching with a Reform congregation because the former has broken “with the norms of society.”

He admitted, though, that the controversy over gay participation in the St. Patrick’s Day parade “has no minor effect on the attitude the halachah takes.

“We don’t allow certain laws in Judaism that would seem to be more lenient than in other religions,” Tendler said. “Otherwise it would seem the Catholic Church is of greater morality than we are.”

One explanation for the wall-to-wall opposition from the Orthodox rabbinic groups could perhaps be found in an article that appeared in a recent issue of Jewish Action, a magazine published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The article, “Homosexuality and the Orthodox Jewish Community,” argued that by fighting the acceptance of homosexuality, the Orthodox community could perhaps, “halt, in the entire Jewish community, a major trend away from Torah, for the first time” in some 200 years.

“We have an opportunity to shape the community rather than merely respond to its decline; to stop the slippage rather than to resign ourselves to being a minority with reference to still another area of observance,” wrote the authors: Rabbi Pinchas Stolper, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Marc Angel, past president of the Rabbinical Council of America; and Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, a contributing editor of Jewish Action.

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