Tomorrow is Pride Shabbat, a celebration of LGBTQ Jews, friends, families, and allies of all ages. It comes at a critical moment in history.
I’ve been increasingly worried over the last years that in the time ahead we may find ourselves looking back and saying, ‘This was when those liberties we took almost for granted began to be rolled back.’ In some parts of the world such words won’t be said too loudly, because you can never be sure who might be listening.
I’m thinking of Russia, with its vicious war against Ukraine, and of the surveillance, threats and punishments faced by anyone who dares to dissent. There’s the proto-fascist politics of Hungary, and the growing strength in parts of Europe of the populist far right, so say nothing of the Middle East. The repressive role of certain religious groups in these trends is additionally disturbing.
We need to look west as well as east. Last week’s overturning of Roe v Wade by America’s Supreme Court opens the way for states to enact laws likely to target women, and families, in deeply invasive ways. It also bodes the possible curtailment of other freedoms. (I’m horrified too at the Court’s destructive, irresponsible and retrograde decision relating to the climate crisis.)
The Court’s verdict turned on what rights not specifically stated in the Constitution it considered to be implied under the 14th Amendment, particularly the right to privacy in personal matters including contraception, abortion, marriage and sexual orientation.
The issue, wrote Justice Alito in delivering the Court’s opinion, was whether the right to abortion could be considered ‘deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition’ and ‘essential to our Nation’s “scheme of ordered liberty.”’ But that ‘history and tradition’ was established at a time when women had little public, and no legal, voice.
If the Court deemed abortion not to qualify, what will come next?
This is Pride Shabbat. The struggle against repression and violent hatred has been long and cruel. It isn’t over, as last week’s murderous attack on a gay venue in Olso tragically showed. Support and allyship have rarely been more important than now, as Sadiq Kahn states so well:
As mayor, and as an ally to our incredible LGBTQ+ community, I’ve always been a passionate supporter of LGBTQ+ rights because I feel strongly that no one should ever face prejudice, discrimination or violence because of who they are or who they love.
As a rabbi, I’m well aware that there are hurtful texts to be faced in the heartland of our faith, in the Torah. I do so through what two thousand years ago ben Azzai considered the most foundational text of all, that every human being without exception is created in God’s image. To exclude someone from equal rights and privileges on grounds of sexual orientation is to disregard not only their humanity, but the presence of God in them, which is entrusted uniquely and specially to each and every person.
I believe God asks us not why our body chemistry is a certain way, but whether we are compassionate, just, trustworthy, respectful, generous, and committed to caring for each other and God’s world.
As Jews, we have often been in the front line of those whose rights to equality, if granted in the first place, have been threatened or withdrawn.
That too is why we should stand with Pride this Shabbat and celebrate the rich creativity of our community.