Joel: Gay Panel ‘Could Send the Wrong Message’

On December 22, 2009, Yeshiva University (YU) hosted a panel entitled “Being Gay in the Orthodox World,” in which one current YU student and three YU alumni addressed the intersection of homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism by sharing their own experiences as gay Orthodox Jews. The event, which was co-sponsored by YU’s Tolerance Club and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, evoked outrage in the YU community. Professors and students responded with petitions, condemning the event as blasphemous. As a result of the backlash, President Richard M. Joel and Dean of the Rabbinical School Menahel Rabbi Yona Reiss issued the following statement:

“In light of recent events, we want to reiterate the absolute prohibition of homosexual relationships according to Jewish law. Of course, as was indicated in a message issued by our Roshei Yeshiva, those struggling with this issue require due sensitivity, although such sensitivity cannot be allowed to erode the Torah’s unequivocal condemnation of such activity. Sadly, as we have discovered, public gatherings addressing these issues, even when well-intentioned, could send the wrong message and obscure the Torah’s requirements of halakhic behavior and due modesty. Yeshiva has an obligation to ensure that its activities and events promote the primacy and sacredness of Torah in our lives and communities. We are committed to providing halakhic guidance and sensitivity with respect to all challenges confronted by individuals within our broader community, including homosexual inclinations, in a discreet, dignified and appropriate fashion.”

(Transcript courtesy of http://media.www.yuobserver.com/media/storage/paper989/news/2009/12/21/News/President.Richard.Joel.And.Menahel.Rabbi.Yona.
Reiss.Issue.Statement.Addressing.R-3851582.shtml?refsource=collegeheadlines.)

The ordeal came to the attention of the Cardozo community by way of Evan Mintz’s February 2010 op-ed in the Jurist, entitled How Free is Speech at Cardozo Law? (The Cardozo Jurist, Vol. III, Issue 5, at 4) in which the author raised First Amendment concerns about Cardozo, and referenced Joel and Reiss’ above statement as an example of how YU values its religious ideals over free speech. Upon reading Mintz’s article, members of OUTlaw were upset. OUTlaw co-chairs Dave Johnston and Jaime Leggett, 3Ls, explained, “we are deeply troubled by President Joel’s statement.” Members of OUTlaw took it upon themselves to confront the Cardozo administration on the matter, asking Vice Dean Ed Stein and Dean of Career Services Arthur Fama to confirm that President Joel’s statement does not reflect a change in Cardozo’s policy toward its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students.

Johnston and Leggett additionally noted that “Cardozo has an excellent history of supporting its LGBTQ students both as individuals and as speakers in the public forum.” What they seek from the Cardozo administration is “a reaffirmation of Cardozo’s policy supporting its LGBTQ students and encouraging us to address LGBTQ issues openly, frankly, and publicly.” Talks between OUTlaw and the Cardozo administration are ongoing. OUTlaw also plans to meet with President Joel.

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