Wednesday, 16 February 2011

I Guess It Did Some Good

As many of you are aware, I signed the "Statement" regarding the treatment of homosexuals within the Orthodox community and have questioned myself since. While I basically agreed with the Statement, at least as I understood it, this document has caused much consternation especially in how it has been used by various elements to promote an agenda which is clearly contrary to the Statement 's own words. It never sanctioned homosexual behaviour; simply called upon Torah Jews to respond to individuals as the Torah itself instructs.

It was thus truly sad for me, and upsetting, to see the Statement quoted in the promotion of the recently held Shabbaton for gays. I just wanted to have my name removed from the Statement for I did not want to be part of such events that would seem to sanction non-Torah behaviour. Yet, something else recently also occurred that made me feel to some extent that there may have been a Godly reason for my signing the Statement. Due to my signature, I was asked for my opinion in regard to the investigation of an Orthodox rabbi who serves as a chaplain to the York Regional Police. Allegations were made that he was homophobic and not suitable to serve in this capacity. The police investigators asked me for my opinion on this and my input -- that he was not homophobic but simply presenting the ethical position of Torah. This seemed to have been a factor in vindicating the rabbi -- and for that I am grateful. In this regard, I have reproduced a Jewish Tribune article on the subject for your perusal -- bolding my placement in the article.

This was actually the second article in the Tribune regarding this story. The first one was simply on Rabbi Kaplan being vindicated. That is why the focus of this article is not on the vindication of the rabbi but rather the role of the general, secular Jewish community in the original charges. This a further reason for why I am reproducing this article. The gay issue has emerged as a matter of contention within the greater Jewish community and this is something that has to be considered in an overall Orthodox response to the furthering emergence of gay rights. In this regard, please see my post on the subject at Nishma: Policy at http://nishmapolicy.blogspot.com/2010/12/one-of-great-challenges-of-modernity.html

Rabbi Ben Hecht
(Tribune article to follow)

CJC CEO wanted investigation against Chabad rabbi, York Regional Police reveals


Written by Atara Beck
Tuesday, 15 February 2011

TORONTO – Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) CEO Bernie Farber took an active role in the recent challenge – initiated by a request from Kulanu Toronto – to Rabbi Mendel Kaplan’s chaplaincy role with York Regional Police (YRP), a police spokesperson revealed.

After an almost-six-month investigation into claims that Rabbi Kaplan, the popular spiritual leader of Chabad Flamingo, had expressed homophobic sentiments, and therefore, was unsuitable for the position, YRP concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated (see Jewish Tribune, Feb. 10, 2010).

In a back-and-forth email discussion among Rabbi Kaplan, JDL Canada head Meir Weinstein and Farber before the gay-parade last June, Rabbi Kaplan disagreed with the others, who were planning to march with Kulanu Toronto, the LGBTQ group under the UJA Federation umbrella, in support of Israel.

Kulanu Executive Director Justine Apple, who saw the email exchanges, wrote to YRP Chief Armand LaBarge, claiming that Rabbi Kaplan sent a “vile” email to rabbis across the GTA that “takes our Jewish community institutions – Canadian Jewish Congress, Canada Israel Committee and UJA – to task for its support of our organization.”

“The original letter of complaint was from Kulanu Toronto,” said YRP Inspector Ricky Veerappan, adding that Farber, too, “did mention it to us.” The Tribune had contacted Veerappan to confirm the facts upon hearing rumblings to that effect.

“There were a number of people who felt that we should look at Rabbi Kaplan’s ability to serve as chaplain, including Bernie Farber and Len Rudner [CJC’s Ontario regional director],” Veerappan stated.

Apple said when the investigation began that CJC and Federation were very supportive of her attempt to get YRP to reconsider Rabbi Kaplan’s competence as chaplain.

Even after the investigation concluded, Xtra!, Canada's Gay and Lesbian News, reported: “Like Apple, Farber questions whether Kaplan is the most appropriate choice to represent YRP. ‘That's what has to be answered,’ Farber stated.”

The Tribune tried unsuccessfully to contact Farber before deadline.

“The allegation that Mr. Farber, CEO of an organization that purports to represent the entire Jewish community, sought to condemn an orthodox rabbi for upholding Torah values is shocking, deeply offensive and totally unacceptable,” Rabbi Kaplan commented.

“We also spoke to [JDL Canada leader] Meir Weinstein and he had mentioned that he didn’t think the rabbi should be removed from the chaplaincy,” Veerappan explained, although Weinstein had disagreed with Rabbi Kaplan on this particular issue. ‘Weinstein thought that perhaps they [Farber, Rudner and Apple] should discuss it [with the rabbi], to see if there was any miscommunication.”

Following the rabbi’s vindication at the end of the investigation, Apple said she would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with him.

Speaking to the Tribune, she acknowledged that she had made no attempt to have a meeting with Rabbi Kaplan before sending the letter to YRP challenging the rabbi’s suitability for the chaplaincy.

From Weinstein’s perspective, according to Veerappan, Farber and Rabbi Kaplan “were just speaking on different levels,” in the email discussion. “In fact, he [Weinstein] was not the only person who said that.

“All the people we spoke to [during the investigation] were people whose names came up when speaking with us. Rabbi Benjamin Hecht [founding director of Nishma, a Torah think tank] was highly recommended as someone who would have knowledge on [orthodox] Judaism as related to LGBTQ issues. We met with him. We examined the emails and other material. It was a lot of work. He felt the emails were not hateful or homophobic.”

Weinstein told the Tribune that Farber was “livid” that Rabbi Kaplan had disagreed with him about marching at the parade. “He told me he didn’t think that the rabbi was the right person for the chaplaincy.”

Weinstein led JDL in the pride march with Kulanu.

“It wasn’t Rabbi Kaplan’s position not to attend the pride parade,” he said. “It’s the Torah position, and I agree with the Torah position. I went because I think it’s extremely important to confront the antisemites.

“It was my first time at that event. It certainly isn’t the place to bring kids.

“None of the rabbis think that individuals, gay or straight, should be discriminated against or treated disrespectfully. But the pride parade is something different, with gay strippers flaunting their bodies. What does that have to do with fighting for their rights?”
Weinstein plans to continue the fight against the anti-Israel organizers, although he isn’t sure yet whether he’ll attend the parade again, considering the “abominable stuff that goes on there.”

The original article can be accessed at http://www.jewishtribune.ca/TribuneV2/index.php/201102154006/CJC-CEO-wanted-investigation-against-Chabad-rabbi-York-Regional-Police-reveals.html

11 comments:

micha said...

R Hecht, you write: "this document has caused much consternation especially in how it has been used by various elements to promote an agenda which is clearly contrary to the Statement's own words".

I think the primary motive of the objectors was the belief that this abuse was inevitable, and outweighed the benefits that would be brought by the (largely ignored) intended message.

IOW, I have a strong feeling the Right Wing and "Centrists" would simply read this post and say "Toldja so!"

-micha

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

And sadly, they may be right

Anonymous said...

I fully understand your conflict and am sympathetic. I did find the article you posted from which you are quoted quite confusing. It seems to accuse Bernie Farber of the Jewish Congress with doing something wrong. I can find nothing in his actions that warranted such a conclusion. I accept Rabbi Kaplan's position on homosexuality but do question his ability to be a police chaplain given it. Farber asks a fair question and the investigation was proper. I respect Rav mendel a great deal but he can't have it both ways. Homosexual Jews would find it very hard to go to the rav given his now very public statements.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

The reality is that this is a most complex situation and, as such, demands complex analysis. At its core is a conflict of values between gay rights advocates and Orthodox Judaism with a need to define this issue in the objective realm of ethics rather than the subjective realm of the personal. The term homophobia is actually a term that reflects the latter and assumes a negative emotion towards the person. Maintaining an ethical stand against homosexual behaviour is, though, not of this category but reflects an objective ethical stand. My contention was that Rabbi Kaplan was presenting his views within the latter category and was not homophobic in terms of having a personal negative emotion towards homosexual individuals. While it may be true that a gay individual who does not agree with Rabbi Kaplan's ethical viewpoints may still have difficulty approaching him, that is to expected. Disagreements on any issue will result in those who take one stand having difficulty relating to someone with a different stand. That is not grounds, though, for a dismissal from a public position. If it was, we would have to dismiss any person who has any position, for there is always one who would disagree. The critique, though, was that he harboured negative emotions against the person, i.e. gay individuals, and that, in my opinion, was incorrect.

My discussion with the police did not touch upon Bernie Farber and the position of the CJC. If I had a difficulty with their stand, though, is was in their lack of perception of the complexity of this situation and the extreme complexity of attempting to represent the Jewish community in a monolithic manner. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews would be against any Jewish communal participation in the Gay Rights Parade even if the objective was solely to challenge the anti-Israel group that was marching in the parade. I think that was not recognized and that was the root problem in this whole issue. If it would have been, I think CJC would have recognized that there had to be another way to address this situation.

As CJC and all Federation entities are pluralistic, they must service all Jewish groups even though these groups may disagree with each other. As such, it is to be expected that Leo Baeck is to be funded along with Eitz Chaim and the supporter of either must accept this even as they may fundamentally disagree with the other. It would be another thing, though, for a federation entity to advocate for one's stand in strong disagreement with the other. That was the case here...and it was not, in my opinion, seen.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Anonymous said...

My limited understanding of such matters suggests to me that a)Rabbi Kaplan is entitled to his opinion and b) that his opinion obviously falls within the lines of Orthodox Practice.

Holding this position does not make Rabbi Kaplan a homophobe. If he made other comments that were extreme (and I've read nothing to that effect which substantiates such a charge)then that is a different matter.

So the question isn't whether Rabbi Kaplan is a "good man" but rather is he a "good man for this specific job"? If members of the gay community are going to hesitate before calling on him then maybe the job isn't a good fit.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

When I spoke to the police officers investigating this matter, I asked them if they spoke to the Catholic priest regarding this issue -- obviously because he would run into the same religious issues. They said that they had not, as of yet, although they expected to do so. More importantly, though, they understood my point. I am not sure what the specific function is of all the chaplains serving the York Regional Police (my understanding is that there are 7) but clearly as representatives of their specific faiths, some of them will have positions regarding homosexuality that are different than what would be desired within the gay community. That's a reality of religious diversity -- and must be considered within this whole question. Rabbi Kaplan is simply maintaining his religious perspective just as the other chaplains are doing. This religious perspective may not fit with the entire York community just as the religious perspective of the other chaplains may not fit with the entire York community. Do we call upon a faith to be acceptable to everyone within York Region before making anyone a chaplain? That would be an impossibility. Of course, there are some generic standards that we would demand from any chaplain serving a city post -- but the establishment of such standards demand intense investigation and consideration with the recognition that these standards must consider theological parameters and standards.

It may be necessary, as I argue in my article "Adjective and Non-Adjective Jew", available at the Nishma website at http://www.nishma.org/articles/introspection/introspection5761-2-adjective_jew.htm ,
for the Jewish community to have a better understanding of the theological distinctions within the Jewish community itself and not view Jewish life with a perspective of one, basically monolithic Judaism.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Mordechai Maizel said...

I agree that this is a very complex situation. It is the constant struggle between secularism and faith.

This though is a secular matter. It has nothing to do with the Rabbi’s belief in homosexuality as a ‘Toevah”. he is perfectly entitled to his belief. It has to do with his now public utterances and whether these can be reconciled with his role as a public police official.

Rav, public officials must be inclusive all the time. The complexity for your point of view is not whether Rabbi Kaplan individually can or cannot minister to the needs of gays and lesbians. It is the fact that he has made his views public and that there is now a perception which would exclude a significant if small portion of York region’s population.

Let’s put it another way, in some faith teachings Jews are referred to in very hateful ways. If a practitioner of that faith were to articulate his strongly held view that Jews as a whole are an abomination in his faith’s eyes would that not preclude him from being a public official? Should Jews not feel excluded if this person were a public official?

Furthermore try as I might I could not find any statement from Rabbi Kaplan suggesting that he has any positive or even neutral emotions towards homosexual individuals as you seem to suggest.

As for the UJA and CJC, I agree with you that in retrospect it might have been better to find a different more inclusive approach. After all isn’t that what this entire discussion is about? However, I remember the intensity of the summer's Pride parade. So-called Queers against israeli Apartheid were set to take to the streets with their evil views of Jews and Israel. How should CJC and UJA have reacted? Rabbi Kaplan’s downplaying of the threat to Toronto Jewry demonstrated a startegic misunderstanding of the anti-Israel forces that remain a threat to this day. Its the job of the CJc and UJA to defend us from Jew-haters. Those who may have felt that Pride parade was a” "toevah” need not have attended. I was asked to attend by the JDL and personally saw many Jews wearing Kippoth.

One last but very important item, I see Rabbi Hecht, that unlike your colleague Rabbi Kaplan you did not condemn Bernie Farber. In my respectful view Rabbi Kaplan may have engaged in a form of “motzi shem ra” against Mr. Farber, if the words he is quoted as saying in the article are correct. Here is Rabbi Kaplan’s quote:

“The allegation that Mr. Farber, CEO of an organization that purports to represent the entire Jewish community, sought to condemn an orthodox rabbi for upholding Torah values is shocking, deeply offensive and totally unacceptable,”

Where did Mr. Farber seek to “condemn” the Rav? He asked (even by your standards) a complicated and legitimate question. The police engaged in a 6 month investigation. The police Inspector even noted that a number of people including Farber wondered if Rabbi Kaplan was suitable to be a police chaplain given hi words. For that alone the Rabbi accuses Farber of condemning him? And while there are many times I too disagree with UJA and CJc surely his unfair characterizations against a faithful communal servant was at best disrespectful.

Thank you Rav Hecht for allowing for this debate. Yours is civil and thoughtful and one we probably should be having.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Mordechai, you make some very good points. The most essential is the need for cogent discussions of issues such as this one within the greater Jewish community. I believe that the lack of this ability to dialogue -- or even properly articulate the question and issue -- was at the root of this matter.

What I find is that the reason for many of these problems is the failure for many within the Jewish community to not only recognize its heterogeneity but also the very nature of this heterogeneity. In this case, for example, the essential problem was that there was an anti-Zionist group spreading its false message in the context of a situation that any challenge to this group would also be perceived as supporting a non-Torah position (from the Orthodox perspective). Simply, many Orthodox Jews would find it problematic to attend at a Pride parade even to combat QAIA. So, by CJC calling upon all Jews to attend the Pride parade and march with Kulanu, even if only to protest against QAIA it was promoting a view that many Orthodox Jews would find offensive. On the other hand, if CJC would not do anything, there would be others in the greater Jewish community who would find that offensive. The question is not just what CJC should do but if whether CJC even understood the nature of this dilemma. I think that if they did they would have come up with a solution and that this whole issue erupted because there wasn't the necessary thought applied to this issue.

I also understand the question involved in Rabbi Kaplan taking a public position when he has an ethical or theological view that may antagonize certain members of the community. My point was that Rabbi Kaplan, in my opinion, never stated anything on a personal level and never expressed any negative statement towards the person. His statement concerned certain actions -- and then in that regard he further maintained that his view of an active homosexual was no different than towards other Jews who may drive on Shabbat. The case you present concerning other religious groups that may take a personal stand against Jews, in the personal sense, is different. They attack the person.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Hecht, your response to Mr. Maizel is interesting and I agree with a number of your points. However when you state:

“I also understand the question involved in Rabbi Kaplan taking a public position when he has an ethical or theological view that may antagonize certain members of the community. My point was that Rabbi Kaplan, in my opinion, never stated anything on a personal level and never expressed any negative statement towards the person. His statement concerned certain actions -- and then in that regard he further maintained that his view of an active homosexual was no different than towards other Jews who may drive on Shabbat. The case you present concerning other religious groups that may take a personal stand against Jews, in the personal sense, is different. They attack the person.”

I find areas of disagreement.

1. The case presented by Maizel is no different than that of Rabbi Kaplan.
2. It is well known that certain faith groups holy writings disparage Jews as a community, not as you put it on a personal basis
3. It is exactly similar to the manner in which homosexuality is treated in the Torah.
4. In the holy writings of certain faiths, Jews collectively are to be treated unequally, treated in a derogatory manner and are to be considered repugnant.
5. You claim that Rabbi Kaplan’s view of “an active homosexual was no different than towards other Jews who may drive on Shabbat”.
6. I have not seen any such statement from Rabbi Kaplan
7. If what you say is correct, are you saying that a person who drives on the Sabbath IS the same as one who engages in homosexuality; should be treated the same as well?

I know and agree with those who have said that this is a very difficult thing to wrap your head around. However if we are truly to come to an understanding we need to be true to the issue and tackle it head on.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

What I am basically saying is the there is a difference in critiquing or condemning the person and critiquing or condemning the act. As an Orthodox Jew, I believe that driving a car on Shabbat is an incorrect act. In the same way, I believe that the homosexual act is an incorrect act. But, in neither case, do I judge person -- and I believe that Rabbi Kaplan has the same standard. This is what I mean by not being personal. My view of an act does not affect my view of the person and, it is my belief, that a term such as homophobic relates to one's attitude to the person -- and in this regard, in stating that I am not homophobic means that I do not harbour any negative perception of the person. My view of the act al pi Torah is a different matter.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Anonymous said...

Just so that I am clear on your position. Is driving a car on shabbat the same as committing a homosexual act?

And do you believe that Kulanu had no right to perceive that Rav Kaplan given his statements on the "acts" of homosexuality had no right to ask York Police to determine if he was the right person for the job?

And if Rav Kaplan as you say was condemning the act and not the person why has he himself not said so?