Lower East Side Rabbis Speak Out Against Neighborhood Shuls For Hosting LGBT Event

Stanton Street Shul, 180 Stanton St.
Stanton Street Shul, 180 Stanton St.
Stanton Street Shul, 180 Stanton St.

Several Lower East Side rabbis, and a few from outside the neighborhood, are calling on two local synagogues to “publicly distance themselves” from a group pushing for acceptance of gay Jews in Orthodox congregations.

The Eshel Downtown Shabbaton is scheduled to take place this coming weekend at the Stanton Street Shul and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue. According to Eshel’s website, the organization’s mission “is to create community and acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews and their families in Orthodox communities.”

As The Jewish Press first reported in a story that carried no byline, rabbis from the Bialystoker Synagogue, Young Israel of Manhattan and Congregation Chasam Sofer were among a group that released a statement titled, “An Important Message to the Community.” The letter was also signed by Rabbis David and Reuven Feinstein, the sons of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a towering figure in Orthodox Judaism who died in the 1980s.

The statement read, in part:

There has been a monumental shift in the larger world’s attitude towards homosexual expression over recent years. Unfortunately, acceptance of what the Torah forbids has seeped into parts of the Jewish community, including parts that identify as Orthodox… All Jews, whatever their challenges or levels of observance, are welcome in all of our shuls. However, the basic mandate of the Orthodox synagogue is to promote fidelity in our Torah and our mesorah. Sadly, Eshel demands that we change the Torah’s timeless standards to accord with prevalent secular attitudes. We are saddened that the Stanton Street Shul and the Sixth Street Community Synagogue have unilaterally chosen to associate our community with an organization that we cannot consider to be Orthodox… No Jewish that allies itself with such a group can rightfully claim to be Orthodox. We call upon (the synagogues) to publicly distance themselves from Eshel and its decidedly non-Orthodox worldview.

This morning, we contacted Rabbi Aviad Bodner of the Stanton Street Shul. He provided the following statement:

At the Stanton Street Shul, I’m proud to partner with the board in our decision to embrace the LGBT Jewish community, welcome them in our shul, and love and encourage them to observe mitzvot to the best of their ability just as we do with every Jew who joins our community. This is not a compromise but rather an expression of the mitzvah ואהבת לרעך כמוך – Love thy neighbor as yourself. It’s that simple, and it’s unfortunate that we need to justify our obligation to observe one of the greatest values of Judaism. We believe that we may invite an organization or and individual to come to the Stanton Street Shul even if we do not agree on everything or even strongly disagree. The rabbis who made the statement do not have the monopoly over Orthodoxy or the Torah. Disagreements are healthy and welcome, but they must be voiced with respect. Decisions about what is best for each shul will rightfully differ, but they should be left to the synagogue leadership, and no one should be subject to public shaming.

The Stanton Street Shul, established in 1913, is one of the only tenement synagogues left on the Lower East Side. It has a longstanding reputation for welcoming people from all types of backgrounds and walks of life. As The Jewish Press noted, the shul is seen as an alternative to the more traditional synagogues (such as the Bialystocker), which serve the Grand Street Jewish community.

The article intimates that Stanton Street Shul could be in jeopardy if it doesn’t acquiesce to the demands in the rabbinical letter. The prospects for “a herem,” an excommunication, is seen, at least in some quarters, as an idle threat  regarding a shul that’s served the Lower East Side community for more than 100 years.