Bigotry is Heresy: The Observer’s Religious Mission to Eliminate Intolerance

By: Molly Meisels  |  August 20, 2019

By Molly Meisels, Editor in Chief

“What is done cannot be undone…” 

After three years of overhearing snippets of bigoted conversations at Yeshiva University, often featuring statements like “he’s a f*g” or “Muslims are terrorists,” I have become distanced from my idealism.

Although difficult to grapple with, I know that hate has found a home in the Orthodox world. Rabbis, teachers, political figures, and writers have all jumped on the bandwagon of bigotry, while flaunting the Torah as their shield. This has given many YU students the unspoken permission to hide behind holy text, allowing God and our ancestors to take the fall for their personal prejudice. 

Recently, a YU student proudly stated to me that supporting gay rights is apikorut (heresy) because “caring [for]…people that go against halacha is heretical.” I do not blame this student for his intolerant views because I understand that this issue is bigger than him. He is merely the product of a zealous Orthodox establishment that finds no issue with “corroborating” its hatred with Torah sources. The zealotry begins with those at the top — rabbis who directly influence Orthodox young adults. For instance, earlier this year, an Israeli rabbinical figure at Bnei David, a yeshiva in the West Bank, said, “The gentiles will want to be our slaves…Instead of just walking the streets and being stupid and violent and harming each other, once they’re slaves, their lives can begin to take shape.” A respected rabbinical figure in another yeshiva told a student — “You are going to hell, you shvartze [Yiddish slur for a person of color].” These occurrences are not isolated incidents, and are growing in number. Yet Judaism and bigotry do not, and must not, go together. These rabbis are not promoting Jewish values with their rhetoric, they are disgracing them. Anyone, no matter their stature, who clings to prejudice while claiming that Torah values are in their court, chooses to do so. Judaism does not live or die under their banner of bigotry. 

Hillel, one of the most revered rabbis in our tradition, understood this. When he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn,” he was not excluding the LGBTQ+ community or people of color. Hillel, along with generations of leading rabbinical scholars, understood that Judaism was not to be a religion of hostility, but one of harmony. Yet our community seems to have abandoned this. It’s as if we have joined the side of the oppressor, just to see what it’s like. For once, we are not the focus of American persecution. Therefore, many of us have popped open bottles of champagne, spritzing our comfort on the graves of our ancestors — forgetting what it feels like to be hated, and in turn, celebrating while others suffer.

This cannot remain the status quo. We, as Jews, have an obligation to combat intolerance and hatred, especially Jews in the journalistic community. Writing has the power to change realities. It has shaped religion, gender, and family structures, especially Jewish ones. We are the People of the Book, and writing has been fundamental to the progress of our practice. 

Just as Jewish communities have used writing to progress societies, they have also used writing to regress them. This has been made clear by the Jewish Press, a lauded Orthodox publication, run by an editor in chief who tweets, “How about this exchange? Whites give blacks money, and blacks publicly thank whites for giving them Christianity to replace the primitive African religions they were practicing when they got here.” His Twitter is bursting with racist and homophobic analyses. He even claims that white nationalism and supremacism do not exist, and are merely figments of the progressive imagination. 

His intolerance does not end with personal tweets. The Jewish Press recently published an article titled, “The Pride Parade – What Are They Proud Of?” This piece relentlessly bashes the LGBTQ+ community, without even recognizing that many of the Jewish children unlucky enough to read the piece are gay or transgender. These children will live their lives in shame and sorrow, soaking in their self-loathing. But this reality is not contemplated by the editorial board of the Jewish Press. The article uses the Torah to support and reinforce intolerant claims, feeding the flames of pain which rest in the hearts of Jewish LGBTQ+ individuals. This is the blueprint of bigotry that many Orthodox Jews have chosen to follow. 

But change is imminent. As the future of the Orthodox world, we – the young women and men of Yeshiva University – have a responsibility to transform the Jewish community. The Observer takes on that responsibility with pride. We believe that Yeshiva University and the broader Jewish community need to distance ourselves from bigotry, and we know that a new generation of journalism can accomplish that. The Observer will embrace the religious traditions of our ancestors by writing as an expression of our values — values of tolerance, advocacy, and acceptance. Instead of using the Torah as a shield, we will use the Torah to shield the vulnerable. No matter if you are ultra-Orthodox or an atheist; straight or gay; cisgender or transgender; white or a person of color, you have a home in the Observer. We will write for you and we will fight for you. We will not allow our people to descend into darkness. 

…but one can prevent it happening again.” – Anne Frank


Photo: Molly Meisels