What the Pride Alliance Failed to Learn from Jewish History

By: Ben Hilkiah  |  September 19, 2022

By Ben Hilkiah

It seems as though we cannot go a week without the Pride Alliance lawsuit rearing its head on campus. This past week, drama boiled over when the Supreme Court rejected YU’s request of a stay on a New York court’s decision forcing YU to incorporate the Pride Alliance. Ostensibly, this means that within the next few weeks the YU Pride Alliance will be an official club on both Wilf and Beren campuses. When news of the lower court’s ruling broke this past June it was met with jubilation from the queer community on and surrounding campus. One administrator at Jewish Queer Youth, the de facto parent organization of the Pride Alliance, wrote that she was so excited that she wanted to “dance through the streets.” As a queer student, I am both bisexual and gender non-conforming,  at Yeshiva University I cannot say I feel similarly. This is not something to celebrate. This is something to mourn.

I will not discuss whether or not YU needs a Pride Alliance. I feel strongly that there must be a safe space for people like me to come together and form a community but I understand that there’s more nuance to this conversation. I certainly do not feel confident that the current iteration of the Pride Alliance will accomplish the vision that I have for queer orthodoxy. Regardless, that is not the point of this article. What upsets me is how the Pride Alliance handled this situation. Even if the ends that they achieved were as noble as they suggest, the means with which they met their goal is lamentable.

In the middle of the first-century BCE, Judea was torn apart by civil war. The great-great-nephews of Yehudah the Macabee were not as pious as their illustrious predecessors. These two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, both coveted the Jewish crown for themselves and plunged their brethren into a bloody civil war to feed their selfish ambitions. Tragedy struck when Aristobulus, desperate for the upper hand, sent envoys to the Roman emperor Pompey, imploring him to join his side. Pompey obliged and marched on Jerusalem. His aid was enough to put Aristobolus on the throne, but it was an empty gesture. Pompey decided that Judea would be a wonderful addition to his budding empire. The Romans never left Jerusalem and 150 years later they destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. 

Hyrcanus and Aristobulus wanted each other dead. Their familial bond was severed in the shadows of their agendas. Their rage precluded reconciliation and instead, they turned outside the fold, seeking help from those who cared nothing for their community. Their callousness cost Judea her sovereignty and, eventually, her Temple. It is not outlandish to see parallels to this tragedy in our own painful saga. The Pride Alliance has dragged our Yeshiva into the secular courts, forgetting that brothers do not indict brothers, regardless of their perceived misdeeds. In doing so, they robbed our community of one of our most prized assets: autonomy. We are now bound to the whim of the modern-day Pompey: a power that does not understand our values nor cares for our Jewish future. 

A few centuries after Pompey stormed Jerusalem, Ptolemy II, the Greek Pharoh of Egypt, requested that the Torah be translated from its original Hebrew into Greek. He gathered 72 Sages and separated them individually. He instructed each one to translate the Torah without consulting each other. The Talmud (Megillah 9a) relates that God performed a miracle, and each Sage produced the exact same translation, sparing the Sages great embarrassment and ensuring the continuity of Torah. Despite this miracle, the Sages established that day as a fast day, as the Torah had been secularized by a government confident in its ability to meddle in Jewish affairs.

The Sages understood that the ends never justify the means. Surely a major miracle had been performed in their midst! How was this not a time for celebration? The Sages explained that a short-term miracle, while inspiring, does nothing to alleviate the long-term destruction of an emboldened government, sullying the sacred in favor of the secular. When the outside powers feel that they have jurisdiction over our religious texts, mourning and fasting is the appropriate reaction.

Even if you believe that the YU Pride Alliance should be allowed on campus, as many well-meaning people do, how could you “dance in the streets with excitement” when the tremors of a secular gavel resonate where they do not belong? How can you celebrate your “miracle” when it pales in comparison to the dire ramifications of the loss of our religious autonomy? Have you considered the cost of your so-called victory? I am proudly queer. I believe in Pride. Yet I am aware that I have a higher responsibility. I have an obligation to my community to defend its ability to govern itself as it sees fit. This is a religious issue because our communal leaders have decided it is a religious issue. It is our choice to make, and handing it off to a third party is reckless.

This is not the first time that secular governments have tried to regulate our yeshivos. In 1892, the Russian government began to interfere in both the hiring process and schedule of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva. Although it was the hallmark of Orthodoxy of its time, the Russians were ambivalent about Jewish values and prioritized their enlightened principles over their citizenry’s well-being. Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the legendary Rosh Yeshiva of the time, courageously closed the Yeshiva, rather than submit to outside legislation. His courage ensured that we remain autonomous and that the chain of Torah remain unblemished. Such bravery and determination is the standard of Jewish leadership. Perhaps our administrators should consider our past seeing as the Pride Alliance has refused to.