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Jewish Values Dictate
Protecting Gay Marriage
NEW YORK (JTA)
n the early 1970s, while I was CEO of the
Seagram Company, public dialogue about
gay rights was largely nonexistent in cor-
porate America. Social discourse
had not yet even evolved into the
"don't ask, don't tell" ethos that
dominated the following decades.
Homosexuality was simply not dis-
cussed and, therefore, by implication,
During that time, as the head
of a company with thousands of
employees, personnel issues often
came across my desk. One day, the
director of human resources came
into my office with a recommenda-
tion to terminate one of my brightest
executives. I found myself puzzled
that anyone would want to fire such a promis-
ing young man until the director leaned in and
confided in a hushed tone, "Well, you know, he's
The declaration did persuade me — but not
in the way he had hoped.
The promising young executive continued
on to a distinguished career at Seagram, and
the HR director was soon let go. Although
my choice was shocking to the director, the
decision was obvious to me: to fire a person
because of their sexual orientation was not
only wrong, it was bad business. It was dis-
crimination, plain and simple, and would not
be tolerated in the company I ran.
More than 40 years later, I still feel such
discrimination to be unequivocally wrong,
but my views on the subject of gay rights have
evolved. Particularly now, as we celebrate the
U.S. Supreme Court's decision to recognize the
legality of gay marriage, I now see marriage
equality as a moral imperative because of my
Just as the high court has shown moral
bravery in its recognition of gay marriage, the
Jewish community should follow its example in
our myriad communities. As Jews, we should
remember that our tradition upholds the bond
between two loving people and the families
they create as a source of strength and com-
mitment to the betterment of the world.
"Justice" is a word we are taught early in
life, and we are reminded constantly that it is
a principle we should uphold and promote. In
Hebrew, the word tzedek is used to promote
acts of lovingkindness and righteousness. Its
diminutive, tzedakah, is translated as char-
ity, but it is much more. We are taught in the
Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy 16:20:
"Justice, Justice shall you pursue:' In Hebrew,
"Tzedek, tzedek tirdorf'
It is a vital, active imperative for the Jewish
people to be on the front lines of issues pro-
tecting and promoting the rights of any group
being treated unfairly. To take approximately
10 percent of the U.S. population and tell them
they are second-class citizens is clearly unjust.
As Jews we are instructed to seek justice for the
stranger, the widow and the orphan
because too often society discrimi-
nates against and takes advantage of
those without advocates.
I have come to see the protection
of gay marriage as a manifestation
of the Jewish value of seeking justice
for those who are enslaved. To those
who cover their prejudice with refer-
ence to biblical injunctions against
homosexuality, I ask if they are will-
ing to live by every other law listed
in the Torah. For such literalists, I
submit that the very Torah portion
of Leviticus that they so often quote
also enjoins us to harbor no hatred against our
brother and our neighbor.
To freeze Judaism in time because of ancient
biblical edicts is to deny that Judaism is a
mighty river that moves forward through time,
a living entity that changes course and becomes
renewed through what it meets on the banks.
Like a river, it retains its essential character
although it is constantly renewed and evolving.
Today, the Jewish pursuit of justice must
channel itself against the denial of marriage
equality. For Jews, who have suffered so much
throughout history at the hands of prejudice,
to stand idly by while any group is treated so
unfairly is unequivocally wrong.
I have been inspired in my thinking on gay
rights and marriage equality by a woman I have
known since she was a teenager. She is now the
leader of Keshet, a group that promotes equality
for the LGBT community in the Jewish world.
Idit Klein first came to my attention when
she was in high school. She was a student on a
program I founded called the Bronfman Youth
Fellowship that targets Jewish teens of excep-
tional promise from an array of backgrounds.
In my conversations with her over the years, I
have learned that the issues facing LGBT Jews
are ones on which all Jews need to speak out.
Within the Jewish community we must
endeavor to include and celebrate the diversity
of families and couples within all aspects of reli-
gious, communal and institutional life. When
our communities continue to open their tents,
as our forefather Abraham did, to include all
who wish to participate in Jewish life, our peo-
ple's possibilities expand and gain strength. ❑
Edgar M. Bronfman, the former CEO of the Seagram
Company Ltd., is president of the Samuel Bronfman
Foundation, which seeks to inspire a renaissance
of Jewish life. He is the author of The Bronfman
Tisha B'Av Stirs Hope
For Messianic Peace
t's a holiday that commemorates the worst of times
throughout Jewish history, especially the destruction
of the Jewish Temples in ancient Jerusalem. But it also
underscores that as a people, we Jews have done much to make
the world better – just not enough to earn the right to enter a
peaceful, messianic era.
Tisha b'Av is a day to mourn
the toppling of the First Temple
by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.
and the Second Temple by the
Romans in 70 C.E. as well as the
near-1,900-year disruption of the
It has become a time to mourn
other calamities in Jewish his-
tory, including the Roman defeat
of Jewish rebels led by Bar Kochba at Betar in 135 C.E. and the
tragic expulsions of Jews by the English and Spanish during the
Middle Ages. The dark days of World War I and the Holocaust
also have ominous ties to the Ninth of Av.
Today, Tisha b'Av has become a time to mourn the current
barbarity toward Jews by anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist forces,
notably in the Middle East and Europe.
The full fast day of Tisha b'Av begins this year at sundown
on July 15. The figurative time-out also gives Jews a chance to
lament being in exile, scattered through the diaspora.
No wonder it's the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
From a religious perspective, Tisha b'Av is a day for Jews to
brood over not having the credentials to reach the messianic
era, when we as a people will live in eternal peace and har-
mony. As a people, we've repeatedly survived genocidal acts,
but we've not realized our ultimate possibilities in dispensing
mitzvot and chesed (deeds of lovingkindness) and in propelling
fundamental, Torah-driven change. God would never honor com-
placency over fulfillment.
For some Jews, the rabbinic holiday may seem no longer rel-
evant, the idea of another fast day unnecessary and the need
for a messianic era a distant notion.
But let there be no doubt: Messianic harmony and world
peace have always been considered the remedy to prejudice,
repression, expulsion and persecution. Jews certainly have
achieved success and cachet in expanses of the West; yet the
Jewish ancestral homeland is a pariah around much of the
world. On Tisha b'Av, we must pray for a secure Israel and a
peaceful world – both harbingers of the messianic era.
To understand the significance of this day of mourning, each
of us must grapple internally with our ages-old struggle as a
people. We must try to imagine the pain of less-fortunate Jews
and others, and harness our energies and conduct accordingly.
Those who always put themselves first, at the expense of self-
lessness, will find the search for redemption caught in an unfor-
giving briar patch.
The messianic era will remain a pipedream as long as the
human condition aimlessly allows pain to linger, hate to metas-
tasize and goodwill to be lacking.
Tisha b'Av is not a day to welcome others; good cheer and
joyful activities, including the study of Torah, are prohibited.
Believing better times are ahead, however, is encouraged.
It is a day to ponder, appraise and endeavor to bring about
ethical living and the kind of world we are capable of achieving
– and the kind of world we know God is expecting.
Color it a day of hope.
Haggadah (Rizzoli Press) created in conjunction
with his wife, artist Jan Aronson.
See page 40 for more on Tisha bAv.
July 11 • 2013