The following is an open letter to Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.
Dear Rabbi Schonfeld:
There used to be a time when shopping malls played Christian holiday music during the last two months of the secular calendar, about the dreams of a white holiday, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and how cold it is outside. These songs do not mention the false mashiach by name, they’re catchy and heartwarming, but they do not represent Jewish values. When our children hear such songs, we gently explain to them that these songs are not meant for Jewish audiences, and we live in galus. When a menorah is placed in a public forum, it often appears alongside an evergreen tree for “balance.”
These days, a stroll through a public forum in June is more difficult to explain to a child than one in late November, when your child’s curiosity is prompted by songs and decorations. Earlier this week, I took my children to a state park where the rainbow flag waves in the wind, as June is the designated “pride month” for LGBT. As my second-grader asked about it, I could have easily explained its colors as representing diversity, nature, or perhaps an imaginary country.
But then, at the visitors’ center, there were stickers for children with rainbow colors, slogans such as “love is love,” and silhouettes of same-sex pairs. My daughter wanted these stickers for her collection, not knowing that they represent lifestyles antithetical to Jewish values. I looked for the least objectionable sticker and let her have it. But then there was a table of children’s books and small flags intended to normalize such relationships for children. At this point, I firmly but politely told my daughter that these books are not meant for a frum audience, and we quickly moved on to the nature displays.
On our drive home, my daughter asked me why the flag, stickers, and books are asur. Rather than delay the inevitable conversation, or make up a story, I gave her a straight answer understandable to a second-grader. As idolatry, treif food, and intermarriage are forbidden, the relationships represented by the rainbow flag are also forbidden by the Torah. She knows that we should not be contemptuous of gentiles, and intermarried Jews. When my daughter smells pork from a neighbor’s barbecue, she does not say “ewww,” but she also knows that his food is treif to a Jew. Likewise with same-sex marriage. I do not want her expressing disgust in public should she come across two men holding hands, but she should know that their behavior is treif.
We should not look down publicly at the non-observant, but we should feel a sense of accomplishment for our performance of mitzvos, such as looking for the hechsher, not touching muktzah objects, and davening daily. We do so to be closer to Hashem, knowing that this is what Hashem expects of us.
As our Rabbinic Consultant and Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, I would like your input on how to better explain the seemingly ubiquitous rainbow flag to an Orthodox child. Certainly, different ages would receive a different answer. A teenager can learn the halachic sources as they apply to forbidden relationships and how poskim approached the topic.
Being mindful that we are in galus, I do not express my opposition to LGBT normalization in public as I would be branded a homophobe, likely dismissed from my work, and ridiculed on social media. But within our home and in our lives, we do not compromise on halachah, even as we maintain professional and neighborly relationships with the liberal majority around us.
A Longtime Columnist
RABBI SCHONFELD’S RESPONSE:
Thank you for raising this highly delicate but critically important issue. I believe the approach you took with your child in explaining our attitude towards LGBTQ is the absolutely correct one. And maybe the only one.
In one of his lectures on Parshas Emor, Rabbi Isaac Bernstein z”l of England explains why, as seen in Rashi, a kohen has a greater obligation to keep a watchful eye on his son than do other fathers. While other parents may have clearly drawn lines as to what is prohibited for Jewish children, the kohen is not that fortunate. As you write, it is relatively easy to train a child not to eat treif or not to celebrate non-Jewish holidays. A kohen, however, must be more vigilant with his child. He knows his child will see other observant children doing things he may not, such as entering a cemetery. It is thus much more challenging for a parent to raise a young kohen than a non-kohen child.
Raising our kids today in American society is similarly challenging. Much of what society has to offer is good and wholesome. Sadly, however, much is coming from a universe totally opposite of what Torah teaches as and what our parents practiced for generations.
We cannot turn a blind eye toward our surroundings, but we must confront it and teach our children that this is not what we do.
My father zt”l once told of a story of an old-time chasidic Jew in Europe who was hoping his little 11-year-old boy would not take notice of the pretty girls in his shtetl. One time, the boy asked his father, as they were passing some of the girls, “What is that?” “Just some katchkes (ducks)” responded the squirming father. “Buy me some of those katchkes!” snapped back the little boy.
We can’t dismiss what’s around us as katchkes. We must deal with the facts around us as they are.
Best of luck to you in raising wonderful children.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld