By now, you might have read about the story that the New Jersey Jewish Standard inadvertently created about itself and, in doing so, inflicted pain on a gay couple. The facts are simple: this couple submitted a wedding announcement which the paper printed, then retracted under pressure from some members of the Orthodox rabbinate, and then re-retracted the retraction when it received an outpouring of outrage from other religious leaders and readers who were appalled by the original retraction.
Aside from the lack of decency by those at the paper responsible, this incident raises a question about community: who sets community standards today? Sometimes, for the sake of communal harmony, organizations will often adopt a “stricter” position in order to be maximally inclusive of the most traditionally-observant in the community (a common example is kashrut standards). On other occasions, the more traditional elements in a community feel excluded when liberal standards are applied.
Using this New Jersey Jewish Standard episode as an illustration, ask yourself—who determines the standard of what is “appropriate” for a local Jewish community? If you were the publisher of this paper, what process would you follow in arriving at a decision? Clearly, the paper is in a lose-lose situation—some segment of the community is going to be offended by its policy. Please take a few moments to comment, for this issue is not just about this one couple, but about the broader issue of who exactly is authorized to make decisions for a local Jewish community and is it even possible to arrive at a consensus anymore around community issues?
Rabbi Hayim Herring