From Gay Pride to Jewish Pride

Jewish Pride Flag

It was some time back, perhaps on my last trip to Israel, that I first saw a rainbow pattern kippah (Jewish ritual skullcap). I don’t know if it was meant to be a “Pride” kippah, but that’s how I interpreted it, and I bought it. My brother is gay. I performed his wedding to an Israeli man (a doctor! Sigh of Jewish pride).

So, when Pride Month rolled around this year, given the amount of push back people in the LGBTQ community have endured in the last couple of years, I felt like I had to represent. I could have pulled out my “Proud of my Gay Brother” T-shirt, but it was old, and now so am I, so I opted for the kippah, instead.

Now this is a little out of character for me. I am a Reform rabbi, and one of the reforms of Reform Judaism 200 years ago was the community decision a Jew need not wear Jewish-distinctive garb anymore. Being invited into modern life, Reform Judaism encouraged Jews to dress as modern people. Thus, few Reform Jews wear kippahs or tzitzit (ritual fringes, as commanded in Numbers 15:38) outside the synagogue anymore. This was true of me also. Thus, wearing my queer Pride kippah all the time was a departure.

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The Goring Details of an Epidemic


I was floored. Not by the news that over 500 children in Brooklyn had developed measles. I have seen the anti-vaccine movement gain steam over the past two decades. No, I was floored that most of these children were Hasidic Jews, an insular branch of Jewish ultra-Orthodoxy. Why should that surprise? 

It surprised me because, while I am not an Orthodox rabbi, I am fairly conversant in Jewish medical law (Halacha) as expounded and practiced in Orthodox circles, and I know that their religious authorities are ferociously pro-medicine. The great scholars uniformly say, in the name of biblical law and the principle of pikuach nefesh, preserving life and health, it is mandatory to make full use of any and all medicine, includes vaccination.

But, of course, you might say, “Well, the Bible never mentions vaccines. In fact, the Bible rarely even alludes to medical treatment in any form.” Absolutely true, but in the quest to keep the teachings of Scripture relevant in different ages, rabbis have shown considerable creativity in applying biblical law, composed in the Iron Age, to changing and novel developments of the past 3000 years. Vaccines are a case in point. How do we know the Bible mandates vaccination? Stick with me.

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