A week after publishing a same-sex marriage announcement for the first time in its history, The Jewish Standard said Monday that it will not publish such announcements in the future because it received a "firestorm" of criticism from Orthodox rabbis.
The Teaneck, N.J-based paper decided not to publish gay marriage announcements because it is such a divisive issue within the Jewish community and the paper "has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart," editor Rebecca Kaplan Boroson wrote in an editorial posted on the Jewish Standard's website.
But its decision not to publish same-sex announcements unleashed a new barrage of criticism on the paper from within the Jewish and gay communities.
"I certainly understand any publication needs to do what's in its financial best interest, but at the same time it was a cowardly move because to make a segment of the community invisible is incredibly painful and divisive," said Avi Smolen, 23, who had submitted the original announcement to the paper about his pending marriage to Justin Rosen, 24, of Syosset, N.Y.
"It's very disappointing," said Reform Rabbi Steven Sirbu of Temple Emeth in Teaneck, N.J. "I had just written a letter to the paper saying it was so nice they had broken down another barrier."
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, said the Standard's new policy "is disgraceful and the paper has now turned into an abject embarrassment. It's ironic because they said they wanted to do this to bring people together, but I can't think of a more divisive policy."
Goldstein said the paper "has thrown three movements of Judaism — Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative — overboard in an effort to mollify the fourth, Orthodox."
In her statement, Boroson said the paper received many comments both favoring and opposing the Standard's decision to publish the Smolen-Rosen wedding announcement. She said a group of rabbis contacted the paper "and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/ Orthodox community to this issue," and told the paper's editors that the marriage announcement "caused pain and consternation." Boroson apologized "for any pain we may have caused."
Neither Boroson nor Jewish Standard publisher James Janoff returned phone calls or e-mails Monday. The paper, part of the New Jersey/Rockland Jewish Media Group, was founded in 1931 and publishes each Friday. It is the oldest Jewish weekly in New Jersey.
Other Jewish newspapers have taken a different position on publishing same-sex marriage announcements. The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, for instance, announced last year that it would start publishing such notices. At the time, Bennett L. Aaron, chairman of the Jewish Publishing Group board, said the newspaper's new policy reflected the "evolutionary process" of both the Exponent and society as a whole with regard to these issues.
Goldstein said that even the Orthodox community does not speak with one voice. Last summer, a group of more than 150 Orthodox rabbis worldwide signed a "Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community." In it, they note that even though Talmudic law, or halachah, prohibits homosexual sex and same-sex relationships, "embarrassing, harassing or demeaning someone with a homosexual orientation on same-sex attraction is a violation of Torah prohibitions."
Orthodox Rabbi Lawrence Zierler of the Teaneck Jewish Center said that, while he espouses the traditional teachings against same-sex relationships, the paper may have dropped the ball by deciding to prohibit same-sex marriage announcements.
"Traditional Jewish beliefs espouse heterosexual relationships, but that does not preclude kindness and respect for all people," Zierler said.
"I think this was an unfortunate day for the Jewish Standard," he said. "Should a Jewish newspaper be descriptive of what's happening in Jewish society as a whole or become a paper about a certain set of beliefs? Is it going to tell the community's stories, with all its problems, challenges, warts and pimples, or toe a certain line? If the latter, then it becomes a paper of opinion."