Thursday, June 22, 2023

Refusing to Make Pride Cookies at a Kosher Bake Shop

The week of June 4th, Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald - the Director of Congregational Learning at Millburn's Bnai Israel - had her order for Rainbow Pride cookies cancelled by the West Orange Bake Shop.  When she went to the bake shop to ask why, she did not receive a direct answer.  Since then it has become clear that it is exactly what it seems to be: the Orthodox proprietors chose to invoke their rights determined by the Supreme Court that, as Orthodox Jews, they are not compelled to actively create a message on their products that contradicts their own religious beliefs and values.  In this case, they determined that celebrating LGBTQ+ "pride" matches that definition.

There has been much circulating in this community, and we should be clear.  The order was received by an employee and cancelled by the proprietors prior to the pickup date - when they became aware of it. Rabbi Schwarzwald went in to learn why it was cancelled, with her suspicions.  She was not given an answer.  Since then there have been private conversations, and it is clear that her suspicions were correct:  the order was cancelled because of the LGBTQ+ pride content. It is safe, one would think, to assume that the employees are now better trained not to accept such an order in the future. The real issue is not "how" the order was cancelled, but "that" the order was canceled.  It is the actual religious belief underlying the act.  

For my part, and with the full support of the Rabbinical Assembly of America and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,  I believe that humans are created in the image of God with a variety of potential gender identities and with the possibility of gender fluidity.  In the biblical account, humans were created on the sixth day, and God declared that it was not merely "good" but "very good."  This applies to all humans, including all races, genders and identities.  Who they are is how God made them, and intended them to be.  They are part of the beauty, variety and divinity of humans in the image of God.  The concept of "pride" in anything as a virtue may contradict "humility" but given the gross historical oppression of the LGBTQ+ communities by our religious and our social authorities over time, the embrace of "Pride" is a reasonable over-correction to assert the positive value of each human being.  I rejoice that as a rabbi I live in an age that has come to better understand our texts and our traditions in this area.

The Conservative movement is "proud" to ordain clergy, rabbis, cantors and to train educators of any gender identity and background.  We are "proud" to sanctify marriages and welcome families of any gender relations and structures.  We actively seek to make our spaces safe and uplifting for all, from our restrooms to our sanctuary.  Everyone is welcome in our community, and we believe that everyone should be equally served in our community.  When we refuse basic Jewish services to members of our community who are articulating who they are, we are excluding and dividing.  When that happens, we all need to take note and respond deliberately.

I recognize that there are serious and direct differences between our beliefs and the teachings of Orthodoxy on this topic.  I recognize that there is religious freedom in this country and I accept the Supreme Court ruling that protects one from being forced to create a product or work of art that contradicts personal religious beliefs.  Nevertheless, one is not forced to cancel this type of order.  Were it a cross on a cake for a Christening, would the order also be cancelled?  Many questions arise, and I am sure that the proprietors are sincere and not taking this issue at all lightly.  

I also recognize that I too have a choice where to shop, and where not to shop.  As a result of this choice, I will not frequent the West Orange Bake Shop in West Orange NJ in the future.  I leave it to you to make your own choice.  Their food is still kosher - and certified as such.  If families in our community choose to patronize them, that is also their choice. 

I wish this were otherwise.  I wish a different choice had been made.  We are still one single Jewish community, but there are times when exclusion can not be ignored.  This is one of those times.