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All the Happy Couples

The ‘N.J. Jewish Standard’ strikes gay partners from its pages

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Yesterday, the New Jersey Jewish Standard (“the voice of northern Jewish New Jersey” since 1931, according to its Website) published an editorial apologizing for running a same-sex couple’s engagement announcement the previous Friday (right above an ad for a mohel, it so happens). The paper’s editor, Rebecca Boroson, reported that the paper had received an unexpected number of negative comments, and, after talking with a group of unnamed “traditional/Orthodox” rabbis, she came to understand that the announcement had caused “pain and consternation.” For this she was sorry. And readers could rest assured that the New Jersey Jewish Standard will never run such an announcement again.

The statement rocketed around Facebook and the blogosphere. Commenters on the paper’s site overwhelmingly expressed dismay. Boroson’s decision was called “disappointing” and “abhorrent.” More than one person noted the sad irony of the paper apologizing for offending homophobic readers in the wake of the recent rash of suicides by gay teenagers across the country, including, most prominently, at Rutgers—the state university of New Jersey.

The decision seems at odds with the paper’s official mission statement: “The Jewish Standard is not affiliated with any program, organization, movement, or point of view, but is dedicated to giving expression to all phases of Jewish life.” By refusing to run paid announcements from fellow Jews, and by kowtowing to but one segment of the community, the paper has chosen to “affiliate” with one “point of view,” doing the precise opposite of “giving expression to all phases of Jewish life.”

As one commenter, Jonah Rank, a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, pointed out, “It just might be a Chillul Hashem—a desecration of the God name—when a free publication that writes for and about Jewish causes sinks to the level of engaging in the shaming of an entire percentile of the Jewish population by refusing to acknowledge … their existence. We should not read about a gay union just as much as we should not read about Jews who belong to egalitarian synagogues, Jews who do not keep kosher, and Jews who do not engage in the core Mitzvah of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).”

Another commenter pointed out that she feels “pain and consternation” every time the paper accepts an ad from a non-kosher restaurant or writes about an event taking place on Shabbat. “Will you take note of my pain and refrain from advertising anything that violates halachic Judaism?” she asked rhetorically.

Rabbi Sue Fendrick, an alumna of the Wexner Fellowship now at the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, posted, “It is ironic that you use the word ‘pain’ twice in your short retraction, given how deeply painful it is to GLBT Jews, their friends and families and people who care about them, that their lives are not visible in our communities and publications.”

In related news, columnist Dan Savage began an initiative last month called the “It Gets Better Project,” urging happy LGBT adults to post videos to YouTube assuring young, isolated LGBTs that even if they face hatred and bigotry now, their lives can eventually be rich and full.. LGBT teens are three times as likely to commit suicide as straight teenagers, and are far more likely to be bullied. While most coverage of the project has been favorable, there has been some backlash, among other things over the fact that the project allegedly stereotypes religious people as bigoted.

Religious people bigoted? Thoughtful people refuse to play into that stereotype. So do thoughtful publications.

A Statement from the Jewish Standard [Jewish Standard]

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I posted a comment on the Jewish Standard’s Web site, in which I praised the tone and tenor of earlier comments. I also politely, but forcefully pointed out that either (a) the staff of the Standard was mind-numbingly stupid and short-sighted because they failed to realize the backlash that would be caused by their decision to stop printing such announcements, or (b) they were making a financial calculation, that they would lose more Orthodox subscribers by continuing to publish them than non-Orthodox subscribers by refusing to do so.

I also suggested that to prove them wrong, any subscriber who was offended by their decision should immediately call and cancel their subscription.

Their comments are moderated, and they declined to print mine. I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that means.

How utterly disappointing that a community paper will only be reflective of one, very narrow, segment of the community.

I am so pleased that you choose to write such a thoughtful and measured response, M.

Daniel says:

Having served on the Board of the Jewish Light in St. Louis, I know I would have immediately resigned if the paper had made a decision cow-towing to one particular segment of the community.

It is time we stop praising and upholding the Orthodox as some how more sacred than other Jews. They are simply a movement that does some things well and some thing very poorly, like every other movement of Judaism.

Dani Levi says:

Schande.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield says:

As a rabbi serving the Northern New Jersey Jewish community who recently celebrated my own engagement to another woman, my congregants and rabbinic colleagues alike have responded first and foremost with expressions of joy and support. What has often followed these congratulations, however, has been the question: how will my partner and I go about planning our wedding in a state that does not recognize full marriage equality for same-sex couples? Until now, the legal barrier of NJ state civil unions has been the one looming challenge to our simcha. With the Jewish Standard’s decision to retreat from the inclusion of LGBT Jews in the wedding and engagement announcements, the newspaper eviscerates progressive Judaism and effectively doubles the burden of Jewish same-sex couples in NJ who wish to sanctify their relationships within the framework of their own religious tradition.

The place of LGBT Jews within our community must be cherished, protected and celebrated. It should come as no surprise that LGBT Jews have as authentic and meaningful connections to Jewish ritual and tradition as the group of traditional/Orthodox rabbis who spurred this misguided act of discrimination. Therefore, it must be the obligation of those institutions and leaders who serve the Jewish community to uphold and respect the dignity and humanity of all Jews, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield
Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel, Maywood, NJ

Chaim Yankel says:

“By refusing to run paid announcements from fellow Jews, and by kowtowing to but one segment of the community,….”

These announcements are not paid, they are free. They have not rejected – and are not rejecting – paid advertising.

Jewish intolerance is so incredibly disappointing.

MrsJro says:

It is so clear to me that this isn’t about the “pain and consternation” of the traditional/orthodox community. It is about the advertising dollars and where those in the traditional/orthodox community shop. The voice of a few (or even one) offended advertiser is much louder than the voices of anyone else no matter the affiliation. Find the advertiser(s) who made the call to complain, you’ll find your bigots.

Caroline says:

What I attempted (unsuccessfully) to post to the Jewish Standard’s website…and posted to their FB wall instead:

Given “the tenor of the times,” wouldn’t you want to LAUD the marriage of two Jews to each other — because THAT seems to be a rarity these days. The last time I checked, two people who have fallen in love and committed to each other ADD to, rather than detract from, the value of the world.

Regardless of anybody’s “pain” or “consternation,” the fact that a NJ newspaper would decide upon such a policy only days after a gay college student (a teen, a child!) took his life in your own backyard because the world is too unspeakably frightened to accept and love all human beings… well, that speaks to your publication’s abject lack of sensitivity in addition to appallingly poor judgment. These are NOT the Jewish values with which I was raised!

[Nor the Jewish Standard by which I live....]

Penina Grossberg says:

thanks, marjorie.

I’ve heard from numerous people that they couldn’t post in the newspaper’s comments section. And indeed, there haven’t been any new comments there since late last night (Monday), before the editorial was widely disseminated. I don’t know whether it’s a technical problem.

Hershl says:

Just in.

An insider has provided us with the facts.

The editor was forced to write an editorial that she totally disagrees with or risk losing her job.

She is absolutely heart broken over the entire situation.

Members of the local orthodox Jewish community are acting like the Taliban and have threatened the staff with closing down the paper and relieving them of their jobs if they don’t tow the line and print what they are instructed to print regarding this issue.

The clout of the local orthodox rabbis and some of the more vocal and obnoxious members of their flocks is such that the paper, the oldest Jewish newspaper in NJ, feels threatened.

However, our informant writes that if they can be pursuaded that they will be supported in their fight, their intention is to retract the bigoted policy and fight the hatemongers.

http://jewishdailyreport.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/support-us-financially-and-we-will-print-same-sex-announcements/

How sad it is that a Jewish publication would uphold the clearly expressed values of Judaism’s sacred texts- truly a shame.

Terry Leftgoff says:

Here is a real world measure of sentiment in the Jewish community. Jewish voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly opposed Prop 8 by a margin of 78-8%. Jewish opposition to Prop 8 – and support for marriage equality – is reported to be the highest of any ethnic or religious voter group.

I cannot help but wonder what they would do when asked by proud parents to print a bona fide wedding announcement of New Jersey gay sons or lesbian daughters who legally married in one of numerous states or foreign countries where it is legal?

There are 11 countires with a national law allowing same-sex marriage and the 13 countries where gay marriage is possible in some jurisdictions including 5 U.S. states the the District of Columbia.

Gay marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Mexico City, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.

bunsinspace says:

BS”D

Let the paper not reflect the opinions and ideologies of homophobes. Religious homophobes aren’t regular readers of non-religious media anyway – so no loss at all. Better to support your local Jews who love rather than to cave in to the ones who hate. Are there so many Jews in the world that we can afford the evil luxury of disenfranchisement?

Shmuel says:

“Their comments are moderated, and they declined to print mine. I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that means.”

I think it means that their website has a glitch in that it displays only the first 100 comments, and that they never had cause to discover that until now. (Exactly 100 are on display, while the site claims that there are 272. Occam’s Razor, combined with some knowledge of common Web design problem, strongly indicates that explanation.)

larry says:

Is free choice no longer an option?
If a community is slighted by the newspaper’s announcements, and the paper will suffer financial loss from the community refraining from using this newspaper, it seems that the newspaper, like all businesses, is correct in refraining from actions detrimental to its existence.
Besides, homosexuality is forbidden in the Jewish religion just like pork, so if someone wants to advertise a special on pork, can a Jewish newspaper, in its best interest, refuse to carry that advert? I would think that it should protect itself.
It seems this is a case of American political correctiveness versus Jewish tradition. I side with the Jews, what about you?

Aliza says:

Thanks Larry, my sentiments exactly. Also equating protesting a free advertisement in a local paper to Taliban terrorism is offensive, very offensive. As Larry mentioned homosexuality is NOT KOSHER. Judaism does not judge people as we are all the children of Hashem. Actions however are judged and when a law is broken there are consequences for those involved as well as those that remained silent. Just like we can not accept robbery in our community we can not accept homosexuality. That does not mean we do not accept those who practice it but we can not be made to condone these transgressions as they are against a tradition of 2000 plus in Jewish law.

Thanks for the possible explanation of why comments on the story aren’t being posted on the Standard’s web site, Shmuel.

Brava and mazel tov on another great piece, Marjorie. I can only add that non of these alleged Jews seems to have read Talmud. I’m sure they would also reject Jews of color. Given how tiny we are in the world, these folks are becoming as insular and shut off from the “outside” as the Amish.

chapter2 says:

It is my understanding that the Jewish Standard was basically being blackmailed. The RCBC, the Orthodox Rabbinate threatened to take away the hechsher, the certificate of kashrut, from any restaurant that continued to advertise in the Jewish Standard if they did not announce that they would never publish another gay wedding announcement. This would effectively put the Standard out of business, as it is advertising and not subscriptions that keeps their doors open, and it would have put the Kosher restaurants, caterers, and other Kosher food providers in the position of having to find another hechsher, which in Bergen county would be hard to do. It would alienate the Orthodox community from all of the liberal Jews who keep Kosher and it could cause financial havoc in the Jewish community. RCBC should be ashamed.

There is no need to go to the Talmud to know that Homosexuality is forbidden;

“Ve-et zachar lo tishcav mishkevei isha to’evah hi” (Vayikra 18:22) “A man shall not lie with another man as he would lie with a woman, it is an abhorrence …

This is truth from the Torah for All Jews. If we don’t accept this as a reality we pretty much gentiles that like bagels and gefilte fish.

A

Every religion has its Taliban, and we are no exception. Whether it’s the Haredim in Israel “refusing to recognize” Conservative or Progressive conversions and marriages or the Orthodox in NJ with their “truth from the Torah for All Jews” (do they also stone their children if they’re rebellious?).

This is truly a shande, but the response it’s getting is heartening. The editor of the Standard should feel supported and have more ability to stand for what she believes in next time.

This is truth from the Torah for All Jews. If we don’t accept this as a reality we pretty much gentiles that like bagels and gefilte fish.

That’s not true. The great thing about Judaism is its flexibility; nobody has a monopoly on how to be Jewish. Those in the Orthodox community who oppose homosexuality (I chose those words deliberately, as there are Orthodox Jews who are more open-minded than this) represent only a minority of the Jewish people today. The vast majority of Jews are Reform or Conservative and have every right to defend Judaism for themselves.

Nobody has a right to speak for all Jewish people.

“This is truth from the Torah for All Jews. If we don’t accept this as a reality we pretty much gentiles that like bagels and gefilte fish.”

That’s not true. The great thing about Judaism is its flexibility; nobody has a monopoly on how to be Jewish. Those in the Orthodox community who oppose homosexuality (I chose those words deliberately, as there are Orthodox Jews who are more open-minded than this) represent only a minority of the Jewish people today. The vast majority of Jews are Reform or Conservative and have every right to defend Judaism for themselves.

Nobody has a right to speak for all Jewish people.

Orthodox Jews are not terrorists and should not be compared to the Taliban. To be sure I’d rather be in a plane full of Haredi Jews than religious Moslems.

A

“Nobody has a right to speak for all Jewish people.”

Does this statement include G-d? Or do you believe that Haredi Jews wrote the Old Testament?

A

Aliza, this speaks to a larger issue: the definition of a Jew. Clearly people disagree on the answer to this question, which is no different from what has happened in any religion throughout history. We won’t be able to convince each other of our positions, so it’s not really worth debating.

Jeff, I understand that dealing w/ absolutes is difficult and frustrating. But to abandon a dialog is really sad. As Orthodox Jews we can not accept homosexuality as a lifestyle, but we certainly do not reject people that practice this from our congregations. Boycotting a paper that passes ads that condone this is making a statement about our conviction on this matter.

A

Phillip Cohen says:

“A man shall not lie with another man as he would lie with a woman, it is an abhorrence …

Gay men usually don’t lie with each other as with a woman.
Perhaps a closer examination of the quoted statement has less to do with homosexually then something else.

While they are at it, should we go to hell for masturbating? Seeds may get wasted.

The reason I said it’s not worth debating is because it’s not my place to change your religious views, and vice versa. I don’t even believe a supreme being exists, so there’s probably an unbridgeable gulf between us, and likely neither of our views is changeable. That’s why it seemed to me to be pointless to debate.

I have less problem with a dialogue, though, and I will say a couple of things.

In a free market, you have every right to boycott a newspaper. No disagreement there.

But being gay is not a “lifestyle” that one “practices.” It may seem like I’m quibbling over language, but the words people use say a great deal about what they think. Living on the beach is a lifestyle; being a vegetarian is a lifestyle. Being gay is not. It is something one is.

Suppose a religious organization said to you, “We can’t accept your relationship with your husband, the person you love with all your heart and have chosen to spend the rest of your life with, but we’d be happy to have you as a member.” That doesn’t wash. It would be a slap in the face to you, your husband, your relationship, and your children.

Feel free to follow any commandments you wish, but don’t pretend it doesn’t demean the dignity of some of your fellow human beings.

Aliza says:

“While they are at it, should we go to hell for masturbating? Seeds may get wasted.”

Judaism does not have Hell of eternal damnation. Gehenna according to tradition only can last up to one year, that is why we are forbidden to mourn the loss of a loved one for more than one year.

A

Aliza says:

“I don’t even believe a supreme being exists, so there’s probably an unbridgeable gulf between us, and likely neither of our views is changeable. That’s why it seemed to me to be pointless to debate.”

One question I have is if you don’t believe in G-d why do you care so much about Jews or Judaism or what Orthodox Jews believe or don’t? This is not a rhetorical question by the way. I’ve always been confused about when someone who professes to be an atheist is bothered by injustice in the world. After all if this beautiful world we live in is one big accident than the law of the land is “survival of the fittest” so why get upset about things that seem unfair?

A

I would be glad to answer. I care about this issue because I’m Jewish, culturally and ethnically, and because I’m gay.

I’m puzzled by the other part of the question though. Believing in justice and morality doesn’t necessarily require believing in God.

Aliza says:

“I’m puzzled by the other part of the question though. Believing in justice and morality doesn’t necessarily require believing in God.”

Well the non-existence of G-d would preclude us being anything more than sophisticated animals. How does an animalistic mind/brain/psych even come up w/ a concept of Justice, kindness or altruism? These concept are anything but instinct. How would we as complex animals come up with something so ethereal or elevated?

A

I’ll admit to not knowing where such things as justice or kindness or altruism come from. I don’t think we as human beings know the answers to everything — in fact, I think we don’t even know how much we don’t know. It’s just that I have no reason to believe the answer is a supreme being, even though I respect that a majority of people disagree.

I do think justice, kindness, altruism, etc. are part of our human instinct, competing with other instincts such as survival, self-interest, and tribalism; that’s what makes us such a complicated and contradictory species. I do think we’re sophisticated animals — more complex than any other animals we know.

Aliza says:

I guess that is where we differ. I can imagine anything other than divinity and holiness when I see the extent that altruism and search for justice expressed by humanity. Mother Teresa as an example. I can’t imagine such a beautiful mind or soul (if you’ll permit) evolving from an animal. After all when was the last time a saw a gorilla giving tzedaka? Can’t remember. I’m also one of those Kooks that sees the order in nature as an expression of a supreme artist.

A

I would point out that there are lots of examples of altruism in animals — their own form of tzedaka, in a way. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism_in_animals#Examples_of_animal_altruism

But at any rate, there are many Jews out there who do believe in God and also support gay equality. I can’t speak for them, so I’ll just leave it at that and bow out. I’m glad we could have a civil online discussion about this!

Aliza says:

Me, too! Thank you for not seeing me as a fire breathing, bible thumping Gila Monster!

Be well,

A

Shmuel says:

The full set of comments now appears to be up underneath the original editorial.

Aliza, as an atheist I don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. As a result, I do not want to do anything to harm other people and make whatever time they have on earth unpleasant, since this is all the time they have. Some religious people seem determined to make the lives of their fellow human beings miserable (for example, the many religious people who will do anything they can to destroy the lives of gays and lesbians).

Hershl says:

Latest:

It is highly unlikely that the newspaper will again print such announcements.

The reality of the boycott from the local orthodox and its threats to remove the kosher certification of any establishment that advertises in a paper carrying same-sex union announcements was just too much.

It is a business decision in the end.

http://jewishdailyreport.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/nj-jewish-paper-unlikely-to-reverse-decision-in-face-of-orthodox-threats/

Aliza says:

Hi Homer,

That is an interesting way of seeing existence. Personally I’ve always felt there is a creator, I guess it speaks to my artistic side (I’m a bag designer.) Nature just works to well together to have been an accident. Also I always believed in an after life because of the tremendous capacity of the human spirit, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. In truth there is no intelligence in the world that can compare to the human minds range of potential. This is also something that I can’t view as accidental. What is the point of an infinite capacity for love (for example) in this limited world that we live in? There must be a World beyond this one where this capacity applies. King Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun, but beyond the sun, and this existence I’m sure there is.

Have a good day,

A

Thanks for that interesting link, Hershl.

Hershl says:

The Teaneck rabbis have now issued a statement on their actions. None of them signed it; they prefer to remain anonymous. In it they express their outrage and pain that anyone would condemn them for their acts. Their venom ( their word which they use to describe our reporting) is reserved for the online media that has refused to allow their actions to go unreported.

Meanwhile, gay men commit suicide as they are attacked and, in NYC, have the biggest homophobic hate crime in the history of the city, according to the police, committed against them.

http://jewishdailyreport.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/teaneck-rabbis-whatever-it-is-we-deny-it/

rebbe tex says:

What will happen to the paper is that it will no longer be relevant. This decision reflects many saddening things.
One, the bullying other movements in Judaism sometimes receive from the Orthodox rabbinate. Two, the wrongness of
rejecting another Jew, and the many gay other gay Jews who want to announce thoer life events in a Jewish setting.
These people want to remain Jews, which is something that seems rarer and rarer these days. They are no less Jews than straight Jews who have life events. Period. Third, the calcified nature of Jewish organizational and instutional life in general. Honors are routinely bestoyed upon those who write the largest checks, be they Marc Rich, Madoff, Merkin, or whatever other goniff. Synagaogues charge huge
dues. Everything has to have some donor’s named slapped on it. Time we took a look at all this.
And time that people to write a letter of apology. ASAP.

I am so glad so see the strong and varied responses to the announcement that the paper will not support any and all Jewish people. It is so dissapointing that Jewish media, of all people, would be so narrow-minded to not acknowledge any member of the community. It is only with love and support that we will continue to go on.

Aliza,

The description of some ultra-Orthodox as “Taliban,” is not without justification. You might feel safe flying in a plane filled with ultra-Orthodox. I don’t believe, however you would feel or be safe sitting in the front of a bus driving into Mea Shearim.

Some just might find the extortion of some rabbis as offensive as slinging rocks or diapers.

David Jacobowitz says:

The statement that the RCBC is threatening to shut down the J Standard is false and hateful. We have enough of a complex situation here in Bergen County without hatemongers making it worse. I am sad at the hatred of Orthodox Jews that is apparent in this string of offensive comments.

Mr. Jacobowitz is sadly mistaken. What he terms a “false and hateful” statement is, sadly, likely. Otherwise, why won’t the Standard name the rabbis who objected to the announcement and tell us what the rabbis said that made their reaction so forceful? The most obvious conclusion is that this handful of rabbis told the publisher “We will withhold the heksher of any restaurant that continues to advertise in your paper if you do not retract the insertion and vow never to do it again.”
I wonder if Mr. Jacobowitz will apologize once the facts prove him wrong? Or will he simply say, “well, there shouldn’t be any such announcements in any case.”

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