Forward Thinking

Boy Scouts' Anti-Gay Stand Betrays Jewish Roots

By Blair Thornburgh

  • Print
  • Share Share
getty images

“What is a nice Jewish boy doing in a uniform like this?’” asked Maryland psychiatrist Alan J. Horowitz in his 1986 essay entitled “Reflections of a Jewish Scouter.”

Today, almost twenty years later, it may seem like the Boy Scouts of America may be moving further than ever from Jewish values, as evidenced by the organization’s reaffirmation of its long-standing ban on allowing openly gay men and boys to serve as scouts or scoutmasters.

[Editor’s note: It has come to our attention that Alan J. Horowitz, who is quoted in this blog post, is a convicted sex offender. A rabbi and psychiatrist, he was imprisoned for several years after a 1992 child molestation conviction. He was later arrested in India for allegedly violating terms of his parole.]

The Boy Scouts’ policy puts it at odds with most Jewish opinion. It also places it outside the mainstream: the Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H clubs, and even the US Military have done away with such discriminatory edicts. In 2001, following a New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Boy Scouts’ right to refuse membership to gays, the Joint Commission on Social Action of the Reform movement issued a memorandum urging its congregations to ask their sponsored troops to rewrite their charters, or to withdraw financial support entirely, calling the ban ”incompatible with our consistent belief that every individual – regardless of his or her sexual orientation – is created in the image of God and is deserving of equal treatment.”

”From a religious perspective, we stand for the notion that all people are equally children of God,” explained Rabbi Daniel F. Polish, the commission’s director. “So if you have a religious movement sponsoring a group with a diametrically opposed set of values, it sets up a terrible conflict.”

At that time 11 years ago, 7,187 members in 277 Boy Scout troops, packs, and crews were sponsored by Jewish organizations. In 2010, the numbers had dwindled to 4,060 scouts in 174 Jewish-sponsored units.

With this most recent announcement, it’s possible the numbers will shrink further: a tragic loss for scouts and synagogues alike. But it’s an avoidable one.

The youth institution that teaches its boys to be self-reliant outdoorsmen and responsible citizens has had a strong tie to Jews since the beginning. One year after the program’s founding in 1910, prominent Jewish financier Mortimer Schiff joined Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller as one of its first major contributors. And two years after that, in 1913, the first Jewish boy scout troop was formed in New York City.

Since then, Jewish scouting has blossomed. Along with merit badges for canoeing, orienteering, and wilderness survival, Jewish scouts can work towards their Maccabee, Aleph, Ner Tamid, and Etz Chaim emblems by studying Torah and learning from a rabbi. Jewish Eagle scouts who demonstrate “practical citizenship in synagogue, school, Scouting unit, and community” can earn college scholarships. And for some unaffiliated Jews, scouting is a first exposure to a cultural and religious heritage they might not otherwise have known.. Scouting is endorsed by the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

For years, since its very inception, the Boy Scouts and Jewish groups have worked together for common goals of practical knowledge, community service, and a true, deep understanding of religious heritage. Understandably, neither side wants to abandon its moral position. But if this crucial synergy that has guided generations of young Jewish men to roles as leaders is to be preserved at all, social progress and inclusiveness must win out. The Boy Scouts must embrace and include the diverse identities of its members when it comes to sexual orientation just as it has since the beginning with religious affiliation.

Only then will all their members, be they straight or gay, Jewish or Christian or Muslim or even not religious at all, be able to understand what it is to be an American scout, a multifaceted product of a multifaceted culture.

As Horowitz writes in the conclusion of his essay: “For once, I have lived an experience in which I could become immersed fully and deeply as an American, a Scouter, and as a Jew.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: mortimer schiff, boy scouts of america, homophobic, anti-gay, alan j horowitz

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.