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!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • 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.