Member Expelled From Gay Synagogue for Secret Heterosexual Relationship
BOSTON, MA — [TheKnish.com] The Board of Temple Ahavas Achichem, Boston’s leading gay synagogue, took the controversial step this week of expelling long-time member Mordechai Cutlery, following the disclosure that he engaged in a physical relationship with a woman for a period of six months. “We are grievously disappointed in our former congregant, and cannot condone such deviant behavior,” read a statement issued by Board President Philip Milchiger.
The unprecedented step was taken following Cutlery’s admission of his heterosexual activities at a closed session of the synagogue’s board, which was also attended by the congregation’s rabbi, cantor, and interior designer. According to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Knish, Cutlery apologized profusely for his actions as he admitted surrendering to his “primal urges”. “In recent months I could think of nothing but women,” Cutlery told the Board. “I tried everything to fight my impulses. I prayed to Shamayim. I wore a rubber band tightly around my wrist and snapped it until my arm was beet red. I took cold showers. I thought about famous rabbis. But all to no avail.”
Following a lengthy debate, the board voted to expel Cutlery. “We really had no choice” said Chaim Schlachter, a board member and local Boston firefighter. “In Eastern Europe one hundred years ago they would have put him in cherem. What else can you do today when someone rejects one of the basic tenets of your religious practice? It stings. It’s as if someone has splashed Fresca in your face. It really leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
According to the minutes of the meeting, the board considered a variety of penalties short of expulsion. Options considered included temporary suspension, denial of aliyas, and loss of mikvah privileges.
Ultimately the board was swayed by the impassioned arguments of the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Velvel Wiener. Noting personal sympathy for Cutlery, Rabbi Wiener nevertheless stood firm. “This case is bigger than any one person. Think of the message this sends our youth. It is a real shanda for the whole community.”
In addition to expelling Cutlery from the synagogue, the board also recommended that he seek counseling for his behavior. “What we have here is a pattern. It’s not a one time thing,” said a member of the board who asked not to be identified so that his parents don’t find out about his synagogue affiliation. “The board felt that this kind of repeated behavior is, frankly, an abomination.” Cutlery was specifically urged to attend sessions organized by the Jewish Educational Response to Heterosexual Religious Orientation (JETHRO).
The response of the rank and file synagogue membership has been mixed.
Spike Goldberger, an anesthesiologist at Boston General, disagrees with the outcome. “Hey, we have all done things we regret. That doesn’t make you a bad Jew. I bet if we took a poll, at least fifty percent of our shul would be guilty of having been involved in some form of heterosexual experimentation when they were younger, especially in summer camp.”
Rick Hochberg, a local massage therapist concurs. “Who gives these guys the right to sit in judgment? Sometime I feel like our synagogue is the hand puppet of our lay leaders.”
But Menachem Halbshvantzel supports the position of the synagogue’s board. “It’s a slippery slope, you know," said Halbshvantzel. “One day it’s mishkav nekayva, the next day it’s shatnez, and the next week it is tea bagging on Shabbos. Ein l'davar sof.”
For his part, Mordechai Cutlery remains committed to his synagogue, and expresses the hope for eventual reacceptance. “For years, Ahavas Achichem has been my way of life. It has been my community. I made some mistakes that I now regret. But I long to return to the synagogue and will bend over backwards to get back in.”
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein is a part time free-lance journalist and the full time Rosheshiva (dean) of Yeshiva Chipass Emmess. He is the author of The Collected Writing of Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein and is currently spending a three month term as Scholar in Residence at the Shabsai Zvi Synagogue in Duluth, Wisconsin. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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