“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Didn’t Reform

Reactions to Senate’s failure to end Republican filibuster to legislation to reform United States military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

— Rabbi David Saperstein

Senators have failed to support the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have dedicated their professional lives to the defense of our nation.  Refusing to repeal the misguided “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy rejects the views and entreaties of Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen.  It also ignores the views of the overwhelming majority of service members whose opinions were solicited in the Pentagon’s extensive study of the impact of repeal and who said such action would not negatively impact unit cohesion.

The military’s code of honor is tarnished when service members are required to lie about their identity.  And as people of faith, we are pained by this affront to the dignity of those in uniform, each of whom, gay or straight, embodies the spark of the Divine presence in every person, and each of whom should be a source of pride for all Americans.

No doubt the courts, which have already shown a willingness to challenge this policy, will soon overturn it in recognition that we cannot in good conscience continue to ask the members of our Armed Forces to fight on behalf of a country that refuses to recognize their basic dignity and rights.

Even as we are deeply disappointed by today’s Senate vote, we know that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy’s days are numbered. We look forward to the future when this policy will be a mere memory of a sad and discredited chapter in our nation’s history.

Open Letter to Senator McCain from four Arizona Rabbis

Dear Senator McCain:

We, along with a delegation of retired military flag and general officers and retired military chaplains, recently requested a meeting with you in Washington DC to discuss the future of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. After multiple follow-up calls and an extended period without hearing any response, we were informed by your Chief of Staff, Mark Buse, that your office was “not able to accommodate [our] request as the Senator’s schedule is full.” Mr. Buse did, however, note in an email (attached) that he would ensure that you personally saw any information we wished to convey.

More after the jump.
To that end, and on behalf of our synagogues and congregants, and the Reform Jewish Movement of which we are a part, we write to express our great disappointment in your unwillingness to meet with us.

Even more so, we are deeply disappointed by your opposition to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We believe that the policy is antithetical to the values of justice and compassion on which our nation was founded. We note, as well, the recent support for repeal expressed by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the overwhelming majority of military service men and women.

You have heard the testimony from military leaders and other such experts making clear that while there will be an initial period of transition, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not have an adverse effect on the Armed Forces (in fact, legislative repeal is preferred to that through judicial action). Just as the arguments against President Truman’s decision to racially integrate the armed forces proved to be false, so will be those made against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Our military today remains the finest force known in history; it is stronger because its members reflect the faces of the people it defends.

As a Movement, we spent significant time exploring the biblical texts and teachings that eventually helped guide us to welcoming gay and lesbian clergy and members as full participants in our congregations. Let us assure you that as spiritual leaders from the largest Jewish denomination in North America, we are firm in our belief that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the right and moral action.

Allowing gay and lesbian service members to continue to contribute to our nation’s security while living their lives according to the standards of honor so prized by the military reflects our understanding that every man and woman is created in the image of God. The spark of the divine is present in equal abundance in gay and lesbian men and women, as it is in those who are heterosexual.
We feel strongly enough about the importance of this issue that we sought the opportunity to visit with you in Washington at your convenience and these are the sentiments we would have preferred to express to you in person. We regret that you did not feel that such a conversation would have been worthwhile.

We respect your service to our nation throughout your military and congressional career. But we respectfully disagree with your defense of a policy that forces men and women who, like you, wish to serve, to do so while hiding their identity. This is a policy that is long overdue for repeal and we urge you to allow such repeal to proceed with all due haste.


  •  Rabbi Charles Herring, Temple Kol Ami, Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Rabbi John Linder, Temple Solel, Paradise Valley, Arizona
  • Rabbi Thomas Louchheim
    Congregation Or Chadash, Tuscon, Arizona
  • Rabbi Andrew Straus, Temple Emanuel, Tempe, Arizona