Kosher bakery refuses to fulfill order for Pride baked goods

Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.




(the israel bible)

July 9, 2023

4 min read

A kosher bakery, the West Orange Bake Shop, refused to make a rainbow cake and ten pounds of rainbow cookies celebrating Pride Month for Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative congregation in Millburn, NJ. A separate order was made the same day for rainbow cupcakes for the synagogue’s youth group and was also canceled. 

Co-owner Yitzy Mittel, an Orthodox Jew, agreed to process the synagogue’s order for cookies without rainbow decorations and offered a discount on the baked goods.

Mittel had made a gay-themed cake last year but opted out when approached this year. He told JTA that his understanding of Judaism is that LGBTQ symbols are “antithetical to what we stand for.”

After consulting with a rabbi and a lawyer, he canceled the order based on his belief that the symbols were “a celebration of something which is against Torah,” he said. “I didn’t want to be making that cake.” He stated that he has also declined orders of baked goods decorated with crosses as that violates his religious beliefs. 

“There are other bakeries out there that will do it,” Mittel said about the Pride-themed kosher baked goods. “Why should I?”

Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by Jewish law. 

Mittel insisted he does not hate homosexuals.

“If somebody came in and told me they want to pay me three times the price to write on a cake, ‘I hate gay people,’ I wouldn’t do it,” he told JTA. He added, “Symbols carry a lot of weight.”

Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald, the synagogue’s director of congregational learning, went to the bakery to request an explanation for why the order was canceled, but Mittel refused to talk to her. He told JTA he had chosen not to engage because the rabbi had come during peak hours and “wanted to create a scene.”

The decision did not come cheap. Many rabbis and local Jews canceled orders and stopped patronizing the bakery. The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ initially wrote to staff and supporters on June 20 that it would no longer order from the bakery.  Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president and CEO of the local Federation, wrote that the bakery’s decision “did not align with the value of B’tzelem Elohim, that each one of us is created in the Divine Image and deserves to be treated as such,” the New Jersey Jewish News reported.

One week later, the Federation reversed its position

“We are looking forward to future conversations with the vendor with the goal of finding a resolution,” Ben-Shimon wrote. “We sincerely regret that our actions have caused divisiveness in our community as our aim is to bring the variety and richness of our many constituents together,” he added.

“While I know this has happened in other parts of the country, I hadn’t expected it here,” wrote Dan Cohen, senior rabbi of the Reform Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in nearby South Orange, on Facebook. “Then I learned that the bakery in question is a kosher bakery, and as a result, the bias was coming from within our Jewish community.”

 Eshel, an advocacy group for LGBTQ Orthodox Jews and their families, announced an “ally training” in West Orange this coming Sunday in response to the incident.

“The reason why Eshel exists is that these sorts of incidents when they happen to someone over and over again, make people feel unwanted and unwelcome in their communities,” said Miryam Kabakov, the advocacy group’s executive director. “This is just one small example, but the effect overall is to drive people away from Orthodoxy who are trying to live frum [observant] lives, leaving them feeling like there is no place for them.”

Robert Tobin, rabbi of the Conservative B’nai Shalom in West Orange, also criticized the bakery’s decision.

“For my part, and with the full support of the Rabbinical Assembly of America and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism,  I believe that humans are created in the image of God with a variety of potential gender identities and with the possibility of gender fluidity.  In the biblical account, humans were created on the sixth day, and God declared that it was not merely ‘good’ but ‘very good’,” Tobin wrote in a blog post. “This applies to all humans, including all races, genders, and identities.  Who they are is how God made them and intended them to be. 

Mittel’s actions are protected by the constitution and this was emphasized in a ruling last month by the Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of Lorie Smith, a Christian website designer from Colorado, in 303 Creative v Elenis. Smith challenged Colorado’s anti-discrimination law that would have compelled her to design a website promoting gay marriage, which goes against her religious beliefs.

In addition, in 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker, who declined to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple on religious grounds.

The reform Jewish movement came out with a statement condemning the recent decision. 

“We condemn the Supreme Court’s decision allowing business owners to use personal beliefs as a justification for discriminating against LGBTQ+ people when selling custom goods or services. Although this ruling does not authorize discrimination in all public accommodations, the creation of a broad new free speech exemption for such businesses opens the door to further discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, as well as religious minorities and other marginalized groups. As Reform Jews, we know that deep faith and a commitment to LGBTQ+ equality are not mutually exclusive – and, as we argued in an amicus brief alongside 30+ religious, civil rights, and grassroots organizations, nondiscrimination laws must carefully balance civil rights and religious freedom. Today’s ruling undermines this critical balance…”

Mittel told JTA that his bakery has been visited by “obnoxious” people since news of the cancellation came out, insisting that it was he, and not LGBTQ people, who had become victims to intolerance.

“I don’t think it’s good for the Jewish community to be adversarial to each other,” Mittel said. “There’s no need for that. We have enough people disliking us without us causing strife to each other.”

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