Marriage Equality, A Different Jewish Perspective


Photo: Avraham Bank

On Friday, May 10th, TC Jewfolk published an article titled, “Minnesota House Passes Marriage Equality Bill, The Jewish Perspective.” In it we featured quotes from various rabbis from the Reform and Conservative movements voicing their support for the marriage equality bill that was signed into law last Tuesday.
TCJ has not been shy about voicing support for marriage equality — with articles, Facebook posts, tweets, and more. Yet we’ve always strived to be a home for ALL hip young Jews in the Twin Cities, not just those that agree with us. So last Monday, on the day the Senate passed the bill, we spoke to two different rabbis who, while eschewing labels themselves, would fall closest to the Orthodox practice of Judaism.
Due to various delays, this article did not get done in the timeliest manner, but we believe it still has value for the conversation as a whole. What follows is another Jewish perspective on the marriage equality bill.
The first rabbi’s main concern with the bill (and now law) is how supporters are “glorifying it.” Almost like we’re flaunting our disobedience of G-d’s word.
This rabbi believes in the Jewish G-d because Judaism is the only religion to claim that G-d revealed himself to many people at once, not just one prophet. In other words, if I told you I saw a unicorn walking down Lyndale Ave, would you believe me? If one thousand people told you they saw a unicorn walking down Lyndale, would that change your mind?
From there this rabbi’s Jewish practice has a three-pronged foundation: there is a G-d, G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, and the Torah still has relevance today.
He says that sometimes G-d’s intent isn’t clear, but even if there’s a verse he doesn’t understand, he can usually parse an understanding of why G-d would include it. However, the pertinent Leviticus verse— “A man should not lie with another man”—is one he completely can’t understand.
“When I think to myself, ‘Why did G-d create people to have those feelings, and then say you can’t act on them?’ I don’t know. But if I believe there is a G-d, that G-d gave us the Torah, and that it’s still relevant, then what else am I supposed to believe? That he didn’t mean that verse?”
“I don’t have any homophobic tendencies. I have gay students in my classes. I have no problem with anyone, and frankly, it’s none of my business what anyone does in the bedroom.
“But when I see all those posts from my Facebook friends—what we’re doing is glorifying [gay marriage]. Those words come straight from G-d. And again, I understand where my friends are coming from, but I prescribe, as a Jew, to a different system: that G-d knows better than I do.”
The question as he puts it is, “What does G-d want from me? It’s not what do I want G-d to want from me?”
As to why he accepts G-d’s word on this, despite no homophobia, he says, “If I say I’m going to knock out that verse, then there’s nothing stopping me from knocking out any other verse, and therefore the Torah’s not sacred, I can’t believe in the Torah anymore, and that’s not an option for me.”
To this rabbi, a man should not lie with another man just like a Jew should keep kosher and honor the Sabbath and make it holy. His problem is not with the people, but with glorifying the issue. “If you eat pork you wouldn’t stand up and scream, ‘I EAT BACON!’ Or you wouldn’t yell, ‘I DON’T KEEP THE SABBATH!’”
For the other rabbi, the people seem to take precedence over the issue. We couldn’t get a clear answer from him on his position, mainly because he seemed to think the matter irrelevant to his work as a rabbi. “There are people and there are issues.” He thinks a proper discussion of the Jewish perspective is important, but as a rabbi, he feels it’s his responsibility to keep Judaism accessible to all, regardless of political ideology.
To be clear, he didn’t give his support or encouragement to the legislation. But he didn’t say he was against it, or uncomfortable with it either. He seems to have chosen, unlike many of the rabbis in the area, to not make the political issue a religious one. He quoted Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sacks: “Compassion, sympathy, empathy, understanding – these are essential elements of Judaism. They are what homosexual Jews who care about Judaism need from us today.”
The voting on this issue may be over, but the discussion can still continue. We kept the rabbis anonymous as our choice, so that the focus (and ensuing discussion) would hopefully be on the views expressed rather than the people expressing them. If you have an opinion you want to share, either post in the comments below, or email [email protected], and we will post it anonymously.