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Jewish Freedom in America - Is It Different This Time?

I heard disagreement from 2 Torah-learned men regarding my article from a few weeks ago in which I argued for tolerance of legislation for gay marriage. The position that I offered was that Torah observant Jews should have no greater problem with gay marriage as we have with establishments serving shell fish. A homosexual act is described in the Torah as a “To’eiva” translated as an “abomination”. The Biblical text which explains the prohibition of eating shell fish is “Kee Sheketz Hoo”, translated by Artscroll as “because it is an abomination”. One of the Torah-learned men insisted that no such equivalence could be made despite Artscroll’s same definition for both because the Torah used different words for each. I discussed this with my sister and she offered words that could translate “Sheketz” perhaps more accurately such as “disgusting” or “repulsive”, which could be understood as being different than “abomination” used in connection with Torah’s description of homosexual acts. Hence my comparison is not an equivalence linguistically, however, conceptually I believe my argument still stands for the following reason.

The Torah does not approve of either act - homosexuality or the eating of shell fish - and it tells us that our dignity will be diminished by doing either one with the description of “To’eiva” for homosexuality and “Sheketz” for shell fish. Both terms in connection for the reasons of the two prohibitions are clearly very negative. However, we must keep in mind that this prohibition applies only to Jews. The Torah does not prohibit a gentile to commit homosexual acts or for that matter the eating of critters (unkosher fish) from the ocean. The process of legislation, whether local or national, is to enact laws for the population at large and not just for one’s own group or religion. The Jewish Orthodox view against same sex marriage is concerned that Jewish institutions will be forced to go against their religious principles and I dealt with that in my article about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The other reason has to do with the debasement of marriage in general and legitimizing homosexuality to Jews who are struggling with homosexual inclinations. However this I will demonstrate is a misuse of legislation.

To repeat the argument from my previous article: The same way that it would be irrational for religious Jews to picket in front of a restaurant where clams, octopus or other unkosher sea-critters are served up to hungry diners so it is irrational for religious Jews to demand that gay marriage be forbidden by law for gay couples who have no less love for each other than heterosexual couples have. In each case one’s attempt to stop another person’s pursuit of happiness which does not hurt anyone else, would stem from either personal bias or religious morality. We all agree there is no legitimacy for legislation in a democracy fueled by personal bias and there is also no legitimacy in legislation based on religious morality. Religious morality is different from universal morality. Finding universal morality could be problematic but barring barbaric behavior such as what we see from ISIS or backward countries, the civilized world can agree on basic tenets such as being against public lewdness, rape, thievery or murder.

Gay marriage produces stable households for children. There is no evidence that children are harmed or become deviant from being brought up in a gay household. There isn’t even a higher incidence of gayness in such children. We have tried to prohibit liquor, drugs, gambling and prostitution but as we see, these vises are to be regulated rather than be made outright illegal because in a free country people should have a right to exercise their will as long as it does not hurt others. To impose religious morality means that religious majorities can control religious minorities - in other words, theocracies. The radical Islamists want a caliphate with their religious law, Sharia, to be instituted all over the world but history is replete with religious domination of some over others. However, the United States, as liberal as it may have become, still bases its laws on the US constitution which in the first amendment prohibits the “making of any law respecting the establishment of any religion” as well as any law which “impedes the free exercise of religion”.

From the time of Pharaoh’s enslaving of the Jews, the Romans burning down our Temple, the Spanish Inquisition and Hitler’s holocaust and even today with radical Islam’s murder of Jews we were always being persecuted over our religious difference with the majority. There were pockets of virulent anti-semitism in the United States in the 30’s and there is still anti-semitism in this country but the reason that with G-d’s help the Jews in America will continue to be free to worship and build strong Torah observant communities is because of the solid foundation which undergirds this country - namely, its Constitution. American heritage had its barbaric beginnings with its atrocities against the American Indian and the buying of slaves from Africa with the subsequent persecution of blacks in the Jim Crow era and also let’s not forget the subjugation of women as second class citizens with no power to vote. However, America is unique in that because of the Constitution that was enacted by very wise and ethical men, known as our American forefathers, we are able to self correct.

It is my contention that not enough acknowledgment is paid in Yeshivas and many Orthodox synagogues to the great opportunity of freedom granted to us as American citizens. Among the many ways that we are blessed we should thank G-d that we live in this American democracy even if it is only temporary before our return to Jerusalem when Mashiach comes. I’m sorry to say that many Americans as well as Jewish Orthodox Americans take this for granted. When I go petition for candidates I hear things from frum people such as “why should I sign this - I’m Jewish?”. If there were two things that I could institute in Yeshivas all over this country it would be for the teaching of 1) a comprehensive course of Jewish history in the diaspora and 2)civic classes which would chronicle Americas efforts to mitigate the evil forces and violence throughout the world. We must not take our blessings of relative peace and prosperity in this country for granted and in a relative complacency we should not use religion to discipline the rest of society because we were too often at the wrong end of that practice. I truly doubt that any Rabbanim in the Shtetl were any bit concerned with the private life of their gentile neighbors. In this great country we must respect its system of keeping ‘church and state’ separate because the history of our own persecution was due to the very absence of such a noble system.

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