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February 13, 2004 - Image 26

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-02-13

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*A 4*



Unholy Matrimony

Las Vegas
Iiirl ith the recent
Massachusetts Supreme
Court ruling in favor of
same-sex marriage, our
country has begun a major debate about
marriage, its importance and its bound-
aries. The Jewish community has a lot to
contribute to this discussion since our
religion introduced to civilization the
idea that some love relationships can be
holy and some, such
as those between
members of the same
sex, cannot.
Proponents of same-
sex marriage argue
that homosexuality is a
natural, unchangeable
sexual orientation, and
it's thus unfair to
expect gays and les-
bians to enter oppo-
site-sex marriages.
They insist, rather, that same-sex rela-
tionships come naturally for gays and
lesbians, and such unions can be just as
beautiful, loving and holy as opposite-sex
relationships. They may be right about
beautiful and loving, but not holy, as far
as Judaism is concerned.
For our people, holy doesn't just mean
"elevated" or "spiritual." Rather,
kedushah (holiness) is a sort of religious
specialness, with the specifics of what is
or is not holy coming exclusively from
God and not open to human redefini-
tion. Now I personally know lots of ter-
rific, nurturing same-sex couples (I was
even part of one, once). Certainly, hospi-
tal-visitation and inheritance laws should
afford dignity and respect to people who
chose to live their lives with a member of
the same sex. But when gays and lesbians
demand kiddushin, the Jewish term for
marriage, the answer has to be no.
Advocacy of same-sex marriage
because such unions are "natural" for
gays and lesbians is particularly ironic,
given something interesting, but rarely
discussed, about the Jewish texts and
terms relating to kedushah. Jewish holi-
ness generally refers not to doing what
comes naturally, but to doing what is
unnatural, precisely because God has
shown us, through His Torah and His
commandments, a better way of living.

David Benkof is a freelance writer, for-
mer Jewish history teacher in Los Angeles
and the author (as David Bianco) of
`Modern Jewish History for Everyone"
and "Gay Essentials: Facts for Your
Queer Brain." His e-mail address is



The prime example is Shabbat. Every
aspect of our calendar is based on nature
— the month from the moon, the year
from the sun, the day from the Earth —
except the week. We have a seven-day
week for no reason other than God's cre-
ation of the Earth in six days and His
rest on the seventh. In a state of nature,
we would work nonstop — and indeed
most people do. But the Torah teaches
us that resting one out of seven days
makes our lives better. Hence the Friday-
night Kiddush quotes Genesis 2.3, telling
us God blessed the seventh day
vayikadesh oto, and He made it holy.
Another good example of holiness in
Judaism is Jewish mourning rituals, from
saying Kaddish to joining a burial socie-
ty: a chevra kadishah. Jewish customs .
when someone dies are not "natural."
Many world societies worship their dead
or treat the dead like garbage. Jewish law
rejects such practices and provides a rich-
ly detailed and com-
prehensive set of
instructions so that
mourners don't have
to wonder how to
cope with all the prac-
tical, social and theo-
logical issues they face.
Just as we have Kiddush and Kaddish,
we also have kiddushin. Jewish marriages
are set up for a man and a woman not
because it's natural, but because it's part
of God's plan for helping our lives and
our society. Societies in history have cele-
brated varieties of sexual congress that
would seem to us to range from the con-
ventional to the bizarre. But God has
shown us through His Torah that only a
tiny percentage of all possible relation-
ships can be holy.
Some of the relationships the Torah
forbids are self-evidently off-limits, such
as brother-sister unions. Other taboos
are harder for moderns to follow, such as
the marriage of a kohen (descendent of
the priestly caste) to a divorced woman.
It may be that, 30-plus years into the gay
liberation movement, Judaism's rejection
of same-sex couplings has become harder
to understand. But Judaism can no more
grant kiddushin to two women or two
men than it can observe Shabbat every
sixth or fifth day.
Whether it's to preserve an ideal envi-
ronment for raising children, to promote
healthy balance between the sexes or
simply because we ought to accept God's
norms about the fundamentals of society
whether we understand them or not, the
Jewish community should speak out
firmly against any rewriting of marriage
laws. ❑


The Case For Gay Marriage

West Bloomfield
n recent days, our national atten-
tion has focused on the state of
Massachusetts via its leading
Democratic presidential hopeful,
Sen. John Kerry. Some of us, however,
have been mindful of Massachusetts
since its Supreme Court reopened
national debate about gay marriage last
November. The ballot is still out to
determine if this decision was that
hoped-for "Great Step" for the gay com-
munity or the motivation for opponents
to redefine marriage in America.
For Jews, however, this decision
changes very little. According to our tra-
dition diva Analchuta diva (the law of
the land presides over Jewish law), but
no traditional Jewish community will be
swayed to redefine their position by the
high court of Massachusetts. No
Orthodox rabbis will suddenly decide to
officiate at a gay marriage under any cir-
At the same
time, the liberal
end of the Jewish
spectrum contin-
ues to support the
civil rights of
their gay mem-
bers while its rabbis often agree to offici-
ate at union or commitment ceremonies
— sometimes calling these life cycle
events "marriages."
Despite the Massachusetts high court
decision, there are still those who argue
that Judaism leaves no option when it
comes to this issue. For the traditional
Jew, the book of Leviticus is clear when it
states that homosexuality is unacceptable.
"Do not lie with a male as one lies with a
woman; it is an abomination." (Leviticus
18:22) or "If a man lies with a male as
one lies with a woman, the two of them
have done an abhorrent thing; they shall
be put to death — their blood guilt is -
upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).
And even though there are no record-
ed instances of the death penalty being
carried out in any "gay" case, the strength
of this textual prohibition is clear. These
arguments are reinforced by generations
of rabbinic literature.
Similarly, a wealth of Jewish interpreta-
tion exists on the other side of the argu-
ment. Some have argued that Jonathon
and David shared an intimate romantic
relationship. Others have used semantics
to debunk the Levitical texts (it is actual-


Joshua L. Bennett has been a rabbi at

Temple Israel since 1994. The temple
offers a support group for parents and
families with gay children.

ly impossible for a man to lie with
another man as he would with a woman;
anatomy prevents this). These arguments
are reinforced by a growing social con-
cern for expanding the liberal definition
of a Jew.
For me to argue in favor of gay mar-
riage, however, very little of this Jewish
historical background matters.
As a Reform rabbi working in a large
congregation, my decision to support gay
marriage is as much a
civil rights issue as it is
a Jewish one. I am
swayed by the roots of
my Reform tradition,
roots that invite me to
boldly interpret Jewish
law to allow for the
ongoing development
of the Jewish people.
My religion has always JOSHUA L.
understood the need
to adapt and change
with a changing
Jewish world.
Thus, to support gay marriage is a "no-
brainer" as I respond to the needs of a
growing gay Jewish population. Indeed, I
have comfortably officiated at several gay
Jewish marriages as valid religious events.
Yet, I also support homosexual mar-
riage as a civil right as well. Clearly, the
Jewish call to see all people as Created
b'tzelem Elohim — in the image of God
— forces me to make the jump to
human rights in this case. Judaism teach-
es me (also in Leviticus) to ensure a fair
justice system and the civil rights that are
determined therein.
To suggest that those who have joined
their lives in a loving adult relationship
— gay or straight — do not deserve
equal rights is as abhorrent as the original
biblical prohibition. We must under-
stand that these unions are between lov-
ing and committed partners even if they
do not qualify as legal.
The most compelling rationale behind
my support for governmental action to
support and facilitate homosexual mar-
riage is best spoken by Nobel Laureate
Elie Wiesel. "... I would surely support
any attempt, any plan, any project, imag-
ined or envisioned by any group, to say
that human rights and civil rights apply
to me, to my wife, to my son, to my
family, to my people, to gays, to lesbians.
We have no right to limit freedom. We
have no right to limit respect. Because
anyone who begins will not stop."
(Excerpted from Elie Wiesel's remarks at
the Eighth Annual Human Rights
Campaign Fund Dinner in 1989.) ❑

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