We were deeply disturbed by the opinion piece titled, “Traditional marriage is best for all,” written by Therese Dorfman, and published in the September issue of The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. We believe that embracing members of our communities who identify as LGBT is inherently a Jewish value. Moreover, we applaud the Supreme Court for legalizing same-sex marriage throughout our nation.
Ms. Dorfman wrote about a number of Jewish values which led her to form The Lock and Key Society advocating against the legality of same-sex marriage. We would like to take this opportunity to examine the very values discussed in her op-ed, from which we draw vastly different conclusions.
First, Ms. Dorfman referred to a time in the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks, the time from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av where we commemorate all sorts of national disasters that befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of both of the Holy Temples that stood in Jerusalem. She claimed, “…it [the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states] was yet another Three Weeks disaster.” We believe that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The rabbis of the Talmud teach us that the Second Temple was destroyed on account of sinat chinam – baseless hatred. They recount a parable (Gittin 55-56) about a man who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza. This man was throwing a great feast, and asked his servant to send an invitation to his friend Kamtza. The servant, however, mistakenly sent the invitation to the man’s enemy, Bar Kamtza. Bar Kamtza thought that his enemy was reaching out to him with a gesture of peace, so he attended the feast. When the man laid his eyes on his enemy, he caused a big scene, throwing Bar Kamtza out of the feast. Bar Kamtza was so angry and hurt that he went straight to the Roman authorities, convincing them that the Jews were not loyal to the Roman Empire, thus setting into motion the violence that peaked with the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The rabbis of the Talmud ultimately use this parable to show us the deep impact that just one person’s hateful actions can have on a whole society.
We witness all too many acts of baseless hatred against members of the LGBT community in our own day. This hatred, no doubt, contributes to such calamities as the high rates of violence against LGBT youth, and of a disproportionally high rate of suicide among that same group (Centers for Disease Control). The modern day equivalent of the catastrophes commemorated during the Three Weeks is the hatred and bigotry that excludes LGBT people from our communities, alienating them from the basic right to participate in the sacred and holy institution of marriage. Moreover, these attitudes of exclusion set the stage for discrimination, bullying and violence against this strong yet vulnerable group of people.
The opposite of baseless hatred would be unconditional love. Blessing same-sex unions in a Jewish context, under the chuppah, is an act of unconditional love that we can express towards LGBT people who only wish to build families based upon the sacred relationship of marriage. Furthermore, when we bless these marriages, there are benefits that extend beyond the spiritual ones that occur under the chuppah. With marriage comes legal recognition and protection for families. These benefits, we believe, are not to be taken lightly.
Ms. Dorfman also wrote about the process of cheshbon hanefesh – personal reflection with which we are all supposed to engage during the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading up to the start of the New Year – Rosh Hashanah. She wrote, “This is the time when we ask ourselves: Am I on the right path? Am I doing what I should be doing?” During this month, we do indeed ask ourselves the hard questions, as we prepare to return to our community and to our God in order to redirect our hearts, our minds, and our whole beings toward all that is noble and good. We believe that to truly engage in this process, we each must turn inwards towards ourselves, rather than turning outward, placing judgement on others.
Ms. Dorfman also wrote about the notion that all human beings are created in the Divine Image – B’Tzelem Elohim (Gen. 1:27). This means that each and every person inherently contains a spark of holiness, as all people are reflections of our Creator. We know especially as we approach the new year, and engage in the work of chesbon hanefesh, that we, as human beings, are capable of change. In their book, “The Bible Now,” Richard Elliott Friedman and Shawna Dolansky ask why we don’t give God the same credit as we give ourselves. They ask, “Why do people assume that things relating to God must be absolute and unchanging? Even for a person who believes in God wholeheartedly, why should that person imagine that God is never free to change? That is certainly not the biblical view of God. God regrets. God changes divine decisions. God listens to humans and reconsiders.” Friedman and Dolansky boldly suggest that some of God’s own views are eternal, and others may not be. This is not a new concept in Judaism. In each and every generation, Jews have wrestled with the tradition, making it relevant for the world in which we live. One of the most well-known examples of this kind of wrestling with and adjusting of the tradition is from the eleventh century when Rabbi Gershom outlawed the practice of polygamy, even though the Torah clearly condones it. Given what we now understand about the nature of homosexuality, it is clear to us that loving, committed partnerships among two same-sex people should be blessed the same way that loving, committed partnerships are blessed among two people of opposite sexes.
In closing, we return to the Talmudic story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. We want to emphasize that the lesson that we learn from this important text is that the exclusion of people is not only wrong, but it is dangerous. We believe that the Lock and Key Society is a tool being used in the name of our faith, to exclude people not only from our tradition, and communities, but from society overall. We feel compelled, because of our Jewish values, to clearly affirm the rights of all of the LGBT people who live among us.
Rabbi Jessica Barolsky
Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum
Rabbi Marc E. Berkson
Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Rabbi David Brusin
Rabbi Noah Chertkoff
Rabbi David B. Cohen
Rabbi Dena A. Feingold
Rabbi Hannah Greenstein
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks
Rabbi Michael M. Remson
Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum
Rabbi Toba Schaller
Rabbi Shari Shamah
Rabbi Ronald Shapiro
Rabbi Moishe Steigmann