by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Am Echad Resources
August 6, 2001
A proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and opponents of the proposal are in high gear.
Among them is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which warned that enactment of the Federal Marriage Amendment "would defile the Constitution, enshrining homophobia and intolerance in a document which protects the rights of all Americans." A press release from the organization quoted a spokesperson as wondering if "America’s families and marriages and communities [are] so fragile and shallow that they are threatened by the love between two adults of the same sex."
Then he got Biblical. "We believe as a fundamental tenant [sic] of our faith that all human beings are created in the Divine image, as it says in Genesis 1:27, ‘And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them’."
At issue, though, is not the holiness of humanity but the meaning of morality.
Morality is what alone lies at the root of laws prohibiting things like bigamy, prostitution, incest, child marriage, pornography and public lewdness. It likewise informs the definitions of a number of words essential to the law, including, at least at present, "marriage". The proposed Constitutional amendment seeks to ensure that the word not be redefined.
That quest derives not from anyone feeling "threatened" by love. There are numerous love-based relationships, including incestuous and bestial unions and "open" marriages, that even the Reform movement is presumably unwilling to legitimate at this point. No one is "threatened" by them, but most civilized people consider them wrong. Love, at least to subscribers to the concept of morality, simply doesn’t conquer all.
According to Jewish tradition, whether or not contemporary society agrees, among the things love does not trump are homosexual acts, the clear prohibition of which is introduced a bit later on in the Bible than the verse quoted by the Reform movement’s press release – in Leviticus to be precise, where sexual relations between men is referred to as "to’eiva", usually translated "an abomination."
The Jewish Oral Tradition is replete with similar sentiment. Homosexual acts are associated by Jewish sources with the Canaanite peoples whose behavior defiled the Holy Land; and the formal sanctioning of homosexual unions, the rabbis of the Talmudic era taught, was one of the causes of the biblical Flood. Trenchantly, a statement in the Talmud asserts that one of larger human society’s redeeming qualities has been its refusal to "write marriage documents for males [living together in homosexual relationships]."
Needless to say, all people are, indeed, created in God’s image. None of Jewish tradition’s strong disapproval of homosexual activity means that people with homosexual tendencies are inherently evil or that even avowed homosexuals in any way forfeit their humanity, their Jewishness or their claim to others’ care and compassion. And, particularly in these relativistic, nonjudgmental, self-centered days, the Jewish response to those pulled from the Torah’s moral moorings by the siren call of the Zeitgeist should be ten measures of concern for every measure of condemnation.
But invoking the Bible in order to oppose the enshrining of marriage in the nation’s most fundamental legal document is an exercise in disingenuousness.
There are, to be sure, many today who would redefine morality, or who seek to do away with the idea altogether. They actively and often make their case, in demonstrations, in writings, in the offerings of the entertainment industry.
But anyone purporting to speak in the name of Judaism cannot ignore the Jewish religious tradition, and should be less concerned with what it imagines to defile the Constitution than with what unarguably defiles the Torah.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]
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