A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Religious Bigots Win in California

Well, California Proposition 8 failed. Put differently, the constitution of the state was amended so that gays and lesbians have been stripped of their right to marry there.

A significant player in the "Yes on 8" - that is, the anti-gay marriage side - was the Mormon Church. I read an article on the National Review's website (they supported Prop 8) arguing that the very strong criticism by Prop 8 opponents targeting the Church amounted to bigotry.

Nonsense. It is the religiously motivated backers of anti-gay legislation who are the bigots. Pointing out their support for laws designed to deny right to gay people is not bigotry. A religious minority that acts hatefully is not immune from criticism just because it is a minority.

What's the Jewish perspective on this? There are two Jewish perspectives. There's the confused and shortsighted view and then there's, well, mine and that of other forward thinking Jews.

The confused view, endorsed by people like Rabbi Avi Shafran of Agudath Israel, is that the Torah prohibits homosexuality and therefore state constitutions should outlaw gay marriage. Shafran is, of course, entitled to his view of the Torah. If people want to view those parts of an ancient text, written by an ancient people in an entirely different culture, that dehumanize a group of people that is now more fully understood, as authoritative, that is their right. But we don't have to take those arguments seriously as we make social policy - and in fact we have an obligation to fight against the appearance of such arguments in the public square.

Shafran confuses Torah and secular law. Yes, the Torah prohibits certain homosexual acts but it does not follow that the state should use that as a guide in making laws. Would this not be a ludicrous country of we made secular laws based on the multiplicity of religious tradtions within it?

Why is this shortsighted of Shafran and his ilk? Do Jews, roughly 2% of the population of this country, really want to be in the business of encouraging people to use religious texts to make social policy? Haven't we been here before? Didn't our ancestors suffer under monarchies whose power and policies were justified based on their acceptance of Christian law and Church authority? And in an environment in which Christian fundamentalism is still burning strong (yes, weakened by the last election, but not for ever) do Jews seriously want to use the same mindset and tactics they employ?

The state accepts and permits all kinds of behaviors that the Torah would prohibit. If we accept his reasoning, we would be outlawing all kinds of acts that are currently legal, such as seething a kid in its mother's milk, blasphemy, and idolatry. Do Shafran and other biblically-motivated cultural watchdogs hope to use the power of the state to prohibit these?

When a religious leader puts forth such arguments, we needn't demonstrate respect for their piety; neither must we avoid criticism of them because of their status as leaders of religious minorities. The proper response is to call a spade a spade.

So, Rabbi Shafran: you are ridiculous. Your confused and self-defeating arguments have no place in a modern democracy. People such as yourself use the veil of religion to hide the absurdity of the claims they make in the public realm.

Again, to be clear: you are not simply wrong - you are ridiculous. Californian's were having a serious debate about social policy affecting millions of people, and you based your arguments upon the laws in the Torah. (One imagines that Shafran's response would be that his arguments are based upon the so-called Noahide laws that the Torah sets forth for all humanity, as opposed to other laws intended to govern only Jews).

Public policy in heterogeneous democracies must be made based on rational and secular claims. Not because the secular is more authoritative than the religious but because secular rationality is a discourse that can be used by people of diverse backgrounds. I don't try to convince a fellow American who is an atheist that poverty is unacceptable on the grounds that the Prophet Isaiah decries injustice; I may take my inspiration from Isaiah, but my arguments must be grounded in reason.

How can any Jew be so shortsighted as to think that using religious claims to pass laws meddling in the lives of other citizens is a good idea?

The proper Jewish view on the matter of Proposition 8 is that the proposition was wrong and should have been defeated. Let religious communities police themselves, and make their own arguments to their own people. Let the state establish a basic equality for all citizens. This is, in short, good for the Jews.


  1. Hmm. Saturday. I assume 3 stars were visible for you as well before posting here... but I digress.

    Great to see you most forcefully support the opponents of this hateful measure. Your argument that religion can guide our positions, but our public arguments must be grounded in secular reason is precisely that of President Elect Obama as articulated in his "Audacity of Hope". Too bad that he doesn't follow that reasoning down its inevitable path to support gay marriage. But perhaps realpolitik rears its head.

  2. My conflicted feelings about Rabbi Josh’s blog “Religious Bigots win in California”

    Rabbi Josh paints a well thought out compassionate view contradicting Rabbi Avi Shafrans use of the inspired words of the Torah prophets to support the states banning of same sex marriages. The Lord God Almighty of Israel, sovereign of the Universe, is immutable and His laws, statutes and ordinances will remain true for eternity. If it were not for HaShem’s mercy and compassionate love, and His son’s sacrifice of his own soul, the world would be lost for eternity. His choice of the Jewish people, because of their compassion and devotion to social causes shows His merciful love to allow mankind to overcome His law of perfection, which only He is capable of fulfilling.
    I am conflicted about homosexuality. I can see the eventual demise of these relationships and the rocky road they must endure. (There are exceptions) I am closer to two lesbians (I believe) at the synagogue than anyone else there. One of them speaks of HaShem as a personal living friend (although she knows He is an infinite spirit being, not a man), which is more faith than I have seen by others there. I love her as a friend more than most others at the synagogue because she has not guile in her personality.
    Some angels have taken the bodies of the opposite sex than their minds. Once the Lord has incarnated them on Earth and they forget their loving relationship with HaShem it makes it difficult for them to relate appropriately with the two sexes. There are couples with the same sexed bodies, but opposite sexed minds which are very compatible and therefore love will flourish. But the relationship if consummated is still sin under the perfect laws, statutes and ordinances of HaShem. There are also couples who have the same sexed bodies as well as minds. Their love cannot be diminished by others analysis of it, but their relationship will undergo much more troubled times than the rest.
    I agree with Rabbi Josh that the state should allow marriage between any two people as long as there is not dominance of will of one of them over the other. I believe all rights should be accorded the same to all married couples, but that they should all have exactly equal rights.
    I also believe that particular religions should have the right to allow only same sex marriages to be ordained in the congregation. Birds of a feather flock together. The congregation has the free will to choose how close they want to live by the letter of the Lord God Almighty’s laws.
    I am impressed with Rabbi Josh’s view that government and religion should interfere as little as possible in the lives of others. This is like HaShem who gives us free will to and eventually come to try to live by His laws, statutes and ordinances without being forced to.
    Rabbi Josh does not realize that modern societies have only evolved by better educational knowledge and material wealth over the ancient societies. The human soul at conception in all eras is essentially born in the same ignorance and it is entirely up to each individual as to whether he wants to submit himself or herself to the ways of the HaShem. There are just as many individuals in rebellion against HaShem and His compassionate goodness today as then, which shows in the violence ignorance and greed within every nation both then and now.
    I can understand why Rabbi Josh would not want religious text to determine the secular laws because of the seemingly unmerciful ways of Sharia law under Islam.
    The messiah, Jesus, who has now grown up, will refer to the Torah and the laws, statutes and ordinances given to Moses on Mount Sinai to make laws for a more perfect peaceful and satisfying world of joy and satisfaction.
    Jesus will have to remind the Islamic leaders of the constant use of the term Merciful and Gracious Allah. They should take this to heart and be merciful in the carrying out of justice.
    Muslims will have to learn that the Mufti is Jesus, and that Allah (HaShem) is omnipotent and the savior and that they should not rely on the Mufti for their deliverance. The Muslims should realize that the Mufti is a Jew.
    The Christians will have to learn the Jesus is not God and that there is no such thing as the Trinity. They will have to realize that HaShem cannot beget a son and the Jesus was his first creation and not begotten. Jesus begot Christ, who is spoken of as the only begotten son of HaShem. Christians should realize that the Lord God Almighty of Israel is sovereign and is one and that the Jewish religion has a truer concept of God.
    The Jews will have to get over their contempt for the short sighted claims of Jesus, because he knew HaShem as his Father in a personal sense and did not grasp His infinite omniscience and omnipotence. Jew will have to learn that Jesus is the suffering messiah who will atone for the sins of the world and his son Christ will assume the throne of Jesus to become the King of the world for eternity anointed by HaShem and governing the world in fear of HaShem.