Monday, June 04, 2012

Gay Marriage - Does Orthodoxy Go Too Far?

Michah Gottlieb, an assistant professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University has penned one of the most ridiculous arguments I have ever seen against Orthodox opposition to same sex marriage. He has  compared it to a viewpoint about slavery expressed by an Orthodox rabbi during the civil war era.

Professor Gottlieb has somehow managed to find a 150 year old speech by Morris Jacob Raphall an Orthodox rabbi with a pulpit in New York wherein he defends the institution of slavery - since it is mentioned in the Torah (although he was personally abhorred by it).  In contrast he mentions a response by David Einhorn, a reform rabbi in Baltimore, Maryland (a slave state) who actually made a good argument against Rabbi Raphall – calling any defense of the institution of slavery a Chilul HaShem.

Rabbi Einhorn's heart may have been in the right place. However the fact is that the Torah does permit slavery. Just not in the way it was practiced in the old South. Nor does the Torah ever require slavery to be practiced even in the benevolent form it was practiced in ancient times.

Why did the Torah permit slavery? In a world where slavery was common and normal the Torah mandated laws to regulate it in order that it be practiced in the most humane manner possible. Of course today the practice of slavery does not exist at all in the Jewish world. We are now all equally abhorred by it - Jew and gentile alike. But is that relevant to same sex marriage? 

Both the OU and Agudah have expressed  a view that is consistent with the Torah which forbids gay sex. As such they have also expressed disappointment with the President’s positive attitude towards gay marriage. Sanctioning gay marriage would imply societal approval of biblically forbidden behavior. As members of the greater American society, Orthodoxy expressed its opposition to such sanctions. However the more liberal movements of Reform and Conservative Judaism have supported gay marriage – applauding the President’s position.

Professor Gottlieb argues that gay marriage will eventually have the same fate among Jewry that slavery did. Just as Slavery is now seen in very negative terms, so too will opposition to same sex marriage be seen. He cites the argument oft used by the Conservative movement to justify radical changes in Halacha to explain why.  They speak of Judaism as a “living, developing tradition”.  If the spirit of the times demands change, the Torah can be adapted to fit it.

I recall Dr. Eliezer Berkovits’s anger when he was called an Apikores (a heretic) having been accused of having exactly this attitude by various Gedolim who had read his works.  He told me in no uncertain terms that it was absolutely untrue. He said that his views had been misquoted and misunderstood. What he had really said was that the Torah should be applied to the spirit of the times, not adapted. Big difference.

The Torah is not malleable. When it says something is unconditionally forbidden, it is forbidden and stays forbidden. No amount of convoluted reinterpretation of a clearly stated Torah law is going to change that. Not now and not later. To somehow argue that the Torah didn’t really mean what it says or meant that times can change what it mandates for us is an exercise in fantasy! An argument like this is no more than the wishful thinking by those who want to normalize gay sex and make it as socially acceptable as heterosexual sex.

To abolish a practice which is not mandatory such as slavery is very consistent with the Torah. The Torah does not require us to have salves. To compare that to gay sex and thereby permit the impermissible makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  

Treating people honorably despite their sexual orientation is one thing. That is a laudable thing to do. But does professor Gottlieb really believe that defending the Torah’s prohibition against gay sex is a Chilul HaShem?  With all due respect the opposite is true. Defending Torah law is not a Chilul HaShem. It is a Kiddush HaShem.