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Jewish community, inclusive of all views?

Old and In the Way

The Twin Cities Jewish community is rallying against the proposed marriage amendment coming up in November. You can check out the article and the information about the rally here:

Help Defeat The Marriage Amendment with the Jewish Community.

Reading the article Madeline Harms writes “In order to defeat the amendment, we need EVERYONE who believes that marriage is a fundamental human right to come to the polls this November and vote NO.”

I’m having some trouble with the tone and the assertions in these statements and I have to comment.

I’m going to assume that my position on same sex marriage is well established here, I’ve written many pieces about my unwavering support for marriage equality and for an end to discrimination against Gay people. Should I find my way to my polling station on the first Tuesday in November I will be voting against it. Given ok?

But I think Ms. Harms has over-reached in her assertions here, and it doesn’t help and ins some cases may even offend.

To begin with, can we stop calling marriage a “fundamental human right”. In the United States, no one has the “right” to be married. There are certain benefits, imposed by government on certain kinds of formal relationships. (that would be “marriage” Cletus) Denying those rights, those social and statutory benefits based on how you view those relationships is really the argument at hand. Lets keep the “rights” word out of it. You don’t have a right to be married but you have a right not to be discriminated against in eyes of the state simply because of orientation. That’s what this argument should be about.

Nuff on that one.

My bigger issue with this article is wording of the headline,

“Help defeat… with the Jewish Community.”

This headline would lead you to believe that the Jewish Community is lock step in favor of marriage equality, when in fact we are not. Contrary to many opinions, Jews have diverse political views and the community is not uniform in political thought, just like any other community of faith we have varied opinions.  In fact there are many branches of Judaism; ultra-orthodox, Hassidic to name few who are against anything but traditional marriage, and strongly oppose any kind of Gay anything. I’m not saying it’s right, it just is. But even in the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist congregations, almost of all which have come out strongly against this amendment there are members who are conservative and who I’m sure feel like they don’t have a much of a voice when politics and issues like this are discussed at the local Shul.

I may be knit picking here,  but I worry about sweeping generalizations regarding the political and social opinions of the Jewish People. We Jews have a concept of Klal Yisrael, the People of Israel. It’s a concept that roughly says “we’re one people”. It implies a spiritual, historical and cultural connection that transcends denomination and background. It’s the idea which causes Israel to assimilate immigrants from the most cultured European capitals and the most backwards medieval Yemeni villages. It sees Black Ethiopians immigrants and White Russian immigrants in the same army unit. It says we are inclusive and we are one people.

But, it does not imply that we are of one mind, especially not when it comes to politics.

The concept of Klal Yisrael has certainly been strained of late, especially in Israel where Ultra Orthodox and Secular Israeli’s have been at each other’s throats over the very nature of the State recently, is it a secular democratic state or a religious theocracy. For that matter, who is or isn’t a Jew, at the very core of this argument

My Dad used to tell a joke, it’s dated now, but it makes my point. Richard Nixon and Golda Meir were chatting one day and Nixon commented how much more difficult it was for him run a country of 400 million people that it was for her to her country with it’s small population of 5 million. “But” Golda replied, “you have 400 million citizens, I have 5 million Prime Ministers”. Anyone who’s ever spent more than a few minutes talking politics with Jews, or follows Israeli politics understands fully the nuance here.

And despite the fact that I’m a fat old liberal myself, I know there are conservatives, even in my synagogue and I know that on social issues their views are squashed. I think it would be very difficult for a person with conservative political views to feel at home in most American Synagogues, and frankly this wrong. They’d have to keep their opinions to themselves. As a matter of fact, they’re even discounted at times with a “Jewish values” argument. I just couldn’t imagine sitting at post Shabbat service luncheon, talking current events and suggesting that I might be Pro-Life or supportive of traditional marriage. It would be, honestly, pretty danged ugly.

I find this interesting because, when I to go out into the world and look at the political opinions of people in the general population I would find define themselves as pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, supportive of immigrants rights, pro-gun control, and I would find that they align very well with most Jews personal politics and the stance their synagogues take in public debate. This alignment works is strong until, well, until you introduce support for Israel, and all of sudden on that issue, the coalition between Liberals and Jews falls apart.

If you were interested in really stirring up the pot at a Shabbat lunch, try proposing divestment from Israel, a hot topic on college campuses these days. On issues of Israel Jews are far more closely aligned with the Conservatives, and the more Conservative (and more Christian one could argue) the stronger the support. Likud politicians get this in spades and do a lot of catering to the Conservatives. Jews in America have a harder time with it.

My point: it’s not accurate to invite folks to  “join the Jewish community” in support of any political activity. It would be better to say “join members of the Jewish community”. Lets be honest here, when it comes to politics and social issues our opinions and our opinions are far from aligned, which is exactly how it should be.

This post was written by Gary Sankary and originally published on Old and In the Way. Follow him on Twitter: @sank

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Comments (4)

Finally - some intellectual honesty from my opposition.

You should see how the prog Jews try to argue in favor of "same sex marriage" over at TC Jewfolk where the link to this article is posted.

That is, if you can find their valid halakhic argument. So far, they have none, because none exists.

Largest Jewish community event in recent history

If you had seen nearly 800 members of 10 congregations come together with the co-sponsorship of eight other Jewish community organizations, you would not "knit" pick over calling this a Jewish community event. Of course, it was not ALL of the Jewish community, just as not all Catholics, Lutherans, or members of other faiths share all of the same beliefs, especially on this topic. But to my knowledge, it was the largest gathering of the Twin Cities Jewish community in recent history (at least), and certainly the first time this many congregations have come together over an issue. When was the last time 35 local rabbis came together and agreed on a principled, public statement on an issue? (Minn. Rabbinical Assn.) As Rabbi Michael Latz stated at the event, this is a time of incredible healing among congregations that in the past were divided on this issue. Now we are united, and we will stand together to fight this amendment. It does nothing for Minnesota or Minnesotans, and only serves to further stigmatize many of our valued citizens. We will not stand idly by.

You weren't the only Jew there.

I attended the event at Adath Jeshurun. I was there to ask for a written halakhic justification for changing the understanding of Jewish tradition, culture, and Torah after thousands of years. Though I was given a business card by a Vic Rosenthal, I did not want to leave without the written discourse. If this was to be an event to explain their halakhic positions in detail, I was not going to leave
without it.

I approached the table in front to ask, once again, for the halakhic justification. The woman there got defensive, told me to ask my own Rabbi, to vote yes on the Amendment if I wanted to – however, that is not what my point was. I was asking for their argument in favor in written form obviously, and not just the talking points in a handout. At this point, Vic Rosenthal stated – and I paraprhase – that “we” don’t need to give any justification, only “our” explanation.

I interrupted and stated that I got my answer. Then I left. This event was obviously [organized] and run by political ideologues who believe they are unanswerable to anyone else or other Jews. Mr.
Rosenthal is no Rabbi. They do not want their authority to be questioned - just do as I say - no different from other left wing authoritarians. When confronted with a question to justify their position, they cannot deal with it.

Jewish Community Action is political movement that has nothing to do with Judaism. They are a left wing mob that have members who were born Jewish. The most vile and disgusting act, besides advocating for violating core family morals of Judaism, a non-Jew - a Mr. Carlbom from “Minnesota United for All Families” - hand the arrogance to stand up in a synagogue and tellJews how they should behave, that Jews should give up their beliefs.

This was an avera, a desecration.

You're right about that!

You are certainly correct that I was not the only Jew there. As I said, there were close to 800 attending, nearly all of whom were Jewish.

It is unfortunately that you chose to walk out on the event before it even started, after provoking a confrontation of sorts in the lobby. Had you attended the actual event, you would have heard some of our local rabbis speaking to your very point -- the textual basis for opposing the anti-marriage amendment. You also would have seen a remarkable coming together of our community to address this issue, and to provide love and support to those members of our community who are being stigmatized by this amendment and its supporters.

If you had been interested in learning more about the halakhic basis for the assembly, you could have read the statement that had already been published by the Minnesota Rabbinical Association prior to the event. That statement, adopted by 35 rabbis and reflecting the views of 15 synagogues and institutions representing the majority of the Jewish population in Minnesota, directly speaks to Kavod HaBriyot and Lo ta-amod rei-echa. You are, of course, welcome to discuss the topic further with any of those 35 rabbis, who I am confident could speak to it better than me. You can also visit http://huc.edu/ijso/PoliciesResponsa/ and http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/jewish-law/committee-jewish-law-and-st.... In fact, I understand that one of the rabbis has already forwarded you this very reference.

I don't know where you got the idea that JCA is a "political movement" or a "left wing mob." Actually it is a vibrant Jewish community organization which is a charitable 501(c)(3) organization. JCA worked closely with 10 congregations and 8 other Jewish community organizations in pulling this event together. Apart from the anti-marriage amendment, JCA works on issues such as affordable housing, foreclosure prevention, immigrant rights and racial justice. JCA has a Board of Directors drawn from the community as well as a board of 14 rabbinic advisers.

Lastly, I would just note that Richard Carlbom was invited to speak at the assembly, and was warmly welcomed and received by the audience. The Shir Tikvah congregation was kind enough to allow use of its facilities for this assembly, and did not impose any requirements (nor were any posted on the premises) that non-Jews are not welcome. Mr. Carlbom did not "tell Jews how they should behave" nor did he ask "Jews [to] give up their beliefs." Mr. Carlbom spoke to how we are going to work together to defeat the anti-marriage amendment, and we were fully in sync with his message.