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Jewish community, inclusive of all views?

Blogger Gary Sankary questions the unity of the Jewish community on the question of gay marriage.

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.

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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.

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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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