Finally he calls for the vote a third time. And then the hall erupted with boos and angry shouting. Times have changed. And those with whom Jews have traditionally been allied politically are no longer supporting Israel. These are facts. But his support has waned. Steven Harper, the prime minister of Canada, gave a speech in the Knesset a few weeks ago that was in stark contrast to the latest speeches the American president has made. Harper placed the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict squarely on the shoulders of the Arab states and the Palestinians.
He insisted that there cannot be peace until those representing the Palestinians are willing to announce to the world that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. He insisted that Canada stands fully behind Israel, and he made no similar gesture about the Palestinians, something that no other North American leader has recently done.
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With pressure mounting in Europe, and pressure coming from Secretary of State Kerry for Israel to make concessions like removing half a million Israelis who are living in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv suburbs which others insist are illegal settlements, Israel will soon be at a crossroads. It is already in the crosshairs of those who seek her destruction. You may have heard this story before. A rabbi goes to an interview for a position.
They committee asks what he talks about in his sermons. He says he speaks about Kashrut. They tell him nobody keeps kosher in that congregation, so talk about something else. He says he speaks about Shabbat observance and they tell him nobody observes Shabbat in that community so speak about something else.
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He tells them he speaks about giving Tzedakah, and they say that nobody gives, so speak about something else. I gave a sermon a few weeks ago and spoke about how Vice President Biden and President Obama expressed public support for same sex marriage just as we were reading in the Torah portion the section that commands that gay sex is forbidden. I wondered if it was just a coincidence or perhaps if the President or Vice President had been in shul that week and were responding to the Biblical exhortation.
It was pointed out to me afterward that people who hear such a sermon that promotes the Biblical standard on this issue will get the impression that the rabbi may be anti-gay. Which of course, I thought I was doing to begin with! He was a wonderful human being- kind, compassionate, educated, and funny. He spent years as a monk in a monastery and occasionally visited there for a few weeks at a time to regain a sense of spirituality and solace.
He was also gay. His lifelong partner of thirty years is Al. If you had never met either of them, and you were in the next room and unable to see them, you would never guess that Al was male. They sounded like a married Jewish couple from Brooklyn, which, essentially, is what they were except that they were Catholic.
Some years ago, Terry suffered a fatal heart attack at their home in Brooklyn.
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Al came in after work and found his life partner dead on the floor. He called the police. There is no reason any loving couple should have to experience the horror that Al went through.
But there is also no reason that anyone who holds the Biblical ideal that marriage is between a man and a woman should be labeled a hate-filled homophobe. Those who advocate for same sex marriage have no right to deny those who retain Biblical standards the same respect and honor they demand. There really are two sides, if not more, to this issue. My concern is not about gay marriage. Marriage has ceased to be the religious union it was for most of human history.
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None of this current debate would be happening if marriage did not exist outside of religious sectors in America. But since people can be married by the state in America, its meaning has been changed. It just means that people may choose to ignore them. There are two conflicting values today in America: One is the current American liberal ideal that we should give in to our nature since that is the only way to be honest with ourselves. The other is the traditional religious value system which says we must understand our nature, and usually we must act AGAINST our nature and learn to overcome it.
Most of the laws in the Holiness Code in Leviticus are about overcoming our natural inclinations in order to become closer to God. This should help to explain why the Bible is at odds with same sex marriage. The ideal is that a father and a mother raise a child.
The Torah speaks in ideals. I used to dread going to gym class when I was a kid. It was humiliating standing in front of that rope that reached upwards toward an unreachable ceiling. And when it came to that dastardly horse which I was supposed to mount and jump over- I actually contemplated bringing sugar cubes or carrots to placate the darned thing- maybe it would lower itself to a few inches above the ground so I could step over it instead of standing in front of it like a fool.
And sometimes I stood there and cursed God for making me physically unfit. In fact, I had some skinny friends who ate twice the amount that I did and they got less exercise than I did. God made me this way.
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But it never occurred to me that the school should drop its standards of having its students jump over that horse or climb that rope. And we have seen that happen already. In Massachusetts and Illinois, Catholic Family Services had been the largest adoption agency in those states. But when same sex marriage became protected by state law, CFS could no longer refuse to place children with same sex couples.
Because the Catholic Church was told either give up your ideals and your standards, or leave the business.
And so they left. What about their rights? They have been superseded. The law now is that every adoption agency must do so. Removing all discrimination is impossible, and ultimately means that in this case religious groups will be discriminated against for having ideals and standards that have been acceptable for thousands of years. If same sex marriage did not force religious organizations and charities to accept them, as it does in the above examples, I would have no problem with them. The Conservative Movement in Judaism has authorized its rabbis to be permitted to perform same sex commitment ceremonies.
But I believe that Kiddushin, Jewish marriage according to the Holiness code, is something that can only take place between a man and a woman. Hopefully this brings some clarification and suggests more discussion. This is the week we hear the story about the birth of a little baby who is born miraculously, whose crib is made from stalks of grass, who is showered with gifts from royalty, who is called a prince, and who grows up to be a savior, but who will die before seeing the fruition of that salvation.
And even after his death, he is considered to be the greatest prophet that ever lived and he was seated at the right hand of God Himself. What was the miracle? The miracle was that the midwives, Shifra and Puah saved the lives of the male Israelite children in defiance of the decree.
I said his crib was made from stalks of grass- and while the baby Jesus was apparently born in a manger surrounded by hay, the baby Moses was given a Tevat Gomeh- The word Teiva was only used one other time in the Torah- in the story of Noah. So the first Teivah saved the generations of Genesis. This second Teiva saved Moses, and therefore all of the generations, including us, that began with the book of Exodus. But the material used was apparently wicker, which, according to Wickerpedia, dates back to ancient Egypt where strands of SUF, the sturdy bulrushes by the Nile river were tightly woven to make baskets, which, when covered in pitch, would float on the water.