Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
Over the Rainbow: Reflections on the Supreme Court Decision on Same Sex Marriage
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act which banned the federal government from recognizing same sex unions. Two years later, Hawaii and Alaska passed constitutional amendments banning such marriages. By 2012 the number of states banning these unions had grown to 31. However, cracks in this position appeared before the turn of the millennium, as the state Supreme Court of Vermont ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violated the state constitution and ordered the legislature to establish same-sex marriage or an equivalent status. 4 months later, Governor Howard Dean signed a civil unions bill into law, though it would be 9 years before the state legislature over-rode the veto of Governor Douglas to approve same sex marriage. By then a number of municipalities including San Francisco and Asbury Park had issued licenses to same sex couples and several other states had adopted same sex marriage—most by judicial decree. (Bewilderingly, in November of 2008, 52% of the voters in liberal California approved a constitutional banning same sex marriages.)
Given the history, it is astonishing to see how swiftly public opinion has shifted. In 1996 27% of those surveyed were supportive. Now, in the wake of the Court’s decision, it is 55-40 in favor. Even in the South, the percentage opposed is now below 50%. Aside from Buddhists, here in the United States Jews are the group most supportive of same sex marriage: 47% strongly in favor and 30% in favor. And so it is no surprise that 13 Jewish organizations were among the 25 groups that joined in filing the amicus brief before the Supreme Court.
Even the large majority of the Jewish religious community is supportive. No one blinked this spring when Rabbi Denise Eger, who is a lesbian, assumed the presidency of the Reform rabbinical association. As for the Conservative Movement, which struggled with the issue for years, the Dorff-Nevins-Reisner Responsum in 2006 lay the groundwork not only for some rabbinical students and colleagues coming out the closet but also for the crafting of commitment and wedding ceremonies for same sex couples.
But all that said, there is a significant segment of the Jewish community who views the recent decision with caution, if not alarm. Will traditionalists who still oppose homosexuality on religious grounds face challenges ranging from being sued for not serving gay couples, to being obligated to permit children of gay couples in their schools, to losing access to government grants, to losing tax exempt status, as Bob Jones University suffered because of its ban on inter-racial dating. (In 1983,the Supreme Court ruled that the policies of Bob Jones University banning interracial dating on campus were “wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption.”)
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, who hailed the court’s decision commented: “We will continue to advocate for a healthy balance for religious institutions honoring their traditions and values and needs for a society to protect and defend all people.” The balance between “civil rights” and “personal religious expression” will prove to be a delicate one. But perhaps given the Hobby Lobby decision, the courts will grant leeway to those who didn’t rejoice at the Supreme Court’s decision.
It was a historic moment. We wait to see how the decision is played out in coming months and years.
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Israeli Mettle and Medals at the 2015 European Games
The Summer Olympics are still a year away, but Israeli athletes were showing their skills and earning saome medals at the recently concluded European games held in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Twelve medals, in total, were notched by the Israeli team. The judokas won three medals: one of each in 3 different weight categories. Sagi Muki won the gold in the 73 kilogram category; Uri Sasson won silver in the over 100 category; and Yarden Gerbi garnered a bronze medal in her 63 kilogram category. All 3 are in their 20’s and should be primed for next year.
Meanwhile, 2 swimmers, both only 18, made their marks in the pool. Ziv Kalontarov set an Israeli record in the 50 meter freestyle at 22.16 seconds, which is fast enough to qualify him for next summer’s competition in Rio. Meanwhile Marc Hinnawi gained a bronze in the 1,500 meter freestyle.
And the gymnasts brought home 4 medals: 2 silver and one bronze in group events and two-time Olympian Neta Rivkin added a bronze in rhythmic gymnastics.
A bronze medal was won by Sergey Rikhter in the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle competition and Ilana Kraytsh gained a silver in Women’s Freestyle Wrestling.
Having won no medals at the last Olympics, Israel can look hopefully to Rio with these competitors along with some of its sailors.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Balak (Numbers 22:39-23:26) is read this Saturday, July 4th.
23:9 As I see them from the mountain tops, gaze on them from the heights, there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations.
23:9 there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations. Opinions are divided as the question of what good quality that Balaam saw in Israel and found it necessary to praise it [for this quality]. Is it the glory of their dwelling apart and their unimportance among the nations? It is possible, as the majority of the commentators of the Middle Ages believed, that separation from the nations in order that it not follow their ways was the quality that Balaam thought was praiseworthy. It appears that this interpretation, which emerged out of Israel’s condition of exile, is not the correct interpretation of Scripture; hence it is possible to interpret as per the opinion of a few of the commentators—classic ones (Ibn Ezra) and modern ones (Tur-Sinai), by linking this verse to what is found in Deuteronomy 32:8-9: “When the Most High gave nations their homes and set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples in relation to Israel’s numbers. (9) For the Lord’s portion is His people, Jacob His own allotment.” According to these verses, the inheritance of the people of Israel is separate from the inheritance of all of the other nations, and they are not accounted among the nations. With its parallel of “there is a people that dwells apart” there arises an additional meaning to the word “apart”, that it is indicative of security, such as in the following verses. (Dt. 33:28): “Thus Israel dwells in safety, untroubled in Jacob’s abode” and Jeremiah 49:31: “Rise up, attack a tranquil nation that dwells secure, says the Lord, that has no barred gates, that dwells alone”. And (Psalm 4:9): “for you alone, O Lord, keep me secure.” The quality of the nation of Israel dwelling apart is mentioned one more time in Scripture in words of praise of Israel, (Micah 7:14): “Oh shepherd Your people with Your staff, Your very own flock. May they who dwell isolated [apart] in a woodland surrounded by farmland, graze Bashan and Gilead as in olden days.” (Yizchak Avishur in Olam HaTanakh: B’midbar. Professor Avishur obtained his doctorate in Hebrew language from Hebrew University in 1976. For many years he was Professor of Hebrew Language and chairman of the department at the University of Haifa. He wrote extensively on Biblical literature, with special reference to its style and language. He published widely in the field including Studies in Hebrew and Ugaritic Psalms, Studies in Hebrew Psalms, and Studies on the Royal Administration in Ancient Israel in the Light of Epigraphic Sources—all in Hebrew--. He also authored Stylistic Studies of Word-Pairs in Biblical and Ancient Semitic Literatures, which appeared in English, back in 1984. A festschrift marking his 65th birthday was presented to him in 2004. Though professor emeritus at the university, he is now the academic director of the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Centre.)