The secular media’s knowledge of Judaism ranges from the commonplace to the laughably ignorant. The Daily Mail last month captioned a phonograph of Jared Kushner walking on Succot with his wife and child, and carrying a lulav and etrog, as holding some sort of “bouquet of flowers” for his wife. Several years ago, the august New York Times Magazine, discussed the banishment of the yetzer hara in early Mishnaic times, and translated the Anshei Knesset Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly) as “men from a great synagogue.” The Newark Star Ledger once described as among the outreach efforts of non-Orthodox Jews in Lakewood to the Christian population as “inviting them to sit shiv’a with us.” How thoughtful.
We expect more, of course, from Jewish media, but without much justification for that sentiment. Thus, many read JTA’s report last week of an “Orthodox Rabbi” officiating at a same-sex marriage in Washington DC. Whatever the rabbi is, and whatever his personal qualities, Orthodox he is not. An avowed homosexual himself, who lives with his partner with their newly-adopted child, the person in question certainly has strayed far from Orthodoxy. Such conduct is naturally described as brave, courageous, and daring – but it takes neither bravery nor courage just to dismiss explicit mandates of the Torah and carry on as if Judaism is a personal heirloom that one can cavalierly discard or distort. Certainly, if a self-described “Orthodox Rabbi” suddenly interrupted Yom Kippur services to invite the congregation to dine on pork and cheeseburgers, that decision might be popular, certainly innovative, but not courageous and daring. No one would entertain that such conduct is permitted by Torah law, and no one would call such a rabbi “Orthodox.”
The derring-do has been greeted mostly by rabbinic silence, born of the preposterousness of the act itself. Most organizations have ignored it, and, on one hand, not unreasonably. For who in his right mind would ever assume that the Torah endorses, celebrates, or permits same-sex marriages? To issue a public denunciation would be tantamount to decrying the Yom Kippur conduct described above, and give the conduct more attention than it deserves.
But on the other hand, the turbulence of Orthodox Jewish life – especially in the antics of its leftist fringe element – is such that allowing this misconduct to pass without protest will enable the confused and bewildered, willfully or unintentionally, to consider that it is within the range of possibility that same-sex marriage can be condoned by the Torah. Silence allows even a small window of doubt to open, and silence allows that doubt to fester and swell.
Jewish law is unequivocal in its condemnation of same-sex relationships – barring the physical contact itself, the seclusion of two homosexuals by themselves in a private room, and, of course, their “marriage” – and this regardless of society’s “evolution.” Indeed, the Gemara (Chulin 92b) underscores that one of the redeeming features of the ancient pagans was that, although they engaged in homosexual activities (in violation of the Noachide laws), even they did not deign to draft “marriage contracts for males.”
Perhaps the “rabbi’s” Torah study never encompassed that tractate. It apparently excluded several others as well. One hopes that he finds some internal peace and contentment, and remains faithful.
For sure, there is an element of sadness that attaches both to the event and its criticism, and therefore a simple protest and media advisory suffices. No one wants to pile on. The plight of the avowed homosexual evokes sympathy and pain, but even that must defer to a clear articulation of the truth of Torah. If it was clear from which institution the “rabbi” received his ordination, they too should issue a demurral. Rumor has it that the institution from which he claims ordination denies actually ordaining him.
No matter. It is sufficient to reiterate the obvious, enunciated by a broad spectrum of Rabbis and announced by the Rabbinical Council of America not long ago: “the Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony.”
That is clear, definitive and authoritative. Media – Jewish and secular – take notice. And never assume that a Jew on staff is necessarily an expert on, or even remotely familiar with, Judaism. The “men from a great synagogue,” and their followers, deserve no less.