Freedom of Irreligion

      Religion is on the defensive in American life these days. What began as a simple, direct and unprecedented statement of government detachment from religion – the First Amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” – has morphed into a steady weakening of the “free exercise” clause. The strongest weapon wielded against religion today is a distortion of the value of “tolerance.”

     In the name of “tolerance” marriage has lost its traditional moorings and now become unrecognizable; religious people have to watch what they say and even think; the Bible has to be suppressed, perhaps in some dreary future to be studied only in dark basements behind locked doors lest the thought police hear someone cite an unapproved verse; the values bequeathed to us by G-d have to be adjusted and conformed to the times, and often renounced in public discourse; and, indeed, it is unsafe and unhealthy to refer to G-d’s word in public, lest the advocates for “tolerance” show their ugly, intolerant sides.

Just ask the Duck Dynasty. In truth, the next time I watch the Duck Dynasty will be the first time I watch the Duck Dynasty. I am not even completely aware of who they are or what they purport to do. But I do know that the senior duck is being persecuted for articulating his faith and his values. The notion of homosexual conduct as sinful is not something that was fabricated in 2010. It is actually quite ancient. It is its “decriminalization” – i.e., its forced removal from the list of sins – that is new, and is being imposed on the rest of society under duress. The Ducks should take their business elsewhere, to an environment more hospitable to their needs. The elites, apparently, so confident in their moral superiority, feel no need even to reckon with or tolerate other viewpoints. “Off with their beaks!” they proclaim.

Same sex marriage has become an unstoppable force, and marriage itself is perceived by society’s elites as antiquated. New York City’s Mayor and New York State’s Governor openly consort with “girlfriends” without paying any social price. There is no scorn, no stigma, no moral opprobrium. We are way past that, too sophisticated. As predicted, the acceptance of same sex marriage has generated a re-evaluation of all marriage arrangements. This week, a Utah court watered down the state’s anti-polygamy law, ruling unconstitutional a clause that prohibited even “cohabitation” with more than one “spouse.” That is, in Utah today, one can marry one woman civilly and as many as one can bear religiously and not violate the bigamy statutes. Well, at least the Bible recognizes polygamy.

Rabbenu Gershom’s ordinance banning polygamy for Ashkenazic Jews, now more than 1000 years old, was rooted in the concept that polygamy was alien and considered abhorrent in Christian society. That conclusion might require some re-evaluation now, although, on a personal note, my wife is suddenly less progressive than I had assumed.

In another sign of the times, a North Dakota judge this week permitted a man married to a man (in another state) to also marry a woman, and why not? There is not enough love in the world, and the more the merrier. We are only at the beginning of the infinite permutations of marital arrangements in our future, all of which will lead to a further exacerbation of the dire problem of the instability of the American family and the dreadful effects on the aimless children being produced. It is, though, a boon for Hallmark, which can now expand its greeting card business into heretofore unimaginable terrain.

It is less salutary to other industries, especially when the new immorality crashes head-on into the old morality, and this is where American religious life is again under siege. There are lawsuits sprouting across the country against religious businessmen – photographers, bakers, party hall renters – whose beliefs and values proscribe any recognition of or participation in same-sex marriage ceremonies. Some of those businesspeople have already lost at trial, ordered to pay thousands of dollars in fines, and whose cases are on appeal. Is this not an obvious violation of the “free exercise” clause? Do I not have the right to refuse to officiate at an interfaith or same-sex (or, for that matter, polygamous) marriage? Must our shul rent its facilities for purposes we deem inimical to G-d’s word?

Such was once obvious in America. It no longer is. The success of the homosexual lobby has been so enormous that, literally overnight, it has transformed what was considered to be deviant and depraved conduct into a moral desideratum. Those who find homosexuality sinful are on the defensive. In the America that is looming, the two previous sentences can easily be construed as hate speech to be reviled if not also prosecuted. We are left to beg for some measure of acceptance for our views, knowing how out of the mainstream they are.

But isn’t that the very essence of tolerance? Isn’t tolerance a two-way street? If I peacefully accept my neighbors’ views that I consider immoral, shouldn’t he also have to accept my views that he considers benighted? Of course, but not in today’s America, and it will be worse in tomorrow’s. We have reached a stage in which freedom of speech is subject to mob approval, and freedom of religion is constricted until it conforms to the prevailing social norms. And it is the liberals – purported defenders in the extreme of those very clauses in the Bill of Rights – who are today’s persecutors.

The thought police, the speech police, and the approved religious belief police – all self-appointed, and all then anointed by the media as moral watchdogs safeguarding the purity of American social life (as they see it) – are totalitarians. Worse (in their language), they are bullies, and the repugnance of their conduct is proportionate to the shrillness of their demands on the rest of us.

The US Supreme Court will shortly hear arguments about the Obamacare edict forcing religious institutions (and individuals) to pay for contraception and other matters that violate their religious beliefs. Orthodox groups are preparing to file briefs in support of the church’s position, as their struggle is the struggle of all religious entities. Donations can be made to to support the effort.

We are living through the consequences of the forced removal of G-d from the public domain, especially schools. More than two generations of children have been raised without knowledge of – without even any access to – any sense of objective morality. There is no longer any sense of absolute right and wrong to guide young people’s moral choices, only what makes one feel good or bad, happy or sad, and in the short term.  And the irresolute morals of the citizenry have engendered national leadership which is correspondingly anemic and ineffectual.

All we can do is hold firm to our values that will surely endure even this assault, never lose faith, and plead for “tolerance” to the powerful forces arrayed against moral man.

13 responses to “Freedom of Irreligion

  1. Leviticus, chapter 20, verse 13:
    “If a man has intercourse with another man in the same manner
    as with a woman, both of them have committed a disgusting
    perversion. They shall be put to death by stoning.”

    NOTE: translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in year 1981 CE in THE LIVING TORAH

  2. Shaar HaGilgulim, Introduction section, chapter 22:
    “He who has sexual intercourse with a man,
    he will be reincarnated as a rabbit or hare…”

    Arizal was Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, born 1534 CE, died 1572 CE.

    שער הגלגולים – הקדמה כב
    הבא על הזכר, יתגלגל בשפן או בארנבת

  3. Sifra commentary on Parshat Acharei Mote, parashta 8, paragraph 8:
    What did they [the Gentiles of Egypt and Canaan] do?
    A man would marry a man, and a woman would marry a woman.
    A man would marry both a woman and her daughter.
    A woman would marry two [men at the same time].
    Therefore, [the Torah] says: “…AND YOU MAY NOT
    FOLLOW THEIR STATUES.” (Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 3).

    Sifra is also known as Torat Kohanim.
    Rambam attributes Sifra to Rab, who was active around year 220 CE.
    Malbim attributes Sifra to Rabbi Chiya, also active around year 220 CE.

  4. Shulchan Aruch, Chelek Yoreh Deah,
    Siman 252, Sif 8:

    We [must] redeem a [captive] woman before a [captive] man
    [when it is not possible to redeem them both].

    But in a place where they [the kidnappers] are accustomed to
    commit homosexuality, we must redeem the man [from captivity] first.

    The Shulchan Aruch was written by Rabbi Yosef Caro,
    who lived from 1488 CE to 1575 CE. He was forced to flee
    Spain at the time of the expulsion (or inquisition), eventually
    settling in the city of Tzfat, Israel where he was immediately
    appointed to a position of great importance.

  5. Ibn Ezra comment on Shemot, chapter 20,
    verse 13, (quoting Rabbi Saadiah Gaon):

    [The sin of] immorality [zenut] has many levels [of severity].

    The least severe is intimate physical contact a widow or virgin.

    More severe than the preceding is:
    intimate physical contact between a husband and his wife
    when she is in a state of nidah [spiritual uncleanliness],
    because after a few days she [probably] will be permitted to him.

    More severe than the preceding is: intimate physical contact
    [between a man and] a married woman [adultery], because
    her husband may die, which would make her permitted to him.

    More severe than the preceding is: intimate physical contact
    [between a Jewish man and] a Gentile woman [for example,
    intermarriage] because she is not Jewish, but she could still
    convert [to Judaism] and become his wife.

    More severe than the preceding is: homosexuality,
    which is never permitted under any circumstances.

    More severe than the preceding is: [intimate physical contact
    with] a different [non-human] species, for example, if a man
    would commit intimate physical contact with an animal [bestiality].

    Rabbi Saadiah Gaon was born in Egypt in year 882 CE and
    died in Baghdad in year 942 CE. He descended from a famous
    Rabbi of the Talmud: Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa.
    At age 20 he completed his first great work, a Hebrew dictionary.
    He wrote an Arabic translation of the Torah
    and works of Jewish Law and philosophy.

  6. Sefer HaMidot, chapter Niuf (part 2), paragraph 8:
    It is forbidden to judge favorably [lilmode zechut]
    he who commits homosexuality.

    Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was born in 1772 CE and died in 1810 CE.

    ספר המידות – ערך נאוף חלק שני
    ח. אסור ללמד זכות, על זה שעבר על משכב זכור:

  7. Sefer Igros Moshe, chelek Orach Chaim, volume 4, siman 115:
    Responsa for He Who Stumbled with Homosexuality, G_d Forbid
    DATE: First day of Rosh Chodesh Adar Rishon, year taf shin lamed vav
    TRANSLATED DATE: 1976 CE, February 2

    First, know the severity of the sin, that [the man who does] it is liable to death by stoning [skilah] and cutting off of the soul [karet]. It is called an abomination; it is one of the most disgusting and depraved of all sins. Even the Gentiles [literally, Sons of Noah] are command this [prohibition]. This will help you withstand the temptation [literally, evil inclination, Yetzer HaRa].

    Second, this is not a natural desire; it is a perversion. The normal desire for procreation was created to ensure the [continued] existence of the world. But this is not included. It exists only because of the desire to transgress the prohibition, which is a form of rebellious sin. A normal sinner will [attempt to] excuse himself with the claim that he was influenced by his temptation [literally, evil inclination, Yetzer HaRa].

    He will not be exonerated, because he could have overcome his temptation, as we see with Yosef HaTzadik [Bereishit / Genesis, chapter 39]. For this sin, however, the sinner will not even have that excuse. This realization will help a person withstand the ordeal.

    You believe in G_d and in all of the 13 Principles of Faith, and in the whole Torah, so these additional thoughts will help you remain firm.

    The [Bible] verse [pasuk] says in parshat Haazinu: “With abominations they anger Him,” and Rashi comments [on Devarim, chapter 32, verse 16:]: “This refers to homosexuality.” We thus see that these sins are done to anger G_d.

    Third, consider the shame [ganai] of all decent people. Even normal sinners consider these sinners repulsive. Even the other participant [HaRasha HaSheni, השני הרשע] involved in this wicked act [homosexuality], considers the first one degraded [mezalzel]. The Talmud [tractate Sanhedrin, page 29A] teaches that false witnesses are worthless even in the eyes of those who hire them. This concept can be used to persuade the sinner away from sin. Since this helps to overcome monetary temptations, it will surely help in overcoming the temptation for this detestable, wicked sin.

    This is not only a most severe sin against the Torah, it is also against all of the basic concepts of society, and the person who does it becomes lowly and disgraced [or despised] to the ultimate degree, and it is a great embarrassment [Ganai HaYotair Gadol] for the person [who commits it] and for his entire family.

    MICROBIOGRAPHY: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZTL was born in 1895 CE in Eastern Europe and died in 1986 CE in New York City. During the final three decades of his life (approximately), most Orthodox Jews around the world accepted him as their highest living authority for question of Torah law. He claimed to have never harmed even one human being, even one time, in his entire adult life; that claim was probably true.

  8. Sister Mary of Our Divine Savior

    Dear Rabbi Pruzansky
    Shalom! I do not read your blog much because I just do not have the time but thank you — I grew up in NY and my next door neighbors were Jewish (not as Orthodox as yourself) I loved them dearly and they were always titled uncle Ida, Uncle Nat and Uncle Charlie– They took me to one of their temple services and I loved it!
    Thank you for having the courage to speak out against the evils of our day! What a gift you are to your community and to all of us the Bigger Community of G-D’s family.

    Peace– Shalom Sister Mary of Our Divine Savior SOLT (Catholic Sister)

  9. Sefer Charedim, chapter 63, page 219 of menukad edition:

    He who committed homosexuality, after he abandons his sin,
    [he] must immerse [in a kosher mikvah] and fast 233 times…

    And every morning and evening of the fasts, he should recite
    these Biblical verses: Lamentations, chapter 3, verse 20
    and Psalms chapter 31, verse 23…

    And after all these, he should be whipped and wear sackcloth
    and place dust on himself and weep bitterly more than someone
    whose only child died and lies before him…

    Also, the angels that are appointed to watch over that person,
    [they] distance themselves from him…

    Rabbi Eleazar ben Moshe Azkari (or Ezkari) was a popular preacher
    who lived in Safed (Israel) in the 1500s CE. His Sefer Charedim
    was published in Venice in 1601 CE, a year after his death.
    Several well-known piyutim (Jewish hymns) are attributed
    to him, including Yedid Nefesh.

  10. Not to be another yes man, but interestingly enough here is an example of current societal sociological brain-washing. A Jewish bar mitzvah boy in belief that the Avos would have actually supported Gay marriage, had they lived today. Interesting conclusions can apparently be inferred from today’s seemingly pervasive social populisms.


    Yes, tolerance and freedom of speech should apply equally to everyone, agreed. There are unfortunately fanatics and groupies on both sides.

    Rabbi, you also seem to be under the impression from your spoken and written word that Jews as a majority voting bloc in this country have at one point been politically and socially supportive of the Republican Party of Lincoln before and during his Presidency. That is correct. However, with all due respect to your convictions, it seems to me that by looking at things more in depth, Jews as a majority have always been relatively more supportive of the current Democrat party political and social platform, however before and during President Lincoln’s time, 150 years ago, the Republican party’s political and social platform was closest to what the current Democratic party’s political and social platform actually is now. Their political and social platforms were sort of reversed before and during that time. The Republican and Democrat party political and social platforms flipped in the 20th century. Please read into more detail. Jews as a majority were never supportive of the current Republican party’s political and social platforms.

    • I agree with you completely about Jewish voting patterns and have written about it here. I would note that Orthodox Jewish voting patterns sharply contrast with non-Orthodox – 57-36 Republican to Democrat. The more traditional the Jew, the more conservative he is politically. And that makes sense.
      The citation above is sad, and shows the utter disregard of the Torah across the greater Jewish world. That a 13 year old puts his moral conclusions above G-d’s speaks for itself, and is typical of a spiritually-empty, self-absorbed generation. G-d should have mercy on us.

  11. Yes, I agree with you on the disparity in “current” American Orthodox Jewish voting patterns in contrast to the non-Orthodox, however I believe that is due mostly to the current unfortunate attitude towards the freedom of practice of religion having taken hold of the Democrat party.

    Rabbi Pruzansky, referring to your comment to my reply, might I urge you to please cite where you are getting your voting statistics from regarding the American Orthodox Jewish voters’ national vote percentages of votes for Republican candidates vs. Democrat candidates.

    It seems to me that Orthodox and more traditional Jewish constituent share a lot more social values with their non Orthodox brethren in contrast to the Republican branded constituent. Some of those are obviously a concern for the good of all members of the greater society in which they live beyond oneself and one’s own circles; and much less of an isolationist attitude world-view than the stereotypical Republican voter. It is sad that the Democratic party’s core message is being hijacked by those fringe constituents in their party. I do hope for a significant back-lash from the moderate and traditional Democrat party constituents to try to right this takeover by the extreme left liberal constituents. I see this situation as no different to some extent than the reactionary Tea-Party right-wing extremist elements that have become the shrill voice seemingly interpreted to be the unanimous voice of the Republican party. The loudest voice unfortunately is the one that is heard most easily and is then interpreted to be the only voice.

  12. My statistics are from the recent Pew Study.