Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Yes He's Religious, But What Religion Is He?

It is not my intention to comment in a lengthy fashion on homosexual marriage. I see the matter thusly: in a secular amoral society, there is no compelling reason that a marriage cannot be defined as the union of any two people. Without a Divine anchor for its values, nothing demands that society define marriage in a way that excludes a small segment of its population.
The only real hypocrisy of the matter for me is the attitude of the gay lobby when it comes to redefining marriage. In the same breath as they demand freedom for any two people to wed, they also protest against polygamy and incest. This is completely irrational. If a marriage can consist of two people, why not three or more? Why does close blood relationship disqualify a union if any two consenting adults can join up otherwise?
What does bother me is how non-observant Jewish leaders wrap themselves in their self-determined flag of "Jewish values" and condemn those who speak out against gay marriage for religious reasons. If one wants to support gay marriage because in a secular society there's no reason to bar it, fine. But to say that one supports it because one's Jewish religious values demand it is deceptive and erroneous.
As I've noted before, what separates Jewish values and those in the secular liberal realm is the difference between responsibilities and rights. America has its Bill of Rights. Canada has its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the Torah is about limitations for it is through that which we withhold ourselves from that we raise our level of sanctity. The glory of man doesn't come from ploughing through life in a hedonistic fashion but rather from elevating oneself from the material and towards the spiritual.
It is this regard that the Conservatives and Reformers completely misunderstand the essential nature of Judaism and Torah. For the Reformers, Judaism is secular liberalism with an impotent godhead, one which grants automatic approval for any desires and values, as long as they are politically correct. Conservatism is virtually identical except that it still pretends to grant this state of religious anarchy an "halachic" imprimatur.
For observant Jews, the process is different. We do not demand God approve of our values but try to adopt His as our own. As a result, it is possible for an observant Jew to be deeply conflicted. He may have a gut feeling, or have been influenced by secular culture, into believing certain values are "right" only to find out that the Torah opinion of them is completely different. His ability to overcome his feelings and accept the Torah's opinion over his own is what sanctifies his behaviour and proves his Divinely granted free will.
The article referenced above displays this twisted thinking in all its glory. Note carefully how the author moves from his revulsion over gay bashing to opposition over gay marriage. The moral he is imparting is quite clear: if you're a good Jew you're against gay bashing. And since you're against gay bashing, you must also support gay marriage.
The thrust of one such passage should not override an overarching biblical ethos that teaches us that God loves and affirms the full humanity of each human being.
Except that does not mean that God, in spite of His infinite love for us, automatically approves of anything we want. The unnatural connection between opposing gay marriage and being in favour of violence against them must be challenged. In my community, after a prominent gay cafe owner was attacked a few years ago, our rav attended the protest against this assault held afterwards. This was fully in consonance with Jewish values. We cannot tolerate a society in which any person (other than confirmed communists and those guys who check the parking meters) can be attacked with impunity and without fear of the law. That does not mean, however, that we must approve of the values these people hold. I am against gay bashing but I cannot say that gay marriage is approved of by real Jewish values.
In response to his final assertion:
I see no reason why religious believers like me have any less right than my more fundamentalist brothers and sisters to speak for religion in the public square. Votes against same-sex unions discriminate against gays and lesbians and run counter to the ethos of love that the Bible teaches. It also discriminates against those of us whose religious beliefs mandate us to perform same-sex weddings.
I fully agree. I just don't think religious believes like him should mislead people by saying they are expressing Jewish values.

13 comments:

AngryJew said...

I will never understand Log Cabin Republicans...

David said...

Garnel--

"Jewish values" is a loaded term which, obviously, is distinct from "Jewish law." Just because someone does not choose to observe Jewish law does not mean that he does not identify with a set of values which he perceives (for better or worse) to be "Jewish."

Frummies can, I suppose, claim a monopoly on Jewish law, but I'm less sure that they (or we, depending on who counts me) can claim a monopoly on something as fuzzy as "values."

Of course, their Jewish values might not be your Jewish values (and so forth), but I'm not sure we can copyright the use of the term.

His lordship, Garnel Ironheart said...

I concede that point, David. Well done.

And I could add that many times non-religious Jews might be better exemplars of Jewish values than religious ones.

Dr Mike said...

Hang on, Garnel, don't surrender so quickly.

What about kavannah?

The reason for doing mitzvos is to fulfill the will of God. Not for personal benefit, or the joy it brings one. For God.

So if a non-religious Jew goes to visit a friend in hospital and feels great about having done bikkur cholim because it's the "right thing to do", is he actually fulfilling a Jewish value or a secular one which he's calling Jewish because it accords with his own personal preferences?

Izgad said...

"I just don't think religious believes like him should mislead people by saying they are expressing Jewish values."

believers

Nicole N. said...

You put forward the following value statement as a Jewish value: "the Torah is about limitations for it is through that which we withhold ourselves from that we raise our level of sanctity. The glory of man doesn't come from ploughing through life in a hedonistic fashion but rather from elevating oneself from the material and towards the spiritual."

Wouldn't the recognition of same sex marriages be in consonance with this Jewish value allowing gay and lesbian people to elevate a relationship from the hedonistic material to the enduring, committed spiritual? This recognition of same sex marriage also promotes Jewish family values and a host of other positive Jewish values.

His Lordship, Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Nicole, and welcome.

In answer to your question: no. The reason is that the Torah only recognizes one form of marriage as legitimate - that of a man to a woman. Even then there are restrictions on which men can marry which women. To say that sanctifying gay marriage would remove the hedonistic element is therefore completely without basis. A homosexual marriage cannot be sanctioned by the Torah so such a relationship would never lose its forbidden status.
And all this is without noting that the Torah also forbids homosexual intercourse in the first place.

Nicole N. said...

Hi GI,

Thanks for the welcome. It's good to be here.

A few points in response.

1) The topic was civil equal marriage and Jewish values. Accordingly the points about the Torah's recognition of kiddushin only being tofsim in relationships between particular men and women is not applicable, as surely you wouldn't legislate kashrut, lulav, or kiddushin & nissuin as a matter of civil law. The Jewish values of equality (tzelem elokim), justice (tzedek tzedek tirdof), kindness (ma sh'soneh lach/vahavta lreyacha etc.), and the importance of intimate relationships (lo tov lhiyot haadam levado), as they apply in a civil context are in fact applicable in this case.

2) You should be careful about imputing reasons or values to mitzvot. You were the one that said that the Jewish value of marriage was to reduce hedonism and promote the elevation of one's self from the material and toward the spiritual. I suggested, (and you didn't disagree), that same sex marriage was in consonance with this Jewish value as stated. Homosexual relationships are not more hedonistic than heterosexual ones, nor are they more material or less spiritual in the way that you were using those terms. You must be careful about imputing values because each time you try to suggest reasons that heterosexual relationships are obviously superior and that their value is clear, you will find that the reasons are not valid. At most, you will be left with saying that its a complete chok, and it's awfully hard at best (or intellectually dishonest at worst) to impute a value to a chok.

It's also interesting to note that the halachic regulation of heterosexual sexual relationship is far more stringent than that of same-sex relationships, where in all, only one specific act is prohibited between men.

3) Orthodoxy does not have a monopoly on defining Jewish values, nor is orthodoxy composed of one monolithic voice.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> 1) The topic was civil equal marriage and Jewish values.

Ah, well that's different then. As I've noted before, in a secular amoral (note "a", not "im") society, there is no reason that marriage cannot be defined as a partnership between two people as opposed to limiting it to opposite sexes.

However, I also maintain that the homosexual marriage lobby is hypocritical because it then turns around and says that "two" itself is an inviolable number. However, once religious morals are taken out of the equation, what's special about two? Why is polygamy wrong?

> You were the one that said that the Jewish value of marriage was to reduce hedonism and promote the elevation of one's self from the material and toward the spiritual

The evidence on whether or not homosexual relationships are more henodistic than heterosexual ones is impossible to draw firm conclusions from. Any major study is biased by its investigators as to the outcome they wish to produce - pro-gay investigators will look at a set of data and conclude that their relationships aren't. The anti-gay investigators will look at the same numbers and say that yes, they are more hedonistic. I myself don't know which is true so I won't state any conclusive opinion.

However, once again from an amoral perspective, who cares? Marital infidelity may violate some kind of contract law or lead to trust issues but to say it's wrong because of a moral issue goes out the window at that point. A cheating spouse would be no different than a cheating business partner.

> It's also interesting to note that the halachic regulation of heterosexual sexual relationship is far more stringent than that of same-sex relationships,

Well yes, because of the rules involving when men can have intercourse with women. Otherwise there's no real difference. In same-sex relationships, the one thing that makes it an "intimate" one is forbidden at all times off the bat.

> Orthodoxy does not have a monopoly on defining Jewish values, nor is orthodoxy composed of one monolithic voice

Yes and no. Judaism is often viewed by the non-Orthodox as an amorphous term like Christianity. Just as you have Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, etc., so you have Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.

However, the Orthodox perspective on this is very different. Either you recognize the authority of God, His Torah and that of the Sages and decisors throughout the millenia or you don't and recognizing that authority is the main Jewish value.

Nicole N. said...

In terms of the marriage lobby, the principle is equity before the law. ie. if all citizens are to have equal consideration under the law and the state allows two people to have a state endorsed marriage, then the issue is the inequality of limiting that marriage to two people that are not of the same sex, especially when there is no requirement for marriages to be performed under religious auspices, multifaith marriages are sanctioned, and many religious denominations will conduct religious marriages for same sex couples.

You are also denying that alternative moral systems can produce an equally valid and reliable morality without Orthodox Judaism. I think this assertion, though often spoken by deists of many religions, is demonstrably false. Judaism generally, and Orthodox Judaism in particular is not monolithic, nor is the halachic system or its methods of interpretation. As a reult, there are considerable differences in philosophy, culture, values and ideals of conduct even within orthodoxy.

Additionally, in terms of adherence, secular moral systems can be equally compelling, and having a religious moral or ethical code offers no greater expectation of adherence.

I also note religious values are not ones that stand in the way of polygamy as Judaism (notwithstanding rabbinic edicts that curtail the practise), Islam and Mormonism and perhaps other religions do not consider polygamy wrong...
___

You did not address the point I made about your suggestion that the Jewish value of marriage was to reduce hedonism etc. Your admittedly uninformed musings about the hedonism of same sex relationships relative to non-same sex relationships are not relevant. The point is that marriage would allow two same sex partners to have an established, sanctioned, and committed relationship as (at least one of several potential) avenue(s) to
take their relationship to a less "hedonistic" and more committed level. Accordingly, same-sex marriage would satisfy the Jewish value that you identified.

Additionally, I very strongly disagree with your statement that intimacy is equivalent to penetrative intercourse. Intimacy goes far beyond that and sex (whether heterosexual or homosexual) need not be intimate at all. Committed, supportive, loving relationships allow for intimacy regardless of particular sexual behaviour. With the understanding that intimacy is not sex, if you want to say that niddah prohibitions are given to allow for spiritual restriction between intimates, why not view the prohibition of penetrative intercourse between men in the same terms.

I think it's debatable whether or not recognition of authority of God, His Torah and that of the Sages and decisors throughout the millenia in the way that you mean it is THE MAIN Jewish value, especially when there is no monolithic expression of that authority even within orthodoxy (eylu v'eylu).

I personally believe that some of the main Jewish values (and I would suggest Orthodox Jewish values)are, in no particular order: pursuit of truth and justice, strident scepticism of authority and demonstrably false beliefs (eg. Avraham), engagement and struggling with the Divine, justice and morality, and chesed, compassion, empathy and concern for others.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hi Nicole,

> if all citizens are to have equal consideration under the law and the state allows two people to have a state endorsed marriage,

My point was that once you turn marriage into a civil partnership sanctioned by a non-denominational state, then what's so sacred about the number two?
Otherwise I think we do agree there's nothing wrong with the government of Canada, for example, sanctioning same-sex marriages.


> You are also denying that alternative moral systems can produce an equally valid and reliable morality without Orthodox Judaism.

Well of course I am! I happen to believe that the Torah, both Written and Oral, are the absolute truth and that God's promises to the Jewish people are the real deal and that any other group or religion that disputes this or offers an alternative form of revelation is wrong.
And to be honest, I don't see why people get so exercised about that. I'm not asking anyone else to believe that. You have every right to your different opinion and neither of us can coerce the other into changing personal beliefs like that. But I do feel I'm right. After all, if I thought someone else had a better ticket to Heaven, I'd jump onto their bandwagon.


> The point is that marriage would allow two same sex partners to have an established, sanctioned, and committed relationship

I believe I did address this point but I'll note again: Yes, what you're saying is absolutely correct and if it weren't for the Torah forbidding such relationships in the first place, I would agree with you.
Look at it this way: the doctor tells you to eat not eat fried foods and to eat lots of vegetables. So you eat lots of fried onions because the doctor told you to eat vegetables. It's the same thing here. Yes, a gay marriage creates a monogamous partnership which avoids the concerns of sexual promscuity the Torah is worried about. But the Torah only recognizes a male-female partnership as a legitimate expression of that kind of relationship.


> Additionally, I very strongly disagree with your statement that intimacy is equivalent to penetrative intercourse.

Okay, when I said "intimate" I meant intercourse. I was just trying to be delicate. I'm sorry for the confusion.


> think it's debatable whether or not recognition of authority of God, His Torah and that of the Sages and decisors throughout the millenia in the way that you mean it is THE MAIN Jewish value,

Of course it's debatable. That's what we're doing right now.


> there is no monolithic expression of that authority even within orthodoxy (eylu v'eylu).

But within Orthodoxy there are a common set of rules for determining legitimate opinions. That assumption does not apply with debate outside of Orthodoxy.

> personally believe that some of the main Jewish values

I agree that all those are important, fundamental Jewish values. But so is keeping Shabbos, keeping kosher, taharas mishpachah, etc. Both ben adam l'makom AND l'chaveiro are important. The non-Orthodox are great at the later but generally do poorly on the former. The Orthodox, especially in recent decades, are great at the former but really poor with the latter. As with all things, a balance and attention to both sides is needed.

I'm guessing here but you go to Temple Israel, yes?

Nicole N. said...

>the doctor tells you to eat not eat fried foods and to eat lots of vegetables. So you eat lots of fried onions because the doctor told you to eat vegetables.

Your analogy is off... A better analogy would be the Dr. tells you not to eat fried foods and that you should eat lots of fruits and vegetables. But you are allergic to vegetables so you don't eat those but eat lots of fruit, and if you believe what your Dr. told you, you try to avoid the deep fried apples. :)

>Yes, a gay marriage creates a monogamous partnership which avoids the concerns of sexual promiscuity the Torah is worried about.

So just to make this clear, it is your opinion that the Torah is concerned about sexual promiscuity and that same-sex marriage addresses that concern. So you agree that gay marriage is a positive thing in light of Jewish values. So my point is that even according to you, gay marriage fulfils a Jewish value. Accordingly, representing same sex marriage as being consistent with a Jewish value is not illegitimate.


>But the Torah only recognizes a male-female partnership as a legitimate expression of that kind of relationship.

The Torah only prohibits one very particular sexual act. That prohibition does not relate to than expression or a necessary expression of intimacy or legitimate relationship.

"If you believe your Dr. you try to stay away from the deep fried fruit", but that doesn't mean that you can't eat non-deep fried fruit, especially if it's the only thing that can nourish you.

> I'm guessing here but you go to Temple Israel, yes?

Nope. Do you know the shuls in London? You can email me if you want specifics...

His Lordship, Garnel Ironheart said...

> So just to make this clear, it is your opinion that the Torah is concerned about sexual promiscuity and that same-sex marriage addresses that concern. So you agree that gay marriage is a positive thing in light of Jewish values.

No, absolutely not, because you keep missing my second point: the Torah defines an acceptable marital-type relationship as one man-one woman. Any other type of relationship, even if monogamous, fails according to that definition. Two gay men is a compeltely faithful relationship are engaged in a non-acceptable relationship according to the Torah.

As for London, I'm guess you don't go to Beth Tefilah. Or Shalom maybe?