AN UNORTHODOX RESPONSE
My father passed away nearly thirteen years ago, and while I think about him on a daily basis, there are moments every so often when I miss his presence to a heightened degree. This resonant pang is fresh in my mind only because it happened yesterday.
While perusing my Facebook feed, I belatedly came across the Rabbinical Council of America's June 26th press release in which the Orthodox organization weighed in on the Supreme Court's ruling on same sex marriage. You don't have to be intimately familiar with the RCA to know that this press release included the word "protest." As if this were an issue--a secular issue--in which religious institutions--Orthodox jewry, in this instance--needed to issue press releases about.
But the reason why this pronouncement made me miss my father so was that my father was not only a respected rabbi, but also the EVP of the Rabbinical Council of America, and up until his passing in 2003, my dad held a position that impacted and influenced the overall day-to-day of Modern Orthodox jewry. This is not an exaggeration nor is it hyperbole. Even twelve years later, I meet rabbis all over the world who are still pining for his insight, humor and diplomacy within the clergy profession. He was a man with a King Solomon- like wisdom equal only to his genuine open-heartedness.
And so last night, lying in bed, I imagined what kind of press release my father would have drafted in light of the gay marriage equality ruling, or if he would have done so at all. And in truth, I couldn't tell you definitively one way or the other. I'd like to think that he would said nothing about it because my father, a ba'al teshuvah, had great respect and admiration for the many levels of observances particularly in an age when just about every single Jew observes in his or her distinctive way.
But let's say hypothetically, he was pressured into doing so, I considered. Even though we were very close and spoke daily, I couldn't resolve on what he would say. One of my greatest issues with contemporary Judaism is the way we create false narratives. The way we presume to know how the deceased would think or feel. And even though my relationship with dad was incomparably close, I still couldn't conjecture on this behalf. I'm sure, however, there are many who still attempt to do so.
Still my imagination got the best of me and I found myself envisioning a conversation in which he and I would discuss the truly historic ruling from last Friday. I would sense his conflict because his care for the individual was true, and he would sense my urge to advocate for--let's be frank here--an oppressed group that collectively yearns to be culturally accepted.
This isn't a religious issue, I would tell him. This is a secular one. This country was founded on the basis of separation of church and state, which means as practicing Jews, we should have nothing to say about this. Besides the First Amendment isn't necessarily an amendment with the sole purpose of protecting religion. It serves as a panacea against the religious fanatics, which means it protects your right to live an absence of faith and belief. Let's tend to our own garden, I add. Not landscape the whole block.
Interesting, he would say back. Or at least, I hope he would. I wouldn't know either way; When my father died, I had still not fully developed my intellectualism and most conversations between us weren't so heady. But I imagine he continues, But what about gay marriage being a threat to our traditional way of life? If we acknowledge this legal binding union, how will it not affect the Orthodox community?
Well, Dad, are we really so concerned about threats to our institution of marriage? If so, why isn't the RCA issuing press releases about divorce and it's drastically increasing numbers? Why aren't we troubled about infidelity ? Or the premarital sex crisis impacting our youth and young professionals? Why do we perceive the homosexual community as a threat when that community isn't even welcome into ours? Are we so weak in our faith that a perceived threat--your words, not mine--unifying outside of our fortressed walls is a cause we must speak out against?
And lets say that for the sake of argument that, and I quote, "marriage is an institution defined by the Bible and subsequent religious codes and it is upon the foundation of traditional family life that our society has been built for millennia," I think it's problematic in more ways that one. The Bible also speaks about polygamy, so really our contemporary model of matrimony is not exactly based on the Old Testament. Also, what of concubines? Or women captured in war? To not acknowledge that things have changed over the years would be wrongful. To say that whatever we call marriage now is exactly as it has been since the beginning of time would be like saying since Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, we have always been wearing clothes. Let us all don fig leaves.
My father is thinking. He is torn. He can empathize with the dilemma because unlike so many years ago, the homosexual constituency is not hiding in the closet. They are even sometimes sitting in our pews. We've witnessed the pain associated with the denial of rights firsthand. We've seen the impact of homophobic vitriol as its slung about by our leaders. We've heard the cries from conflicted and torn men and women as they look ahead to a pained life alone.
And so I ask the question for him. How do "we" deal with gay marriage? How can the Orthodox community, of which I am still proudly a part of, respond to the court ruling from June 26th? Do we say things like "no court can change God's immutable law," or "We stand committed not to lose faith in faith itself, and hope that others who cherish God's teaching will join us" as the RCA has?
It hurt me to read that last night. It hurt me that the organization that allegedly represents my leaders and clergymen is presumptuous enough to be on the wrong side of history. It saddens me that an issue of this great complexity is met with a broad stroke, a superimposed black and white filter.
But most of all, it pained me that my father wasn't here to address this issue, or as I suspect, possibly by means of revisionism, to not address it all. Which I would have respected him greatly for. Sometimes silence is more powerful than the loudest proclamation.