Faith, Family and God — L’chaim! (To Life!): From Jewish Scripture to Gay Marriage

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bible_smBy: Paul P. Jesep*/ TRT Columnist—

The Talmud, a sacred Jewish book distinct from the Torah (Hebrew Scriptures, improperly referred to as the Old Testament) is divided into two parts: the Mishnah and Gemara. It contains wisdom about law, ethics, history, folklore, and philosophy from rabbis going back almost two thousand years.

There’s something inherently logical about Judaism. It permits you to argue with the Creator. You may even change the mind of the Giver of Life. Judaism balances faith with commonsense. It encourages a different kind of relationship with the Maker of the Universe than found in Christianity.

Jewish logic came through in a recent column by Shmuly Yanklowitz, “5 Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage.” He makes a powerful observation distinguishing morality from the study of God’s word, writing “the theological issue is complicated, but the moral issue is increasingly clear.” His argument for same-gender civil marriage is based on justice.

  1. The Talmud reminds the sojourner of the difficulty in finding the right person with whom to spend your life. He infers it’s cruel to deprive someone of the legal right to be a family.
  2. While making a distinction between civil and religious law, Rabbi Yanklowitz also notes preventing God’s LGBTQ children the right to civil marriage “is contrary to basic justice and therefore contrary to Jewish ethics.”
  3. The history of persecution should make every Jew empathetic. The rabbi cautions that though American Jews have found inclusion they must never forget their history. He’s referring to persecution in ancient Egypt and Rome and later the Spanish Inquisition and most horrifically the Holocaust. I would add that many immigrant groups should reflect on how their ancestors were discriminated against by Anglo-Protestants controlling America at one time. Let not the persecuted become the persecutor.
  4. Opposition to civil same-gender marriage is a “moral paralysis” contributing to suicide rates. “Full and equal rights,” he notes, “is the only moral option” since it speaks to the dignity and personhood of a persecuted minority.
  5. Efforts to define civil marriage distract from real, substantive moral matters like the objectification of women and a “responsible sexual ethic for intimacy.”

Marriage, civil and/or religious, is a spiritualizing, empowering force. If I understand the rabbi correctly, Elohim (God, gender neutral) challenges humankind to balance logic, reason and common sense with faith that asks all Creation to accept certain things without making belief into a cult, mythology or superstition. Logic, reason and common sense keep faith from becoming superstition. Faith keeps an individual’s logic, reason, common sense, and especially science from becoming arrogance. The mystery and mysticism of belief helps keep you humble and grounded.

There’s a popular Jewish toast — l’chaim (la-high-em)! To Life! Let’s raise a glass to life and Rabbi Yanklowitz. He has moral courage, spiritual resolve and intellectual courage with a love and reverence for the Holy Author.

Although the rabbi is careful to make a distinction between civil marriage and the solemnization of a union before God, due in part to complicated theological issues, there are seminary-trained clergy from accredited schools who bless same-gender unions and I’ve been honored to be one of them. So far, divine lightning has not zapped me for doing something I believe is holy, sacred, spiritually empowering, and in keeping with the Creator’s grand design.

* Paul is an author, attorney, and a seminary-trained, ordained priest in greater Albany, NY. His latest book, The Vampire Benning Wentworth and the End of Times – the War Between Devils and Vampires is now available.

1 Comment on "Faith, Family and God — L’chaim! (To Life!): From Jewish Scripture to Gay Marriage"

  1. James Murphy, MTS | February 9, 2014 at 12:57 am |

    While I appreciate the spirit of this article, as a theologian trained by the Jesuits, I cannot resist the urge to clarify that there are several (minor, but important) differences between the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian Old Testament.

    I agree with Jesep that this set of writings does contain wisdom about law, ethics, history, folklore, and philosophy and would go further to say that it has often provided the Jewish people with inspiration and guidance throughout their long and beautiful, yet often difficult history.

    However, the major difference between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament is that there are several versions of this set of books depending upon which sect of Christianity you practice. That is to say, Catholics use the Hebrew Scriptures plus a few extra books, while Protestants and Orthodox Christians include a similar but different set of books. The Hebrew Scriptures, commonly known as the Tanakh (Torah Neviim Khetuvim), serves as the inspiration for the Christan Old Testament but differences branches have different theological traditions and belief systems and choose to include or exclude various books to support their particular beliefs.

    The way the books and verses are organized is also different. The Hebrew Bible contains approximately 24 books while the Old Testament traditionally has over 30 books.

    Finally, the translation often differs between the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament for cultural reasons. The Tanakh was written in Hebrew, the language of the Israelites, while the Old Testament was assembled and translated into Greek, a much more common and far-reaching language for the earliest Christians. Comparing the two sets of Scriptures today will easily demonstrate that the Tanakh and Old Testament are not identical, though both are important to two equally important groups.

    In closing, the Hebrew Scriptures are not improperly referred to as the Old Testament. The Old Testament is an important collection of sacred books in the Christian tradition that has its roots in Judaism but is distinct from the New Testament, those books that were written after the birth and life events of Jesus of Nazareth and completed by approximately the year 150 CE and canonized centuries later. (The New Testament contains four accounts of Jesus of Nazareth’s earthly life [the Gospels], the letters of several of his apostles and the book of Revelation. Taken together, it can be seen as the fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament but written by a new community of believers. Hence, the NEW Testament.)

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