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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: What If Government Recognized Civil Unions, Left Marriage to Religion?

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Could a governmental retreat from “marriage” finally heal the deep schism that has divided and immobilized this country by an intractable values volley over gay relationships?

As many of you have read, since running for Congress I have emphasized that I want to move away from the great social-sexual battles that this country has engaged in over the past forty-odd years, which – in my opinion – has served to distract us from the real values challenges that confront us. The greatest threat to the future of the American family is not gay marriage but rather divorce. However, because we obsess over gay marriage, we rarely ever hear the word divorce being uttered by political leaders. Now, with President Obama coming out to support gay marriage and Mitt Romney continuing to assert his opposition to gay marriage by continuing to define marriage as a union that can only take place between one man and one woman, I propose a truce.

What if government withdrew from the marriage business altogether, and provided only Civil Unions to two consenting adults wishing to unify their lives, leaving the spirituality of the union to other entities to recognize, name, sanctify, and define? These Civil Unions would equally assure that all couples receive all the legal entitlements that have previously been enjoyed by those who have been “married,” such as hospital visitation rights and end-of life decisions, insurance benefits,  and tax benefits. After all, what business does the government have entering a church, synagogue or mosque to legitimize or define the spiritual nature of a person’s marriage? We are supposed to have separation of church and state in America.

If the couple wishes to have their marriage consecrated to a more spiritual purpose, (e.g. “’til death do us part”, “for all eternity,”  “in the name of Jesus Christ,” “according to the laws of Moses and Israel,”  “in sickness and in health,” fidelity, loyalty etc.) they will choose to have a religious ceremony in addition to the civil ceremony. This additional ceremony would extend beyond just having legal rights conferred by Civil Unions, and would reflect the couple’s individual spiritual or religious convictions. They would go before a rabbi, a priest, a minister, or any other spiritual leader of their choice for a religious ceremony. The ceremony, and in fact the semantic definition of their union, would be defined by and consistent with that religious groups’ values.

This proposal might just allow nearly everyone to win, a ”One Size Fits All”  solution to the gay marriage narrative that has hijacked the political landscape, created ever deepening divides in the nation, and has served to be only destructive and distracting from far greater social values issues facing this country. The benefits to this proposal are, first and foremost, that no one would receive either preferential treatment or any discrimination when it comes to the government’s recognition of the legal rights of the union of any couple. Furthermore, there would be no need to redefine marriage, as each group would have the authority to define or expand the meaning of their union according to their particular religious tradition. This solution would reduce the role of government, which should not be involved in religious choices. People who want to have a spiritual component to their civil union can have whatever ceremony they desire within whatever religious context they choose, and name the union in spiritual terminology that best speaks to their religious convictions.

Far from harming religion, I believe that this change would even promote non-involved, non-religious people to entertain the concept of how religion can enhance and enrich one’s life, and be an invitation to engage in further religious learning, traditions, communities, and beliefs. I think that when people are forced to confront the choice of wanting merely a government-recognized civil union before a Justice of the Peace which addresses only  legal status issues, or the opportunity to imbue their union with a deeper, more eternal, spiritual dimension,  they would see the benefit of having something with greater holiness impact their union. And they would be forced to confront the difference between a mere legal synthesis versus the a spiritual orchestration of two haves into one whole. In other words, once they are forced to start thinking about their “vows” they might just drift further into faith and religion.

The bottom line with this proposal is that we would remove the offense of those who can marry and those who cannot, the government would retreat further from our lives, and one of the great battles that have raged in America could be put behind us so that we can focus, finally, on curbing divorce, keeping husbands and wives together, and keeping kids out of custody battles rather than just always fighting about gay marriage.

I recognize that for those who oppose gay civil unions this would still not be a solution. However, I vehemently disagree with their opposition.  Whom does it bother to have gay couples granted the decency to visit each other in hospital during serious illness, making end-of-life decisions, and receiving tax benefits as a couple? Is it not worthwhile to put behind us the questions of dual insurance coverage in order to have this terribly divisive issue finally settled? By putting the gay marriage debate behind us we can finally focus on the real problem: straight people do not seem to either want to marry, and once they get married they find it difficult to remain married.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: President Obama Does a Bin Laden End Zone Dance

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

What a difference one year makes. Last year I praised President Obama for not wanting to ‘spike the football’ by releasing gruesome death photos of Osama bin Laden. But this year, forget spiking the football. The President is doing an end-zone dance.

The Bible says that when someone incurs the death penalty, and his body is hung on a tree as an example to others, he still must be buried the same day. We’re not to desecrate the body of even the most vicious killer because God created humans in His image. So America had no need to put out pictures with Osama missing a part of his cranium. The President last year stood by this and it was impressive.

And as far as gloating in the demise of our foes is concerned, Proverbs 24 expressly forbids celebrating the death of our enemies. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” We fight bad guys like bin Laden because we have an obligation to protect the innocent by resisting the wicked. But we don’t gloat in it. War should never be about winning glory but protecting innocent life.

The obligation to protect the weak and punish their butchers is famously conveyed in Leviticus 19: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” and again in Psalm 82, “Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

Osama bin Laden was evil personified. We had a moral obligation to abhor him, as the Bible makes clear in Amos, “Hate the evil and love the good.” But while feelings of revulsion were justified, feelings of elation at his demise were not. This too President Obama understood last year and I praised him for it.

But all that has changed with his current victory dance.

Well, we’re in an election year. I get it. But that doesn’t mean our morals should change. What was particularly strange was the President inviting NBC TV into the Situation Room, which had never before been penetrated by network cameras because it’s supposed to be the most classified and off-limits place in the country. There he spoke about how tough his decision had been to send in the SEALs to get the Al Qaida head.

Much has been made of the difference in the speeches given by President Bush when the US captured Saddam Hussein versus President Obama’s speech about Bin Laden, with the former focusing on the bravery of the troops and the latter seemingly focusing on his own role in Bin Laden’s killing. But I’m not here to be petty and parse words, and in any event actions are much more important than speeches. The President last year did not gloat about killing Bin Laden and he deserved praise, just as his complete about face this year, in order to win votes, deserves to be criticized.

I am a huge fan of the mostly moral foreign policy of George W. Bush which largely held tyrants accountable for slaughtering their people. I contrast this with President Obama’s lack of response in Iran after Ahmadinejad killed his people, leading from behind on Libya (even though in the end he did the right thing), lack of leadership in the Arab spring, and failure to do much of anything in Syria.

But even President Bush stumbled when he plastered ‘Mission Accomplished’ on an aircraft carrier and flew in to do a tailhook landing in May, 2003. At the time I honestly said to myself that this would work out poorly. The same was true in Bush using words like ‘Dead or Alive’ about Bin Laden. Glory in battle nearly always ends badly.

The American way is not to gloat in war. It was summed up by Colin Powell in a brilliant speech at the MTV Global Discussion on 14 February 2002: “Far from being the Great Satan, I would say that we are the Great Protector. We have sent men and women from the armed forces of the United States to other parts of the world throughout the past century to put down oppression. We defeated Fascism. We defeated Communism. We saved Europe in World War I and World War II… All in the interest of preserving the rights of people. 
And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? We defeated Japan, so Japan belongs to us? No…. We built them up. We gave them democratic systems which they have embraced totally to their soul. And did we ask for any land? No, the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead. And that is the kind of nation we are.”

This uniquely humble American ethos stems largely from Judeo-Christian ethics. We Jews have suffered more than most. But we stubbornly refuse to celebrate the demise of our enemies or any military triumph. King David is Judaism’s most famous warrior. Yet, rather than praising his slaying of Jewish foes, David’s request to build the Holy Temple was expressly denied by God because he had taken life, even in the defense of life. “But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.” (1 Chronicles 28) Indeed, the great king was celebrated by generations of Jews not for dispatching enemy combatants but for beautiful Psalms accompanied by harp and lyre.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: Savaging the Bible Over Homosexuality

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I am saddened that Richard Grennell, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman, resigned over what the press is saying was pressure from the far right because he is openly gay. Who cares? He had a distinguished career as a spokesman for four United Nations Ambassadors and was widely respected. It is particularly disconcerting to learn that religious groups criticized Romney for appointing him due to his homosexuality.

As an orthodox Rabbi with a gay orthodox Jewish brother, I have endeavored mightily to reconcile the dictates of my faith with the most human, loving, and respectful approach to homosexuality. I have counseled hundreds of gay men and women of faith who seek to find their place in God’s love amid a gay lifestyle.

But such efforts at reconciliation are undone by the gratuitous hate-filled bigotry of people like Dan Savage whose response to prejudice against gays is to offer insulting and degrading prejudices against religion. Just what Savage felt he was accomplishing by irresponsibly using obscenities about the Bible at a journalism conference for High School students is beyond me. But what I do know is that the answers to homosexuality and faith do not lie either with religious haters like Fred Phelps who insult God by hating gays, nor with secular fanatics like Dan Savage who insult homosexuals by falsely portraying them as angry bigots.

Everywhere we look today we find fanatics. So often we blame religion for all the extremists. But there are plenty of secular fanatics as well. From Savage’s offensive attack against the Bible and religion in front of High School students, he appears to be one of them. I am prepared to accept that he has been misportrayed. But then let him retract and apologize for his remarks.

The Bible he assails is responsible for Western society’s most cherished values. It has given us the Ten Commandments, and thus morality. The belief that every human being is created in the image of God, and thus the infinite worth of the individual person. The crushing of Egyptian tyranny and thus the insistence that despots must be deposed. The Messianic idea of directional history and thus the ideal of human progress.

That does not mean that there aren’t aspects of the Bible that people will find unacceptable or objectionable. They have every right to disagree. But doing so while respecting people of faith is the way of the gentleman.

Once, I was sitting with my brother at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan when a religious man walked over and told me I was a dog. I asked him why the insult? He said because he read about how I defend homosexuals in the Jewish community. Ironically, he had no idea that my brother was sitting at the table with me. I thought to myself, “If I’m one step removed and I get attacked like this, how much hatred has my brother endured? How many times has he heard things like this?”

Do we gain anything by having the Dan Savages of this world demonstrate that they can give as good as they get? If Savage savages the Bible, has he struck a blow for his gay brethren, or has he just inflamed the discourse?

I receive a steady stream of sad and tragic emails from gay orthodox Jewish men and women who speak of their desire to be dead, or worse, to take their own lives. They have few to whom they can turn. They wonder how they can accept their natural sexual feelings amid their commitment to their faith. But they are committed to faith. They’re not looking to detach but rather to fit in. They do not identify with religion haters like Dan Savage because they love their religion. They are simply looking for their place within their faith and they are devastated to feel condemned by their own communities.

There is no question that we need a new religious approach to Biblical approach to homosexuality. I suggest this.

The Bible consists of 613 commandments, one of which is for a man to marry and have children, and the other is for a man to avoid gay sex with another man. That leaves 611 commandments for gay men to observe. That should keep them pretty busy. Homosexuality should be treated like lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating non-kosher foods, both Biblical prohibitions. Eating shellfish carries the same appellation of ‘abomination’ as homosexuality.’ Moreover, as I have written at length elsewhere the prohibition of homosexuality is not a moral sin but a religious sin, akin to, say, eating on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as there is no injured innocent party.

Why we have all chosen homosexuality as the worst sin in the Bible, going so far as to distance homosexuals from their own faith, is beyond me. Some say the reason is because of the word ‘abomination.’ Little do they realize the word appears 104 times in the Bible, as I wrote in a recent column analyzing the word and its usage in the Bible. So there are human approaches to homosexuality that seek to reconcile gay men and women of faith and the Bible. Savage’s attacks on the Bible are utterly unhelpful.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rabbi-shmuley-boteach-savaging-the-bible-over-homosexuality/2012/05/02/

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