Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Religious Freedom And Orthodox Jews

I believe Rabbi Michael Broyde crosses the line in arguing that “individuals and corporations should not be allowed to discriminate in commercial matters based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation” (“Religious Freedom and Orthodox Jews: Three Challenges We’ll Soon Confront,” op-ed, June 5). Whereas it is only the latter category that today prompts debate, Rabbi Broyde clearly is staking out the position that, for example, a Jewish photographer has no right to refuse to work at a same-sex marriage ceremony.


How can anyone imagine that a religious Jew (or, for that matter, a religious Christian or Muslim) can be forced to be an enabler of a union he finds repugnant?

In the face of the ongoing assault by the gay rights community, Rabbi Broyde seems ready to fold the tent rather than to stand up for what is right. The right thing is for us to continue to promote the Judeo-Christian values upon which our country was founded. The notion of any endorsement of same-sex marriage, whether explicitly or implicitly, should make us shudder. It matters not how many states pass same-sex statutes and it matters not what the Supreme Court decides; the only thing that matters is for us to stand for traditional morality.

As for the core issue presented by Rabbi Broyde, which is that one cannot countenance discrimination by a business, regardless of the personal views held by the owner of that business, the truth is that refusal to be a vendor at a same-sex wedding does not constitute discrimination.

The business owner who refuses a job of this nature is not discriminating against gay people per se; rather, he is objecting to the nature of the ceremony. To illustrate, what if the two participants in the same-sex ceremony are actually avowed heterosexuals who, for whatever reason, want to wed a same-sex partner? The photographer would similarly refuse the job. By contrast, if a declared gay man wishes to wed a declared lesbian, it is likely that our photographer would accept the job. It is not the nature of the people but the nature of the ceremony, and what it represents, that engenders the objection.

I agree with Rabbi Broyde that if a gay person comes into a photography store to have his picture taken, the owner has no right to refuse the job based on the customer’s sexual preference. This would indeed be discrimination. But to leap from this scenario to one where the photographer is forced to enable a ceremony whose nature he deems objectionable is illogical and wrong.

Avi Goldstein
Far Rockaway, NY

Rabbi Broyde responds: Avi Goldstein agrees with me that when “a gay person comes into a photography store to have his picture taken, the owner has no right to refuse the job based on the customer’s sexual preference” but he tells the reader that refusing to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding is different because it “is not discriminating against gay people per se; rather, he is objecting to the nature of the ceremony.” But the wise reader will see that this distinction is very tenuous, quite arbitrary, and hard to defend legally.

Consider the following case: should the law protect the right of a person to decline to sell bagels for the bris of a child, since, to paraphrase Mr. Goldstein, he “does not object to the child being Jewish per se, but merely to the nature of the ceremony”? Mr. Goldstein’s logic permits this discrimination.

What about a hotel refusing to rent a hall or rooms for Jewish weddings at a hotel? Again, Mr. Goldstein would permit this discrimination and allow a hotel to refuse to host Jewish weddings, since the hotel is not “objecting per se to the couple being Jewish, but merely the nature of the ceremony”?

One sees from these cases that it would be extremely easy for any anti-Semite to change his objections to a Jew’s status to objections about a Jew’s conduct.

So I do not think the distinction presented here is wise or useful to our community. All you need to do to understand this is to think of a comparable Jewish situation and ask if this would be acceptable to us.

There are many cases when our secular legal system permits discrimination: synagogues, yeshivot, and the like do so all the time (as do churches and Christian schools), and our values should be fully on display in our institutions. But permitting discrimination in general commercial activity is very risky and complex and will legally permit conduct that would undermine the economic condition of the Jewish people – and should therefore be opposed.


Tzitzis And Dental Health

I am an observant Jew but a thinking one as well. I was quite disturbed by Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss’s June 5 column, “The Power of Tzitzis.”

Thirty-two threads of tzitzis save a person from tooth pain? Is this serious? Why not say they save one from a heart attack since thirty-two in Hebrew is lamed and bet, which spells “heart”?

My dentist sees no reduction in tooth pain among his Orthodox patients.

The wearing of tzitsis is meant to remind us to be God-fearing. If I have a problem with my teeth I would rather see a dentist than rely on childish lucky charms.

Milton Branovitz
(Via E-Mail)

Rabbi Weiss responds: Thank you for reading my column and taking the time to write. Your skepticism concerning the connection between tzitzis and teeth is understandable. First, the Zohar teaches us that “Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world.” The mitzvos are thus inexorably intertwined with Creation. It is therefore understandable that tzitzis can connect with teeth since Hashem used the mitzvos as the blueprint for Creation.

There is a distinction between superstition and what we call segulos. The Torah actually prohibits superstitious behavior. It is the negative prohibition of “lo s’nachashu.” However, Judaism is replete with segulos. For example, sailors would keep a piece of matzah from the afikoman on their boats and many people keep a piece on a shelf throughout the year. This is based on the Zohar, which states that matzah is an acronym of Mikol Tzorah Hatzileini – from every distress, save me. The Seder HaOruch cites early sources which teach that when one strains himself to drink four cups of wine at the Seder (when medically allowed), one will be spared from needing to take bitter medicine throughout the year.

Here’s another one: It is recommended to have chamin b’motzaei Shabbos, something hot to eat for the melaveh malkah. The early sefarim say that doing so is a segulah against depression.

And of course on Rosh Hashanah we dip an apple in honey and eat an assortment of special foods such as leek, fenugreek, beets, the head of a fish, etc., as segulos for a sweet year, to be spared from our enemies, to be fertile, etc.

You ask why we don’t say that the thirty-two strings in the tzitzis are beneficial for the heart. That question touches on a crucial aspect of segulos – we don’t make them up. We only rely on what we have from our mesorah as it has been handed down through the millennia.

In conclusion, the protective qualities of tzitzis over the entire body should not be underestimated. After all, we are taught that tzitzis equals all of the 613 mitzvos because the numerical value of the word is 600, plus the 5 knots and the 8 threads equal 613. This is why the poskim relate that some pious people have a special pair of tzitzis they wear during the night for protection while sleeping. It is for this reason that one should never take tzitzis off, for example, while playing ball. Sports injuries abound and we can certainly use the extra protection while playing. If the garment gets sweaty, have an extra pair to change into afterward.

Of course one should brush and floss daily and have regular dental checkups, but tzitzis certainly provide an extra coating of protection.


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