Muffti puts forth a question to the jewlicious community: should jews care (on religious grounds) about whether or not diaspora governments legalize gay marriage? In contrast to the States, where the Republicans are seeking a constitutional ban on gay marriage, Canada is putting forth legislation that would officially recognize gay marriage. Interestingly, however, prominent Jews have been taking public stands vocalizing their opinions on the matter. Montreal’s Rabbi Poupko, for example, claims:
I wonder why Orthodox Judaism is not more vocal in this matter. I assume that everybody thinks it doesn’t affect us…The Orthodox are usually more reserved â€” not to make waves, not to be in the limelight â€” and they are reluctant to speak to the press. But I think they should be much more vocal. Otherwise, it gives the world a completely wrong picture of what Judaism is about. The public should know that Judaism is completely opposed to same-sex marriage
Judaism’s relationship with homosexuality seems to stem from two verses in (not surprisingly) Leviticus:
You shall not lie with man as one lies with a women; this is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:13)
The story in Genesis of the angels in Sodom makes a vague connection as well. The men of Sodom call for Lot to release the strangers so that they might be
gang-raped, err, ‘known’. The men of Sodom are subsequently blinded and then destroyed by God’s wrath. Rabbi Novak of the University of Toronto sums up the position clearly:
Same-sex marriage is something that the Jewish tradition regards as unacceptable
As did Montreal’s Rabbi Poupko (in a 1999 interview with the Peak:
From an Orthodox standpoint, homosexual marriage is rejected by Jewish law, just as eating pork is, just as working on the Sabbath is. It is just the law, it is against the law, it is prohibited.
Fair enough; but Poupko’s comments are revealing. There are lots of things the Torah forbids. Why isn’t Poupko demanding that we write letters banning pork from Canadian restaurants? Why on this issue are we supposed to be vocal? Why should we care either way? Poupko says its a matter of semantics:
Governments do not have the power to change the English language. Everyone knows what marriage means. For them to presume they have the power to change the definition of an old and established institution is hubris.
Muffti never understood why non-linguists feel qualified to speculate freely about meaning. Linguists don’t speculate freely about whether or on the Torah condemns gay marriage and expect to bet aken seriously. In any case, the picture is clear: governments allow a certain contractual relation to hold between people and they call that ‘marriage’. In a sense it’s not even the same word as the one we use in natural language because its definition really is dependant on what legislators say it means. If semantics has taught us anything it is to be ware of the differences between a word’s meaning and our beliefs about the thing that the word names. In any case, surely what we as Jews should not be overly concerned with the lexical properties of English words.
Anyhow, the legislation compels no one to perform marriage ceremonies they don’t feel are condoned by their religion. No rabbi will be compelled to perform marriage ceremonies for couples they don’t endorse. So, Muffti will end with the question he began with: why should we as Jews care about how civil law treats marriage?