The Torah portion this week begins with the story of Noah. Among other interpretations, Noah is the prototype for the modern religious fundamentalist. After “hearing” what he believed to be the voice of God, the Torah tells us that Noah did just as God commanded. Too often today we hear religious leaders, including rabbis, speak with the claim of prophecy, proclaiming that they know exactly what God wants.
The issue of same-sex marriage is one that divides the Jewish community. There are biblical fundamentalists who read the Leviticus prohibition against homosexual relations literally. There are other Jews, myself included, who read the text differently, seeing it, as my teacher of blessed memory, Rabbi Hanan Brichto, taught us, nearly 40 years ago, at Hebrew Union College, that the focus of Leviticus is on idolatry and that loving committed gay and lesbian couples are entitled to all the rights and respect of same sex couples.
The pressure placed upon the Jewish Standard to “apologize” for printing an engagement announcement for a Jewish same-sex couple is to me an example of Jewish fundamentalists claiming exclusivity in interpretation of Torah and a rejection of Jewish pluralism. While I have no evidence that threats were made, I hear in the language of the editorial apology, in last week’s Standard a fear of the Orthodox community pulling its support.
Noah is called a righteous man “of his generation.” In our generation when there are real existential threats to Jewish survival; when the Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel demands that we the Jewish people stand together, the demand of this group of Orthodox rabbis that the Jewish Standard be censored threatens to divide and weaken our community. To demand that our communal Jewish newspaper apologize for wishing Avi Smolen and his family a mazal tov is unacceptable intolerance.
Though I currently serve as chair of the JCRC my views are mine alone. However, I do want to offer the Jewish leadership forum, a committee of our JCRC as a place where rabbinic colleagues and lay leaders of all streams can gather to talk about ways for us to both agree to disagree and find ways to work together on behalf of Klal Yisrael.