Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Religion Aside..."

The topics of abortion and gay marriage arose in casual conversation with some friends recently.
Since I always like to hear how people feel about things, I asked my friends their thoughts.
"Well, it's assur," my friend stated matter-of-factly. She mentioned that she hadn't come up with a position on those issues since she didn't give her license to think about these things. The Torah did it for her.

"Okay, well, religion aside..." I began. For her, there was no such thing.

I know that the Torah is our primary source for, well, everything.
And, I don't plan on marrying a woman anytime soon.

But what if I'd say I don't mind if two men get married?

Sure, that's against the Torah. But do I have a right to think outside Torah? May I think "religion aside, it's okay for two men to get married"? Or was I wrong for even entertaining such a thought, weighing the pros and cons...because our religion is against it?

When living in America, anywhere, for that matter in 2008, we come across many ideas that disagree with what the Torah says. I by no means encourage violating Halacha and the mitzvos in the Torah.

When I think about these issues, sure, I know that they're halachically assur. But I want to have formed that opinion on my own.

Again, that doesn't mean I'm running to violate these halachos.

So why is it wrong to put halacha aside and think about these things in a theoretical sense?


At 12/20/2008 10:06 PM, Blogger NotaGeek! said...

That's usually what you're told when discussing any sensitive matter in the orthodox community...
But just pushing sensitive topics aside doesn't help anybody since it will eventually be discussed either way..

If you like gays or not.. They deserve their rights... Marriage rights... That I'll leave for the courts to decide...

At 12/21/2008 4:57 AM, Blogger katrina said...

I think your approach makes sense. We do not live in a theocracy, nor do we want to (If we did, some sort of belief in Christianity could be required for all sorts of things, including education and employment). So, since halakhah does not have much to say about civil marriage anyway, it is perfectly reasonable to think about the U.S.'s laws, and civil rights, and come to your own conclusion.

At 12/21/2008 6:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In MY humble jewish opinion, I have to disagree with you Michelle. With the understanding that Halacha is the overarching decider in our life, one may question and ask. Of course, Judaism is not supposed to be some sort of cult where we must follow the rules blindly. To the contrary, our heritage is based around much discussion and explanations (the chinuch explaining taamei hamitsvos etc.). Obviously there is room, in fact, need for this. However, it must be with the clear understanding that Torah guidelines are not up for debate, especially one as clear as this. One can try to understand and debate reasoning etc. But Torah law will NEVER be changed. Let's not talk about gay people as if it's ok. IT'S ABSOLUTELY NOT OK. If you want to talk about how to deal with it in frum society or the ongoing debate of legalizing gay marriage (which should be pretty abhorrent to you as a frum jew), fine. But don't confuse that with discussing gay people vis-a-vis Judaism-because there is no discussion. It's assur. Period.

At 12/21/2008 2:53 PM, Anonymous Jessica said...

I'm with you. If the Torah didn't forbid it, I would have no issue with two people of the same sex being together. That being said though, I do agree with NotaGeek!. This country has a separation of church and state, there's no reason why gay people should have less rights than straight people.

At 12/21/2008 6:41 PM, Anonymous big bro #2 said...

Hey, when did your havara change? You used to write "mitzvot" now it's "mitzvos."

But anyway. Agree with Anon that in practicing Judaism, there is an element of blind faith. We don't understand everything. And I suppose it's okay to admit that. But once you start questioning to a point where you cannot reconcile your feelings with what the Torah says, it's a slippery slope.

At 12/22/2008 7:41 AM, Blogger rescue37 said...

Anon 6:53
You are correct, the Torah says it's assur. But does it assur it for goyim as well? It is not one of the 7 mitzvos that they have.

At 12/22/2008 7:41 AM, Blogger rescue37 said...

Anon 6:53
You are correct, the Torah says it's assur. But does it assur it for goyim as well? It is not one of the 7 mitzvos that they have.

At 12/22/2008 2:46 PM, Blogger Kaila said...

i would like to point out something to all of you:

gay people HAVE as the exact rights as heterosexuals in this country. they have every right to get married if they wish, as long as it's to a member of the opposite gender. they take issue with the fact that marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman. well, i take issue with the fact that they want to call a union between two people of the same gender a "marriage." to me it is not. this is my feeling about it, "religion aside." it is also the historically accepted view on the matter. i don't understand why the use of the word "marriage" is necessary if they have the possibility of getting the same legal rights as a married couple. this whole equality thing is getting extreme. and the frequent use of the word "homophobic" is downright insulting. i have the right to my opinion. sheesh.

as for the abortion issue, michelle, it is not so clear cut within halacha. there are very rare instances when it is allowed.

At 12/22/2008 8:31 PM, Anonymous Ari said...

The same tolerance of diversity and freedoms, such as homosexuality and abortion, is the same basis for freedom of religion, such as Judaism.

Because of this, I have the right to disagree with a lifestyle or personal decision, but have no right to actually impose my value system on what should be a religion-neutral government.

Similarly, if I'm a practicing Jew, I have no right to impose my personal inclinations on Judaism. However, I have every right to make a distinction between personal opinion and religious doctrine. Like you, I know which is which.

In fact, I would argue that I get more "credit" as an observant Jew by subsuming personal opinion in favor of a traditional interpretation of Judaism.

I would take exception to someone telling me that I'm a bad person for privately thinking that homosexuality or abortion are not the worst things in the world.

At 12/24/2008 12:38 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

kaila- I know. I'm not talking about that. And my example of gay marriage was just that - an example.
"However, I have every right to make a distinction between personal opinion and religious doctrine. Like you, I know which is which."
Well said!!

Actually, Ari, your whole comment was well-said, but the way you summed up my point was more eloquent than I could do it :)

At 12/25/2008 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that some men feel threatened by the existence of homosexuality, especially male homosexuality. That's understandable; people can't be expected to change how they feel. The problem is that these people sometimes use the fact that homosexuality is against their religion to justify their own visceral antipathy to it.

Male homosexual acts are referred to in the Torah as "toeivah". Another sin referred to in the Torah as "toeivah" is the act of cheating another person in business through unequal measures. Yet many of the frum people who curse out "f*gs" and say that they all deserve to die of AIDS would not react the same way to a frum Jew who cheats in business. I think this is because they find male homosexuality more frightening/ threatening.

I agree with what Ari wrote too. If we use religion to justify legislation, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to legislation we may not like. The separation of church and state is intended to protect minority religions such as ours, and when we undermine it, we leave ourselves more vulnerable.

For example, many of the legal abortions performed today are against the Orthodox Judaism and Christianity. This makes it tempting for frum Jews to ally themselves with the Christian Right in restricting abortion. However, it's important to realize that many in the Christian Right also have religious objections to many forms of contraception and assisted reproductive techniques.

At 12/28/2008 8:40 AM, Anonymous Jessica said...

You've been tagged for a meme Here.

At 12/28/2008 1:45 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I am surprised I failed to mention this in the original post, but one thing I am not afraid to voice my opinion on is my pro-stem-cell research position.

Yes, it violates the Torah. (Pardon my ignorance, as I didn't do adequate research, but I know it's against the Torah.)
But if it there's a possibility it can help cure cancer, then by all means, DO IT!!!

At 12/28/2008 5:52 PM, Anonymous Lon said...

I don't care if two guys want to live together. I don't object to them wanting extra rights because of their close bond. However, I do object to them wanting to be able to call it marriage.

"Marriage" is practically a religious term. At least, nobody else has really taken much interest in regulating it. So yeah - I say let religion define it. And if Judaism says it can't be, that's fine with me.

At 12/28/2008 5:58 PM, Anonymous Lon said...

PS: Since when is stem cell research a halachic problem? The problem is aborting fetuses to obtain the stem cells. The research is a non-issue.

At 12/29/2008 12:28 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Lon, yes, my apologies for my ignorance. My brother linked me to some OU articles about it.

I don't know why I was always under the impression there was a halachic issue about it.

At 12/30/2008 6:52 AM, Anonymous Ari said...

This is precisely the danger of supporting Bible Belt-type politicians and their conservative policies. Their positions are just too extreme.

They are against stem cell research, even with stem cells not harvested from aborted fetuses. And they are against all abortion, including situations where the mother's life is in danger. (And of course, there are some denominations that shun medicine or blood transfusions).

In contrast, Judaism is in favor preventing & curing illness and saving viable lives.

There is a danger in aligning with the Christian Right because of their unreasonable restrictions. While their moral outlook and support for Israel is praiseworthy, they are generally intolerant of diversity and pluralism, which are necessary for Judaism to exist safely.

Nothing against Christian conservatives per se, but getting into political bed with them is playing with fire, in my opinion.

Keep church and state separate because one day the dominant "church" may be very foreign to Judeo-Christian values.

At 12/30/2008 10:37 AM, Blogger katrina said...

You've been tagged!

At 12/30/2008 1:03 PM, Anonymous Jon said...

I thought the question of the post was about understanding modern morality in light of Torah. The question, it seemed to me, was...Is it appropriate, even if the Torah says X is assur, it may not be immoral in a modern context (even if it is still assur for us)?


At 12/31/2008 12:19 PM, Blogger The Babysitter said...

It's actually funny you mention this, because this was the exact reason my HS teacher didn't want me going to Brooklyn College, she was afraid that I would start to think that abortion and gay rights is okay.

At 12/31/2008 3:51 PM, Blogger katrina said...

Sorry, the Babysitter pointed out that the URL I left was wrong. This is the right one:

At 1/01/2009 9:52 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

Halacha actually says nothing whatsoever about what legal contracts two people of whatever gender can have in a non-Jewish state. This isn't a matter of kiddushin, and civil marriage itself is not a concern for gilui arayot.

Abortion is in many respects ambiguous in Halacha with a lot of gray areas for when it would be permitted. But it obviously does not agree with Roe v. Wade.

Stem cell research is not considered a problem at all for most dayanim. And I'm a huge fan of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

At 1/01/2009 5:04 PM, Anonymous Something Anything?!? said...

Michelle and Ari and everyone else:
Take a look at this discussion here,
It probably won't resolve the respectful difference of opinion among the various commenters but it should provide fodder for more interesting discussion.
Here is a brief excerpt:
"This understanding of the dichtomy between chukim and mishpatim forms
the basis for the opinion of Maimonides, who states in unequivocal
terms (4), that one is not allowed to say "Ee Efshi bebasar chazir",
"I don't eat pork because I don't like the taste of it", but should
rather say: "I would rather enjoy eating pork, but it is forbidden".
The act of abstention is due to obedience, surrender and to normative
pressure. In contrast, with regard to mishpatim a similar statement
would seem absurd. Could one possibly maintain: "I would like to
commit murder, but I abstain because the Torah forbade it" ? One
complies with chukim out of obedience, complete surrender and
subordination to the divine word. Conversely, Hashem also expects man
to act with dignity and to reject sin, injustice and cruelty because
they are abominable and repugnant to man. This rejection must of
course comply with the rule of Hashem, but the motivating criterion
should be human dignity, and there is therefore no need for external
normative pressure.

This distinction is the reason why blessings are recited for mitzvot
"bein adam lamakom" (between man and G-d) and not "bein adam
lechaveiro" (between man and man). The purpose of the blessing is to
emphasize our actions in deference and submission to the Divine Will.
The key phrase in the blessing is asher kidshanu bemitzvotov
*vetzivanu*. The motivation for performing the mitzvah for which a
blessing is recited is the divine imperative (5)."

At 1/13/2009 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Generally thinking theoretically without the Torah is a futile excercise because if a person practically belives in the Torah, then what is the point to think of things that will never happen? It can be enjoyable like reading science fiction but practically it is pointless. I think taht is the reason it is looked down upon, generally an adult should grow up mentally to delve in the practical rather than the impossible. That is my humble opinion. As for the issue about gays- if you leave Torah out of the equation I believe there is a slippery slope logic; what stops two brothers from being married,or a son and mother, or a dog and a man being married? If you leave the definition of marriage to be open to whatever we the mind can imagine you may be in for a surprise if it doesn't go your way.

At 2/01/2009 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a lot of things in the Torah that do not mesh well with our current, American sensibilities. A few examples are slavery, polygamy, holy wars... and a very negative view of homosexuality. This could be understood by remembering that 1) "Normal" cultural values were very dufferent 3000 years ago, and 2) many mitzvos are dedicated to serperating the Jews from the idolotrous "other nations." In many societies in the ancient world, homosexuality was accepted as a matter of course, often between respected men in the community and their apprentices.

Also, the Torah doesn't ban gay relationships or even gay sexual relations, only gay sodomy.

At 2/09/2009 10:58 PM, Blogger Benjamin E. said...

Anonymous, I don't really agree with you about non-practical thinking. First of all, the gemara often deals with situations that are highly, highly unlikely and still finds them valuable - not because they think some of these bizarre cases will actually happen, but because theoretical thinking can lead to learning important principles. Also, many scientific discoveries were made because people thought outside of the box about what others thought impossible.

Also, I am sure you can tell the difference between allowing two individuals who love each other and share ideals and values and life goals to be married and allowing a human being to marry an animal. The slippery slope argument has never really been strong; if you want to oppose gay marriage on a theoretical level, you'll have to try something else.

At 3/13/2009 8:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think it is wrong but, one shouldn't come to a decision that violates halacha and makes something that's assure permissable. If you use the approach of thinking without the Torah, the way gentiles thing and you build an argument for/against gay marriage, then you can greater understand the way secular society thinks. In turn, you can then better come up with an argument based in halacha to address that thinking. Also, by using secular knowledge and reasoning, you can come up with reasons why G-d made something against halacha. Not, that we should follow halacha just if it makes sense to us, but using the reasoning that you use and coming up with our own reasons, helps us to explain halacha to non-Jews or people who are not observant. Sometimes there are Jews that you can not argue with using halacha because they are anti-religion. But it's still important for us Jews to look out for each other and not want another to sin. In the case of gay males, that might be more difficult and gay men probably wouldn't listen to you. But in other things like kashrut, maybe they would. So you argue not based on halacha but based on secular reasoning and then you can influence people who are not religious or not observant to observe halacha. And maybe one day, they'll become more observant. I certainly don't think all Jews need to think the same, dress the same, even be orthodox but it's nice when Jews become more religious even if they don't identify with being orthodox. If it's a woman bt and she wears pants, doesn't cover her hair but keeps Shabbat, it's good that she has become more observant! And maybe she became that way because secular reasoning appealed to her and helped spark her interest in Torah.


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