JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 8, 2003 / 8 Tamuz, 5763


By Rabbi Avi Shafran

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In his dissent to the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision striking down Texas' sodomy law, Justice Antonin Scalia accused the court of having "taken sides in the culture war." Other proponents of traditional mores have voiced similar displeasure.

But it behooves us all to remember just what courts do -- interpret and apply secular law -- and what they don't: determine morality.

What the High Court decided was that the United States Constitution does not allow for laws that prohibit a particular sort of private behavior. That is no small matter, to be sure, and in fact raises the unsettling prospect of the High Court similarly declaring unconstitutional laws prohibiting things like incest between consenting adults, or polygamous and polyandrous (multi-husband) arrangements, or bestiality (which has its advocates, like Princeton Professor Peter Singer).

But the recent High Court decision, in the end, we must remember, speaks to the Constitution, not the Torah; to the law of mortals, not the Creator; to the police powers of the state, not the moral power of our faith.

Nor, for that matter, does the ongoing "culture war" to which Justice Scalia made reference have any bearing on ultimate truth --- at least not for a people whose peoplehood was forged at the foot of Mt. Sinai.

Society all around us may be moving in a direction where the stigma once attached to homosexual activity may be astonishingly disappearing, but the words of Leviticus remain beyond even Houdini's reach.

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So it is particularly distressing that not only have popular culture and jurists given up on traditional morality; so have all too many religious leaders including, most sadly, Jewish ones.

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements have long embraced the ordination of gays and lesbians, and regularly perform commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The Conservative movement is set to take up such issues later this year. And while its rabbinical group's executive vice president, Rabbi Joel Meyers, understatedly admits that "halachically,...homosexuality is not normative," he notes, too, that Conservative "halachic" decisions don't "tak[e] place in vacuums either."

"The [Conservative] rabbinate," he ominously elaborates, "clearly understands where society is, what the pressure points are."

The societal and jurisprudential acceptance of homosexual relationships is troubling enough. But when acts the Torah clearly forbids in the strongest terms are embraced, or even considered for embrace, by Jewish religious leaders who exercise their leadership by consulting "where society is" rather than where it should be, adjectives simply fail.

Jews faithful to the Torah -- to the Jewish laws and ideals that have been transmitted carefully and zealously over the ages -- would do well these days to remind themselves that, no matter how larger society may evolve or devolve, we are heirs to a timeless religious tradition.

The current American cultural milieu will redefine morality as it sees fit. So, for better or worse, will religious organizations and movements. But Jews, whatever their affiliation or lack of one, or whatever their "pressure point"-sensitive rabbis may tell them, are a people chosen to show the world what it means to bend human wills to that of the Creator of all.

Our father Abraham, Jewish tradition explains, was called the "Ivri" -- the "other sider" -- because "the entire world was on one side" of a conceptual river, and he "on the other."

Nothing is more fundamentally Jewish than to willfully stand apart from the Zeitgeist and affirm timeless truths in the face of an unbridled society.

All who value the essential societal principles with which Judaism has gifted the world need to recognize that we are faced with the contemporary image of Abraham's footsteps --- and that we can walk in them ourselves, if only we don't allow ourselves to become demoralized by a direly demoralized world.

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Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Comment by clicking here.

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