The misplaced priorities of the general Jewish community that David Klinghoffer bemoans in his Disputation are sadly relevant to what is going on in Eretz Israel. In preparation for a lecture on critical reading of newspapers to a group of haredi teachers, I bought 10 different Israeli papers on Tuesday, Rosh Hodesh Shvat (Jewish new month, Jan.11) to compare how each paper treated the three top stories of that date. Here were the three top stories. a) The Hamodia haredi paper had front and back page coverage of a massive Tel Aviv prayer rally for the sanctity of Shabbat; six months in the planning, it was attended by 32,000 including rabbis from the entire Orthodox spectrum. b) The National Religious Hazofe featured a religious Zionist Rosh Hodesh eve demonstration in front of the Knesset, where 20,000 rallied against disengagement from Gaza. c) The secular Jerusalem Post and the NYTimes wannabe Haaretz mentioned these two rallies in small articles in their back pages. Their big, front-page stories, including color photos, were focused on what they touted as the forward-looking decision by the Israel Supreme Court in the case of two lesbian women. The two have lived together for 15 years and each had one or more children by artificial insemination. They filed a High Court of Justice (bagatz) appeal requesting that each woman be allowed to adopt the birth-child of her female partner. One of the women is the head of the Dept. of Occupational Therapy at Tel Aviv University, and in a position to influence hundreds of students.
These three top stories reflect the priorities of their respective communities. a) The haredim were demonstrating to return the sanctity accorded to the Sabbath in the past in Eretz Israel. They rallied to stop the shop-til-you-drop malls humming with hundreds of thousands of consumers on Shabbat . b) The national religious were demonstrating for what they considered the sanctity of the Land of Israel. c) And the non-religious sector was reveling in a blow to the sanctity of the Jewish family.
The justices voted 7 to 2 in favor of the adoption. The judges were all Jewish. In a slightly different case of another lesbian couple five years ago, the Supreme court decided in the favor of a lesbian couple (registering each other’s children in their identity cards) and the only dissenter that time was the Arab Israeli Supreme Court Justice Abd al-Rahman Zouabi who wrote in his minority opinion that such a decision created “an abnormal family unit.” Had there been a few more Arab justices in the recent decision, the court might have decided to reject the appeal and to preserve the traditional definition of the family.
One important issue is the legalizing of behavior that is not normative and that, according to Jewish tradition, is not moral. The judges may have thought that they were avant-garde, au courant, or progressive. The opposite is true. Centuries ago the midrash Bereshit Rabbah 26-5 about the antediluvian era of Noah pointed out that the Creator did not bring the flood even though forbidden unions were widespread.
The generation of the Flood were not blotted out from the world until they wrote marriage deeds for males and males and males and beasts [i.e. they fully legalized such practices] for “The L-rd G-d is long-suffering for everything except for such behavior.”
Because of the pivotal importance of the family, on Yom Kippur we read in synagogue the prohibition against engaging in homosexual acts. These practices are forbidden even if they have become hukim – legalized norms in the surrounding nations, whether in ancient Canaan or modern Boston. We are not forbidden to learn from the positive aspects of other cultures. But we must reject the to’evot, even if these practices and relationships have become legally sanctioned in the hukim of other nations. The Sages (midrash Sifra 132)over a millenium ago comment incisively on the verse: “You shall not follow their norms” — b’hukotehem lo telekhu,
This does not signify a prohibition against copying the building or agriculture practices of the surrounding non-Jewish nations, but only signifies a rejection of the legalization of norms [b’hukam hahakukim] such as a male marrying a male, a female marrying a female, etc. This is the meaning of b’hukotehem lo telekhu.
The judges last week argued that allowing mutual adoption was in the best interest of the 3 children involved since they had already been living together with the two mothers as a family, so why not regularize and legalize it? A second argument was that the State should not interfere with private, consensual relations of adults and therefore cannot say whether such a same sex couple is wrong. These arguments fall if carried to their logical conclusion. What if there had been a thirty-something brother and sister who decided to live together and furthermore decided (after genetic testing showed there is no problem) to have joint children, in addition to children each had from previous marriages. Would the State sanction their adopting each other’s children? Would the Supreme Court judges give their imprimatur to such a new family configuration of consensual (brother-sister) adults by claiming that it is in the best interest of the children to regularize an existing family, and not to pass judgment on how two adults conduct their conjugal relations? There are places in the world that condone such situations.
Compassion is needed for those who cannot commit themselves to heterosexual relationships, who forfeit the richness of traditional Jewish marriage. But the Creator would not make a prohibition that humans cannot abide by, though for some people this takes a supreme and heroic effort. But we must also feel compassion for children who are raised with same-sex parental relationships that are quintessentially flawed in lacking sanctity. I say this knowing full well the remarkable intellectual and spiritual qualities with which many homosexual individuals are gifted.
It is chilling to think of the consequences ensuing from the High Court’s bestowing its mantle of legality on a family structure that negates firm concepts of Divinely-ordained masculinity and femininity, and respect for boundaries.
Rabbi Reinman wrote here a few weeks ago in “Peace and Pluralism”
Israelis want to live in peaceful coexistence with the Arabs, but the Arabs view our presence in the Middle East as the Naqba, the Disaster; they would love to drive us into the sea. That will never change. Nonetheless, we need to find an accommodation …It can be done, and it must be done.
The “Disaster”, from the Arab perspective, was not only geopolitical, it was cultural. It was Jews who brought a secular culture that focused on autonomy in the extreme and was characterized by Western permissiveness in relationships that now has evolved into a threat to the sanctity of the family. It is a predominantly secular Jewish Supreme Court that today is legalizing aberrant family structures, to the dismay of most Moslems and traditional Jews, making Israeli Jews here even more persona non-grata. One step towards the accommodation that Rabbi Reinman calls for would include specifying as the legalized norm the traditional family structure and not publicly legitimizing same-sex behavior.
I write this with sadness shading over to mourning, and with a feeling that we have not done enough to prevent Israel from becoming a Hebrew-speaking Sweden.