“Married” and The Mob

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From the agitation and anger of the crowds, the din of the car horns and the shouts of “Civil rights now!” and “Bigots!” one would have been forgiven for thinking that the protesters were denouncing some horrific assault on human freedom.

But no, the demonstrations – and church vandalisms and business boycotts – were in protest of California voters’ passage of the November ballot measure known as Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Any two Californians can, as before, register as “domestic partners” and have the very same rights and responsibilities as married couples under state law. All Proposition 8 sought to do was preserve in law what the word “marriage” has meant for millennia.

Those, though, who were unhappy with the electorate’s decision wasted no time in taking to the streets of dozens of American cities and towns to rail against the audacity – the bigotry, as they proclaimed it – of considering gender germane to marriage.

In some cities, tens of thousands turned out for raucous rallies; in many instances, epithets were hurled at counterdemonstrators and even uninvolved bystanders. Although protesters claimed the mantle of the American civil rights movement, several black observers of the Los Angeles demonstration had what has been called the “N-bomb” dropped on them by infuriated demonstrators – a presumed tribute to the fact that blacks voted 2-1 in favor of the proposition. A San Diego family with a “Yes on 8” sign on their front lawn had their car’s tires slashed. A San Francisco area group launched a campaign to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Mormon Church because of its support of the marriage initiative. Graffiti was spray-painted on a Mormon church near Sacramento. A group of about 30 activists from a group called “Bash Back!” stormed into a Lansing, Michigan church, unfurled a rainbow flag at the pulpit and proceeded to disrupt services by banging on cans and shouting.

Some, even among those who assign meaning to traditional morality, are not greatly bothered by the push to expand the meaning of marriage. They are content to let people call things whatever they want, and regard the societal push to revamp social mores as benign. The vehemence, violence and general obnoxiousness that characterized some of the protests, though, should give them pause.

As should Scott Eckern’s forced resignation.

Mr. Eckern was the artistic director of the California Musical Theater. He no longer holds that position because anti-Proposition 8 activists uncovered and publicized the fact that he had made a contribution to the other side’s campaign. Mr. Eckern explained that his donation stemmed from his religious beliefs as a Mormon and expressed sadness that his “personal beliefs and convictions have offended others” and caused “hurt feelings.”

But neither his words nor resignation were enough to mollify the mob. An award-winning composer called Mr. Eckern to tell him that he would not allow his work to be performed in the theater with which the ex-director had been associated; and an actress called for a boycott of the institution.

It seems clearer than ever that gay activists are not, as was once thought, interested only on being left alone, or, as was later thought, on being granted the same privileges as others. They are fixated, in fact, on creating a society where traditional religious perspectives on homosexuality and marriage are regarded, in law and in social dialogue, as the equivalent of racial or ethnic bias.

The scenario of religious people – and institutions like churches, synagogues and mosques – being branded as bigoted simply for affirming deeply-held religious convictions is around the corner. And eventual prosecution of the same for voicing those convictions is only another corner or two away.

What began as a plea for “rights” is rapidly, and noisily, morphing into an assault on freedom of speech and conscience.

Jews who take their religious tradition seriously will not allow the shifting sands of societal mores to obscure the fact that the Torah forbids homosexual acts, and sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. They know, further, that the Talmud and Midrash teach that a saving grace of human society throughout the ages has been its refusal to formalize unions between males.
Which made a scene at one of the recent protests particularly poignant.

Rebecca Kaplan, a newly elected Oakland, California city council member, told those gathered outside City Hall how upset she was with the passage of Proposition 8. According to a news report, she “roused the crowd by blowing a shofar, a ram’s horn blown as a wind instrument in Biblical times. She said it represented a call for solidarity.”

Only it doesn’t. It represents a call for teshuva, the Hebrew word for repentance, literally “return” – to the teachings of the Jewish religious tradition.

© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered for publication or sharing without charge,
provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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14 Responses

  1. Robert Lebovits says:

    Should we be all that surprised that the affirmation of marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman evokes such vehement condemnation in a society where “morality” is a dirty word? This is just one of many phenomena that is a result of replacing traditional Torah values with social justice. Let’s be honest: Jews are – as usual – over-represented in the ranks of activists for the gay agenda as they are for every other “progressive” movement. How has this happened? Are ther more Jewish gays proportionally than those of other faiths? Not likely – no matter what Woody Allen or Mort Sahl said about Jewish mothers. It is more probable that the non-frum community, experiencing a vacuum of spiritual connection, has tried to make up their own definition of “meaning” by latching on to any supposed notion of fairness & righteousness, no matter how absurd the definition might be.
    In many ways this is the 60s all over again. We have to find a path to not simply discredit liberalism as an empty doctrine but to show how & why Torah values are a better way. Hedonism is losing some of its appeal. Look at all the kiruv success on college campuses where young people are seeking more than immediate gratification. We have to more effectively convey the message that life is about Divine purpose, not narcissism.

  2. Mike S says:

    Actually, the husband was always forbidden to divorce a wife against her will, although if he does so the divorce did take effect. Thus the gemarra in the 2nd perek of Sanhedrin where the Chachimim permitted David Hamelech to violate the 9recently enacted) D’rabbanan of yichud p’nuia with Avishag, but not to violate a d’oraita of marrying an additional wife or of divorcing one and replacing her with Avishag. That cherem of Rabbenu Gershom was to enforce n existing prohibition. Like the one on reading someone else’s mail.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Until recently, deviant behavior was not condoned or celebrated or protected by law in our society. The change has been all for the bad.

  4. David says:

    The last time the gay community went on a widespread crusade, people died: concerns about the safety of the blood supply and health care workers in San Fran in the early 1980’s were dismissed as anti-gay bigotry. Soon, half the nation’s hemophiliacs had HIV via blood transfusions (along with Arthur Ashe and who knows how many others), and health care workers had been infected by contact with hypodermic needles. Simple measures like wearing latex gloves to treat patients that were considered bigoted and homophobic were also standard operating procedures within a short time. Gay marriage may not be a life-or-death issue, but the assault on freedom of conscience should not be ignored. I’m not frum, but I did vote for Prop. 8 because I object to re-defining marriage by judicial fiat. I also supported it as a rebuke to California’s dominant political ethic, part of which holds that we are to be tolerant of all, except those who are judged to be intolerant, which invariably includes practitioners of traditional religious morals. My politically liberal rabbi made a remark from the bimah last week suggesting that the passage of Prop. 8 was especially unfortunate coming as it did close to the 70th anniversary of Kristalnacht. Sorry, but I think he has the analogy backwards- as a Jew I stand with the Mormons and Catholics against the mob on this issue.

  5. Baruch Pelta says:

    Barry:
    I find it incredible that you refer to Rabbeinu Gershom (not Gershon) and in the next paragraph write, “a husband… does have the unilateral right to grant her [a wife] a real divorce.”

    That’s one of Rabbeinu Gershom’s 3 famous bans — no, the husband doesn’t have that right.

  6. Leah says:

    Alice,
    I was thinking about your comment and I have come to the conclusion that, yes, all Jews should behave mentchlikeit, yet I also find another thought.
    I would not wish to live in a society where abomination can take place all around-especially in Eretz Israel, and we just passively let it happen. I can understand the need to protest in a way that is controlled- I do agree, yet, I am also glad that there are those who do oppose what is disgusting and are not afraid to stand up for it.
    I do not like when those who are gay or whichever demand that we all should just shut up and accept them for who they are and what they stand for and blah blah blah….I am so tired of it. When asked about this subject I have responded, “I don’t condone the behavior and I do not condemn the individuals.” I also see the need for peaceful protests where no one gets hurt….. Oh, and I also do not condone the violence of the opposition, either, but man there was an article soem months gao where a public school class of very young children were brought to the “marriage” ceremony of their two female teacher at the court house to “support” this ceremony etc…. I almost fell off of my chair…..just another reason I send my kids to a private yiddishe school. Others may not like my opinion, but man, I am glad not to have had my kid esorted off of school property to witness this and to be TOLD this is ok and wonderful……

  7. Stefan says:

    Tzippi,
    I appreciate your point but I fear that you’re wasting your time. The knee-jerk response of all pro-gay ‘marriage’ activists is that those who are against such a thing are prima facie homophobic bigots. They dismiss even the most gently worded counter-arguments as ‘offensive’ (why is that people are SO quick to be offended nowadays – and cap it off by assuming that their taking offence has to be someone else’s fault?).
    The critical thing is to be pure in your own heart on this matter. If you’re motivated by an ignorant fear of homosexuals then keep mum. If you’re motivated by a love for Hashem and for your fellow human being then go for it – but just try to let that love show by being patient and impervious to the darts that will be hurled your way!

  8. Garnel Ironheart says:

    This violent reaction is nothing new.

    The “enlightened” liberal left has historically only respected democracy when it’s been on the winning side of elections.

    The same hypocrites who spent 4 years telling everyone George Bush had stolen the presidency from Al Gore because of a stacked Supreme Court would have extolled the wisdom of those same judges and the purity of the electoral process had Gore become president.

    The same hypocrites who demand referenda be respected when their issues are successful demand that the democratic process be suspended when they aren’t.

    Had proposition 8 been defeated, the same leftist fanatics screaming and shouting about how society is oppressing them would be singing about how great the California electorate was for confirming their views.

    People like this shoudl be treated like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum – ignore them until they move onto something else.

  9. tzippi says:

    Re Ori: I specifically meant, for my and our kids, who are going to be bombarded with messages in a much more overt fashion than has been going on the past 2 decades.(As it is, I don’t leave Better Homes and Gardens lying around anymore as it will invariable feature a photo spread of a gay couple’s home.) As for dealing with the outside world, sure, I would love for the country as a whole to think as I do, but I don’t know if the hamon am will be able to stand up to the incessant “you’re a bigot” haranguing. Especially as more and more fairly respectable people will be joining the camp; it will happen. It has happened; think of Governor Schwarzenegger.

    I think all we can do is live in a way that projects such ne’imus and general kavod habri’us that when we have to dissent on such an issue, we will have credibility as being fundamentally decent people, so the bigotry label won’t stick. The new Teflon Jew?

  10. barry says:

    “All Proposition 8 sought to do was preserve in law what the word “marriage” has meant for millennia. ”

    Really? Plural marriage was outlawed for the ashkenazi millenia — that is more than one millenium — ago? So Rabbi Gershon lived when? (And even today a sephardic ketubah used in Israel requires a specific ban on the husband’s right to take multiple wives, because such is not banned by sephardic law.

    And what of a woman’s status as property of her husband? Changed millenia ago? (In some senses that attitude persists in Judaism, today, although most recognize that a husband should not have the right to treat her like property, he does have the unilateral right to grant her a real divorce.

    But NO ONE is forcing anyone to do anything. No Rabbi need officiate over any wedding ceremony. It doesn’t have to be meaningful to anyone but the participants. And why not?!

    Alice noted the activities of Hareidi in Jerusalem. And sometimes a woman who wants nothing more than not to be forced to the back of the bus is treated in a manner that someone above called “bestial”. That doesn’t make it right for anyone to hurt folks over this issue, but sometimes these things happen.

  11. Ori says:

    Tzippi: We need a vocabulary for those close to us. “Because the Torah says” should be enough but might not be over the next few decades

    Ori: It isn’t now either:

    1. The majority of Jews in the US are not Orthodox.

    2. This isn’t a specifically Jewish matter. Convincing gentile voters is more important than convincing Jewish ones, because there are many more of them.

  12. Alice says:

    “Here, conversely, the descent into mob-like bestial behavior says much about its proponents”.

    Tal, please recall the violent anti-gay-parade protests and riots carried out by mostly haredi public in the streets of Jerusalem just a few years ago.

  13. Tal Benschar says:

    This is another example of ha sinah mekalkeles es ha shura. One thing one could say about the civil rights movement in the 1960s is that its proponents, almost without exception, behaved like menschen.

    When you behave like a civilized human being, then your claim to be given equal treatment as one is given greater credibility. Here, conversely, the descent into mob-like bestial behavior says much about its proponents.

  14. tzippi says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Shafran, for addressing what may be one of the most pivotal issues today. A few weeks ago a liberal talk show host repeatedly stressed that she could respect reasoned, gentle people who supported Prop 8, even if she disagreed with them. After the election, there was no mention of that, just the bigotry of the right, and her puzzlement over how many people who elected Obama, and may have experienced discrimination themselves still voted for the proposition.

    But forget about the liberal talk show hosts. We need a vocabulary for those close to us. “Because the Torah says” should be enough but might not be over the next few decades (if Moshiach doesn’t come first).