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L’chaim! (to life!)

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The Talmud, a sacred Jewish book distinct from the Torah (Hebrew Scriptures, improperly referred to as the Old Testament) is divided in two parts, the Mishnah and Gemara. It contains wisdom about law, ethics, history, folklore, and philosophy from rabbis going back almost two thousand years.

There’s something inherently logical about Judaism. It permits you to argue with the Creator. You may even change the mind of the Giver of Life. Judaism balances faith with commonsense. It encourages a different kind of relationship with the Maker of the Universe than found in Christianity.

Jewish logic came through in a recent column by Shmuly Yanklowitz, “5 Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage.” He makes a powerful observation distinguishing morality from the study of God’s word writing “the theological issue is complicated, but the moral issue is increasingly clear.” His argument for same-gender civil marriage is based on justice.

1) The Talmud reminds the sojourner of the difficulty in finding the right person with whom to spend your life. He infers it’s cruel to deprive someone of the legal right to be a family.

2) While making a distinction between civil and religious law, Rabbi Yanklowitz also notes preventing God’s LGBTQ children the right to civil marriage “is contrary to basic justice and therefore contrary to Jewish ethics.”

3) The history of persecution should make every Jew empathetic. The rabbi cautions that though American Jews have found inclusion they must never forget their history. He’s referring to persecution in ancient Egypt and Rome and later the Spanish Inquisition and most horrifically the Holocaust. I would add many immigrant groups should reflect on how their ancestors were discriminated against by Anglo-Protestants controlling America at one time. Let not the persecuted become the persecutor.

4) Opposition to civil same-gender marriage is a “moral paralysis” contributing to suicide rates. “Full and equal rights,” he notes, “is the only moral option” since it speaks to the dignity and personhood of a persecuted minority.

5) Efforts to define civil marriage distract from real, substantive moral matters like the objectification of women and a “responsible sexual ethic for intimacy.”

Marriage, civil and/or religious, is a spiritualizing, empowering force. If I understand the rabbi correctly, Elohim (God (gender neutral)) challenges humankind to balance logic, reason and common sense with faith that asks all Creation to accept certain things without making belief into a cult, mythology, or superstition.

Logic, reason and common sense keep faith from becoming superstition. Faith keeps an individual’s logic, reason, common sense, and especially science from becoming arrogance. The mystery and mysticism of belief helps keep you humble and grounded.

There’s a popular Jewish toast – l’chaim (la-high-em)! To Life! Let’s raise a glass to life and Rabbi Yanklowitz. He has moral courage, spiritual resolve and intellectual courage with a love and reverence for the Holy Author.

Although the rabbi is careful to make a distinction between civil marriage and the solemnization of a union before God, due in part to complicated theological issues, there are seminary trained clergy from accredited schools who bless same-gender unions and I’ve been honored to be one of them.

So far, divine lightning has not zapped me for doing something I believe is holy, sacred, spiritually empowering, and in keeping with the Creator’s grand design.

Paul Jesep is a Corporate Chaplain, founder of and author of Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically.”



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