Friday, October 27, 2006

The Conservative Movement and Homosexuality

In March the Committee for Jewish Laws and Standards (CJLS) of the Conservative Movement postponed their decision on the allowance of Homosexuality in the movement to December. I posted a few times previously regarding my feelings on the issue (here, here, and here).

In deference to a few former roommates and friends that currently attend JTS (one of whom is a very outspoken supporter of the proposal) I try to be as civil as I can. In short I think the issue is very clear: accepting Gays and Lesbians into Rabbinic positions is tantamount to rewriting the Torah.

I re-stumbled across KeshetJTS's website (the Pro-Gay group at JTS) and noticed this article entitled: Does the Old Testament Really Condemn Homosexuality? by Rabbi Michele Brand Medwin of Binghamton, NY.

Quoting the obvious psukim (Vayikra 18:22 etc.) she looks at how the word Toeva (abhorrence) is used in other contexts. They all seem to deal with Avoda Zara. Since, she concludes, "Homosexuality was used as a pagan ritual. God was not condemning the act of homosexuality itself. God was condemning the pagan ritual act of homosexuality and all that is associated with it." But the homosexual act is actually allowed according to Brand.

"In today’s world this prohibition now has no meaning. We are no longer threatened by Canaanite pagan religion and homosexuality today is not a pagan ritual. Homosexuality in Biblical terms is no longer an issue for us today."

I'm sure it's clear that I think she's completely off base here, but this has always been the problem of finding Ta'amei HaMitzvot (reasons for the commandments) - once you "find" the reason, if it no longer applies then what good is it? As was pointed out to me once (maybe in the name of Rav Hirsch) that Ta'amei Hamitzvot really should be translated as flavors of the Commandments. Instead of trying to figure out what God was commanding this for, we've come to understand what the mitzvah means to us. A subtle but importance difference.

Rabbi Brand believes she's figured it all out, and in only four pages too, something that no other Torah scholar in the previous three thousand plus years has been able to do either. Sorry for the sarcasm, but I don't know how else to react.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

NJ Rules in favor of Gay Marriages

CNN is reporting that the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state must change its laws within six-months to provide for same sex marriages.

TRENTON, New Jersey (CNN) -- In a decision likely to stoke the contentious election-year debate over same-sex marriage, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

The high court on Wednesday gave legislators six months to either change state marriage laws to include same-sex couples, or come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits.

The court's vote was 4-to-3. But the ruling was more strongly in favor of same-sex marriage than that split would indicate. The three dissenting justices argued the court should have extended full marriage rights to homosexuals, without kicking the issue back to legislators.

I'm not going to get into a Halachic debate on this one, but rather that I 100% support this decision. It's clear what the Torah's position is on homosexuality and studies showing that kids need a mother and a father don't really matter in this debate - this is about the law.

Reread the second paragraph from the article. New Jersey must create same sex marriages or "come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits." This is the position that I've been advocating for years. Marriage, I believe, can only be between a man and a woman but in a society that has removed the inherent religiosity from the equation by allowing a Justice of the Peace to marry two people then we must allow same sex unions - Civil Unions - to include homosexual couples.

I also believe that this is fundamentally a state's rights issue and that a state (e.g. Texas) does not have to allow these unions if the legislature and judiciary decide not to. But - in defiance of the Defense of Marriage Act - I do not believe that states can ignore the Constitutional Full Faith and Credit clause. That law - signed by Clinton in 1996 - is wrong and should never have been allowed to pass. Where's Judicial Review when you need it?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Nach Yomi?

What ever happened to the Nach Yomi blog? It was going strong until July and since then no new posts. Anyone know anything?

Friday, October 13, 2006

M'Yamino Aishdat Lamo

We spend the entire month of Tishrei renewing and rejuvenating ourselves - spiritually and physically. After Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot we end the month with Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. I find it quite telling that the last thing we renew is the Torah. Our guide to life renews itself along with us.

In the last section of the Torah that we read we come across a strange phrase M'Yamino Aishdat Lamo(33:2). Specifically the word Aishdat is curious - Rashi explains that this phrase means that the Torah came from the fire. It is this immagery that Moshe is providing for us here - the Torah came from God through the fire. The Torah was forged in the fire of God providing us with a gift that is strong and lasting.

This is what Moshe is driving at by using the word Aishdat. Bnai Yisrael know by now that Moshe is leaving and Yehoshua is taking over. "I'm moving on; Yehoshua will be with you - yet the Torah that God gave to us will always be with you".

Rav Hirsch tellsu s that Dat is "the cosmic conception of the Torah" and Aish is "the power which gives movement...the dark invisible fire by which the eternal God-given laws of nature in all his creations". This is very similar to the Rambam's philosophy - that part of God's existence is the primordial mover, which provides the locomotion for the universe to function.

Moshe here is telling us that the best way we can understand the essence of God is through fire - not in the Zoroastrian sense - but through Aishdat. Moshe makes it very clear in combining these two words that we are not to separate these ideas, that they are intrinsically intertwined and that the best way to gain the true understanding of God is through the Torah.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

And you thought the only good jokes were Polish ones...

This is hysterical:

OTTAWA, Canada (Reuters) -- Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of marijuana plants 10 feet tall.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defense staff, said Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover. In response, the crew of at least one armored car had camouflaged their vehicle with marijuana.

"The challenge is that marijuana plants absorb energy, heat very readily. It's very difficult to penetrate with thermal devices. ... And as a result you really have to be careful that the Taliban don't dodge in and out of those marijuana forests," he said in a speech in Ottawa, Canada.

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those [forests] did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hiller said dryly.

One soldier told him later: "Sir, three years ago before I joined the army, I never thought I'd say 'That damn marijuana'."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Moshe Ish Elokim

In Parshat V'zot HaB'racha Moshe is called Ish Elokim. Frankly it's a strange phrase, it appears only once in the entire Torah, and the normative description Eved HaShem is nowhere to be found.

Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary on this pasuk (33:1) notes the uniqueness of the phrase and that what should have been written was Eved HaShem, but since Moshe is clearly an Eved Hashem everything's okay. But that doesn't really answer his own question. Why use Ish Elokim? Are we just supposed to, as I think Rabbeinu Bachya believes, say 'Oh, Moshe was the greatest Eved HaShem'? That doesn't sit well with me - there's more to this statement than that.

To get at the answer we need to look at the differences between Ish Elokim and Eved HaShem. The first difference between them - is Ish vs. Eved. This one is obvious - man vs. servant. A servant knows his place; an Eved is someone who serves his master at the pleasure of the master. Halachically an Eved Ivri is someone repaying a debt to the master - since Eved HaShem is usually the greatest title that can be placed upon a person - it's quite interesting what that shows regarding the relationship that we are supposed to strive for with God.

But why not Eved Elokim? And Ish is a person, with free will, with the choice to be wherever he wants. This status is completely different than an Eved.

Secondly, there is a big difference between Elokim and HaShem. There are many interpretations on the usage of Elokim and HaShem basically the latter being the suppreme, real, and unknowable aspect of God. When we are Ovdei HaShem we are servants to the unknown, we serve God because that's what God wants of us. When Moshe is called an Ish Elokim he is not serving God like this - he is, as Rav Hirsch (p.663) puts it, "an organ of God".

At the end of the Torah, God calls the ultimate Eved HaShem an Ish Elokim, as tribute to a life well lived. Even with the negative parts of Moshe's life, God is declaring that through all of it Moshe was the organ that allowed B'nai Yisrael to get where it is today.