What Passover Teaches us about Marriage Equality

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I am one of over one billion monthly active users on the most popular social network in the world. I use Facebook to see what is going on in the world. Often, that is where I get my news, where I learn about what is going on in friends’ lives, and where we are reminded to wish each other a Happy Birthday. I also see Facebook as an extension of my rabbinate – using Facebook to share words of Torah and share the wonderful programs that our community has to offer. The real power of Facebook though is seen when something goes viral. Facebook is the reason that the “Harlem Shake” was the most popular song (and most ridiculous dance) in the country for about two weeks.

equal signThe most recent thing on Facebook to “go viral” is the equal sign. Many Facebook users have chosen to change their profile picture to a red equal sign, in response to the Human Rights Campaign’s call to “paint the town red” for marriage equality. This social media initiative comes as the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments last week on two cases regarding marriage equality. The first decision they must make is whether or not to uphold or strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed almost twenty years ago. This federal law denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The Supreme Court is also hearing oral arguments for and against Proposition 8, the State of California’s ban on Gay Marriage.

It’s clear that support for marriage equality in our country has swelled in the past couple of years. Polls indicate growing public support for marriage equality and many political leaders – both democrats and republicans – have come out in support for marriage equality, including most notably, President Obama and Vice President Biden.

As a Conservative Jew and rabbi at a Conservative synagogue, a congregation that welcomes all regardless of sexual orientation, it would be easy for me to make a case for marriage equality: the Conservative Movement ordains openly gay rabbis and cantors and celebrates the love of same-sex couples through marriage. However, that is not the proper argument to be made.

The beauty of America is the supposed separation of Church and State in our country. Making an argument for Marriage Equality through a religious lens is no better than making an argument against Marriage Equality through a religious lens. Each house of worship and religious institution has the right to their own views, no matter how hateful and discriminatory they may be. As a nation though, we have a responsibility and obligation to support equality.

During Passover, we don’t just celebrate freedom from slavery, we celebrate freedom from discrimination. We celebrate freedom from being cast aside, being separate, being considered different. As Jews, we don’t just revel in the freedom against discrimination that we celebrate on Passover. Rather, we fight to end discrimination so that all can celebrate freedom.

This past Shabbat, the Shabbat of Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of Passover, we read Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs. It is customary that on each holiday we read a book of the Tanakh: On Purim we read the book of Esther, on Shavuot we read the book of Ruth, etc. The Song of Songs is read because on Passover we celebrate Springtime. Spring is a time when flowers bloom, when animals come out of hibernation, when new life is brought into this world. Spring is “mating season.” The sexual nature of the text focuses on two lovers. While traditionally, rabbis attempt to explain this text as love poetry between God and Israel, it is poetry between two lovers and despite the sensual nature of the text, it clearly states the definition of love: Ani L’Dodo v’Dodi Li, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Love is about partnership. Love is a commitment to another, to a single partner, as your other. Love is a commitment to spend the rest of your life with that partner. Love is finding your better half, your ezer kenegdo, as Eve is called when she is created to be Adam’s partner. That is love. That is the love that we read about in Shir HaShirim. That is the love that we celebrate on Pesach.

That is the love that I hope we, as the city of Jacksonville, as the state of Florida, and as the United States of America, will come to recognize, accept, and celebrate, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. In the Haggadah at our Passover Seders we read: “This year we are still slaves, but next year, free people.”  This year, there is still discrimination in this world, in this land. Next year, let us celebrate the freedom of all, and the freedom for all to marry.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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2 responses to “What Passover Teaches us about Marriage Equality

  1. many people have different views on marriage, most agree that in LEGAL terms they should have the same rights, but that the it should be called civil union & not marriage, as it dont matter what one believes, the BIBLE states man shall not lay with a man & a woman shall not lay with a woman, & then people what to put their own view into what it means, so they can do & live how they want, GOD love as ALL no matter our sin, he LOVES the sinner, just not the sin A person can say I love this little boy/girl & I cant help who I fell in love with, but that dont make it right! Just as a person can say I love to kill & i just cant help it, but that isnt right either! Marriage is a union in front of GOD showing & knowing that GOD BLESSES the union & showing it in front of GOD & everyone! if it didnt matter to GOD HE wouldnt have created a woman, he just simply would have made another man, The BIBLE has RULES to live by “GODS LAWS” just as we have rules & laws to live by here on earth, you cnat change the BIBLE to suit your life you have to change your life to suit the BIBLE! I’m so sick of hearing that if you dont agree with everything a person does then your a bigot, hater & whatever else they can call you & that so stupid, if you start calling names & getting made cause some dont AGREE completely with their view then its you that are being what your callin someone else! I’m not judging you that is for GOD, but I can disagree with the behavior! We want everyone to have all the legal rights & benefits as everyone else. Have your civil unions & ceremonies. Just don’t call it ‘marriage’ and drag God into it. “Marriage” is a Holy Spiritual Ceremony of Covenant between a man, a woman and God. LGBTs have no “right” to go into a church and mock God, His word & His house by pretending He is blessing what He clearly does not condone. We don’t go into a church and have “Bless My Adultery”, “Bless My Shacking Up” and “Bless My Divorce” ceremonies either. God loves us all, but He does NOT condone our sin. We don’t ‘hate’ people. We also don’t condone behaviors God says is sin, including our own. Adultery & sexual promiscuity are sins too, just like homosexuality. We don’t condone those either. We also don’t hate the people who do them. We ALL sin. We are just trying to defend ‘marriage’ as a spiritual covenant before God. He won’t ‘bless’ a sinful union no matter how much we want Him to. Legally, I say do what you want., have all the legal rights & benefits. Just don’t mock God by dragging Him into it. Thou their are preachers, rabbi’s, priest’s, in the church that say they are gay & they that GOD loves them & say that what they are doing is OK..isnt, they are right GOD loves them unconditionally, but HE doesnt love their sin, just like GOD doesnt like it when we do drugs, have sex outside of marriage, stealing murder all this is a sin people do, just because HE loves you dont mean its OK for you to continue with that behavior! A priest who messes with boy’s in the church, he can have the same argument but just because GOD loves him & hes in the church dont mean GOD condones his actions! its ALL the same! I also have this to say to ALL the people who get mad by what I have to say
    • Disagreeing with YOU on the definition of ‘marriage’ does not equate with ‘ignorance’ or ‘insanity’.
    • We just believe differently.
    • That doesn’t make us ‘stupid, uneducated, hillbillies & rednecks’.
    • We are not bigots, homophobes or haters either.
    • We hate nor fear anyone. We just disagree.
    • Where’s your ‘tolerance’ and ‘open-mindedness’ now?
    • Apparently that only applies to people who AGREE with YOU.
    • Which in reality, is BIGOTRY.
    • There is nothing ‘tolerant’ about someone who mocks, insults, curses and belittles those who disagree with you.
    • In fact that is the definition of ‘intolerance’.
    • So, what’s it gonna be? Tolerance for all, or Bigotry & Intolerance? Can’t be both.

    • I appreciate you sharing your perspective even though I disagree with your opinion. I think you are missing the point of this blog entirely. If you want to have a conversation about religion and religious belief I’d be happy to (although I have a feeling that my understanding as well as my faith’s understanding of sin, of scripture, of God’s intention and role and in scripture and our interpretation of that scripture is probably quite different.) However, this was not meant to be a conversation about religious belief – although as a rabbi I can’t completely separate myself from Judaism. My point was that while we celebrate religion we must also celebrate the separate of religion and law – of church and state. Religious beliefs should not be the reason for or against marriage equality. The reason should be to put an end to discrimination. Marriage can be a religious institution and as a rabbi I hope it will be, but the marriage we are referring to is not a religious marriage. Houses of worship will be for or against marriage equality and will likely perform marriages or refrain from doing so regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision. What I’m referring to is the country’s definition of marriage, a social invention, a marriage for a country that celebrates freedom and was founded in order for its founders to be freed from discrimination. That’s the marriage We are referring to. Freedom to marry is rooted in the freedom of this country and the freedom that we celebrate during the Passover holiday when we recall the Exodus story. As a rabbi, as a Jew, as an American, and as a human being, I look forward to the time that this freedom is a reality for all.

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