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.
The 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