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The Progressive Perspective on Same Sex Marriage

July 24, 2013 – 8:00 pm7 Comments

By Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black:

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Within Progressive Judaism, we start with a strong emphasis on the human position. We also believe that every human being is ‘made in God’s image’, and that God is a God of love, kindness and justice. Whilst the majority of people are predominantly heterosexual, it is clear that a significant number are not, and we do not accept that God wishes them to be forced into relationships and structures that are not as loving, healthy and supportive as they could be.

Since we believe that Torah is a revered but ultimately human document, written by our ancestors, inspired by God and seeking to answer the question ‘What does God want of us?’, we recognise the duplicated prohibition in Leviticus that ‘a man should not lie with another man as with a woman’ as one of those simplistic and time-bound human rules, developed in the context of needing to produce as many children as possible to create a numerous nation (and army) – and one that has, sadly and tragically, led to enormous prejudice, bigotry, hatred and violence against a particular group within all monotheistic religions over the subsequent millennia.

Back in Genesis 2, the observation is made, in the name of God, that a person should not be alone. However much you love your animals, they are not the same as another person. The context of the creation story on Genesis 1 is on reproduction – the trees and vegetation with their seed in them, the very first command – even before humans have been created – to the creatures and birds and insects: ‘Go forth and multiply’. When God created humanity – male and female at the same moment – they too received the same instruction – the first command to humanity, but with the added responsibility to ‘khivshuha’ – to ‘master’ or ‘care-take’ the earth. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden (the naive innocence of childhood where everything is provided), they get down to propagation (chapter 4) – the explanation for the population of the world. Male and Female equals children!

So this relationship which produces children was seen as ‘God’s natural plan’ (though sometimes with more than one wife!) and was formalised in ‘marriage’ which was then seen as a ‘God given’ or ‘holy’ structure (the agreement to form such as unit is termed ‘kiddushin’, sanctification). Hence, as with homophobia, marriage as a divinely sanctioned heterosexual union has also drawn heavily on the Hebrew bible as it has become the norm in monotheism.

Today we acknowledge that we cannot be sure of God’s will, and that Torah scholarship does not spell it out definitively and fully. We view and review our generations of experience and scholarship with our wish for truth, right, justice and compassion and our understanding of psychology, history, coercion and oppression in the name of religion and God. We seek to do God’s will, as our ancestors did, but with the awareness that we may not be right, and can only do our best.

In March, 2000, the Central Conference of American Rabbis agreed that “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual”. In Britain, too, homosexual Jewish couples were able to celebrate a Commitment Ceremony. In 2009, the Rabbis of the Union for Progressive Judaism (Australia, New Zealand and Asia) resolved to permit its rabbis to officiate at same gender commitment ceremonies between two Jews. At that stage we were not ready to use the specific term Kiddushin but could use the term ‘bestowing Kedusha’.  A document may be used and referred to as a Ketubah. A Khuppah may be used as it may be understood to represent the Jewish home being established.

We have agreed not to call the ceremony Marriage for the time being even where we may be legally entitled to do so, but we have written to the government to call for full Marriage Equality – so that marriage may now be recognized as a binding legal and social commitment between two adults. Marriage serves as a recognised and long-term legal and social structure in the modern world. Those who live in a permanent relationship without the benefit of the formal recognition may still suffer from some social stigma and may be disadvantaged, for example in pension rights, and any such inequity is unjust and unacceptable. For these reasons, the Rabbis and leaders of the UPJ now wish to see marriage redefined as the permanent and exclusive relationship between two people, whether a man and a woman, two women or two men, and support Marriage Equality. We were the only religious group to provide supportive testimony to the two Parliamentary enquiries into it, but hope that others will soon join us! We also support Keshet (keshet.org.au), who are committed to challenging the ongoing prejudice and discrimination within the Jewish community against homosexuality.

Jonathan Keren-Black is Rabbi at The Leo Baeck Centre.

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  • letters in the age says:


    The Russian Orthodox Church have gone a bit extreme sadly…

    Quite disturbing that tourists are arrested…

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    Rabbi Keren Black,
    I too support marriage equality for reasons of social equity and justice.
    Nevertheless, I think that UPJ is embracing “warm and fuzzy” without working through serious issues and not just around same-sex marriage.
    You say that “the Rabbis and leaders of the UPJ now wish to see marriage redefined as the permanent and exclusive relationship between two people, whether a man and a woman, two women or two men, and support Marriage Equality.
    We have agreed not to call the ceremony Marriage for the time being even where we may be legally entitled to do so, but we have written to the government to call for full Marriage Equality – so that marriage may now be recognized as a binding legal and social commitment between two adults.”
    Even with marriage between a man and a woman, binding and legal with a ketubah, Progressive Judaism long ago abandoned any religious mechanism for setting aside the contract of marriage. There is merit in the argument that if the civil law has such a mechanism, a separate religious layer complicates matters – but that is no less true for the marriage ceremony itself.
    You cannot with honesty offer religious support and ceremonies for only the “warm and fuzzy” life cycle events. Divorce is commonplace and while nowhere near as attractive as marriage, deserves no less religious support.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m sort of with Ian on this one – I have no problem with marriage equality in the civil code but this attempt at religious justification leaves me asking more questions than providing a convincing argument.

    For instance – the inspiration by Hashem to write the Torah:
    Who judges the inspiration?
    What inspiration was it?
    Was it the same level and/or type of inspiration that created this article or response?
    How could you tell?

    If it was divinely inspired to some degree, then what right do we have to disobey any injunctions?
    Where does that right come from?
    Who determines it?

    The author notes that we (presumably adherents to the Progressive sect?/religion?) don’t accept that Hashem wishes people to do something. How do you know with certainty?

    Bizarrely the author contradicts himself later by stating that we don’t know Hashem’s will!!! (But obviously the author knows enough to make a definitive statement in some cases – confusing no?!)
    How do we determine this? Does Hashem wish men to be circumcised? Did He wish for sacrifices in the Temple?

    I read alot of this and thought this sounds just like the Uniting Church but without Jesus to be honest…

  • Jonny Schauder says:

    Guys I think you might be missing the point. Even if you are not progressive there is much to appreciate in this approach. UPJ are recognising a real human need and engaging (not ducking) to respond in a real human way. And they did it very early. I really respect that! Is it kiddishin! .. No … does it bestow kedusha…? Yes… A solution rather than judgement.

    Even though we are traditional I believe Judaism must have many paths to fit many lives and appreciate this article for the insight into its internal debates that redraw the lines thoughtfully, but inclusively in progressive Judaism.

    As for divorce the only problem is if an individual or their kidz wants to revert back into the orthodox world… If they are happy to stay in progressive, there are no issues.

  • chris says:

    Actually all this has happened before long ago except now it being controlled and made legal across states. We are actully moving into a secular world where each representing party has a certain amount of protection as long as they are goverened by the state. Out of this formular will grow other sects and other things that are illegal will become legal and controlled. Theres a fine line between desires and rights. Something deemed improper can be made proper. Something illegal made legal. Something un ethical made ethical and so on as the earth runs out of resources, struggles with unemployment and population growth and people start getting more forward and direct about their desires. What was immoral can easly be made moral over time.

    I suppose the question has to come begging since the days of Martin luther king junior…
    Are we using our moral rights to tamper with the unknown…….what rights are comming our way regarding other ethical laws and morals. What other groups are we giving birth to that will stand up for their rights….
    No wonder the church is afraid…..its the future….what the bible saids will happen….the fulfilling of the end of ages….have a look at the middle east…….and the larger nations grabbing their territories…..the spying on other countries to secure billion dollar deals……..even the black christians who hold on to the church and who were freed by martin king jr and the cilil rights movement no the difference between being set free as a black person and destroying gods laws of marriage between a man and wife……freedoms have been twisted by desires…words played on words. We are now a law unto our selves wrapped around money feeding our desires where they have become an everyday normality regardless of whether they line up with the laws of old.

    A new age, a new time and a new end of the earth.

  • letters in the age says:

    Rabbi and Johnny,

    Humanism and tradition can co~exist.

    Love your pathway analogy Jonny.

    Thanks for a refreshing outlook on a topic that has generated a lot of discussion .

    David Camerons statement is the best argument from a traditional and conservative base thus far.

    In my opinion within a legal framework is that you can`t legislate against bigotry.

    Judaism must evolve along with an organic society!!

  • Jonny Schauder says:

    Letters I find it somewhat amazing that Homosexual people still want to be part of the Jewish traditions despite the clear prejudice against them. I think we should all celebrate that spirituality!

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