The Social Weal – A post from recent Adult Bar Mitzvah at Fairmount Temple, Thomas Roese

This D’var Torah on our Torah portion Ki Teitzei, was offered by Tom Roese at his August 31, 2012 adult Bar Mitzvah at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. We invite reply and dialogue on Tom’s offering, and encourage those interested in the next Adult Bar Mitzvah class to come to a sample session and information night on Monday, November 19, 2012 at 7:00p.m. or to contact Julianna Senturia at for registration information.
This week’s portion of the Torah (Ki Teitzei) includes a list of many laws pertaining to righteous and correct behavior. Many of these laws would seem to us common sense and acts of decency and justice. I’m going to focus on the laws of marriage and divorce. In this parashah, there are hints that pertain to affection and the basis of marriage relationships. It is not so much reasons for choosing a partner, or reasons pertaining to love. That’s discovered in Genesis. This week’s portion is more about legal consequences, and even appropriate conditions and rituals for divorce.

After describing the creation of heaven and earth, the Torah reports that G-d comments, “It is not good that man be alone–I will make him a helpmate.” In answer to loneliness, G-d creates woman; and the text declares: “A man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife so that they become one flesh.” The Torah provides us with the idea that marriage offers mutual support, total trust, caring, and companionship. Husband and wife are “helpers” to each other; they are to be inseparable, “one flesh” both physically and spiritually.

Today’s discussion may threaten one’s comfort level, however, let me remind, especially in the Reform Jewish tradition, one is encouraged to question. Good, insightful questions probably will make one uncomfortable. As Rabbi Lettovsky has said, the more you question, the better the questions become. Exploration on all levels must be encouraged. At a recent Kabbalat Shabbat worship service, Rabbi Noseachuk told us to turn the Torah upside down, just to look at the opposites, and view and study the Torah in new ways for application to new situations.

Rabbi Nosanchuk, in a Shabbat commentary last year, also provided us with an interpretation of teachings from Leviticus [finding] homosexuality in fact acceptable, and [how it] can be explained, and thus better understood. We are reminded that man was indeed created b’tselem Elohim, or “made in the image of G-d”, and that the Spirit of Divinity is within all mankind. So can one be discounted or negatively judged because of one’s sexual orientation? The Torah, and other Jewish teachings say, simplistically, no! One would be, in effect, criticizing G-d!

Besides marriage and divorce, as I mentioned, this week’s parashah provides a list of ways to encourage justice for all. Rules for social living that provide for those less fortunate than us, for making life more equal. For helping us to have equal rights, not special rights.

During this current election cycle, we hear so much about family values, and faith. Implied, these are good things for all, but upon closer observation, it really means that the speaker is referring to THEIR family values, THEIR family, and THEIR faith. What about the “other”? What about OUR family, and OUR faith?

This week’s portion touches upon and suggests elements for a happy marriage. We know from other parts of the Torah that includes living a Jewish life. A successful Jewish marriage includes maintaining a sanctified Jewish home, the bare minimum of which includes the posting of a Mezuzah, observing Jewish rituals and holidays, raising children with a Jewish education, perhaps following the laws of kashrut, and observing Shabbat, among others. I remind you, these all help make a successful marriage, and in our rich tradition, beautifully Jewish, but should this be exclusive to heterosexuals? Isn’t man made in G-d’s image? Let’s not forget to continually turn the Torah upside down and question all possible explanations and applications.

In Iowa, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and hopefully soon, again, in the state of California, same-sex marriage is LEGAL. Recently in New Hampshire’s state House of Representatives a bill that would have repealed same-sex marriage in that state, was defeated with a bi-partisan vote of 211-116! That’s justice.

In Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden, same-sex marriage is legal….that’s justice.

In 12 states in the UNITED States, and I capitalize the word UNITED, civil unions are legal.

In twenty-two countries, civil unions for same-sex couples are legal, and being performed, that’s justice.

What’s going on in Ohio? Where’s the justice here?

I love being an observant Jew. It’s one of the few institutions that allows for and encourages controversy, independent thinking, and the exploration of hard questions. Judaism also provides laws, and commandments for all of life’s needs. Every single detail of proper ways to live, every life cycle event is covered by Jewish law. I suggest even same-sex marriage.

This past December, one of the proudest moments for me as a new Jew, since my conversion on the 23rd of March, 2011; I was so excited to see Jewish laws in practice. My partner Bill and I traveled to Florida for one of life’s most celebrated moments, one which is encouraged for much joyous celebration…a Jewish marriage. In this case, we were thrilled for the joining of this wonderful couple, each bringing to this union their own special qualities.

Joining together one talented, bright boy, and a charming, intelligent, caring, lovely girl, into what we think and hope and pray, will be a delightful, loving, and Jewish family. The marriage itself, a true, beautiful Jewish moment was wonderful beyond description, but the event that inspired my excitement of being a Jew, was the construction of the Chuppah.

I approached it as a task to complete, a job we had to do. This was a Mitzvah, a command. I was not looking forward to bringing these eight men together, eight men who barely knew each other, eight men, who in some cases barely spoke to each other, eight men, some of whom struggling with baggage, angst, and a competitive dislike for each other, possibly even some harboring a hatred for each other, oh what a dreaded occasion.

At any rate, Jewish law says “build a Chuppah”. We are also taught that a Jewish marriage between two lovely and loving people is a beautiful thing. So, build a Chuppah, we did. Now, this group of eight men, what did we know about a screwdriver, Home Depot, or construction in general? Nordstroms was more familiar to us, than Lowe’s. I stepped back, trying to stay out of the way, as I looked busy. I observed father and son, brother and brother, friend and friend, enemy and enemy, coming forth to offer positive suggestions on the structure’s completion…

We were on a beach, surrounded by…sand. I could not help to feel excited about being a Jew, it was like building a Tabernacle on the desert. Jews were building an important booth…together, as a community. This was truly bringing this somewhat group of dysfunctional individuals together as a family, a new Jewish family, and it was a beautiful thing. The beauty of Jewish law, right there in our hands, and before us. I can’t measure the tremendous magnitude of this experience. I will always treasure this dreaded moment that turned into something incredibly rich, vital, and exciting, forever meaningful. We came together in peace, as a family, as we followed one of the commandments.

I ask, why is the building of a Chuppah, the building of a true loving Jewish family, who happen to be, by the chance of birth, a couple who are of a sexual orientation which would bring them together into a same-sex “marriage”, be denied this opportunity in Ohio? Why should they be denied this EQUAL RIGHT in ANY state in the United States. Whose family values apply here?

This week’s Torah portion does outline reasons and methods to pursue divorce, and for those who unfortunately must face divorce, there is comfort knowing that the methods are in place for that outcome. If one, however, turns the Torah upside down, turns it around, and questions the applications, perhaps we can view this in a positive way. The opposite of divorce is marriage. The time has come for marriage to be available and legal for all Americans, including same-sex couples who want to build a family and maintain a Jewish home. The time has come for equal rights, not special rights.