Why we need #blacklivesmatter

I simply cannot understand #alllivesmatter. I know that people who post it think they are clever, responding to a hashtag with a hashtag. They appear to congratulate themselves for their belief in absolute equality. But let’s be honest, #alllivesmatter popped up as an attempt to denigrate the #blacklivesmatter movement. It is not that I disagree with the words themselves. Of course, all lives matter. Every single person is created in the image of God and preservation of life is the single most important value in Judaism, and in all religions for that matter. Let us just consider it a given, that life matters. On that we all agree. Still we are confronted repeatedly by acts of violence against black people in which police officers have used excessive, often lethal, force. Time and again, the American public has been asked to accept that these people were killed because they threatened the lives of police officers. While it may have been true in some of the cases which received national attention, it certainly was not the case for all of them, and we have yet to see true accountability or justice for the lives that have been taken. We have been forced to view these cases through the smokescreens of the victims’ criminal records (if they had them), or current misdemeanor activity, or the way they dress, or their level of education, or their use of recreational drugs. All of these are distractions, efforts to make us believe there was cause for the police to be extra cautious and more ready to pull the trigger. But none of that matters. What matters was whether or not a weapon was drawn and whether there was clear, imminent danger to the officer. Otherwise, someone suspected of a crime, or even guilty of one, deserves their citation for a broken tail light, their day in court for illegally selling CDs, or their chance to prove their innocence if wrongfully accused. They do not deserve to die based on suspicion or even based on past behavior. And more to the point, the thing that elevated the suspicion for all these victims was the thing that they share in common. They were black. While I am not a lawyer, I believe it to be a reasonable assumption that being black is not probable cause for suspicion or a justifiable reason for a police officer to treat a citizen any differently than they would another person. Time after time, however, we are watching black men being shot without justification. Then we are all supposed to believe it was an unfortunate misunderstanding that escalated to a situation which necessitated the use of lethal force. The shooters in these cases are rarely brought to justice, and the families, friends, and all of us as witnesses are asked simply to move along. The victims have been treated as though their lives are expendable, but we all agree, no life is expendable. All life matters, and since the victims in these killings time and again are black, the phrase was born “Black lives matter!”

This is not, as Rudy Giuliani called it, “inherently racist.” It is not a proclamation of an ideal that black is better, nor is it a call to violence. The gunman in Dallas acted on his own, and violence against the police is not the direct or logical conclusion of a “Black Lives Matter” protest. Black Lives Matter is about ending violence. The shooting in Dallas was a horrific, pre-meditated murder of five brave officers. The Dallas police, performing their sworn duty, were there to protect the rights of the protestors to express their frustrations in a non-violent way. The biggest fallacy is that to support “Black Lives Matter” is to be anti-police. All police officers are blessings. They are heroes, but even heroes must be held accountable when they show poor judgment, especially since the stakes are so high. This is what “Black Lives Matter” is really about- accountability. It is an appeal to common sense. As has been the motive and the right of the black community since long before the Civil Rights movement, they wish to be recognized and treated as equals before the law. They are asking that their lives be awarded the same value and respect as everyone. They want what we all want, justice. So when someone says or hashtags “Black lives matter,” they are not singling out themselves. They are rather demanding equal regard. They are asking not to be profiled, and not to be treated with heightened caution, or dismissed as expendable because of their skin color.

As a white man, I am already aware my life matters. I do not see people like me being subjected to extra scrutiny or as the victims of excessive force.  I therefore do not need a slogan or to appeal to anyone that white lives matter. It is not an issue. I also do not need to see videos of police who perform routine traffic stops without shooting anyone. That is the baseline expectation. I do however feel the need to say “black lives matter” because their lives matter as much as mine. Right now, the black community is in need of being elevated, not to rise above anyone, rather to reach the same plane where all lives can co-exist and all matter the same. Until then, we must be witnesses, duty bound to speak up. The Talmud (Shabbat 54b) teaches, “Whoever has the capacity to protest to prevent a crime but does not is accountable.” The reason for this resonates in the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I therefore feel compelled to say, as a white man and leader in the Jewish community, in chorus with anyone who will join me and who truly believes in social justice, “Black lives matter!”

“Thus Shall You Bless The Children” – Sermon for Parashat Naso and Father’s Day

In honor of Father’s day, I want to share with you a midrash (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31b) about the children’s duty to their parents.

When Rabbi Tarfon was just a little boy. I guess he was just Tarfon, then. Or maybe they called him little Tarfy. No matter. When Tarfon was a boy, his mom went out for a Shabbat walk in the park. She tripped on something and her shoe split in half. Being the Sabbath, little Tarfon could not fix her shoe. Being a dutiful son, he could not allow his dear mother to be stranded either. So he crouched down and held his hands under her feet and she walked on his hands until she arrived at their house.

Many years later, Rabbi Tarfon fell ill. His fellow sages of the community came to visit, and his mother implored them, “Pray for my son Tarfon, for he treats me with so much honor.”

“How so?” asked the sages.

So she told them about the broken shoe and walking on Tarfon’s hands.

To this, they replied, “Even if he did this 1000 times over, he would not even be halfway to fulfilling what the Torah says a child owes to a parent.”

This tells us, what a child owes to a parent is immeasurable. They must keep giving and giving never reaching the halfway point of what they truly owe. But this Sunday, I’ll settle for a coffee mug and a t-shirt. Why? Because that’s parenting. We don’t do it for glory or stuff. We do it for the joy which comes from raising children.

You know that joy that comes when children say you’re the meanest person that ever lived? You know that joy that comes from cleaning crayon drawings off your walls. You know the joy that comes from dislodging an entire roll of toilet paper from your plumbing. You know the joy that comes from catching every contagious disease that comes home from pre-school. I could go on….

I joke about it, but parenting is joy. There are the fun moments when they get their first hole-in-one at miniature golf. When they learn to ride a bike. When they finally understand the point of a knock knock joke is to have a punch line. When you are watching a movie at night, and the only place either of you wants to be is cuddled up under a blanket.

I’ll take those moments. I’ll take them in exchange for my work because they are as precious as they are few, and they are finite. I do not expect my kids to go so far as to let me walk on their hands…. even though they owe it to me.

The Torah is not entirely explicit about how to parent. It does however offer some guidelines. We find an outline in this week’s Torah portion, parashat Naso. The outline for parenting is the Priestly Benediction with which Aaron and his sons are to bless the entire nation.

The first line says, “Yivarechecha Adonai Veyishmerecha. May God bless you and keep you.”

This is the beginning of how we view God’s duties toward us. But with God as the parent of parents, we can cast ourselves in a similar role toward our children. The medieval commentator Gersonides takes the meaning of blessing beyond material needs. He says blessing is to perfect as far as is possible, one’s intellectual soul.

Tradition teaches that God perfects our intellectual soul with Torah, the study of which is a lifelong endeavor. As parents, we have the task of sharpening our children’s minds with a different type of Torah. We make sure they go to school, but the task does not end at the curbside. We must sharpen their minds at all times, helping with homework, stimulating their minds by reading to them, asking important questions, helping them define opinions, and to think critically. We can slip in education anywhere at any time. And according to the research on parenting, those most important lessons occur when we are not even trying.

Role modeling. That is the key to moral development and teaching our children empathy. A parent who curses at a driver who cuts them off should not be surprised when their child repeats the same words at the go-cart track. Or a parent who resolves conflicts with yelling or idle threats, like “I’ll give away all your toys,” should not be surprised when the child responds in kind. This is where the best role modeling can occur. Mitchie Kenney, a school psychologist in Texas, says it is important to admit openly when the parent has used a bad coping skill. We acknowledge it to the child, even apologize, thereby teaching proper responses along with the act of apology. Even in these difficult moments, we can always be blessing our children as we keep sharpening their minds.

The second line of the Priestly Benediction says, “Ya-eir Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka.” May God’s face shine down on you and be gracious to you.” Rashi tells us, that God’s face shining down means it is a divine smile. And since the verse concludes with “be gracious,” we are told to do it with grace, which means even when we are angry. God does this for us. And we do this for our kids. Think of young children walking in parking lots, or crossing streets, or visiting a crowded stadium for the first time. These are all unfamiliar and intimidating places. They may not want to listen, or even understand why they have to. They may even frustrate us. But especially in these moments they need our grace. They are only beginning to learn the rules of public safety. With them, and for our older children as they wade into unfamiliar and intimidating waters, like entering High School, or starting a job, we who have experience reach down to them, no matter what, take them by the hand, either literally or figuratively, and we reassure them with a confident smile, “You can do this.”

The last line of the Priestly Benediction is the most important. “Yisa Adonai Panav eilecha. Veyasem lecha shalom.” May God’s face be lifted to you and bring you peace. The commentator Ibn Ezra says this means we will overcome “fears of violence and starvation and of wild beasts so that we may not be harmed.” As such our job as parents is to raise our children up to lives of peace and stability. We must work to instill in them self-esteem and belief they can overcome challenges. We hope they may never come to violence, starvation, or wild beasts, but, even without those things, the road of life is filled with bumps. All of them can set a child back and cause them lose faith in themselves. Therefore, we raise them up, but psychologist, Dr. Wendy Mogel, suggests we raise them up in hands-off way. Rather than protect them, we teach our children how to cope with disappointments. In the book The Blessing of a B Minus, Dr. Mogel warns that against overprotecting children makes them like fragile “teacups,” cracking under the slightest pressure. “If we want to raise young adults who know how to solve problems,” Mogel writes, “we must let them have problems to solve when they are still young.” Whatsmore, we may have to let them fail. If they forget to study for the Algebra test, then they live with the consequence. She calls this “good suffering,” which will help them develop good judgment later. It is not easy for parents to do this. We want to swoop in and drill them on the quadratic formula. But according to Dr. Mogel, it is better to be like God leading the Israelites in the wilderness from a distance, as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. We stand back, offering shade and light when needed. Thus we let our children learn and develop self confidence, a feeling which can bring them the greatest gifts of all, stability and peace.

On this father’s day weekend, as it is every day, my wish for we parents and for all our children is this: what our ancestors said long before us.

May God bless us and keep us.

May God’s face smile on us and be gracious unto us.

And May God’s face rise up to us and give us Shalom.

Amen. Shabbat Shalom.

Whose God is Whose?

Until now, the rising tide of Islamophobia in our country has mostly made my heart hurt. It now has succeeded in making my brain hurt. Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor of Political Science at Wheaton College in Illinois, was suspended for making a Facebook post which stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Prior to Wheaton College administrators taking offense to this statement, I believed that to be a generally accepted fact. Islam and Christianity join Judaism in being Abrahamic faiths. That means all three religions trace their ancestry to the same spiritual patriarch who worshipped the One God. Therefore, when someone rebuffs the statement that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews, it makes my brain cramp.

A statement from Wheaton College as reported in the Chicago Tribune stated, “While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer.”

There are fundamental differences between the two faiths. Of course there are. That’s why they are unique religions each with their own sacred texts and rituals which define their relationship to God. The same can be said of the differences between Christianity and Judaism. There are vast differences between Jewish and Christian views of God. The Christian scriptures (New Testament) express theology and eschatological predictions which are not shared by Judaism, and those readings of the Christian Scriptures affect the way they read the Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures or Old Testament). We may share a book, but we read it very differently. All three Abrahamic faiths define their relationship to God differently and regard revelation differently, but through those revelations we seek to establish relationships with one and the same God.

I have a hypothetical question: Would the administration of Wheaton College proclaim that Christians and Jews do not share the same God?

My guess is “no.” While I am not expert on Christian theology, or Muslim theology for that matter, I can say with confidence that the connection to the Jewish God is foundational to Christian belief. We differ on whether or not God had a son of flesh and blood intended to be the Messiah and who will return to redeem the world. That is a fundamental difference in belief, but it is a difference in belief about the same God. I also point out the irony that in one key aspect Christianity is closer to Islam than it is to Judaism. That is, as I understand from sitting on panels with Muslim colleagues, Islam regards Jesus as a prophet, which Judaism does not. Judaism believes prophecy closed in the time of the Tanach. We therefore do not regard Jesus’s teachings as true prophecy (messages directly from God). While the administrators of Wheaton College may be holding Judaism close as partners in sharing God, they are pushing away partners who believe their most important prophet was truly a prophet.

I do not write this with the intent of starting a Holy War. To paraphrase Billy Joel, “I didn’t start the fire…” But I would very much like to put it out. We can start by accepting that we all, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, have strong similarities at the very roots of our faiths. I remember being astonished at first to learn that Jews living in Arabic speaking countries addressed God as—wait for it—“Allah.” After some reflection, though it quickly made sense. Allah means God. Whether in a mosque or synagogue, the messages being sent toward the heavens may differ in form and content, but the recipient of both messages is the same. We can also put out the fire by acknowledging differences between our religions and, without animosity, simply agree to disagree. After all, it is more likely that we are all wrong, than any one of us is entirely correct about the existence, nature, revelation, and intentions of God. (That is the essence of humility in religion, but that will be another article). We should all be able to agree that ultimate Truth will be revealed on God’s timetable, not ours. In the meantime, we can believe and worship differently with mutual respect and stop being offended when someone points out our sameness. Wheaton College is a private institution and can act virtually as they wish with Professor Hawkins’ status as it relates to their Statement of Faith which is binding upon faculty. However, they really need to carefully re-examine their reasoning and consider what they really mean when they claim to know whose God is whose.

There. My brain feels a little better, but my heart still hurts.

Salaam, Shalom, Peace. Amen.

From Yom Kippur – “Freeing the Captive”

An excerpt from my Yom Kippur Morning sermon. Perhaps even more important now.

[One way to practice] matir asurim (the core Jewish value of freeing the captive), is to be liberated from indifference to global responsibility. We have seen terrible images of refugees fleeing the Civil War in Syria. Those who have been lucky enough to escape, avoiding ISIS, find themselves with nowhere to go.  This is not a new problem, but it grabbed our attention recently. We have seen footage of Syrian men and women just trying to survive. It came into greater focus when the world saw a young boy washed up on a beach after his boat capsized near Turkey. That one image shocked us in a particular. In t-shirt and sneakers, he could have been any one of our own kids. The suffering no longer seemed so far away. We began to be freed from the shackles of indifference. But still, we might doubt. These are Syrians. We might assume that they hold strong opinions against America, Jews, and Israel. We may just say, therefore, leave them alone, and let other people deal with the problem. But this is where responsibility meets opportunity. If we were no longer to see this crisis as a regional problem, but rather as a global problem, then we can actually shape hearts and minds of a new generation. There is power in education. There is great reward in extending a helping hand. If we as Jewish Americans who support Israel step up to the plate, speaking up for Muslims half a world away, then we can help chip away at the false image they have been given. They and we can look upon each other as we really are. We can gain allies among those who might otherwise fall prey militants or terrorists. It is indeed a global problem, one over which we can exercise some control, if we look past geography, race, and culture, and see people in need. In coming months, here in Lincoln, we will likely see an influx of refugees. We will have the opportunity to meet these people face to face.  Then we can practice matir asurim, liberating each other from indifference as we share the best of ourselves.

Return of my blog – The Lincoln Rabbi

I just remembered I have a blog. Sadly, I have neglected it of late. At the urging of some friends, I am adding a few of my recent sermons and teachings. I may be digging back into the archives to post some more, and I will be adding some more in the coming weeks.

Please Heal Her – A prayer for Caitlyn Jenner and others like her – Behaalotecha – June 6, 2015

Some years ago, I heard a great piece of wisdom that applies to a recent news item that has received a lot of attention and sparked a fair amount of controversy. Of all people, it was spoken by comedian Eddie Murphy. And of all things, it was said as he pretended to be an elderly Jewish man. In the 1988 movie “Coming to America,” Murphy is sitting in a barbershop, in very convincing makeup and wardrobe, and this little Jewish man is arguing with the barbers about who was the greatest boxer ever. When the name Muhammed Ali entered the conversation, an argument broke out. One of the barbers insisted they should only call him his given name Cassius Clay. “His momma called him Clay. I’m gonna call him Clay,” he said. Murphy’s character, our wise Jewish man speaks these important words,

“If the man wants to be called Muchamed Ali, [gosh darn it], we should respect the man’s wishes, and call him Muchamed Ali.”

It’s a great scene. And it is so funny. And sad, by the way, that Eddie Murphy makes a more convincing Jewish man than I do.

There is just such an incredible kernel of truth in his words, and they were spoken with such conviction, that I cannot help but think of it in light of the recent emergence of Caitlyn Jenner. It is hard to believe though not entirely shocking that there has been backlash by some talking heads at news outlets and on social media, people who refuse to refer to her as anything but Bruce, the name Caitlyn was born with and hid behind for 65 years as she struggled to understand her true identity. We do not have to understand transgender identity, especially if it is not who we are. We do not even have to like it. But we do have to accept that it exists and that all people are entitled to self-determination in every facet of identity. Fundamental to this notion is a person’s name.  At one point, Cassius Clay decided that name no longer defined his identity, and he chose for himself a fitting name. So too now has Caitlyn discovered her true self, and we must respect her wishes. Nothing changes the history that Bruce Jenner was once the greatest male athlete in the world, but moving forward, that same person is recognized as a brave woman who suffered many years hiding behind a lie and who is now a courageous role model for people everywhere who struggle to know their true selves.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare (actually Romeo) asked, with the response being that there was little to it. But Jewish tradition responds quite differently to the same question. What’s in a name? Everything. A name is synonymous with one’s reputation and how others perceive them. A midrash teaches that all people have three names, a name given by their parents, a name they are known by, and a name they earn for themselves. While the midrash is not suggesting that our actual names change, it is telling us that our names have meaning. When a person hears Craig Lewis, I hope they hear kind, generous, wise, thoughtful man, loving parent, and good husband. While the name was not my choice, I recognize that it carries a message with it, a message I am responsible for shaping. If for some reason my name is heard differently than I would hope, it is up to me to convince others through my deeds what Craig Lewis really stands for. I may even have to change my own behavior so that the name I earn is a good one. That is what is so important about the last line of the midrash, “a person has a name they earn for themselves.” The word the rabbis use for earn is “koneh.” The same word could be translated to mean, we “fashion” our names for ourselves. They are in our control. We want them to be consistent with who we are and how we desire to be perceived. If one of the three names spoken of in midrash is incongruous with the others, then it is our right and responsibility to bring them back in line.

Caitlyn Jenner has done nothing less.

We cannot help but admire her. This transformation has been very public, and undoubtedly very painful. The life of Bruce Jenner was dragged in front of television cameras on a television show, that even if you did not watch, you had to be living in a cave to not know about. Lots of people noticed Bruce looking gradually more feminine. It was even the subject of ridicule and jokes as the icon of masculinity from the 1970’s was beginning to look like a middle aged woman. It seemed an oddity, a clash of realities, on an absurd television program. It made people uncomfortable, and it was easy to laugh at as part of the circus that is the Kardashian family. That is the nature of voyeuristic television. People point at the bizarre events and foibles in other people’s lives. People become famous for being famous. As it turns out, the only true celebrity of any substance on the show, the one who had truly achieved something, was the subject of much of the public ridicule. And in the end, the life of Bruce Jenner and his transformation to Caitlyn was the most real thing to be found in reality television. The struggle, the pain, the sadness hiding behind the fame were all real. Along the way, people looked on and laughed because we simply did not understand.

But it all makes sense now. There are no more jokes, only respect, sympathy, and support. For Caitlyn Jenner has fashioned her own name, and at last it is consistent with the person she knows herself to be. It is unlikely that any of us will ever personally know Caitlyn, but there may indeed be Caitlyn’s among us, people lost and confused, people made to feel ashamed that they do not conform to society’s traditional standards. Caitlyn Jenner’s very public example gives us a chance to understand the issues faced by those who struggle with their gender identity. Perhaps the fact she transitioned from such a strong extreme to another can help us to be more sensitive to people whose struggles are more in the middle and are not in the public spotlight. Maybe we can create an environment in which we simply accept people for who they are so they can be openly honest as they make their name fit the person they wish to be.

Friends, June is national LGBT pride moth. And I as a member of the clergy profess my acceptance and support for the rights and feelings of all people no matter their orientation or gender identity.  And it is my hope that this Temple will continue to be an open place, known for its values of welcoming diversity, and being open as a safe place of worship and learning for all. It should be public so that we can help give organized a religion a good name as a place for healing and acceptance rather than one of hurt and rejection

It is in this spirit that I some words from this week’s Torah portion (Beha’alotecha, Numbers 12:13) in honor of Caitlyn Jenner.  “El Na Refa Na lah.”  These words are spoken by Moses as he prays for his sister to heal. Having seen Miriam stricken with a skin infection as a punishment for dishonest speech, he prays not just for her body to heal, but also for her wounded soul to heal. Whatever ailment was within her that caused her to speak unkindly about her brother, whether jealousy, angst, or depression, Moses prayed for her to heal completely, a refuah shleimah. A renewal of body and a renewal of spirit. He prayed for her to heal within. And so pray in honor of Caitlyn and anyone like her, “El Na Refah Na Lah,” pray God, please heal them, allow their identities and the names they are known by to become one, take away the stigma and ease the suffering, remove the limitations and judgment, and just let them be who they are. Let them be whole.

No longer afraid of the dark – Acharei Mot – May 1, 2015

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped being afraid of the boogey man or the monsters who I was certain lived under my bed. It was simply part of growing up, letting go of nonsensical phobias, and understanding the power of imagination. I do not remember my how old I was, but I do know it was definitely before last week (April 21, 2015) when I celebrated my 40th birthday. At some point, I managed to sleep with the lights turned off and never think some unseen thing was going to attack me in the middle of the night.

I bring this up tonight because it is past time for our country and the people in our state to grow up, to quit being frightened of terrors invented in our minds, and simply accept, there are things that, though we do not understand them completely, they just cannot hurt us.

I bring this up in light of the arguments made in front of the United States Supreme Court this week regarding same sex marriage. For a long time, people thought of the notion of same sex marriage as a boogey man, just an idea that somehow could tear apart the fabric of society if we allowed it to happen. Unlike imaginary monsters, this idea became a real thing, and now that we have had the opportunity to see it in practice, we can verify, it does not harm anyone. And quite the opposite, it is a boon to our society, bringing legal rights and marital status to people who previously had been denied that opportunity. At least that is the case in 37 out of 50 states. As we know, Nebraska remains one of thirteen states holding on to a ban on same-sex marriages. This after a Federal judge ruled, two months ago, the ban was unconstitutional. The right to marry continued to be withheld when our Attorney General filed an appeal on that same day.

Thus same sex couples in Nebraska are denied access to over 1,000 (http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/from-why-marriage-matters-appendix-b-by-evan-wolfson) legal rights that are granted by the legal status of marriage (the repeal of DOMA in 2013 does affect these rights on a Federal level, but even those who can travel out of state for legal marriage are still denied recognized marital status in their home state. We await the SCOTUS decision on this issue). And even those who have been married in other states but reside in Nebraska have certain rights vis-a-vis the Federal government, but not with regard to the state. Among other things, it means incredibly complicated tax returns in which one form says they are married and another says not. But it also means discrimination for families seeking to adopt in Nebraska, as preference tends to go to married couples, and legal status of shared parenting rights is determined by marriage in the state. We do not need to list 1,000 denied rights to know this is wrong. All it takes is one right, whether it be the inheritance of social security benefits or the legal right to take off work to care for a sick spouse. Any one of these things denied is enough cause for change.

The roadblock to this change, the phrase that keeps coming up is the hesitancy to “change the definition of marriage.” First of all, no one wants to “change” the definition of marriage. It is still going to be a monogamous commitment made between two people who wish to spend their lives together and gain the legal benefits that come with it. It will just be available to more people who want to partake in this institution. So we are not changing it as much as we would be making a necessary amendment. And by the way, we the Jewish people have never shied away from changing the legal definition of marriage when circumstances called for it.

Biblically, all that was necessary was for a man to “know” a woman, whether by consent or by force. I think we can agree that is a good change to make. Later the Mishnah, near the end of the second century said marriage could be effected by the physical act, or spoken words, or through a written contract. Since that left open ambiguity as to one’s intent when doing one of those three things, Jewish marriage grew to include all three acts to make sure intentions were clear, and furthermore that there was consent. Then in the 11th century, the Jewish legal authority of the time, Rabbeinu Gershom, instituted the most radical change ever made to marriage. He banned polygamy which was a direct contradiction to marriage as it appeared in the Torah. The Jews were far from the first to institute such a ban. In fact we were late to the party on this one. But still, we were made the change when it became clear we needed to.

In more recent years, we have embraced egalitarian marriages in which spouses are equal partners. We have embraced this to the point where, at least in Reform circles we have altered the wording on the Ketubah, the Jewish wedding contract to be more loving than legalistic.  In Conservative Judaism, only 60 years ago, they changed the definition of marriage by adding to the Ketubah what is called the Lieberman Clause which protects a woman’s rights in the event of divorce or after the disappearance of her husband.

Therefore, the Jewish people, and I dare say all people, have always been open to changing the definition of marriage, when it was the right thing to do.

It is the right thing to do, and it is far past time.

The most important change we must make is not about the legal definition of marriage. We must first change the way in which we understand marriage. Once upon a time, marriage was effected by a man knowing a woman. The focus was on sex, though love, even in the Bible, was definitely part of the equation. The most beautiful example from the Torah is how it tells us that Isaac loved Rebeccah and she provided consolation after his mother died. That’s what marriage should be. This brings us to that infamous passage which appears in this week’s Torah portion, that a man shall not lay with a man as he would lay with a woman (Leviticus 18:22). It only focuses on the physical act. It ignores the love that can be shared between two people.  Many have read this verse and have decided that to be the most important prohibition in the Torah, this after they eat a BLT with cheese while wearing garments with a combination of different materials. There are lots of commandments. There is no good reason that we should double down on this one. It was a law for a specific time and place. And regardless of our own preferences, tastes, or identities, we ought not impose our will based on the arbitrary acceptance of one particular law. We do well to recognize that being gay is not about sex, it is about love. And marriage is likewise first about love. How people express their love, consensually and in the privacy of their homes is up to them.

Of course there are those who make the biological argument, that marriage is about the ability to have children. Still the focus is sex. We are in the 21st century. Marriage and family have been redefined time and again. There are many ways to become a family. There are multiple paths to having children, in vitro, surrogates, fostering, and adoption to name a few. The physical act itself is not irrelevant by any means, but it is not the only way. Those who argue, and did argue before the Supreme Court, that the definition of marriage is based on whether or not the spouses can biologically produce a child ignore elderly couples who marry, couples who wish not to have children, and even couples who are dealing with infertility. This narrow definition of marriage actually would deny marital rights to heterosexual couples who fall into the categories I just named. That is downright insensitive to people’s personal choices and their personal pain. That, therefore, cannot be the definition of marriage. It has to be something else. It has to be better than that.

Marriage is not only about sex. It is about love. And from a legal standpoint, it needs to be about equality of opportunity. I have special legal status and privileges, because I happen to love a woman. But in truth, you do not need to be married to have children, nor do you need love to be married. But you do need to be married to enjoy over 1,000 legal rights. As long as anyone is denied access to even one right because of sexual orientation or gender identity, the system is unfair, and the system needs to be changed.

If that means changing the definition of marriage, so be it.  We have ample precedent. The time has come for our state to grow up, to stop being afraid of the imaginary dangers. All we have to do is look around at 37 other states and many couples in our own community to see, same sex marriage is real and it is good.