Monday, May 10th 2021   |

Local rabbis react to SCOTUS decisions


In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decisions on Wednesday to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s voter-mandated Proposition 8, several national and community leaders have weighed in on the matter.

The U.S. Supreme Court, pictured above, issued decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 this week to the delight of most non-Orthodox Jews. (Courtesy U.S. Supreme Court)

By striking down DOMA, legally married same-sex couples will no longer be denied federal benefits traditionally enjoyed by heterosexual couples. These include Social Security benefits and rights to claim married partners when jointly filing taxes.

While the court’s decision on Proposition 8 law only specifically affects the State of California, legal experts say it has far reaching implications for all states who attempt to circumvent LGBT married couples’ rights through legislation or voter iniatives which sanction the denial or removal of their rights. The right to marry a same-sex partner is still circumscribed in 38 states, but California should become the 13th state to permit same-sex marriages in short order.

All non-Orthodox member organizations registered universal approval through public relations firms and via national spokesmen including the Union for Reform Judaism, the the Conservative Synagogue of America, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish World Service and the American Jewish Committee.

The exception was the Orthodox Union, which registered its disapproval with a statement that claimed it stands behind the concept of marriage being between one man and one woman. Experts noted, however, that it was issued with enormous restraint and consideration. “The Orthodox Union is proud to assert its beliefs and principles in the public forum, and will continue to do so in a manner that is tolerant and respectful of all of our nation’s citizens, but which is also authentically based upon our sacred ancient texts and time-honored traditions.”

It is also notable that the Rabbinical Council of America, the nation’s largest assembly of Orthodox rabbis, has yet to register its disapproval over the Supreme Court decisions.

Gay rights supporter waving a rainbow flag outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington following its ruling expanding gay rights, June 26, 2013. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Locally, Rabbi Ed Paul Cohn of Temple Sinai, who has long advocated for LGBT rights, was emphatic in his praise of the decisions. “I’m thrilled to hear the fabulous news,” he beamed in a telephone conversation with the CCJN. “

“It’s another step of liberation which first began when we Jews came out of Egypt,” Cohn continued. “The times in which we are living are truly inspiring.”

At Touro Synagogue Rabbi Alexis Berk was equally pleased with the outcome. “It’s a great step in the right direction,” she said. “My whole feeling is that the genie cannot go back into the bottle. We cannot go backward. We cannot use religion as a crutch and cannot use religion to maintain bigotry.”

Berk summed up her feeling by closing with the words: “Humanity has spoken.”

The senior rabbi of the Reform community, Rabbi Robert Loewy of Congregation Gates of Prayer was contacted through email by the CCJN. “The rulings by the Supreme Court, providing full federal recognition and benefits to same-sex  couples and re-establishing their right to marry in California, are milestones in the quest for recognition of sacred same-sex relationships,” Loewy wrote.

“It is a victory for justice and equality directly impacting not only the LGBTQ community, but their families and friends and all Americans. I look forward to the time when I will not only be able to perform commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, but actual legal weddings in the State of Louisiana. We are not there yet, but borrowing from Theodore Herzl, ‘If you will it, it is no dream,'” he concluded.

American University students Sharon Burk, left, and Mollie Wagoner share a kiss outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington after hearing that the high court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, June 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Congregation Beth Israel’s Rabbi Uri Topolosky took some time to consider a proper response. “From my perspective we have to do a better job in making sure that people feel welcome regardless of anything,” he said. “There’s no reason to judge somebody based on anything – on race, on ethnicity, on gender or sexual orientation. We have a commandment to love everyone. That should be our guiding principle,” Topolosky averred.

Congregation Anshe Sfard’s Rabbi David Polsky preferred to hearken back to a drosh (commentary) he delivered recently. “I can say that Parshat Kedoshin, which was two months ago, I did actually give a talk discussing homosexuality and Judaism,” he recalled. “I did discuss marriage equality and I said I was in favor of it being legalized on a civil level,” Polsky continued.

He went on to state his personal opinion that “at the very least I thought it was a bad idea and counterproductive for Judaism to be at the forefront of opposing it.”

Leaders of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the umbrella organization of Conservative rabbis also celebrated the decisions. “On behalf of the 1,700 rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly, I join with Jews across California and the United States in acknowledging today’s Supreme Court decisions as opening the way for loving and committed same-sex couples to enjoy the rights and privileges of marriage,” wrote RA president Rabbi Gerald Skolnik..

Skolnik  reminded everyone of the Jewish principal, whose lawsuit was the basis for the overturning of DOMA. “This is most clearly modeled in the case of Edith Windsor, a Holocaust survivor who enjoyed a loving relationship with her wife of many decades, and had been unable to inherit her partner’s estate as her spouse,” he wrote.

Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue’s Rabbi Ethan Linden was also full of praise of the decision. “I’ve spoken a D’var Torah (Torah commentary) on the need to legalize gay marriage, certainly from the perspective of civil law,” he stated. “It’s absolutely the correct position,” he said in talking about same-sex partners who marry in other states and move to Louisiana. “Now they now they will be protected regardless of what the State of Louisiana does.”

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin, a spokesman for Louisiana Chabad Lubavitch, said the organization prefers to keep out of commenting on politics. “Our job is to promote Judaism and that’s what we do and we stay out of political commentating. We certainly don’t see that as our job to be involved in those sort of things,” he said.

According to a recent poll, 52% of Americans nationwide are in favor of same-sex marriages, while 81% of Jews favor them. That makes American Jewry the largest organized religious group in favor  of same-sex marriages.

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