Like shepherds leading flocks, religious leaders attempt to regulate the practices of their believers. It is understandable that the men and women herding the faithful would want their constituents to follow a path of spiritual propriety. I cannot extend the same understanding to religious attempts to affect the secular rights of adherents of other religions. Specifically in the context of Judaism, we believe that G-d bequeathed the Torah solely to the Jewish people. Though our sages mention and discuss the Sheva Mitvot B’Nei Noach – the Seven Noahide Laws that, we believe, all gentiles must follow—never once are we commanded to meddle in political affairs or exert rabbinic influence to sway non-Jews from violating either the Torah or the Sheva Mitvot B’Nei Noach.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, one Jewish man decided to blame the devastation on New York’s recognition of same-sex marriage. Audio available here. Two aspects of this rabbi’s statements are flawed at their core, one of which approaches blasphemy. First, he claims that “the great flood in the time of Noach occurred . . . was triggered by the recognition of same gender marriages.” The sages list a number of reasons why G-d caused the biblical flood. While “sexual immorality” often appears on this list, most agree this references bestiality and not homosexuality. Setting this point aside for the moment, this rabbi claimed that the heavy flooding in New York City represented a localized version of the biblical flood because of New York’s recognition of same-sex marriage. It appears that this man’s theological education lacks one of the central precepts of Judaism: The inability for man to divine the will of G-d without prophecy. Unless he claims to be a prophet—and Orthodox Judaism believes that no prophets exist in the current era—his claim lacks any validity. Certainly, we can see this disaster as a message from heaven to “clean up our acts,” but to claim that a single lesson must be learned is unsupportable. Addressing the substance of the statement more narrowly, he appears to have forgotten that: a) Sandy affected far more than just New York City. The resulting devastation impacted many states and many Jews and gentiles in those states; b) Same-sex marriage is legal all over New York State, yet only one corner of the state suffered from the flooding; c) eight other legal jurisdictions (five states, D.C., and two American Indian tribes) allow same-sex marriage . . . and they were hardly touched by Sandy.
Unfortunately, he isn’t the only Jewish voice to try and inject religious conservatism into secular politics this election year. A friend recently drew my attention to the religious banter surrounding Question 6—the Maryland state referendum that could extend the right to marry to same-sex couples—in Baltimore. I found this article informative. Admittedly, I do not view religious support for gay rights the exact same way I do those opposing these rights. I think its normal that I have a bias towards Jewish support for the LGBT community. But the issue is so much bigger: Should Judaism allow pulpit figures to try and influence the votes of their constituents? Though America’s founding fathers relied on faith when they established our country, the nation has since tried to stem the power of religion over politics and government. With so much diversity, it would be unfair to impose any one set of religious beliefs on the entire nation. Various factors socialize the way people vote. Upbringing, economic status, racial interactions, religion . . . these are but a few of the subconscious voter influences. Obviously, to silence these often subconscious voting cues would be impossible. Peoples’ voting preference will always be based on their religious upbringing—it serves as a moral compass and guides people towards understandings of reality and their surroundings. But when religious leaders use the pulpit as a platform to direct the votes of their followers they commit two cardinal wrongs: 1) they provide the false impression that religion, whichever one they affiliate with, demands a specific vote from its followers; and 2) they attempt to allow their interpretation of religious doctrine to affect the political rights of millions of people who subscribe to different ideologies. Granted, there are times when, to preserve religious rights, leaders should ask their followers to vote one way or another. That situation is different from the one at hand because same-sex marriage does not diminish the political rights of religions, it only broadens the rights of people who identify differently.
I won’t tell you who to vote for, I won’t tell you who I’m voting for. I will recommend that, in voting, you exercise independent thought and consider whether and how an issue affects you and the other people in your state and country.