In Siding With Masterpiece Cakeshop, The OU Made A Tough Choice, But The Correct One
In As An Orthodox Rabbi, The SCOTUS Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Gives Me Pause, Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg objects to the Orthodox Union’s favorable stance toward the Supreme Court’s recent decision, in which the Court ruled that a bakery was not in violation of law for refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.
Greenberg, who starts off by introducing himself as the spiritual leader of an OU member congregation, writes, that the “intrinsic Godliness — of every person, regardless of sexual orientation, must also be upheld and insisted upon continually and vigorously. This is true of all people generally, and more specifically for those people and groups that are regularly denied such a recognition of worth, dignity and equality… (T)he Masterpiece ruling can be understood as yet another instance of gay people being treated as ‘less than’, as not fully equal citizens — or humans.” Rabbi Greenberg faults the OU statement for being insensitive to the marginalization of gay people and concludes, “(A)s the rabbi of an O.U.-affiliate synagogue, I am certain that the O.U. statement speaks neither for me nor for my Orthodox shul and community.”
Being an Orthodox Jew and an Orthodox rabbi, one must realize that there is frequent conflict between contemporary societal values and the values of the Torah. Despite the struggles of gay people, the Torah did not hesitate to harshly condemn homosexual relations (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), and the Talmud (Chullin 92a-b) and Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 26:5) specifically proscribe the endorsement of gay marriages (even within non-Jewish society). These are but a few of the countless examples of Torah belief and practice that clash with liberal values of modern civilization.
What about the case of a prospective intermarriage, in which the couple is truly in love and cannot imagine carrying on without being wed, their lives apart portending intense loneliness and depression? Or the case of a Kohen whose fiancée — the love of his life — turns out to be a divorcée or a convert? These challenges (i.e. halachic prohibitions) can be tough as nails, and some very liberal Orthodox rabbis have even warmed up to intermarriage, despite it being strictly banned by halacha.
The Torah requires us to follow the example of Abraham, whose trajectory was one of counterculture relative to the surrounding society’s values. Abraham’s divine mission, which established eternal path and precedent for Judaism, set him apart and provided the narrative of submission to God’s laws, irrespective of prevailing moral values and considerations. As Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained, when addressing the Torah’s curious omission of the sacrifices offered by the Biblical Patriarchs on the altars they erected:
“Apparently, the mizbe’ach (altar) of the Avos (Patriarchs) was not for the purpose of offering a live sacrifice. The mizbe’ach symbolized submission, their own surrender. Because the highest sacrifice is not when you offer an animal. It’s very easy when you offer an animal. The highest sacrifice is when man offers himself.
What do I mean “offers himself”? The Torah hated, condemned, human sacrifices… It’s one of the most reprehensible abominations. Yes, physical human sacrifice was rejected, but spiritual human sacrifice — submission and surrender, acceptance of God’s will, to abide by His will even if His will sometimes runs contrary to our aspirations, His will sometimes makes no sense to us — [such was valued and required]. We can’t understand it, it’s incomprehensible. We are full with questions, we can point out so many contradictions. [But] if we surrender and submit ourselves, actually this is the highest.
And that’s what Avrohom (Abraham) taught himself, and he taught others. This means “vayiven sham mizbe’ach” (“he erected an altar there”) actually. Whom did he sacrifice? His own independence, his own pride, his own comfort, his own desires, his own logic, his own reason. He believed. If one believes, it is an act of surrender, sacrifice…”
Being an Orthodox Jew and an Orthodox rabbi means to choose the Torah’s ways over those of contemporary society. Torah is a challenge, but if we choose to defend that which is antithetical to the Torah rather than choosing to follow the Torah, what does that say about us as Orthodox, Torah-abiding Jews? The Orthodox Union made the correct choice — the only choice, if the OU is to remain true to its name.