Friday, September 4, 2015

Kim Davis and Religious freedom: A Jewish Perspective

Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because she does not believe in same-sex marriages, sees herself as a martyr to her faith.  As a religious Jew watching this story unfold, I have another perspective.  Namely, that Christians like her are very new at being a minority, and have not figured out how to balance public and private life.  For centuries in the Western World, Christianity was the dominant culture.   Now that is no longer so, and this is creating a crisis that we Jews already dealt with centuries ago.

In my own life I have also had this struggle, especially around Christmas time, when there is extreme pressure to conform.  I can remember a time when suburban Jews had "Hanukkah bushes" just to avoid being harassed by Christian neighbors.  Ditto for putting up "holiday lights."  If you were the only family on the block that did not, you heard about it.  It was simply assumed that everyone was Christian.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.  Puritan Christians are no longer in control.  And suddenly people like Kim Davis are finding out what it is like to be asked to do something you do not believe in.  Only with a difference.  Because Judaism has a principal called, in Hebrew, dina malchut dina, "The law of the land is the law."  Jews do not insist the whole world live according to our beliefs.  When it comes to secular issues, we obey the laws of the country we live in.  In the case of Kim Davis, as a public official, Judaism would say that she is required to issue those licenses.

I have tried to think of a similar issue for me as rabbi and came up with this:  Jewish law forbids intermarriage between a Jew and a non-Jew.  Many synagogues will not accept such families as members.  That is their right as religious institutions.  But what would I do if such a couple showed up at the courthouse asking me to issue a license, and I knew for a fact it would be a "forbidden" intermarriage?  I would issue the license.  I would not perform the ceremony.  I might not go to the wedding. But in terms of the secular law, I would be required to fulfill my duty.  This would not be a breach of my own faith, since I would be doing it as a public official, not as a rabbi.

Christians need to learn how to make this distinction between public and private.  They need to accept the fact that are not the majority anymore, and they no longer run the whole show.  Kim Davis could best demonstrate her faith by resigning her post and seeking another job.


Bless with a Boy said...

As a Christian you are to obey the law of the land as well. So I am not sure why she is acting this way. I know she is obviously against the law that was created but, it is not her place to judge. That is God's place.

Really enjoyed this post. I am looking forward to reading more.

Yonassan Gershom said...

Jackie: We would all be much better off if we left judgement to God. From what I've read and seen about this case, she is newly religious (and such people are often fanatics at first, regardless of denomination) and maybe not very knowledgeable in her faith yet. She somehow thinks God will condemn HER for issuing a license she does not agree with. Heck, I'm a vegetarian but when I worked in a store that sold hunting licenses, I sold them because that was my job. It did not mean I was going to hunt. If we all start refusing to sell things we don't agree with, where would it end?

Jeff Eyges said...

From what I've read and seen about this case, she is newly religious (and such people are often fanatics at first, regardless of denomination) and maybe not very knowledgeable in her faith yet.

It wouldn't matter if she'd been "saved" for a long time. It's the nature of that personality. There are people who've been frum for many years, and they're just as fanatical now as they were when they first got into it.

Just saw your comment about kapparot on Failed Messiah. I have mixed feelings about the way to approach it, but I don't really disagree with you. In any case, if you peruse those comment threads, you'll see the Haredi commenters are tripping over one another in their eagerness to gloat. In addition to the kapparot case, NYC has backed down on the metzitzah b'peh issue, the Satmars in upstate NY appear to be gaining ground in their attempts to expand and take over the next town... they're on a winning streak and they just can't over themselves. They take it as validation of their belief system.

Meanwhile, I've been asking them for years why they even bother with a site they consider to be an abomination, and I've never once received a straight answer. Most of the time, they don't bother answering at all. They and their evangelical counterparts are the least self-aware people on the planet.

Honestly Rabbi, if they speak for God, I'd rather just go to Gehinnom. At least there won't be any frum people or evangelicals there.

Yonassan Gershom said...

I'm caught in the middle of the kapporos issue (off topic in this thread but what the heck). I wanted the lawsuit to succeed but I'm so pissed at the way Karen D. & her Alliance approaches it that I almost rejoiced when it failed. I am now fed up with the whole movement.

Jeff Eyges said...

I understand. I'm just so disgusted by their hijacking of Orthodoxy (as you and Dr. Schwartz well understand) and their stranglehold on much of Israeli society, that I don't care at this point if the animal rights people's motives aren't the correct ones.

Yonassan Gershom said...

It's not so much the MOTIVES of Davis & the animal rights people (AR) that bother me as their narrow-mindedness about using anything that is not 100% according to their own vegan dogmas. As expected, Davis won't use or even refer to my new book because, among other things, in one small part of the chapter on re-connecting with nature, I was positive about visiting the zoo. A big AR no-no, you are supposed to condemn all zoos across the board, and hate ANYTHING that uses animals for anything, period. Very "four legs good, two legs bad" thinking with absolutely no grey areas. Frankly, the AR people are now just as dogmatic and narrow as the branches of Orthodoxy you condemn. In fact, I find it EASIER to dialogue with Haredim on the kapporos issue that with the AR folks, which is why I went my own way on this. Sigh.

Jeff Eyges said...

I understand.

Yonassan Gershom said...

BTW to others here: "Davis" in my last comment above referss to Karen David the animal rights activist, not the Kim Davis this article is about. Sorry for the confusion.