Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why We Need a New Moses

Or, What Jews, Christians, and Muslims Can Learn from the Mormons.

Orthodox Jews and many Christians have a problem today in which they hold a stance which has become morally obscene, namely that homosexuality is immoral. Western civilization is headed inexorably towards legalizing gay marriage and finally rectifying the long practice of discrimination against homosexuals. When that happens, in a generation or less, Orthodox Jews and many Christians will be in quite an embarrassing situation.

Already, some within the ranks are working on ways to bring their religions in line with Western morality. The leaders of Conservative Judaism recently approved of allowing the ordination of gay Rabbis as well as the blessing of gay unions. Many Christian denominations have taken similar steps. Still, even Conservative Judaism retained the ban on anal sex and it's hard to imagine Orthodox Judaism going so far as to allow the blessing of gay unions.

Orthodox Judaism, of course, has a history of twisting reinterpreting the Torah, as is clearly seen with regard to contemporary interpretations of keeping kosher and (presumably) disallowing slavery. However, most if not all of these reinterpretations have added restrictions rather than removing them. It's not clear how the Rabbis could reinterpret Leviticus to allow male homosexuality.

What can be done?

Well, it turns out the Mormons had a similarly embarrassing problem. Until 1978, blacks of African descent were banned from the priesthood. According to Brigham Young, this was because they were descended from Cain. Others gave different reasons, but all agreed that the ban came from God.

Needless to say, as the United States became less and less racist, the Mormon stance seemed more and more immoral. Yet what could they do?

Luckily, in 1978, God bailed them out:

In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.

(Hat tip: Brad DeLong.)


Here's to hoping.

(Yes, I know Orthodox Judaism no longer recognizes prophecy and indeed that there is a story in Talmud which explicitly rejects revelation as a source of Jewish Law. This post is mostly tongue-in-cheek.)

31 comments:

robert said...

"...When that happens, in a generation or less, Orthodox Jews and many Christians will be in quite an embarrassing situation."

Can you please explain why they would be in an embarrassing situation?

If there is a prohiition written explicitely in the torah, why is there a need to follow modern social mores?

Fundamentalist jews will point out with a sense of pride that the torah they believe in is eternal, and does not bend to the prevailing social mores. I do not think that this will lead to an embarrasing situation for them. The less fundamentalist jews will deal with it the way the Conservative movement has dealt with it.

Jewish Atheist said...

Can you please explain why they would be in an embarrassing situation?

For the same reason the Mormons were in an embarrassing situation in the 60s and 70s -- it had become clear that they were on the wrong end of a moral issue. In a generation, it won't simply be that Western mores are in favor of homosexual unions, but that it will be seen as obvious to most Westerners that to be opposed to gay unions is immoral.

Analogously, the Bible clearly allows slavery, but slavery is now recognized by almost all Westerners to be immoral. You don't hear many Orthodox Jews arguing that there is no need to follow modern social mores with regard to slavery.

Anonymous said...

I know you're being tongue in cheek (with a point), but one significant difference is that the Mormon church is extremly top-down organized. Orthodox Judaism, despite its numerous similarities to Mormonism, differs in that regard. There's no one authority to law down the (new) law.

A more likely response is that the Orthodox groups in the new environment that become even more cultic and insular retain the most adherents, shifting Orthodoxy even farther to the right. Survival of the fittest, with insularity as the fitness function.

robert said...

"...but that it will be seen as obvious to most Westerners that to be opposed to gay unions is immoral."

To the fundamentalist jew (FJ), religion trumps western ideas of morality. No matter what society has to say about it, they (the FJ) will allways view gay unions as immoral.

Anonymous said...

Robert, you totally underestimate how much the cultural zeitgeist affects Orthodox Judaism. You can't even understand the growth of OJ without seeing it in the light of the resurgence of fundamentalism across the board. When wearing a yarmulke was embarrassing, tens of thousands of Jews took them off. It's today's culture of multiculturalism that fed the rebound of the yarmulke (and sikh turban, etc.) You'd have us believe that Orthodox Judaism is impervious to the cultural waters it swims in, but the opposite is true. The inevitable Western repudiation of homophobia will affect Orthodox Judaism. The only question is how.

robert said...

anonymous,

I hear what you are saying, but I disagree with what you said.

Also, to believe that gay unions is immoral despite what the modern culture says does not require any action to convey that belief (other than perhaps voting or writing a letter to a public official). Wearing a yarmulke, does require an action. I, as an orthodox jew, can live in both worlds. I can accept that gay unions are the law of the land, and at the same time I can accept that homosexuality is religiously prohibited.

Ben Avuyah said...

I have to agree with anonymous above. Orthodox jewery is very affected by it's surounding culture. Did you think shtriemel's and kapotahs were around 3000 years ago? If there was a historical moses he was probably wearing a dirty loin cloth.

Rabbeinu gershom is famous for streamlining orthodoxy into a more suitable shape when polygemy, and women as property, became less fashionable.

Even now, modern orthodoxy has special dispensations towards gays, and Rabbi's oft whisper about how what one does in the privacy of one's own home is up to them.

Of course this is a huge shift. Orthodoxy has never before been above making people feel guilty about things they did privately.


How this will play out in the end will be interesting to watch....get a good seat early break out the popcorn and watch the rabbinate squirm!!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with anonymous above.

Thanks.

If there was a historical moses he was probably wearing a dirty loin cloth.

Completely unsupported invective.

Rabbeinu gershom is famous for streamlining orthodoxy into a more suitable shape when polygemy, and women as property

Not fair. Women-as-property had been in long decline far before Rabbeinu Gershom. The change in women's property status from the time of the Torah's authors to the time of the Talmuds authors is far more dramatic than any change of RG. Also, calling RG's era's Judaism "orthodoxy" is highly anachronistic.

Ben Avuyah said...

Unsuported invective is the only invective I care for :-)

I don't call the era of Rabbenu Gershom "orthodox"...orthodox people do...My argument exists within their mindset, not my own.

HiveRadical said...

There's an issue with all of this.

The "Mormons" are not using their open theology to conform to your view of morality.

Aaron and Miriam had a pretty good following in objection to Moses' second, and extra-Israelite Ethiopian wife, their view of what was moral didn't jibe with what Moses was doing--and the majority seemed to be behind them. Then there was the leprosy incident and despite the seeming momementum of perceived morality it was stoped short.

So you failed to consider a Mosesesque occurance. At some point in the future some overwhelming appeal for a change of official stance being met, not by some change in God's policy, rather by some significant demonstration that the majority is sorely in defiance of God.

There are many ways that this could occur. I don't know if it ever will occur in an open and obvious way or even necesarily ever be dirrected at just homosexual practicing individuals. But at some point the cards will be on the table. And if I could be a betting man I wouldn't bet that the ultimate sign from God will be a policy change in his kingdom to conform to world views of morality. Rather some smitting of any one with the pride (or more) than that of dear Miriam.

The Atheologist said...

Robert said,
“I can accept that gay unions are the law of the land, and at the same time I can accept that homosexuality is religiously prohibited.”


Robert, I don’t believe you addressed the slavery issue which JA brought up. Do orthodox Jews privately or personally believe that slavery is ok although the, ‘law of the land’ prohibits it?

jewish philosopher said...

I personally proudly support an amendment to the United States Constitution which would make male to male anal intercourse a capital offence punishable by beheading. If such an amendment would have been passed 40 years ago, it would probably have saved the lives of about 25 million people who have, so far, died of AIDS worldwide.

I think this clearly demonstrates the wisdom of our eternal Torah and the fallacy of the perverse, death based nihilism of atheism.

As far as Mormonism goes, it's definitely a cool religion; they just make stuff up as they go along. It only gets a little out of hand when it leads to murder ("blood atonement") or the kidnapping and rape of 14 year old girls (Elizabeth Smart was the most famous case, however in fact it happens daily in many so called "fundamentalist" communities. This is humorously known as a "penis revelation"; which often seems to be granted to middle aged men when meeting blonde teen girls.) However, since my wife has promised to put me into the recycling bin if start chasing any skirts, revelations notwithstanding, I think I'll have to pass on Mormonism for now.

jewish philosopher said...

And slavery still flourishes within the Orthodox community. Ask any of thousands of hen pecked husbands.

The Atheologist said...

jewish philosopher said...

“I personally proudly support an amendment to the United States Constitution which would make male to male anal intercourse a capital offence punishable by beheading. If such an amendment would have been passed 40 years ago, it would probably have saved the lives of about 25 million people who have, so far, died of AIDS worldwide."

Jewish Philosopher, how would you have addressed male/female intercourse or iv drug use which also results in the spread of Aids? And do you really think that the threat of beheading would have stopped most male to male anal intercourse? The sex drive in humans is a very strong one. It is almost as strong as your God delusion.

jewish philosopher said...

Delusions or not, however according to the CIA world factbook, Saudia Arabia has 1/60 the rate of HIV of the United States. And they do behead homosexuals, although only occaisionally. Might be a connection.

The Atheologist said...

Which head do they cut off? And what would the punishment be in Saudi Arabia for metzitzah b'peh?

Half Sigma said...

Who cares about homosexuality? Let the Jewish people eat good food.

If there are two religions. One lets men stick their penises up other guys anuses. The second lets its followers eat yummy food like veal cutlet parmigiana and shrimp terryaki. I know which religion I'm joining up with.

Agkyra said...

Oh, I get it. You want us to acknowledge you as god rather than the real God. If you say it's okay, we should just do what you tell us to. See my response, "Should Popular Opinion Dictate Morality?"

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "Saudia Arabia has 1/60 the rate of HIV of the United States." and this could have nothing to do with the possibility that they don't keep accurate records of who has contracted HIV, or that people who contract this disease do not have medical treatment, nor do they know they have it, so they can report it.

It reminds me of when people cite rape statistics. Saudi Arabia and many other middle eastern countries also have dubious low rates of rape. I can't imagine that it is because the majority of women who are raped in those countries would be too frightened to report it..

asher said...

The Torah specificially disallows Jews to get tatoos. And now that everyone has one the Othodox Jews still get them. They steadfastly refuse to change with the times.

When same sex marriage is the norm, who will win? Think...it's the divorce lawyers...you got your pre-nups, your post-nups, custody battles, and divorce negotiations. If gays and lesbians are just like hetereos their divorce rate should be a good 50% or more...think of the billable hours!

jewish philosopher said...

Asher, I also have a feeling that the endless headaches of gay divorce settlements may ultimately put the brakes on the gay marriage movement.

And as far as AIDS are concerned, to the best of my knowledge, and if anyone knows differently please correct me, the Orthodox Jewish community has an HIV rate of zero, or very close to that. So if the fact that we do not emulate the filthy, dangerous habits of our secular neighbors means that we are primitive and bigoted, I'll happily remain primitive and bigoted.

Anonymous said...

"Jewish" Philosopher,

if your son turned out to be gay, would you "proudly support" his beheading?

jewish philosopher said...

Of course, why not? Wasn't Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac at God's request?

Anonymous said...

Then the apropriate authorities, should take away your coustody of your children, since your obviously unfit to be a parent.

Agkyra said...

I think Jewish Philosopher's point is clear and correct, even though I don't at all agree with him about homosexuality and beheadings or what not. God is just and in authority. In fact, if your ethical judgments differ from God's, that's just a sign that there is a problem with you. Because I'm a Christian, I would insist that none of those social or civic laws for ancient Israel apply to anyone anywhere today, so Jewish Philosopher should not support beheading homosexuals. But just because it would be inappropriate for the U.S. government to make homosexuality a capital crime today doesn't mean that it's not a "capital crime" (so to speak) before God. The severity with which things were dealt with in ancient Israel--at God's command--are clues to his judgment about them, without regard to how we should apply them today. And, since you will stand before him one day--hint, hint!

EVen though his comments are inflammatory and beligerrent, Jewish Philosopher's willingness to stand with God even in the face of social pressure otherwise is to be commended. If only he were rightly informed about how God intends the law to be applied today!

Anonymous said...

So if "God" tells you to fly airplanes into the WTC, you do what?

Agkyra said...

Anonymous: If you really believe God is telling you to do that, you do it. You're still responsible for your actions, though, so if it turns out that God didn't tell you to do such a thing, you'll face the consequences. Obviously, we both agree that God wasn't telling the terrorists to do that. I want to make the point that if God had told them to do that, it would have been right for them to do it.

I'm appealing to God as an unchanging absolute, the norming norm. You seem to be appealing to an absolute also, it's just that yours is impersonal and "out there" in the universe or something. It just seems self-evident to you that the terrorist attacks were wrong, perhaps. The problem is that abstract universal principles of morality are even more susceptible to varying interpretations and conflicting applications than an appeal to God. What's the difference? Not only can an abstract principle not reveal itself in an authoritative fashion (as God can in Scripture), but an abstract principle will never speak up for itself whatsoever. It's not personal. God is a person who will judge every other person. The absolute norm and standard, a person, will have the last word. Whatever our different views are and the actions that follow on them, we'll answer for them all to him.

jewish philosopher said...

Anon, we are getting a little off the topic. I fail to see how the fact that I refrain from having anal intercourse with other men makes me unfit to be a parent; I would argue the opposite.

And as far as killing and all that goes, Orthodox Jews have got a pretty good record. Unlike secular humanists who talk about being good, we actually don't kill people. How many of us are in prison on homocide convictions? I am only aware of Yigal Amir - one person from a community of about 1.5 million.

And let me ask you a question. Let's say someone would pay you $1,000 to blow someones brains out and you are guaranteed immunity from any criminal prosecution. It will be the perfect crime. Would you do it? And if not, why not?

Carol said...

JA,
This might be your calling. Step up to the prophet's pulpit! :-)

Krystalline Apostate said...

My understanding (limited as it is), is in Mormonism, the elohim who stayed neutral were given bodies, & then given the mark of Cain.

JP:
I fail to see how the fact that I refrain from having anal intercourse with other men makes me unfit to be a parent; I would argue the opposite.
I think the point was: you hear an invisible voice commanding you to kill your kid, THAT makes you an unfit parent.
That having been said, you raving homophobe: are you going to pull a Haggard anytime soon?
I think you may want to read the DSM-IV sometime soon.

Agkyra:
Not only can an abstract principle not reveal itself in an authoritative fashion (as God can in Scripture), but an abstract principle will never speak up for itself whatsoever.
Which your deity has never, ever done. Scriptures: all man-made. Made up. Bogus.
Still severely unimpressed.

The Graduate said...

Dear Jewishathiest.
I noted in your blog that you believe that Judaism has a stance towards homosexuality that " has become morally obscene". That is that homosexuality is immoral. But why do you focus on the immorality of homosexuality? There are many things in Judaism that are considered immoral. Paedophilia, bestiality, adultery etc.
Your view however focuses on Homosexuality. So let us address this. When I look at how Judaism views a particularly sin I also look at the punishment associated with it. Homosexuality - is a sin. One that during the time of the Sanhedrin, the time of the temple, was punishable by death. I can't remember which form. However, two witnesses who witnessed to act and two warnings were required before this punishment was enforced. That is the sinning parties had to be caught twice in the act before they were put to death.

Adultery, the Jewish meaning of adultery was not that lenient. Just the suspicion of the husband, based on two witnesses seeing the offenders entering a locked room together, was enough for laying of charges and the drinking of the bitter waters. If found guilty both offenders were put to death. No warnings. No witnessing of the actual sin.

In fact I think adultery is the only sin in Judaism where not witnessing the actual offence by two witnesses is enough to get the ball rolling.

The death penalty was also set for murder. However, even if two witnesses saw a man enter a room with a knife and leave that same room with a bloodied knife and he himself was covered in blood and then they entered the room and found the dead body, this was not enough evidence to have the knife holder punished with the death penalty. I bring this by way of example so that you can understand the concept of witnessing the sin/offence in Judaism.

This being the case Homosexuality, if we look at the punishment for it, is no more immoral than adultery. In fact an argument can be made, based on the need for witnessing the actual act, that it is less immoral than adultery.

Another aspect of this is that homosexuality is recognised as an urge that is difficult to overcome. We are told that it is wrong. However, we can also see that it is a private sin, one likely to be punished by G-d and not man. I say this because the likelihood of being caught in the act three times by two witnesses, after being warned twice and knowing that the death penalty awaits would be quite small.

You seem to believe that Western morality is the be all and end all. Every generation believes that. The Greeks believed that their morality was the be all and end all and paedophilia and bestiality were OK. Slavery, and brutal abuse of slaves was allowed.

Another person on this blog, commented that slavery is allowed in Judaism but we would not condone it now. I suggest looking into the laws of slavery in Judaism and then judge the value system and morality of Judaism. For example, if there is only one bed in the house the slave owner must give it to the slave. There is no such thing in Judaism as inherited slaves or people being born into slavery. Slavery was a condition that came about if a person was in debt and needed a way to redeem himself. Even then it was not a lifelong situation.

I am not an orthodox Jew. I am not even a religous one. I do suggest that before you make judgments, learn the facts. Come to your own conclusion.