Wednesday, July 18th | 6 Av 5778

June 15, 2012 12:51 pm

What’s the Problem With Civil Marriages?

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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A same sex marriage ceremony in San Francisco, California. Photo: wiki commons.

Who opposes civil marriage? It seems that religions are the main campaigners against it. Despite my love affair with Judaism I am a strong advocate of separating State from Religion.

There is a disconnect between a system based on Divine Revelation, conservatism, and giving authority to men and women who put faith above all else, and on the other hand one based on giving everyone an equal vote and allowing individuals to do whatever they want to so long as they do not affect or endanger others. Neither system is perfect. They both suffer from human nature degrading an ideal. But they are two very distinct models of governance. Although both systems can end up exercising horrific violence on their own citizens and others, on balance I prefer to live in a country where there is as little religious interference as possible and people can choose how much they want to take on.

The Jewish experience of living under Shariah law, specifically in Iran, was so degrading and humiliating (it was only pressure from the imperial powers that forced the Qajar dynasty to allow a modicum of equal rights to Jews at the start of the twentieth century). Neither am I too keen about ultra-Orthodox rabbis controlling my behavior. I may respect them, but I’d rather make my own decisions.

Since the great Babylonian rabbi, Shmuel, declared two thousand years ago, that “the law of the land is the law”, Judaism has accepted civil law with the sole proviso that it is applied fairly and to everyone. So whether we choose to live in a society influenced by Christianity, Islam, or any other religion, we have always abided civilly by their definitions of who is married. We do not say, “Since we don’t accept other religious marriages, we can make off with another man’s wife.”

As modern democratic societies have changed, so too have the ways we look at human relationships. The area of civil unions has evolved. We have had to accept the financial and legal implications of such unions, regardless of our own religious systems. For the first time many Muslims, who now increasingly live in non-Muslim societies, are having to slowly come to terms with such a situation.

In Western democracies, recognized partnerships bestow certain privileges as well as obligations. Partners benefit from tax, inheritance, pension, and insurance law, to mention only the most obvious. In the nineteenth century, when (largely thanks to the French Enlightenment and Napoleon) the first moves were taken to restrict the role of churches, civil partnerships were introduced, so that couples could “get married” without the “benefit of clergy”. At that stage, for whatever reason, it was agreed to call such civil unions “civil marriages”, even though neither the Church nor the Synagogue considered them to be marriages as they defined them. Perhaps it would have been better to have given then some other name such as “union” or “commitment” or “bond”. Marriage was hitherto only applied to a religious ceremony.

When I first heard about gays and lesbians getting married, my initial reaction was that I could not think of any objection, but why call it marriage–call it something else. But on reflection, it is no different to a man and woman getting “married” civilly. Only a religious argument could possibly be leveled against it, so why do religions keep quiet about civil marriages between heterosexuals? The only objection could be a religious one, and I think religions should keep out of other people’s business. No one is forcing anyone to recognize a religious ceremony that is offensive to him. All the State is saying is that the couple have entered into a binding civil commitment. Many of us do this all the time in commerce and trade.

What’s the problem? The word? The language? Usages change all the time. In Shakespeare’s day “nice” meant stupid. In my youth, being “gay” meant being happy. The word “anthem” once meant a religious choral piece. Now it’s a nationalist song about being better and prouder than the other guys!

I have heard it argued that by agreeing to civil marriages one is undermining the religious position. But why is this undermining personal faith any more than stores being open on Sabbath or restaurants offering non-kosher food? No one is forcing anyone to go there. Indeed, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. The role of religion, in my humble opinion (OK–not so humble) is to persuade, to infuse spirituality, to try to improve human beings. Let them put their energy into buttressing their own institutions and rooting out the corruptions and abuses that we still see. If religions insist on campaigning politically, I would argue, for example, that all religions should come together to support educational vouchers. This way religions benefit as well as others. Vouchers support and go to individuals instead of institutions.

There are enough negatives and constraints in religions without adding more. Lay off I say and let people commit themselves and call it what they will. No one is forcing anyone to anything they don’t want to. Just because politicians play games with this issue, on both sides to win votes, we do not need to descend to their level.

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  • Steven

    Just a closing remark; i just read that the chief rabbi of england lord sachs submitted an opinion to the home office coming out against civil marriage for gays you are wellcome to read the entire report. That Jeremy puts you really to the extreme left of things,as you as an Orthodox (??) Rabbi should have a clear cut position on this. Well what is it?

    • jeremy rosen

      Whats your point? Never heard of rabbis disagreeing?

      • Steven

        You just dont have it within yourself to answer a single challenge all you do is a ” dance” always skirting real hard questions aimed at you and that IS the point.
        Anyone reading the back and forth will have a very clear picture of your views and I thank you for that.

  • Moses

    Kudos to you Jeremy. Thank you for writing. I have a gay daughter and I want to see her get married and enjoy the same rights (both civil and religious) that the rest of us enjoy.

    • Anonymous

      Moses under Judaism there is no accommodation for Gay marriages. Simply put you cannot get married to a person of the same gender. No matter what Jeremy writes he can’t change the Torah law- no one can.
      Clarification: According to Torah law a lesbian relationship is not one that is punished.

      • jeremy rosen

        You too? Can’t you read? Where do I even hint at wanting to change Jewish Law?

        • Anonymous

          You write: “When I first heard about gays and lesbians getting married, my initial reaction was that I could not think of any objection,”

          Really? how about Jewish gays?

          You write: Only a religious argument could possibly be leveled against it, so why do religions keep quiet about civil marriages between heterosexuals?”

          do they? my community would never accept a civil marriage only, how about in your flock Jeremy? do you accept that?

          • Jeremy

            I suggest,Anon, that the meaning in the context is eminently clear.
            I can think of no objection to people who are not practising say Torah, doing whatever the civil law allows.
            Those who follow Torah on the other hand can choose as I do to be bound by Jewish Law.
            In the same way I have no objection to people working on Shabbat. If on the other hand you wish to follow Torah, you will not! Its as simple as that!

            Is pretty obvious.


  • Steven

    As usual you spew pure Apikorses. Please stop calling yourself a talmid of mir.
    You are not a talmid of anything but Apikorses.
    You totally missrepresent Shmuels dictum of Dinei Dmalchuse Dina.
    The act of sex between men is a capital offence under Judaism and onky in your twisted version
    Of Judaism is that compatible with Shmuels dictum.
    Seperation of Church and State is a good idea in a pluralistic Society such as the USA.
    There are those even religious who argue the same for Israel as fully half of Russian Olim are at best questionable Jews and the bilbul of yuchsin is a real problem.
    The only reason I even bother to write here is to make sure that you cant get away with your twisted version of Judaism.
    There are very few who have no chelek in olam haba, one of those few is someone who causes a chilul hashem in public and who teaches Tora which is not the real thing but twisted Apikorsus.
    You qualify!!

    • jeremy rosen

      Once again, in your anger you jump to your abusive conclusions without stopping to try to undersand my point.
      I was not for one minute suggesting that under Shmuel’s dictum, Torah Judaism accepts Homosexual Marriage. Shmuels dictum has no bearing on religious issues. But it does imply that if we live under a non Jewish cicil system we have to respect and not flout its cicvil laws. You confuse a civil act , such as civil contract or as some call it ‘marriage,’ with a sexual act. One can accept the ciontractual obligations of one without accepting the other.

      As for my history, I am who I am for better or for worse and if you dont like it Sir, that is your problem, not mine.


      • Steven

        I have no anger and I am not abusive I read your article at least 3 times
        And I also showed it to some others, everyone read it the way
        I did. I am fed up with you writing Apikorsus then trying to twist
        It to somethingelse.
        There is a long history of your articles where you consistently show your unique
        Version of Judaism which is Apikorsus. I grant your right to write whatever you want however I will not let you represent yourself as a “Mirrer” talmid you may have learned in Mir but you went out “Ltarbus Ro”.
        You shoul state clearly that at best you are a conservative “rabbi” then
        everyone will understand where your twisted insights into judaism come from
        Dont make yourself into a Mirrer Talmid and thus insinuate that you are a frum person

    • jeremy rosen

      Too pathetic for words. As if hurling insults or bandying words like Apikorsus is an argument.

      • Steven

        Apikorsus is a statement of a fact its not an insult but rather a halachic definition of yourself based on YOUR comments.
        Lets not play games here your shitos are ” krum” .

        • jeremy rosen

          No one is forcing you to read what I write.Dont like it? Read something else. Its a free world.

          • Steven

            You are right no one is forcing me to read it but its a free country and I do read it and I give you well founded criticism I let you write whatever you want the only thing I do not let is for you to call yourself a Rabbi ordained in Mir and write total Apikorses, say you once learned in Mir now you dont agree with their Mesora so why boast about Mir?
            I hate intellectual dishonesty I dont care what you stand for as long as you dont package it in a way which will mislead Amei Horatzim to think that your brand of Shmuels Dinei Dmalchusa has anything to do with Orthodoxy.
            So my dear friend continue to write and when I find it wrong or against Halacha I will protest thank Hashem for America and freedom.
            Again I am respectful but forceful in my argument with tou.

    • jeremy rosen

      You do indeed simply fail to understand.

      History is full of witch and heresy hunters pursuing their victims by hurling abuse, innuendo and charges that are baseless. Just think of the Ramchal being put under Cherem or the Eibeshutz Emden controversy. And people love to smear with words such as Apikorus. Think of the names Satmar and Rav Shach used to smear Chabad or how rival sects and political parties in Israel claiming the halachic and moral high ground calling each other names. Abuse is not an argument.

      You use the term Apikorus but you haven’t defined it. The Mishna in Sanhedrin gives the criteria but you haven’t told me which of its categories you think I offend. The Gemara in Horyos gives the basis of a Zaken Mamrei, a rebellious elder and there it is not a matter of having an alternative opinion that is the problem but claiming that a minority opinion is the normative halacha as against the majority. That is the offense. Have I ever said for example that the Torah approves of homosexuality or civil marriages or that I would perform them? No. All I have said is that what the State decides need not affect what we as Jews choose to do. Are you seriously telling me that is Apikorsus? Where’s your source?

      You accuse me of rejecting Mir’s Masora when I have never claimed that it is wrong, just that there might be other ways of looking at things and other opinions. But even if I did, which I have not, where is your source for saying that not accepting Masora is Apikorsus? Are you inventing new categories like ‘anyone who disagrees with Jeremy Rosen is an Apikorus?’ Is Chabad Apikorsus for not accepting Satmar? And who says that if you express a controversial opinion even in halacha this is Apikorsus? Rav Moishe Tendler was indeed called an Apikorus and worse for being the first to suggest that Brain Death should be considered as a possible option under certain circumstances not to mention how Rav Kook was smeared for supporting Zionism. Well that’s company I am happy to be part of. Again, is Chabad Apikorsus for accepting the Medina as against Satamar? Do you recall how Belz was called names for accepting State funding?

      You have mistaken my expressing opinions for paskening halacha. Just as you would no doubt attack a Rav giving a lenient psak when most others are machmir. A blog is not a Teshuva. It is an exercise in thinking aloud. And in return I expect thought back not invective. Simply accusing someone of being an Apokorus without giving a reasoned argument is the sort of Sinas Chinam, unnecessary hatred that has always bedeviled us. You should be big enough to rise above it.


      • steven

        I will start with a verbatan quote of your article

        “Since the great Babylonian rabbi, Shmuel, declared two thousand years ago, that “the law of the land is the law”, Judaism has accepted civil law with the sole proviso that it is applied fairly and to everyone.”

        This is absolute rubbish Judaism hasnt accepted anything other then we have to follow the law of the land regarding taxes and duties and various laws that are encated to the welfare of all citizens.

        Judaism as has been mentioned many times before is not a “cultural experience” but a way of life strictly regulated as laid out in greatest detail -from the moment you wake up until you close your eyes at night -by the Shulchan Aruch. In that way of life homosexuality (acts between males)fornication and all the znus and Toevas which are “accepted” by current American liberals have NOTHING to do with Shmuel. Its not only me who read your article but also other who did came to similar conclusions as I did. Anyone who tries to connect Shmuels din to civil marriage between homosexuals and why we jews shouldn’t be bothered by it is megale ponim latoire and is Apikorsus and THAT is against the Mesoa of Mir as well!

        Any Shulchan Aruch observing Jew has to be AGAINST the civil marriage of Toevas as it is against the primary purpose of creation – which is procreation.
        You know this well enough; so what kind of garbage are you spreading under the cloak of Judaism that somehow we shouldnt care about this?

        For you in some twisted way to compare yourself or your Blog to the Machloikes between R Yacov Emden and the holy Reb Yoanson is not only laughable but a major chutzpa! That fight was in context of Shabtai Zvi and I do not want to go into the entire Historical background of it here. (however I am willibng to debate you anyplace on these issues).
        Regarding the brain death issues with Rav Tendler I already have written in a newspaper against your chutzpedika tone of your article how you denigrated Rabbanim and great Poskim who have differing Halachic views and called them “cowards”. Who are you to be mevaze Talmidei Chachomim who outsrtrip your Torah knowledge one thousand to one? All you should have said was that there are differing opinions. (BTW as mentioned in my rebuttal I have personally seen a letter of Rabbi Moshe Sherer scolding Rabbi Tendler for “falsifying” Reb Moishes psak – but this too does not belong here)
        The arguments between Satmar and Zionism and Lubavitch are arguments between undisputed leaders of previous generation and each person is to follow his or her personal Mesora – not what he feels like but yes mesora meaning where he comes from.
        I would not attack a Rav with a lenient Psak unlike you accusation.
        When a Rav who is a Yiras Shamayim and lives by the Shulchan Aruch gives a lenient Psak I will never denigrate him,( I might personally follow the majority who is stricter- but would never denigrate him) however when an Am Haaretz so called “Rav” a political appointee who for example is employed by the Israeli non religious government gives a psak on Geirus based on political consideration how can anyone have respect for such a “Rabbi”?

        It is encouraging that you took the time out to reply to me as I am taking time out to reply to you now. Dont be insulted; have a little Kavod and Derech Eretz for Mesora then you will realize that a Blog is not a free for all for your brand of Judaism unless you state clearly that you dont give a damn about living within the confines – yes very confining – of the Shulchan Aruch and that of the Mirer Mesora
        Finally until you withdraw your last article I stand by my accusation and protest

    • Jeremy

      You still havent given any credible definition of Apikorsus other than anyone who disageees with you.

      As for Dina De Malchuta, let me make it easy for you. Instead of expecting you to go to the original sources, see this link

      As for Olam Haba, as between you and me, I’ll take my chances.


      • Steven

        Regarding my comment re Olam Haba for this I apologize; I should have not written that.
        Regarding your link to Dina Dmalchuta, I checked it and actually whatever I wrote to you is exactly the view of Rama and the Shach and all the great contemporary Poskim which is that certainly if something were to be the Law of the land which is contrary to a Din Tora we would not be obligated to abide by it only if it were Pikuach Nefesh (sometimes even then not; for example in cases of Yehoreg V’al Yavor.) So I am not sure what your purpose was in sending the link; I in fact fully agree with all that is written that article.
        Re the exact definition of Apikores if you care to know it Google it in Hebrew and it will bring all the relevant sources plus it will also give you the linguistic background for that word, but in its simple form an Apikores is one who denies the Principals of Judaism as laid out by Oral Law and interpreted by the Tannaim Amoraim and so down the line of Mesorah (as opposed to Tzedukim- Conservatives – Reform and so on.)
        I don’t want to repeat myself; I laid out my complaint against your article very clearly you are welcome to read them again suffice it to say that no Jew who is Orthodox can under any circumstances give “approval” in whatever form to Issurei D’Orayta for example Homosexuality. This approval extends to civil Society as well as we are influenced by the societies we live in. (Sefer Chinuch mitzvah 16 at length.)

        • jeremy rosen

          Your charge of Apikorsus is baseless. I have nowhere said anything that comes anywhere near your definition and I defy you to quote an example.
          I have nowhere said that Homosexuality is permitted by the Torah. All I have said and maintain is that if a Civil Society decides it is acceptable, this has absolutely no bearing on our behaviour or on Torah. What I simply said was that in the principle of Dina DeMalchuta we recognize the rights of other societies to make their own laws and we are bound not to flout them ourselves if we wish to live in those societies. But that does not mean that we have to recognize them as changing our Torah obligations.Agreeing to abide does not imply approval. We may if we choose try to dissuade or change civil laws but failing that we have to accept that they have the rights that we have to choose how to behave.


          • Steven

            Your Blog has the name “A Voice in the Camp” and the first line describing who you are states your affiliation and ordination by Yeshivas Mir. (A right wing Ultra Orthodox Yeshiva.)
            “Rabbi Jeremy Rosen received his rabbinic ordination from Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem”
            In light of this it is fair to assume that your “Voice in the Camp” should be a voice within the Torah -Shulchan Aruch abiding Camp.

            However anyone reading your Blogs can easily come to the conclusion that nearly all of them contains disdain for Orthodoxy and pushes the extreme limits on the left. It is disingenuous of you to call your Blog what you do it should be called “A Voice OUTSIDE of the Camp” You can write whatever you want but stop misleading people take off your Mirer credentials so people will know that you are a left winger and specify a voice in which camp you claim to be representing.

            I have done some research and came up with the following – there are only EIGHT States within the Union that currently recognize Gay Marriages but you have nothing better to do then take up this cause ( which is highly debated by the entire country) by somehow insinuating that due to Dina Dmalchuta we need to “accept” this as the Law of the Land. Firstly it is NOT the law of the land ( it is the law in ONLY eight State) and as frum Jews it is our and YOUR duty to fight this legislation as it brings down the Society where we live in. ( Of course I don’t advocate to discriminate in civil life against anyone . Openly gay practicing individuals cannot be admitted into a Synagogue as it is against Halacha.)
            Based on other comments on your Blog; for example the comment of “Moses” who has a gay daughter,clearly indicates that your Article was understood as I did. He gives you Kudos and feels that religion should recognize same sex unions,also see the comments of Emma Sarah Evans and of course my comments. You insist on everyone “calming” down but it is you who is throwing a hand grenade into a crowd and expect everyone to remain calm.

            Finally Dina Dmalchuta Dina is an obligation to do something like paying taxes or not to do something like to commit crimes things that are beneficial and or necessary for Society.
            If your opinion is to allow gay marriages and this is what you want to convey to your readers so be it, but do not mix in Talmudic concepts into your personal Agenda.

            Regarding your first point for me to point out Apikorsus that you have written I don’t have the time to respond now but I will sit down reread all your Blogs and I am sure I will be able to come up with plenty.

          • jeremy rosen

            I am sorry but we are getting nowhere and just going round in circles.

  • kevobx

    The USA has committed a great abomination by stating on it’s money “In God we trust,” and then by acting as if he did not exist. Country first, over the Lord is the broad way. *Psalm 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

  • Esther Sarah Evans

    “Love affair with Judaism” ? Look, Judaism is not a religion, but a way of life, one dependent upon rules, laws, Halakhot (I call mey cat Halakha, in order that people will at least when I call her think of Halakha, for even the so-called observant are not always so observant). People with a same sex problem can be helped psychologically, if they wish. To impose an abomination on society, especially on a holy society as we hope to uphold here as much as possible, is very bad.
    If anyone has any respect for this forum, any respect for Eretz Yisrael, any respect for Yerushalayim, any respect for HaKadosh Barukh Hu, he will refrain from drivel such as this. Observant Jews and Muslims do not separate what cannot be separated by any decent human being. The USA has committed a great abomination by stating on its money, “In G-d we trust”, and then by acting as if He did not exist. Here, beAretz we are mighty cautious about where we write the name of HaShem, because a desecration then can be lethal. This is not a joke or a subject for a “social gathering”. Whoever loves G-d and wants to embrace Him as a human would embrace another studies Torah, Halakha. Got it ? If your “love affair” is with G-d and His Torah, you will learn Halakha and abide by it. If not, then your so-called “love affair with Judaism” is a bad joke, a very tasteless one and a dangerous one indeed.

    • Emma

      How is same-sex marriage “imposing” anything on you, besides having to deal with their existence? What freedoms will you lose when two men or two women get married in a civil ceremony? I live in the US, and my state recently legalized same-sex marriage. As far as I can see, I don’t see it being “imposed” upon anyone. No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head and making them marry a person of the same sex. But I do see a lot of happy same-sex couples who are finally afforded the same civil rights by the state, and happy queer people like myself who see this as a triumph. As a bisexual woman, I’d like to be able to raise a loving, devoted family with the person I love, and be afforded the same rights no matter what my spouse’s gender is. Having to deal with the existence of same-sex couples is not oppression, it is pure persecution-complex bigotry on your part.

    • jeremy rosen

      Esther Evans
      No one is imposing anything. All I am saying is that so long as the State does not interfere with how I practise my religion I do not care what they decide or what they call it. That is the position of Shmuel in “Dina De Malchuta.”
      As for whatever you want to or dont want to call Judaism that is your business.The word we use for “religion” Dat is only used in the Tanach in Megillat Esther.Otherwise we use the word “Torah.”

    • jeremy rosen

      We can argue about whether Judaism is a religion or a way of life. After all in Megillat Esther it is indeed described as a “Dat.” But yes I agree it is a way of life too.
      May I suggest you calm down and read my article again. I make no point at all about the nature or premissability or otherwise of homosexuality and more than I do an abusive heterosexual marriage. I confine my self entirely to the civil issues of contract alone.


      • Anonymous

        It seems from your answer that everyone needs to “calm” down, maybe you reread what you wrote and step up to the plate and apologize?

      • Steven

        It seems from your answer that everyone needs to “calm” down, maybe you reread what you wrote and step up to the plate and apologize?

  • Howard

    Bravo for publishing this article in this forum.