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Shall Not Stand By the Shedding of Your Fellow's Blood By Gary Konecky In the last installment, I explored the purpose of religion as well as a possible reason why some religious figures and organizations demonize the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) community. In this installment, I will explore two possible prohibitions against such behavior. Leviticus 19:14 states: “Do not curse the deaf; do not place a stumbling block before the blind. You must fear your G-d. I am G-d.” As most of us would not engage in this behavior, is it possible that this means something other then the literal meaning of the verse? If so, what is prohibited? Why does it say to fear G-d and state that this commandment is being given by G-d? What does the emphasis on G-d bring? How is any of this relevant to LGBTI people? According to Jewish tradition, the Oral Torah and Written Torah were given by G-d to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Therefore, we must look to the Oral Torah and the Jewish Sages’ understanding of the Oral Torah if we are to understand this verse and apply it to this situation. According to the Oral Torah, the verse means, “Do not curse even the deaf.” For if we are not to curse someone who cannot hear us curse him, how much more so should we be careful of someone who can hear and be offended by our words. Not only that, but we are prohibited from cursing someone who is sleeping or is not present. The meaning of “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” also goes beyond the plain meaning of the text. Jewish sages gave several examples of how this verse applies in business dealings, making loans, keeping Kosher, observing the Sabbath, harsh discipline of a grown son, and rendering judgments in accordance with Jewish law. The point in every example is that one should not take advantage of someone who is not knowledgeable, meaning blind, in regard to a certain matter. In addition, one should not engage in a behavior that will cause a person to sin because they are not knowledgeable. We are instructed to fear G-d. Whenever this phrase appears, it is to tell us that even if there are no witnesses, even if we will not be caught, G-d knows our innermost thoughts and we will be held accountable; therefore we should fear G-d. Let us now return to a quote mentioned in the last installment: "Just as God clothes the naked... so must you clothe the naked. The Holy Blessed One visits the sick... so you must also visit the sick. The Holy Blessed One comforts mourners... so must you comfort
mourners. The Holy Blessed One buries the dead... so must you bury the dead." Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a This Talmud passage brings us to the subject of marriage. Those who oppose same sex marriage tell us that marriage is a religious rite (meaning nobody gets married at City Hall) and claim that allowing same sex marriage is an unconstitutional violation of their religious beliefs (meaning there are no civil marriage laws in all 50 states). In the United States, marriage is governed by a host of state and local laws that determine who may marry someone (clergy, judges, justices of the peace, city call clerks, et. al.), who maybe married, and what the requirements are for a legal marriage. Furthermore, state courts (divorce court) must be used to end the marriage regardless of one’s religious beliefs. Furthermore, in addition to an unknown number of state and local legal benefits of marriage, there are over 1,100 federal benefits associated with marriage. Marriage in the United States is a legal status and one’s legal status affects every aspect of one’s life. Here is a partial list of legal issues affected by marital status: Access to Military Stores Assumption of Spouse’s Pension Bereavement Leave Immigration Automatic Housing Lease Transfer Bereavement Leave Burial Determination Child Custody Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits Divorce Protections Domestic Violence Protection Exemption from Property Tax on Partner’s Death Immunity from Testifying Against Spouse Insurance Breaks Joint Adoption and Foster Care Joint Bankruptcy Joint Parenting (Insurance Coverage, School Records) Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner Certain Property Rights Reduced Rate Memberships Sick Leave to Care for Partner Visitation of Partner’s Children Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison Wrongful Death (Loss of Consort) Benefits < http://gaylife.about.com/od/samesexmarriage/a/benefits.htm>
Therefore, it is safe to say that many times the tool we usually use to accomplish clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and burying the dead is called marriage. Those who deny lesbians and gays the right to marry, deny them the tools needed to fulfill their G-d given obligations as defined in the Talmud (Sotah 14a). The LGBTI community is not asking these religious leaders to bless unions that they are opposed to. They are merely asking for the right to be married by someone willing to marry them. Furthermore, as the Unitarian Church, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism all have clergy who want to marry same sex couples, they are actively interfering in the worship and faith traditions of other religions. In fact, this argument is being made by the Universal Life Church Monastery, which has announced a legal defense campaign that will take action in all states that have enacted unconstitutional same-sex sacramental marriage restraints. The Universal Life Church Monastery has stated: "States that deny ministers the religious right to perform the sacrament of marriage, regardless of the couple's sexual orientation, do so in violation of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution." The outspoken groups of people who oppose same sex marriage are actively interfering in not only lesbians and gays personal and religious lives, but they are violating the very principles this country was founded on. The US Declaration of Independence sets the lofty principle that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The US Constitution says: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Religious people have a right and an obligation to speak about public policy, such as the need to provide health care for the unemployed. Religious people do not have any right to seek to impose their religious beliefs on others. Nor does it say in any historic document related to the founding of the United States that this is a “Christian nation.” The claim that the United States is a “Christian nation” is a bogus claim made by those who appear to seek political power to enhance their personal fortunes (see part one of this series). Our Constitution grants us not only the freedom of religion but also grants us freedom from religion. Our Constitution grants us the freedom to worship anyway we want, to observe any religious beliefs we want, or to not believe in any thing nor practice
any religion. Our system of government believes in promoting the common good, not any brand of theology and it is time for the religious right to learn this fundamental lesson. We now come to the seemingly unrelated passage of Leviticus 19:16 which states: “You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow's blood. I am the L-rd.” <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9920/showrashi/true> Rashi the great Torah commentator explains, “I am the L-rd” as follows: “I am the Lord: faithful to pay reward [to those who heed the above warnings], and faithful to exact punishment [upon those who transgress them].” <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9920/showrashi/true> This brings us to the subject of hate crimes. As discussed in part one of this series, many rich and powerful religious right leaders seem to use demonization of the LGBTI community as a business model. The result is that they are indirectly responsible for the spilling of the LGBTI community’s blood in violent hate crimes. Not only do they indirectly encourage such violence, but they also lobby against the proposed hate crimes laws that would protect the LGBTI community. They claim that the proposed hate crimes laws would grant the LGBTI community “special rights” as if the right to walk down the street or be safe in one’s home is a “special right.” Yet not one of these people is seeking to repeal the “special rights” that they enjoy under the religious protection clauses of hate crime laws that do not protect LGBTI people. By denying the LGBTI community legal protections; those who preach hatred of the LGBTI community, the judges who rule against lesbian and gay couples without understanding the situation, those who value their political campaigns more then LGBTI lives; may well be standing by the shedding of their fellow’s blood as well as placing a stumbling block before the blind and cursing the deaf.
In the next installment, we review Reverend Mel White’s brilliant survey of sexual practices permitted and forbidden by the Bible.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------For those who wish to explore Leviticus 19:14 and the concept of not placing a stumbling block before the blind in more detail, I recommend pages 21-23 of The Torah Anthology / Me’Am Lo’ez, Book 12, Leviticus II, Holiness, by Rabbi Yitzchok Magriso, Translated By Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing Corp., copyright 1990. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------