Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Judah Macabee: Homophobe

In view of the recent stirred debates on gay marriages in the United States, I want to share an article by a dear friend of mine, Philip Lefkowitz, Rabbi of the congregation Agudat Achim in Chicago.

Dear haverim,

I am not trying to preach or impress you by my writing skills. I share the following as I believe that gay marriage is a "blessing and a curse" placed before us. A blessing because it affords us the opportunity to make American Jewry look at their own reflection in the mirror. A curse as, if we don't deal with it in a manner to change the mindset of American Jewry, it marks yet another step toward its collective demise.

Phil Lefkowitz

Judah Macabee: Homophobe

Plato said, “Homosexuality is regarded as shameful by Barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love; all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.” and Plutarch said, “The noble lover of beauty engages in love wherever he sees excellence and splendid natural endowment without regard for any difference in physiological detail.”

Statistics evaluating American Jewish religious expression show that the Jewish observance most practiced in the United States is the lighting of Hanukkah candles. Hanukkah commemorates and celebrates the miraculous victory of Judah Macabee, his family and small group of followers who, repulsed by the decree from Antiochus IV to place a statue of Zeus in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – the center of Monotheism –, mounted a guerrilla war against the Hellenized Syrian-Mesopotamian Empire then in control of ancient Israel.

Considering the support of so many Jews for gay marriage in America, one wonders how they can celebrate Hanukkah. For today many would label Judah, his family, the Hasmoneans, and their followers as homophobes. Yes, homophobes. Let me explain. The Jewish world of the Macabees was completely swallowed up by Hellenism. Assimilated by the Greek philosophy of life and its emphasis upon the worship of the physical, as opposed to spiritual development, young Jewish men began to work out in the nude on the courtyards of the Temple Mount. In an attempt to hide the “deformity” inflicted upon their well-toned “Grecian” physiques by their parents through the rite of circumcision, they would employ various techniques to disguise this Jewish “mutilation”. Of course, Greek names and life style had become the norm for the Jews of that time. Now there are those, in discussing the contemporary challenge presented by assimilation, who compare American Jewry to the Hellenized Jewish world of the Macabees.

As the quotes from Plato and Plutarch demonstrate, not only was homosexuality widely engaged in by Hellenistic societies, but aslo embraced by the Hellenized Jews in the time of the Macabees, and it was lauded as a valuable element in the development of a “sophisticated” society. As Plato states, it is the Barbarian and the dictator that seek to stifle homosexual expression. Plutarch reminds us all of the fascination the Hellenists had for the physical body, arbitrarily equating love with sexual expression, by engaging with individuals of “special natural endowment”, either male or female, in stark contrast to Judaism which views love as a manifestation far more transcending than a temporary physical encounter.

The Macabees, the Hassidim of their age, were those who as a minority maintained Jewish observance and values in the face of a Jewish world possessed by an alien culture and pagan beliefs. The Macabees, unlike Plato, were repulsed by the rampant and open sexual promiscuity among the Jewry of their days, which included homosexuality, seeing it as leading to the destruction of the great Temple of Jewish thought and spiritual purity exemplified by the observance of the Torah and its Commandments. And when the fortress of Judaism was breached, when the Temple was defiled and rededicated as a pagan shrine to Zeus, in spite of their small numbers the Macabees realized that there was no alternative but to take to the hills and fight to the death for their Jewish beliefs with the call to arms: “Whoever is for the L-rd follow me!”

We live in a confused Jewish world where that which is rejected by Judaism is now an expression of Jewish values, as represented by the recent remark of the President of the National Jewish Democratic Council that gay marriage is a step forward in the important endeavor of Tikun Olam, the bringing of balance and perfection to the physical world through G-d’s Commandments. How could this have happened? May I suggest that we live with faulty Jewish mathematics? One of the major equations used in Jewish life today states: A Jewish position on a given issue equals the opinion of the majority of Jews. 

If we truly believe this equation, if we believe that Jewish views are determined by the majority of Jews, then as the title of this article states, there is no doubt that Judah Macabee was a homophobe. For, was he not battling and risking his life and the life of his followers against a superior and well armed force to reinstate the values of Judaism in Jewish society? Unlike the majority of the Jews of his day who echoed the sentiments of Plato and Plutarch, he saw in the expression of sexuality beyond the sacred bond of marriage between man and woman, a violation of G-d’s Divine law. He would give no quarter to such immoral behavior. He was what nowadays some would call a fanatic, a veritable “Bible thumper” in his day. And yet, we Jews embrace the victory of the Macabees, their rise to both Kingship and Priesthood, their restoring the values of G-d, as something to celebrate: Hanukkah as the Jewish celebration embraced by more Jews than any other in our religious lexicon.

In 1885 the leaders of the Reform Movement met in Pittsburgh to define their sense of Judaism. They issued the “Pittsburgh Platform” now understood as the encapsulation of classical Reform Judaism. In part it states: “Second- We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as priests of the one true God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. Third- (…) today we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as to elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” By endorsing gay marriage most American Jews have parted company with this liberal expression of Judaism.

As classical Reform Judaism declares that “record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as priests of the one true God”, that “most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction”, in today’s terms that ancient yet eternal Jewish “Rules for Radicals”, the Bible teaches us in the book of Leviticus that, “If a man lies with a man as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination.”, “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.” 

In the book of Isaiah we read, “It is too light a thing for you [Jews] to be My servants, to establish the Tribes of Jacob, and to restore the scions of Israel; and I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My redemption until the end of the Earth. (...) I the L-ord have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's Covenant, as a light unto the nations. (...) And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising”.

Something to think about.

Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz - Congregation Agudat Achim of Chicago.

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From the Book's Foreword

Let's reexamine our ancestral memory, intellect, feelings, emotions and passions. Let's wake them up to our true Essence. Let us engage in the delightful awareness of Love as the Essence of G-d. The way this book is written is to reaffirm and reiterate its purpose, so it presents its message and content in a recurrent way. This is exactly its purpose, to restate the same Truth originally proclaimed by our Holy Scriptures, Prophets and Sages. Our purpose is to firmly enthrone G-d's Love in all dimensions of our consciousness, and by doing it we will fulfill His Promise that He may dwell with us on Earth forever. Let's discover together the hidden message of our ancient Scriptures and Sages. In that journey, let's realize Love as our Divine Essence, what we call in this book the revealed Light of Redemption in the Messianic era.