Not in Our Name

Not in Our Name

By Rabbi Joshua

Rabbi Joshua Heller
Rabbi Joshua Heller

There is a wrong being contemplated in the name of G-d, in the name of people of faith, and I cannot be silent and let that wrong come to pass. Not in my name, not in our name, not in G-d’s name.

This month I was asked if I would take a stand on a current issue, a bill before the legislature (S.B. 129) that is framed in terms of religious freedom but could provide religious cover for hateful behavior against many, including Jews but particularly gays and lesbians.

It would have been simpler for me to defer. My first response was “Why ask me?” I have many colleagues who have been active and articulate in advocacy in that area, whereas I have stayed on the sidelines. Indeed, over the years I have wrestled with the conflicting traditional and contemporary Jewish voices on those issues.

I realized that that is precisely why I needed to speak. I value, respect and live a personal commitment to Jewish observance. And yet I feel strongly that one can, and must, live that commitment without being cruel or unkind to those who may not believe or practice in the same way or seeking to impose it upon others.

There are voices in our Jewish tradition and our community that debate, sometimes stridently, questions of gender, sexuality and marriage, questions that begin in Leviticus 18 and 20. I respect those whose understanding leads them to a strict interpretation of those verses in their own lives and congregations. But G-d also wrote Leviticus 19:18 — “V’ahavta l’re’akha camocha,” love your neighbor as yourself — and Leviticus 25:17 — “Lo tonu ish et amito,” do not oppress your neighbor. I would hope we could be equally fervent in application of those verses.

And so when I see someone citing Judaism and our Torah to exclude people from our larger society and denigrate human beings trying to live in dignity, I must say: Not in my name, not in our name, not in G-d’s name.

Religious people may, and indeed must, decide how to observe in their own homes, even whom to include and exclude in their own houses of worship, their own places of religious study. However, in a society where faith is the litmus test used to decide who may live among us as neighbors and work at or patronize our places of business, all are at risk — not just gays and lesbians, but Jews and Christians alike. And to that I must say no.

Not in my name, not in our name, not in G-d’s name.

I have heard the argument made that this bill will protect against autopsy, which is a practice opposed by traditional Jewish practice except under rare circumstance. I would like to prevent autopsies when possible, but there are easier, more subtle legal ways to accomplish that goal and others that are of importance to our community. More important, Judaism also says we uphold the dignity of the dead but not at the expense of the life and dignity of the living.

Not in my name, not in our name, not in G-d’s name.

As Jews we do not have the hubris to impose our faith traditions on the larger society. We do not demand that the larger society conform to the strictures of Jewish law. We have never demanded that the Georgia Bulldogs not handle a pig skin on the Sabbath. To the contrary, there is the principle of dina d’malchuta dina — that we respect the just practices and fair laws of the society in which we live, which must protect Jew and gentile, gay and straight alike.

And so I ask that our community reject this law, which claims to be for our protection but would provide cover for hatred and discrimination under a false flag of faith. People who are committed to Judaism should oppose this bill, not despite that commitment, but because of it, and say:

Not in my name. Not in our name. Not in G-d’s name.

Rabbi Joshua Heller is the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs. He presented a version of these thoughts outside the state Capitol on March 17.

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