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Originally published in Tikkun Daily

A survey published this week by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) confirmed what several other polls have shown: that a majority of Americans – 53 percent – now support marriage equality.

However, perhaps the most interesting finding in PRRI's survey was this: a staggering 83 percent of Jewish Americans support marriage equality, more than any other religious group in the United States. (White Roman Catholics are next in line, at 58-percent support, while all Protestant denominations are below 50 percent.)

Why do Jews overwhelmingly support marriage equality, particularly given that most negative views on homosexuality in our culture originate from the Hebrew bible? On the surface, one could point to Pew's recent survey of Jewish life in America, which reveals that 62 percent of Jews feel that "being Jewish" is more about culture/ancestry than religion.

One could also point to American Jews' historic liberal leanings, with 70 percent of Jews today identifying as Democrats (versus 22 percent who identify as Republicans).

However, the truth on this issue goes much deeper, and is far more interesting than these relational figures. It has to do with how Judaism has radically reinterpreted the biblical view of gay sex, which on the surface seems unequivocal and cringe-worthy. Allow me to briefly explain.


In Leviticus, the biblical view on gay sex could not be clearer. When first mentioned, it is sandwiched between prohibitions against bestiality and child sacrifice. And when it is next mentioned, it's an "abhorrent" act so severe as to merit the death penalty.

Now, the Hebrew word used to describe gay sex (תועבה) literally means 'abomination.' It's a word used to describe many acts prohibited by God in the bible. However, the Rabbis of the Talmud (~700 C.E.) did something radical: with regard to gay sex, they reinterpreted the word, explaining that it doesn't really mean 'abomination,' but instead is a contraction for three Hebrew words (תועאה אתה בה) meaning 'you are straying.'

What are men who have sex straying from, according to the Rabbis? Simple: the biblical mandate to procreate. Meaning: the Rabbis of the Talmud a) recognized gay sex as a legitimate human desire, b) removed the 'abomination' stigma, and c) removed the biblically-mandated death penalty, as was their custom.

Now, this may not seem progressive to our eyes – nor would the span of Jewish commentary on this issue over the last thousand years. However, this radical reinterpretation represents something both fascinating and instructive: Jews have always been willing to create complex, legal loopholes to extricate ourselves from biblical commands that seem, well, impossible. And Judaism has structurally supported this.

Which leads us back to American Jews' staggering support for marriage equality. That support is no doubt a result of liberal leanings and cultural identifications which often trump religious ones. However, those liberal leanings and cultural identifications haven't developed in a democratic vacuum. They are borne from a tradition willing to reinterpret legal codes in order to protect individuals' right to life and dignity.

Even if those legal codes come from God.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.

Originally posted to David Harris-Gershon (The Troubadour) on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:19 AM PST.

Also republished by Writing by David Harris Gershon and Kossacks for Marriage Equality.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

    by David Harris Gershon on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:19:34 AM PST

  •  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this (6+ / 0-)

    I've known many folks of the Jewish faith over the years and I have yet to know one who took the Bible literally. It's always open to interpretation and trying to find a better understanding of how it applies to their lives today, in the here and now. Thanks for the diary.

    Food processed to be nothing more than simple starches with two dozen flavorings and stabilizers added to make it appear to be food isn't "food". It's "feed" -- what you give to livestock to fatten them up for slaughter.

    by ontheleftcoast on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:25:53 AM PST

    •  The art of interpretation is a deeply rooted (3+ / 0-)

      tradition in Judaism with regard to biblical and rabbinic texts. Don't get me wrong -- there are plenty who still hold onto outdated and (to me) offensive notions. But that's true of any group.

      "If the Jew who struggles for justice for Palestine is considered anti-Semitic, & if Palestinians seeking self-determination are so accused...then no oppositional move can take place w/o risking the accusation." - Judith Butler

      by David Harris Gershon on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:31:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Really? (7+ / 0-)
    all Protestant denominations are below 50 percent.
    Did they poll any Quakers? Because the Friends are more likely to go 99%

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:29:38 AM PST

  •  I would bet (3+ / 0-)

    Jewish Americans as a whole are probably a little better educated than the average American. In general I wouldn't be surprised if there's a higher than average acceptance of gay marriage among college educated in this country.

    Just another day in Oceania.

    by drshatterhand on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 10:32:18 AM PST

    •  Heck, even my Jewish parents, neither of which (6+ / 0-)

      have anything beyond a high school education, have supported same sex marriage for as long as I can remember. They both voted against Missouri's SSM ban way back in 2004 when 2/3rds of the country was against it. They weren't even on the fence about it like others sometimes are, their opinions on it has always been "If two people love each other, why the fuck should I tell them they can't get married?"

      I turned 18 in 2004 so that was the first election I got to vote in, so they taught me well. Even though that election was a complete bust in more ways than one, I'm glad we'll be on the right side of history.

      Jewish Americans: Supporting marriage equality since before it was cool!

      "How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette?" - George Carlin

      by yg17 on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 12:18:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  mine were like this too, even back in the 80s (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        as fringe-"greatest generation" HS grads, contemplating voting again for Barney Frank. They didn't care what he did or who he loved as long as he did his job. (that scandal with his live in lover pimping from his home seemed like something he didn't know about/condone, because it would be irrational for any normal person to let that go on if they knew).

        My parents passed 12-14 years ago, before marriage equality for Gay people was really mainstream, but still both of them had a "live and let live" attitude, that government should not be in anyone's bedroom, and that it was none of their business who anyone loved or had sex with. My Dad was traditional, personally somewhat socially conservative, and somewhat authoritarian, yet could not stomach inflicting his (or anyone's) personal feelings on another person's liberty or "pursuit of happiness".  He could not stand for unfair treatment, especially if it was officially sanctioned. My mother was more socially liberal and supported civil unions and probably would be for marriage equality if she'd lived, as it would just makes sense to her.

        They did not learn their views on social justice through higher education.

        •  When Prop 8 was on the ballot my mom was 83* y/o (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          She (being the good Jewish mother of a gay Jewish son) lobbied all of her friends and neighbors to vote against it.

          *Okay; technically she didn't turn 83 until three weeks after Election Day.

          Back before marriage equality was even on the horizon, Mom signed on to do the second annual AIDS Walk San Francisco, to support my late partner Mario and me. Before she decided she wasn't up to walking that far, she'd done AWSF 22 times.

          Yup. Mom rocks. And she only had a high school education (a terrible shame actually; my mom is an extraordinarily intelligent woman. She graduated high school not long after her 15th birthday, unfortunately towards the end of the Great Depression).

          •  so glad for you that you had a supportive (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            mother. With that generation, though less with boomer parents now, getting that I've heard/read is a crap shoot.

            Girls normally didn't go to college started to change I think with girls born around 1955 or 60, at least in my area (Northeast)...I'm '66 and college was the normal destination for most middle class girls as well as boys. My parents were working to middle class (probably true middle class not the "middle class' upper middle class people call themselves), first generation Jews with HS education but from preschool it was just assumed I go to college. Grateful for that. They Assumed of Course I'd try my absolute best in all my schoolwork to the extent I absorbed that standard ...and I was college bound.

            But I digress. Must eat food soon. Sad fine female minds like your mom's were wasted somewhat. "A mind is a terrible thing to waste". They say that one reason some Middle Eastern Muslim countries have been slow to advance is that some of HALF the brains (the female ones) have been "wasted" in this way over decades, though it is seemingly better now.

            Your mom must have been a great conversationalist and
            fun to know. I love talking to older people with such rich experience.

            Have a nice night!

            •  first generation American, that is (0+ / 0-)

              yet entirely American, with Boston accents. Which seems amazing now.

            •  Though mom didn't attend college... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              her older sister did. And then went on to get a graduate degree. Of course she didn't finish until she was in her mid-60s and (also of course) she paid her own way. Now, at 92, she's still alive and reasonably well.

              Honestly I think my grandparents would have sent both my mom and my aunt to college if it had been financially feasible for them to do so. They were quite forward-looking themselves. My grandmother in fact absolutely insisted on graduating from high school in an era when even that was relatively rare. I don't think any of her sisters got that far. She was actually quite a talented artist and would have done well if she'd been able to continue studying. My grandfather I don't think made it past eight grade. Both of grandparents viewed getting an education as absolutely vital.

              Sad that my mom and my aunt finished high school when they did (mom graduated just a few months before the beginning of WWII). They both managed to get jobs--mom had to lie about her age to do so--but their jobs were actually meaningful and allowed them to acquire useful, marketable skills.

  •  Another consideration... (3+ / 0-)

    might be the relatively secular nature of many American Jews.  Previous polling has this issue pretty well tied to how often individuals attend religious services.  Without a breakdown of observant vs secular Jews, it is difficult to say.

  •  The views in the Talmud may have something (3+ / 0-)

    to do with it, but 30-40 years ago, American Jews were less  accepting of homosexuality than they are now, just as other Americans were. I think the change is more a result of modern views than ancient ones.

    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 11:21:42 AM PST

  •  Your data appears incorrect regarding Protestants (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Here's your comment:

    However, perhaps the most interesting finding in PRRI's survey was this: a staggering 83 percent of Jewish Americans support marriage equality, more than any other religious group in the United States. (White Roman Catholics are next in line, at 58-percent support, while all Protestant denominations are below 50 percent.)
    (bold added)

    The actual study appears to be more nuanced, breaking down Protestant groups by subsets:

    Today, there are major religious groups on both sides of the issue. Religiously unaffiliated Americans (73%), white mainline Protestants (62%), white Catholics (58%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) all favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. A majority (83%) of Jewish Americans also favor legalizing same-sex marriage.

    (break added)

    Hispanic Protestants are divided; 46% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 49% oppose. By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) white evangelical Protestants and nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Only 27% of white evangelical Protestants and 35% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.

    Full PRRI report

    What is most interesting is even among "opposed" groups like Black Protestants (35% favor) and White Evangelical Protestants (27% favor), both these numbers have risen significantly since 2003, when "Favor" for Black Protestants was then only 23% (an increase of 12% to 35%), and curiously for White Evangelicals favor was then only 12% (an increase of 15% to 27%).  

    It was also noted in the study the people mistakenly believe that their fellow co-religious are more opposed to gay marriage than the polling actually shows.

    We have made ground, here.  Even among the most conservative religious. The trend is toward justice.

    "Out of Many, One Nation." This is the great promise of the United States of America -9.75 -6.87

    by Uncle Moji on Sat Mar 01, 2014 at 02:55:42 PM PST

  •  The Torah... (0+ / 0-)

    The Torah only contains 10 lines that are thought to be the word of god, and those are the 10 commandments.  Everything else is up for interpretation, and Jewish scholars going back a very long way have all agreed that it's allegory.  

    My family is all Jewish and due to the circumstances around where we lived, my parents were extremely unhappy about the local public schools.  This resulted in my attending an orthodox yeshiva until high school, so I do know a bit about what's in the Torah.  What isn't in there is anything about a kind or loving god.  The old testament god doesn't give a damn about you or what you want/think/feel, just that you obey.  Not a very pleasant deity.  Big into tests with death as punishment for failure.

    Back to the part about gay stuff....if it isn't in the 10 commandments, it's not (so to speak) set in stone.  It's a rather pragmatic religion.  For example: fasting on the various holidays that require it is not something you have to do if it's going to impact your health.  

    This is not to say there aren't fanatics of varied crazy - there are.  But on the whole the religion has been more about tradition and changing with the times to ensure survival.

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