December 12, 2012

Maine Voices: At Hanukkah, rejoicing over peaceful victory for same-sex marriage

Loving couples triumphed over wrong beliefs, just as Jews did over the Greek army in ancient Israel.

By Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, who leads a Portland congregation

PORTLAND — We Jews are now celebrating Hanukkah. Long ago in ancient Israel, a small band of Jews fought against a much larger Greek army and the Jews won.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld leads Congregation Shaary Tphiloh in Portland. His email is rabbiherzfeld@gmail.com.

While the Greeks looked much stronger, the Jews had a powerful weapon on their side: their hearts.

The Jews had faith. They knew that God and justice were on their side in the battle against the Greeks. The Jews fought for their religious liberty, and this motivated them despite the odds against them.

The light of the menorah in the Temple in Jerusalem bore witness to the miraculous victory. The victorious Jews lit a small measure of pure oil in the Temple, and it burned for eight days.

We light Hanukkah candles each year to remember the ancient miracle. The menorah of Hanukkah shows that God's miraculous light can shine in the world.

This Hanukkah, I celebrate the past and the present. With my very own eyes, I have seen a great miracle this year right here in Maine.

A small group of people, homosexuals and their supporters, stood up for their equal rights in marriage.

They fought to convince the American people that they are human beings just like the rest of us in our great country. They said that homosexuals should be allowed to celebrate love in marriage, just like the rest of us.

Vast numbers of people stood against them. A few years ago, the gay rights supporters were defeated at the polls in Maine, and the sacred ground of their pure hearts was crushed.

They continued to fight because they knew that justice was on their side. This year they overcame the odds, and finally won.

Those who fought for equal rights in marriage did not win a military victory. They did not kill anyone, even though some nasty opponents stood in the way of their dreams. Rather, they won by establishing friendships and connecting their cause to our hearts.

The battle has transformed all of us, so that we can now see their marriages as blessed by our democratic society. We can see now that their marriage unions should not be subject to discrimination.

It was not easy for me to publicly support same-sex marriage. I had prior strong beliefs on the other side that were layered deep in my subconscious from long ago. As a child I was taught that the homosexual lifestyle was not normal, and that's putting it mildly.

My conversations with friends in Maine helped convince me of the rightness of the same-sex marriage cause. I signed a letter in support of "Yes on 1" together with other rabbis in the state, including Rabbi Jared Saks of Congregation Bet Ha'am, the Reform temple in South Portland, and Conservative Rabbi Rachel Isaacs of Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville.

The truth of their hearts helped me overcome my wall of religious textual evidence that helped justify arguments for the other side. Now I know with complete faith that the love of homosexuals should be respected as equal by society.

I am an ordained Orthodox rabbi. Orthodox Jews strictly observe the commandments of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. Still, we should not impose our belief system on others and certainly should not discriminate against other human beings.

I have called and written letters to other Orthodox rabbis, asking them to support same-sex marriage rights in America, so that we do not discriminate against homosexuals.

Some rabbis in the Orthodox movement have supported the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA. DOMA tells the government to deny equal treatment to homosexuals by refusing to let them call their loving unions "marriage."

DOMA is an unconstitutional law. It unfairly discriminates against people who are homosexuals by making them pay higher taxes and denying them the right to marriage.

Soon the Supreme Court justices of the United States are going to review the law and see if the government can tax married homosexuals more than the rest of us.

We in Maine already know that the court case is already settled. The truth is already out there. You don't need to be a Supreme Court justice to know that it is wrong to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. It is wrong to deny equal rights to homosexual marriages.

This Hanukkah as I light my menorah, I think of our modern battle that was won in Maine for equal rights. We have witnessed a miracle, as a small group of people of faith won victory over strongly entrenched, wrong beliefs.

It is a miracle of love. Soon, some people consecrating their love in religious ceremonies of marriage will ask for God's blessing. Our society has already blessed them.

 

- Special to the Press Herald

 

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