I usually read the prayer for the American government out loud. The prayer itself has never particularly moved me, but this Shabbos as I read, a warm rush of gratitude and pride coursed through me. The familiar words danced and came alive: “May [God] bless, preserve, and guard, help, exalt, and make great, and raise high the President of these United States, and the Vice President,” I read. I thought about Obama and Biden, and the moves they made to support same-sex marriage. I asked aloud for God to instill in their hearts compassion to do good with us. “Let us say amen,” I read, and my community responded with one voice: “amen”. I thought about whoever wrote the OU statement, and wondered how they felt that same morning, hearing those same words in their own community—though presumably not read out loud by a woman. I returned to my seat shaking.
I was a wreck. Sometime between then and the end of services, between half a dozen different bouts of tears as I prayed, it hit me: maybe I am Orthodox. I certainly feel Orthodox communally—perhaps my personal religious practice is just between me and God. Either way, I cannot leave Orthodox Judaism. Not right now. I care too much.
My friends keep asking me why I was so surprised by the OU’s statement. I agree that it’s unsurprising that a leading Orthodox institution opposes same-sex marriage; the topic of same-sex relationships in Orthodoxy is complicated, to say the least, mostly due to legalistic prohibitions stated in the Torah itself. No, it was not surprise I felt, but deep disappointment and disgust. The statement was a slap in the face—due to its utter lack of sensitivity, empathy, and grace, due to its neglect of the issue of prejudice within the Orthodox community, due to its absence of acknowledgement that a community is more than just law and comprises a diverse set of values and individuals.
The OU easily explains themselves: “as Orthodox Jewish leaders”, they write, they are opposed to any kind of effort to alter the (civil!) definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships; however, I know many Orthodox Jewish leaders who would condemn their statement.
To the Orthodox Union, I will try to respond as sensitively as I know how (and I know sensitively):
The values you are advancing are not the complete set of values of the entire Orthodox community. You are not addressing the entire Orthodox community, nor are you speaking for the entire Orthodox community—a community which maybe even includes me.