Even before nearby Maplewood and South Orange erupted in its own gay pride rally and before New York City’s parade, Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of the Reconstructionist congregation Bnai Keshet helped organize an interfaith celebration rally in Montclair.
About 40 people gathered on June 26, at the corner of Church St. and Bloomfield Ave. in the late afternoon, marking the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
“It’s not often you get to be alive and witness a historic moment, and it felt to me especially important that we celebrate this as a matter of faith and religious freedom,” Tepperman told NJJN.
“I’ve been doing gay and lesbian marriages ever since I was ordained, and yet the federal government has not recognized them. It’s really nice to have the marriages I do — all of them — be validated,” he said.
He added that it’s personal from a particularly Jewish perspective. “The freedom being affirmed for gays and lesbians is very much parallel to the freedom we Jews have come to expect,” said Tepperman. “There’s really a parallel in our histories — you know, having to decide whether to be out or not, and having to decide whether to assimilate.” He added, “I feel like a victory for either is a victory for both.”
Although the rally was sponsored by the Montclair Clergy Association, the clergy members present were all Jewish. (Several members were out of town for conferences and conventions.) In addition to Tepperman, they included Rabbi Steven Kushner and Cantor Meredith Greenberg of the Reform Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, Rabbi David Greenstein of the Conservative Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, and Rabbi Ariann Weitzman, assistant religious leader at Bnai Keshet.
Greenberg, who attended with her wife, Leora Perlman, told NJJN, “I am rejoicing.” She added, “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s always hard to congratulate us for doing the right thing. But I’m more than delighted. I don’t have words for what the joy feels like.”
Greenstein considered the implications of the ruling as Shabbat approached, commenting on the way the day is referred to in liturgy as the “Shabbat bride.”
“If marriage is so wonderful, what are we going to do about it? Do we want to hold it away from people, or do we want to share it?” he asked. “My feeling is, if it’s beautiful, share it. That’s what the Supreme Court will now allow to happen. It’s a marvelous, beautiful, wonderful, good day for this country.”
Debbie Schapiro, a member of Ner Tamid who attended the rally with her 15-year-old son Daniel, said, “There’s something wrong with telling people they can’t marry someone they love.” She particularly liked the idea of attending a rally with Ner Tamid involvement, she said, because, “As a Reform Jew, I want to engage with the outside world.”
Her son, who is Jewish and gay, said, “This is a good way to be with overlapping communities.”
‘A sacred responsibility’
Around the country, Jewish groups were quick to welcome the decision, although Orthodox organizations tended to offer mildly worded dissents.
Thirteen Jewish groups, among them organizations representing the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative streams, joined an amicus brief in favor of same-sex marriage filed by the Anti-Defamation League.
In recent decades, much of the Jewish establishment has embraced gay marriage as a right equivalent to others it has advocated, including racial equality, religious freedoms, and rights for women.
Multiple groups, in their statements, cited the passage in Genesis that states humans were created “in the image of God,” which has been used for decades by Jewish civil rights groups to explain their activism.
“Jewish tradition reminds us that we were all created equally, b’tzelem Elohim, in the ‘image of God’ (Genesis 1:27), and also shows us that marriage is a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement.
The Orthodox Union, in a carefully worded statement, noted that it adheres to the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, but also recognized “that no religion has the right to dictate its beliefs to the entire body politic.”
The OU, like other more conservative religious groups, was wary of new liberties that could infringe on its ability to hire or otherwise act on their belief systems.
“Will the laws implementing today’s ruling and other expansions of civil rights for LGBT Americans contain appropriate accommodations and exemptions for institutions and individuals who abide by religious teachings that limit their ability to support same-sex relationships?” the group said in its statement.
One local Orthodox rabbi was slightly less guarded in an e-mail he sent to followers.
“Paradoxically, as an Orthodox/Traditional rabbi, I agree with the court’s ruling,” wrote Rabbi Sholom Bogomilsky of the Chai Center in Millburn in an e-mail. “In a secular country, one that neither favors nor disfavors any one religion, there is no logical reason not to allow same-sex couples.”
However, he continued, while “I am definitely not judging those who were born with different sexual preferences,” he suggested that the “sound, logical” argument for accepting same-sex marriage could lead to the eventual acceptance of taboos like incest.
“It is high time, that at least as Jews, the light unto the nations, who have always been the canary in the coal mine and the first to suffer the results of societal decay, to recognize ourselves that we need Torah,” wrote Bogomilsky. “Logic itself is simply not enough.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the consensus-driven public policy umbrella, recognized sensitivities on both sides in its statement.
“We call for sensitivity and civility in this debate, understanding that the vast majority on all sides are people of good will,” it said. “Adjusting to change is not always easy or swift.”
With reporting from JTA.