In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat-Balak, the Torah presents the chok (mitzvah who’s reason we can not know) par excellence, the Parah Adumah, the ashes of the red heifer as a procedure for removing the ritual impurity caused by being in contact with a dead body. Is this classic chok, (or for that matter all chukim, or according to some, all mitzvoth), one whose reason (1) we do not know; (2) a mitzvah whose reason can not be known except by the Divine; or (3)a mitzvah with no reason at all?
I will explore this classic question of Taamey Hamitzvot (whether there are reasons for mitzvoth) and I then hope to link the answer to Rick’s comment on my post from last week regarding gay Jews. His question was, once we see people in homosexual relationships with more love and less rejection don’t we run the risk of accepting other forbidden relationships such as incest?
Summary: This is a long post so let me summarize first. Having a Kiddush to celebrate the commitment of two homosexuals to raising a family together (which is not forbidden) would not lead us to having a Kiddush for a brother and sister raising a family together as partners because homosexuality is not immoral in our society and incest is. The torah forbids both but that says nothing about morality, only about halacha. Both sexual acts are forbidden, neither Kiddush is, but we should not celebrate an incestual union since it is morally depraved and will affect other’s moral compass, whereas a homosexual union, while forbidden, does not effect our moral compass and our ability to imitate God which is only based on mitzvoth which have as their reasons mercy, compassion and morality.
Post: Rick’s is a classic argument against tolerating homosexuality. From a secular point of view people can make distinctions between one kind of relationship and another (many states permit homosexual weddings but not the other kinds Rick mentioned) but from a religious point of view it is more difficult. If the Torah is our measure of what is moral and what is forbidden then aren’t all forbidden relationships equally immoral? If we see in a less harsh light something the Torah forbids then why not permit everything the Torah forbids? What will stop us from having a Kiddush for an incestual couple if we have one for a homosexual one? It’s a good question that deserves a serious answer.
The Mishnah (Megilah 25a) states: “One who is leading the prayer service and prays, “Even unto a mother bird does your mercy extend”…we quiet him.”” The Talmud records two opinions as to why this is so (each is an opinion of a different Rabbi named Yosi); either, (1) because we will create jealousy among the creatures (since God is singling out the bird for special treatment), or (2) because this prayer leader is depicting the Torah’s commandments as motivated by mercy and they are nothing more than decrees of the King (with no moral motivation such as mercy behind them). This Gemara is presenting both sides of the argument -the opinion that mitzvot have no reasons (even those miztvot which seem to reflect moral intentions) and the opinion which holds that the purpose of all Mitzvot are to teach us to be just, merciful and moral.