Homosexuality & the Half-Shekel

This past week, the president of Uganda enacted a law that essentially makes homosexuality illegal – punishable by life in prison.  The following day, a leading Ugandan newspaper published the names of 200 persons who are allegedly gay.

This happened just as the Winter Olympics came to a close in Russia – where recent legislation made it illegal to speak in support of homosexuality in front of children.

Closer to home, in the State of Arizona, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gay men and lesbians if their religious beliefs moved them to do so.  After sitting on the governor’s desk for several days, the bill was finally vetoed yesterday.

In my home state of Michigan, a federal judge is hearing arguments for and against the state’s law banning same-sex marriage.  A similar case just came to its conclusion in Texas, but the state of Texas is expected to appeal because it wants to preserve its same-sex marriage ban.

While all this has been happening, Jason Collins very quietly became the first openly gay man to play in the National Basketball Association when he checked into a game for the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week.

In addition, Michael Sam – an openly gay football player – participated in the National Football League’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.  He hopes to become the first openly gay man to play in the NFL next season after being drafted this coming May.

Who would have ever thought that the locker rooms of the NBA and the NFL would be models of progressiveness on this issue while governments – including our own! – would seek to discriminate against gay members of our community.  Not only that, but fear of the NFL moving next year’s Super Bowl out of Arizona apparently helped Gov. Brewer decide to veto the proposed legislation.  It’s amazing when think about it.

There is no question that if one turns to the Torah, Judaism’s original position on homosexuality was not much different.  However, the Torah also advocates poking people’s eyes out and executing those who violate the laws of the Sabbath.  In recent years, I am proud to say that rabbis have approached the laws of homosexuality the same way that previous generations of rabbis treated those other laws.  We recognized that some laws were time-specific.  Thus, they needed to be reinterpreted and re-imagined for today’s world.

It is so sad to see people around the world going in the opposite direction.

This week, in synagogues around the world, it is Shabbat Shekalim.  We recall how our ancestors each brought a half-shekel to the Tabernacle – and later to the Temple – as a means of counting the population as well as supporting the operation and upkeep of the Temple.  No one brought more than a half-shekel and no one brought less.  Everyone brought the same.  It was a strong statement that Temple belonged equally to everyone and everyone stood equally before God.  We may not bring the half-shekel anymore, but we would do well to remember its significance.








About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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