04/28/2014 04:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Gay Marriage or Civil Rights?


Years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, she came home one day to report that several of her girlfriends were verbally bullying another girl in her class. She proudly announced to me that she knew that this was wrong and that she did not join her friends in the bullying. She was pleased with herself and thought that I too would be pleased that she did not join in with the crowd to torture this girl. But then I asked my daughter what she did to make it right. She told me that she just walked away knowing that abusing her was the wrong thing to do. I came down kind of hard on her. I asked her what she thought about the Christian people in Nazi Germany who knew about the concentration camps. I asked her if she thought it was enough that they weren't among the Nazi's who herded the Jews away knowing that they were being taken to their deaths? I admit it was a very harsh lesson I was trying to teach my young daughter, but one I thought was important. I was trying to teach her that it wasn't enough to stand by and not participate when you clearly identify that a wrong is being committed. You have to stand up, even at your own peril, for what you believe to be right.

This story came to my mind last December when I saw a story in The Huffington Post which was written by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. " I am coming out of the closet. I am an Orthodox rabbi and an advocate for gay Marriage," he wrote. I was impressed, until I continued reading. The rabbi clearly has compassion for the plight of the LGBT community. He unequivocally believes they should enjoy the civil rights that other Americans enjoy, but I found his tone trite and dismissive. Trite because his tone to me was a little to cutesy. He makes it sound as if he is truly doing something outstanding by standing up for Gay rights. It's like someone in 1970 standing up for the right of African Americans to be in all public classrooms: a bit too little, and a bit too late. Dismissive, because he completely ignores the fact that he won't actually officiate over a gay marriage. He uses the excuse that "traditional Jewish law has no established model" for Gay marriage. Really? That's his excuse? So if someone tells your friend to go jump off a bridge, you don't have to jump with him, but it's ok to watch him fall to his untimely death? How hard is it to use the same model that currently exists and simply change the words husband and wife to say perhaps pronouncing the couple as married spouses?

I think there is more lurking in the back of Yanklowitz's mind. Perhaps the fact that he will lose his union funding if he actually officiates over a gay marriage. The rabbi did himself a disservice by stating he was in favor of Gay marriage. I truly believe he is in favor of Gay civil liberties which is perhaps what he should have voiced in his essay to the Post instead of tritely stating that he's "coming out" for Gay marriage, when clearly, he is not.

Yanklowitz states that we should "do what is right not what is popular." So is the rabbi the civil rights freedom fighter of the 1950's or is he the one in agreement with the movement in the 1970's? I think he is simply stating that he is in favor of it, but not making the difficult leap to actually make it happen. Rabbi, are you doing what is right or are you doing what is popular? I find myself wanting to ask the rabbi the same question I asked of my middle school aged daughter all those years ago: What did you do to make it right?