Carnegie Shul Chatter – June 27, 2013

Candle lighting time is 8:35

Pinchas and the Supreme Court

Let me begin with a disclaimer.  The opinions offered here are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Shul.

Now, having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to talk a little about Pinchas (Phineas), who was mentioned at the end of last week’s parshah and who is the title character of this week’s parshah, the United States Supreme Court, morality, religion, and Jewish law.  (Am I looking for trouble, or what?)

Pinchas, as you will recall, was the grandson of Aaron who was so appalled by a Jewish elder’s lewd sexual cavorting with a Middianite woman  in the midst of the congregation that he took a spear in his hand and shish kabobbed both of them.  His action against this perverted behavior was instrumental in God ending the plague that God had placed upon the Jewish people for their immorality that resulted in the death of 24,000 Jews.

Now, in this week’s parshah, God says to Moses, “Phineas, the son of Eleazer, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was very jealous for My sake among them, so that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy.”  And God further instructs Moses to smite the Midianites for their perverted behavior that was intended to destroy the holiness of the Jewish people and their relationship with God.

Which brings us back once again to the laws of the Torah concerning sexual conduct and this week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down a significant portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The gay and lesbian community celebrated the Court’s decision as one would expect, and I have no objection to their celebration.  What I do object to, however, is the sentiment expressed by many in that community that those who are opposed to gay marriage are homophobes and/or bigots.  Yes, some may be, but many of us who object to gay marriage, or any gay relationship, do so because it is a violation of God’s law as written in Leviticus Chapter XX that says that homosexuality is an abomination unto God.  This is our Torah, the core of our Jewish beliefs, and it is these beliefs, this morality, that we are defending, just as Pinchas did when he did his shish kabob thing.

There are those who argue that the government has no right to legislate morality, but when we have laws that prohibit stealing and killing and incest and rape are we not legislating morality?  Don’t we also have laws that prohibit immoral  behavior such as prostitution, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse?

I believe that the government does have a right to pass such laws consistent with the will of the people and that we, as Jews, should support our government in passing legislation that restricts behavior that the Torah tells us is immoral.

Some will say, “But what about separation of church and state?”  Interestingly, this week also represents the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on a Kentucky case and a Texas case concerning displaying of the Ten Commandments.  A CNN report, posted on June 27, 2005 said, “In the ruling on the Kentucky cases, the majority determined the displays violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that sets down the principle of separation of church and state.

The amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The court has usually interpreted this to mean government actions must have a “secular purpose.”

Only one of the nine justices voted differently in the two cases. Justice Stephen Breyer, considered a moderate liberal, voted against the displays in Kentucky but in favor of the one in Texas.

The key difference, Breyer said, was that the Kentucky displays stemmed from a governmental effort “substantially to promote religion,” and the Texas display served a “mixed but primarily non-religious purpose.”

Many people, including a great number of Jews, were disturbed by the Court’s finding  just as many were disturbed by the Court’s ruling in 1963 that banned school-sponsored prayer in the public schools.  It is often argued that the banning of prayer in the schools has led to a sharp decline in morality in this country.

So how do I feel about the Ten Commandments and prayer in the schools?    I love the Ten Commandments, but I agree with the Court’s decision relative to them. As for prayer in the schools, that is another story.

I have no problem with, and I support, schools having a moment of silence for meditation, silent prayer, or whatever the student wants to use it for.  Such a moment does nothing to establish religion or a particular religion.  But I cannot support the kind of prayer that existed in our schools prior to the Court’s ruling.

Although I was born in Pittsburgh, my family moved to Penn Hills in time for me to enter fourth grade there.

In Penn Hills we had “devotions” every morning to start our school day.  This included a Bible reading, often from the New Testament, and the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.  In some home rooms the students had to read the Bible reading as selected by their teacher, which resulted in students such as myself having to read from the New Testament or face the abuse of classmates if they refused to do so.  The same held true with the recitation of  The Lord’s Prayer, a Christian prayer which Jesus taught to his disciples.

This type of “devotions” did serve to establish religion or a particular religion and thus violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

So that is my commentary for the day.  Feel free to agree or disagree as you wish.



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