by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason in the St. Louis Jewish Light
Concerning the Jew, Leo Tolstoy wrote: “The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire, and has illumined with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religion. The Jew is the pioneer of liberty. The Jew is the pioneer of civilization. The Jew is the emblem of eternity.”
The Jewish “emblem of eternity” can best be seen in the Biblical, traditional approach to marriage and family.
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Until recently, most people took the institution of marriage for granted, hardly ever wondering at its universal acceptance. The idea of man and woman living in a lifetime committed partnership in at least some form is as old as the beginnings of humanity. That partnership, long-established in the Torah as the bedrock of a meaningful, sanctified, and optimal life God desires for all His children, and the Jewish People in particular, is marriage.
Today, however, we live in an era when marriage and the family are under attack. People young and old are exposed daily to misrepresentations of the traditional Jewish Biblical views on gender identity, sexuality, and marriage. Promotion and even celebration of euphemistically termed “alternate lifestyles” is prevalent. It’s a war out there — a culture war. Therefore, an examination of the timeless Jewish views on these issues must be offered.
The Book of Genesis declares, “Male and female He created them.” (1:27) The following chapter explains that male and female were created together, and then separated so that husband and wife might rejoin, once again becoming “one flesh” through the forming of their offspring. And that is the sum total of what the Bible has to say about “gender identity.” Men and women are distinct creations, complementary to each other, each made the way God wanted them to be.
A Jewish marriage is a sacred spiritual entity that calls upon man and woman to join not simply in a partnership, but to create a union where two distinct entities join to become one. The story is told of a prominent 20th-century rabbi who accompanied his wife when she was in need of medical attention. When the office receptionist inquired what the issue was, the rabbi replied, “Our leg is hurting us.”
A Jewish marriage is a template upon which to build a home in which God will feel welcome and dwell, a foundation upon which to actualize our emotional and spiritual potential. Marriage is the uniting of a man and woman, two personalities, two minds, two wills, two talents, two different genders — not just for now, but for always.
In the family structure, we find the one human, social institution that is optimal for creating and forming the individual. This explains why those who have kept the Torah’s ways regarding marriage — and those who also have been blessed by God to raise a family — have, for thousands of years in different environments, created the most successful communities on the face of the earth.
Confusion about these basic eternal truths is so pervasive that at times it seems we live in an Orwellian dystopia. Academics, judges, politicians, and lay people alike struggle to define questions as basic as “What is a man? What is a woman?” The Talmud records praise for the ancient world that “they do not write marriage documents for men.” Nearly a millennium ago, although such behavior occurred, and some even had specific, dedicated same-sex partners, they at least refrained from calling it “marriage.”
The Torah outlook clashes strongly with other aspects of the modern secular world. Adding to the bewilderment, surrounding us are notions such as “gender fluidity” and “multiple genders,” often blatantly misrepresented with claims of Jewish Biblical origin. Invasive and irreversible medical procedures are couched euphemistically as “gender-affirming care” harming many, including vulnerable children.
Many years ago my travels took me to London. While riding the Tube (subway), a striking wall poster caught my eye. Displayed was a young girl sitting on a bed, cradling and hugging a small robot. The caption read, “Times change. Values don’t.”
Times indeed have changed. But the eternal truths of the Torah regarding marriage and family are just as true, enriching, and elevating as they were when we received them at Mt. Sinai more than 3,000 years ago. Enduring Jewish pride and success derive from the acceptance and implementation of God’s timeless practices and values regarding marriage and family. May we, our community, our society, and the world as a whole merit these blessings.
Originally published in the St. Louis Jewish Light