A statement by Rabbi Báruch Oberlander, President of the Orthodox Rabbinate of Budapest, on marriage, family, and the importance of teaching the beauty and joy of an authentic Jewish life.
A statement was recently published, issued by the historic religious groups in Hungary and signed by the Jewish communities Mazsihisz and EMIH. The joint declaration states that “…the sanctity of marriage is between one man and one woman. In the Jewish tradition, too, the sanctification of the female-male relationship through marriage is the foundation of human dignity.”
Shortly after its publication, the Neolog community criticized the statement as follows: “This sentence is offensive and exclusionary to those who are not married, and it is contrary to the values, traditions and teachings of Judaism.”
I think that before we get to the sentence in question, we need to clarify what the role of a rabbi is in the 21st century, when there are so many Jews who do not strictly observe the Torah.
In the modern history of Judaism, the Lubavitcher Rebbe is one of the most influential religious leaders who completely changed the way the religious community relates to the non-religious. The Kiruv program initiated by the Rebbe is designed to actively reach out to those in the religious community who have distanced themselves from Judaism in order to introduce them to Jewish traditions and to draw them back to the Jewish way of life.
The Rebbe broke with the previous attitude that those who have strayed from the faith of their ancestors are to be condemned and that walls must be built between religious and non-religious Jews, thereby strengthening the remaining traditional communities. In contrast, the Rebbe believed that the time had passed when religious Jewry needed protection and that the time had come to reach out to non-religious Jews. If we kindly show them the beauty of tradition and religion, they can be won over to the religious way of life, since their alienation from Judaism, according to the Rebbe, stems from their lack of knowledge of its beauty.
In this context, the Rebbe quoted from the wise teachings of the Fathers (1:12), “Be of the disciples of Aaron: peace-loving, peace-seeking, people-loving, who brings them close to the Torah,” pointing out that it is not written that the Torah should be brought closer to the people, but that the people should be brought closer to the Torah. In other words, let the Torah remain in its “place” in its original form, and let us just do our best to bring people to know it. For if we “move” the Torah, if we start to change it, to “refine” it, it will lose its authentic appeal.
The Rebbe’s approach is reflected in the practice of Lubavitch synagogues around the world and in Hungary: Rabbis tell and teach the essence of authentic Judaism while welcoming Jews who do not yet live according to it as an equal part of the community and welcoming all Jews without exception. The Rebbe’s approach teaches that strong rebukes will not achieve their goals, but instead, people should be given the opportunity to learn about Judaism through kindness. Judaism does not operate on an all-or-nothing basis. Keeping one mitzvah is a value in itself, even if one does not keep another.
Turning to the specific issue at hand, let us examine the values and teachings of Judaism. In the story of creation we read (Genesis 1:27-28), “And God created man in his own image… male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’” Before the creation of Eve, we also read (ibid. 2:18), “And the Eternal God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make for him him a helper.'” The Bible says (Deuteronomy 22:13), “If a man takes a wife…” (see also Leviticus 18:22). According to the Talmud, one who is not married will lack joy and blessings (Yevamot 62b) and will not be fulfilled (ibid. 63a).
From the above, we see that the Jewish community is based on the family, with a Jewish marriage at its center. It goes without saying that everyone, regardless of their lifestyle and marital status, is a full human being in every respect, entitled to respect and dignity, but we must know and have as a reference the ideal standard to which we should aspire.
A rabbi’s job today is still to show people the beauty and sanctity of marriage, thereby winning them over to Judaism’s ideal of the family. This does not mean however, that all Jews should not be welcomed with unconditional love in synagogues and community programs, whether or not they already practice this way of life in their private lives. Every Jew has the right to experience the beauty and joy of authentic Judaism. By showing what a beautiful Jewish family is like, we can definitely help with this. After all, if rabbis will not dare to show Judaism in its true form, how will the masses get to know it?
I believe, therefore, that in light of the above, only a misunderstanding of the text of the joint statement could have led to the criticism from the Neolog community, since the fact that sexual relations are dignified through marriage is indeed a fundamental value of Judaism, and its presentation is in no way exclusionary but in fact the task of religious leaders.