My dear friend Richard has started taking courses in theology this fall; one that he has just finished is the first half of a course in critical approaches to the Hebrew Bible. A gentleman that Richard and I both used to work with is Jewish; he was in fact a cantor at his synagogue for many years. Our friend Arthur is a Reformed Jew and is a member of a liberal synagogue here in Vancouver. I am also very interested in Judaism, so Richard and I decided to invite Arthur for coffee and just see what we might learn.
The three of us met yesterday at a local restaurant and chatted for two hours about faith in general and Judaism in particular. For me, it was a most fascinating conversation as I learned much about the Jewish religion and about the local Jewish worship community. I hunger for more, so I will again pick up Thomas Cahill's The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels and reread some parts of Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography. Arthur invited Richard and I to attend a service at his synagogue, so we will likely do that in the early part of January.
During the course of the conversation the name of a person came up that both Richard and Arthur happened to know. Arthur told us that this person and his partner had been married in Arthur's synagogue. Richard wondered about Arthur's use of the word "partner" and Arthur informed us that the mutual friend is gay and that he and his male partner were married in the synagogue by the assistant rabbi, who is also gay. I was completely taken aback by this. Arthur had told us that he was a liberal Jew and that his synagogue was liberal, but I had no idea that same-sex marriages were performed by rabbis in any synagogue. When I asked if this was true, the reply was, "Yes, but both parties have to be Jewish."
During our conversation I learned that, just as in the Catholic faith, there is in Judaism a wide range of faith orientation, from ultra-orthodox to liberal. Arthur told us that there are certain Jewish religious groups in this city who will not cross the threshold of his synagogue because doing so would be tantamount to recognizing the community. Yet no community, no synagogue is forced by a higher, centralized authority to conduct services in a particular way or to censure those who do not follow a particular set of teachings or who disagree publicly with those teachings. Arthur is a man who is probably approaching 80 years of age; he has been a practicing Jew for most of his adult life. Yet here is a man who is obviously not only comfortable with gay people, but one who supports gay marriages performed in his own synagogue!
Why could I not have been born Jewish?