Respect for Marriage Act Leads to Potential Assault on Jewish Values

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Consequently, yeshivot, synagogues, and institutions that adhere to traditional views of family and marriage may find their tax-exempt status and access to a wide range of federal programs on the chopping block.  

It’s not just about teaching children the basics, which Sephardic yeshivot excel in doing. It’s also about being forced to insert progressive values into the classroom. 

Machla  Abramovitz 

On December 8, the Respect for Marriage Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 258 to 169, with 39 Republicans breaking ranks to join 219 Democrats on the motion. It also won bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled Senate in late November, with 12 Republican senators crossing party lines to vote for the legislation. Despite its innocuous-sounding name, this bill does not strengthen traditional concepts of marriage. On the contrary, it codifies same-sex and interracial marriage protections. 

Rabbi Uziel Admoni, the founder of Charity Safebox (which investigates the integrity of charities and tsedaka appeals) and a rebbe at Congregation Bnai Yosef, had anticipated its passing since June, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the abortion issue back to the states.  Rabbi Admoni advocates for Libah Yehudit, an organization with the full backing of Israel’s two Chief Rabbis and other rabbis in Israel and the United States. The organization strives to counter the infiltration of woke (leftist “progressive”) values into the educational system and the medical profession in Israel and the United States.  Rabbi Admoni believes that there are real and dire  dangers posed to Torah Judaism worldwide.  

Torah Values Under Attack  

“Forces in Israel and America are united in infiltrating the Jewish schools and getting anti-Torah changes enacted,” Rabbi Admoni states.  “In Israel, regardless of who is prime minister, school boards and medical officials have high-ranking positions in all areas, especially in the education and medical ministries.  The money is flowing in in great numbers from the U.S. to destroy Torah values of kedusha and morality, and to change those values into an anti-Torah Reform agenda of toeivah.” 

What are these forces?  “The American Reform movement is working with the New Israel Fund Wexner Foundation, the ‘Israel’ lobby J Street, and progressive anti-Israel billionaire George Soros.  Together, they are promoting progressive leftist agendas that fall under the radar.  In Israel, schools today teach children about Christianity, about their right to question their gender identities, and encourage the use of puberty blockers.  They are out to destroy the Jewish nuclear family.” 

Rabbi Admoni’s warnings, though, are not limited to progressive efforts in Israel.  “Whatever happens in Israel happens here – but a lot worse.  It will be too late if we don’t push back now.” 

Potential Fallout from the Respect for Marriage Act 

And with the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, matters are about to become even more challenging for organized Jewish communities and Torah-observant Jews in America. 

We don’t yet know the full extent of the consequences of this Act, which theoretically protects federal recognition of non-traditional marriages.  Even though the Supreme Court legalized these marriages in 2015, this bill was meant to act as a backstop should a future highly conservative Supreme Court overturn the initial ruling and send this matter back to the states, as with Roe v. Wade. 

One might ask, how concerned should faith communities in America be?  After all, doesn’t the Act only strengthen an already existing law?  But, appearances can be deceptive.  According to former prosecutor and National Review columnist Andrew C. McCarthy, “The purpose of the legislation is to provide progressive activists with a cudgel to beat religious believers into submission.  If that were not the case, Congress would readily have adopted the amendment offered by Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah). The only plausible rationale for rejecting it [Lee’s amendment] is that proponents of the Respect for Marriage Act precisely intend for it to be deployed as a litigation weapon.  For the Left, it is not enough to tolerate same-sex marriage; you are to laud and celebrate it - or else.” 

Senator Lee’s amendment prohibited “the federal government from retaliating against any person or group for adhering to sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions about marriage” by protecting the First Amendment (Freedom of Religion and Speech) rights of all religious groups and individuals. 

If McCarthy is correct, the passing of this Act has now put all religious non-profits and every religious American Jew on notice. 

Non-Profits With Traditional Views Are at Risk 

Consequently, yeshivot, synagogues, and institutions that adhere to traditional views of family and marriage may find their tax-exempt status and access to a wide range of federal programs on the chopping block.  Small businesses, such as web designers and kosher caterers, as well as religious adoption agencies, foster care agencies, and medical facilities, are also not immune.  These businesses and institutions might be forced to close or face endless lawsuits and harassment. 

Really?  Think back to the Colorado bakery that refused to bake a cake for a non-traditional wedding on religious grounds.  The couple, who could have approached other bakeries willing to accommodate their needs, chose to sue this bakery for discrimination, testing the limits of the 2015 Supreme Court decision on marriage. They won their case under the state’s anti-discrimination law.  After losing many appeals, the bakery took its case to the Supreme Court (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission), claiming its rights under the First Amendment.  The bakery won its suit, but the Court’s opinion was narrow, referencing only this case. The couple involved had expressed exceptional hostility to the bakery’s religious views.  It is still unknown how a future court would rule in cases involving florists, bakers, photographers, web designers, and others claiming religious objections. 

Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech on Trial 

Perhaps case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, currently before the Supreme Court, will provide some insight.  Jonathan Turley, attorney and George Washington University Law School professor, predicts it could be “one of the most important free speech cases in history.”  

Lorie Smith, a Christian Colorado website designer, refuses to design websites for same-sex weddings and wants to post a message on her website explaining her position, which a Colorado law prohibits her from doing.  Even though she based her Supreme Court appeal on freedom of religion claims, the Supreme Court chose to focus on free speech.  

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted, “The case comes down to a narrow question: How do you characterize website designers?  Are they more like the restaurants, jewelers, and tailors, or more like the publishing houses and the other free speech analogs raised on the other side?” Given Twitter’s unilateral decision to censor the opinions of users and news stories it has disagreed with before, during, and after the 2020 US elections – exposed in Twitter owner Elon Musk’s recently released Twitter files – the Court’s ruling will prove highly timely and relevant. 

Will there be more court challenges in the future?  There are indications that this conservative Court is leaning in favor of Smith and freedom of expression, but whether its eventual decision will boost religious freedom remains to be seen.  Endless litigation requires vast amounts of money, which the progressive Left, financially supported by billionaire donors such as Soros and Silicone Valley, seems eager to supply. 

Will Yeshivot Be Pushed to Teach Ideologies Abhorrent to the Torah? 

There might also be other challenges to consider: Will the Act give additional fodder to the progressives’ push to force yeshivot to include non-traditional marriage education and different woke ideologies into their curriculum?   

Rabbi Admoni is convinced it will.  After all, the progressives have been highly influential in the public education system for years, focusing primarily on yeshivot in New York State.   

In September, a State Board of Regents ruling required that all private schools prove that they are providing students with “basic” secular education (equivalent to public schools) or risk losing government funding and even being shut down.  The ruling resulted from a lawsuit brought by a parent against Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem in Williamsburg under the instigation of YAFFED – Young Advocates for Fair Education, who claims to advocate “for the educational rights of ultra-Orthodox children in New York.”   

The decision issued by State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa requires yeshivot and education officials to develop “an improvement plan,” giving the NY State Education Department the final say.  The ruling, the NY Times gloated, “served as a stern rebuke of the administration of Mayor Eric Adams whose Education Department this summer reported to the state that, in its judgment, the yeshiva was complying with a law requiring private schools to offer an education comparable with what is offered in public schools.” 

“They are now interfering in our curriculum!” Rabbi Admoni exclaims.  “We’ve never had that before.  Also, what does the ruling mean by ‘basic’ education and ‘comparable to public schools’?  That’s the issue.”  

It’s not just about teaching children the basics, which Sephardic yeshivot excel in doing. It’s also about being forced to insert progressive values into the classroom. 

“These ‘educators’ don’t have Torah values. Their positions don’t come from the point of caring for our children.  Instead, these school board members want to destroy everything,” Rabbi Admoni said.  

Libah Yehudit Pushes Back 

How is Libah Yehudit pushing back within the Sephardic communities on these threats to Jewish identity and Torah values? 

“We must start with awareness and education.  We must focus on how we can get more people involved.  The next step is meeting with the Ashkenazi community.  Once it’s the town talk, we can see how to influence representatives, rabbis, and rebbes.  Our big problem is that we can’t talk about these issues publicly because we don’t want our children to hear about them.  It’s harder to spread awareness when you are limited,” Rabbi Admoni stated. 

So, Libah Yehudit organizers invited community rabbis to attend two meetings held in Congregation Shaare Zion, where attendees heard the Chief Rabbis of Israel by video, and Libah Yehudit representatives spoke movingly about the successful infiltration of woke values into Israeli society by the American Reform movement and their affiliates.  Moreover, those present heard that leftist efforts are not limited to Israel, but directly impact the American Sephardic community on its home turf. Also addressed was what Libah Yehudit is doing to counter the leftists’ moves in Israel and the U.S. 

Rabbi Baruch Ben Haim of Congregation Shaare Zion attended the November 20th meeting.  He acknowledged that getting the message across to the Sephardic community will not be easy, given its reluctance to speak about these matters openly.  However, education is crucial in enabling the Sephardic community to respond to these pending threats forcefully and intelligently.  

“If I were a yeshiva parent, I would stand up for my rights.  All Jewish and non-Jewish organizations with powers should communicate their opposition to this,” Rabbi Ben Haim said. 

One of the most effective means for Sephardim to overcome their historical reluctance to exercise their political strength is by voting.   

“Even if our preferred candidates don’t win, most elected officials don’t want to fight with the community they represent.  Instead, they want to work with their constituents.  Most laws are changed not through elections but through protests,” Rabbi Admoni said. 

Congregation Bnai Yosef’s Rabbi Haim Benoliel agrees that getting out the vote is vital.  Before the midterms, shul president Eddie Sitt publicly encouraged congregants to vote, especially given these ominous threats to yeshivot to and Jewish identity.   

More Sephardim voted the recent elections than previously, but the turnout was still not enough.  

“I would be happier to see an even bigger change and that more people understand that our future depends on how involved we become.  I don’t see that yet.  Not enough people are aware of what we are facing as a community.  When I tell them, they are shocked,” Rabbi Admoni said. 

Rabbi Benoliel was in Israel and missed the November meeting but heard from attendees that Libah Yehudit presented its case well.  “Threats to Jewish identity and Jewish tradition are real.  Libah Yehudit is on the front lines in countering these threats – in Israel and here – and they need money to do that.  We must alert the community to contribute. They can do nothing without money.” 

Rabbi Admoni is grateful for the financial support, which is vital to their efforts, but it must not stop with simply the writing of checks.  

 “As a community, we must do our maximum.  There are powerful forces at work to destroy the nuclear family, our way of life, and Torah values.  Libah Yehudit has the know-how to help counter these forces, but it needs the community’s full support and participation – financial and otherwise.  Saying we’re going to do nothing is not an option.  We must do what we can for shamayim.  The stakes are too high, otherwise.” For more info, please visit saveourkotel.org.