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Parashat Kedoshim - Forbidden conjugal relations - Rabbi Meir Kahane

“Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-d.” (Lev. 19:2) “ You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d.” (Lev. 20:7)

Twice G-d decreed kedusha (holiness) upon Israel. Why? It is “since I am holy.” In other words, just as G-d is holy, so, too, must we be holy. Our sages made this point in Tanchuma (Kedoshim, 5): “Make yourselves holy”: Why must we do so? G-d caused us to cling to His loins, as it says, “For as the belt clings to the loins of a man” (Jer. 13:11). Therefore, “You must be holy, since I am the L-rd your G-d, and I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). We also learn (Torat Kohanim, Shemini, 12), “Just as I am holy, so are you holy. Just as I am set apart, so you must be set apart.” Here, we find kedusha defined: It means separating oneself from the abominations, impurity and bestiality of the world, and instead clinging to purity and spiritual loftiness, goodness and the yoke of Heaven, intent on ascending and becoming holier. The beast is a prisoner of physical drives and lust. It cannot possibly separate itself from bestiality, for it is entirely bestial and was created to be precisely that in order to show man the behavior from which he must flee.

Breaking down one's passions is Israel's task. That is why kedusha was commanded so many times in the realms of life fraught with lust and desire, namely food and conjugal relations. Regarding conjugal relations, G-d stressed our duty to be holy, when just before the section on sexual sin He said, “You must sanctify yourselves and be holy” (Lev. 20:7). Even though this verse is teaching about separation from idolatry (Torat Kohanim, Kedoshim 10), it still relates to the section that follows as well, that of sexual sin. Thus, our sages expounded (Vayikra Rabbah, 24:6): Why was the section on sexual sin placed right after the section on kedusha? To teach that wherever we find separation from sexual sin, there we find kedusha. This follows the utterance of R.Yehuda ben Pazi who said, “Whoever fences himself off from sexual sin is called kadosh, 'holy'.”

Following is Rambam at the end of Hilchot Issurei Biah (22:18-20): No prohibition throughout the Torah is as hard for most of the people to part with as are sexual immorality and fornication. Our sages say that at the moment that Israel were commanded regarding sexual morality, they wept and they accepted this mitzvah with resentment and weeping, as it says, “[Moses heard the people] weeping over their families (Num. 11:10), i.e. regarding family-related matters. Our sages said that a person's soul lusts and craves theft and sexual sin, and we do not find a community in any age that lacks people who breach the laws of sexual morality and forbidden cohabitation. Our sages further said, “Most succumb to theft, a minority succumb to sexual sin, and all use speech that verges on forbidden gossip.” Therefore, it is appropriate for one to suppress his evil impulse in this matter and to accustom himself to exceeding kedusha, pure thought and an appropriate outlook in order to be saved from them.

[In modern times,] the clearest and most painful example of the agonizing contradiction between liberal-democratic-western thinking and Judaism, the one that has led to the most violent and hideous hate and wildly irrational defamation, is surely the clear and ringing Jewish ban on intermarriage and sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews, a thing that has become the centerpiece of the hysterical attack by the Hellenist Jews on “Kahanism”. There is no doubt that certain marriages are forbidden, such as Jew to non-Jew, incestuous unions, kohen to divorcee, mamzer to non-mamzer. We shall not play games. These are forbidden marriages and no rabbi will perform them. And so there is a cry: Civil marriage! Or a more elegant one: Civil marriage for those who are barred from religious marriage. I shall add only a word or two here about those whose real aim is not civil marriage but also civil divorce, something that would increase the number of mamzerim disastrously. Civil marriage is but a first step leading to civil divorce, which will truly split the nation into two camps, with one refusing to marry into the other. If this is what we truly want it is ours for the asking. But for those who are sincerely troubled by the refusal on the part of the rabbinate to marry certain couples, let us examine those disabled couples. It is true that under no circumstances whatever does halacha recognize an incestuous marriage, and there may indeed be some who will insist that a civil law should be created to allow marriage between mother and son or brother and sister on the grounds that the law should not limit any conduct so long as that conduct does not harm others. It may be true that there will be those who will – as in certain western countries – insist on recognizing the marriage of two homosexual males or females. For these, halacha has no answer; its ban is clear and absolute and one hopes that the proponents of civil marriage in these cases will be accorded the contempt they deserve. Then there is the question of intermarriage. True, there is absolutely no sanction, a priori or a posteriori, for intermarriage under halacha. A Jew is forbidden to marry a non-Jew; his marriage will not be performed by a rabbi [the violation of halacha by reform clergy is irrelevant, this goes for all other forbidden marriages as well]; it will not be recognized under any circumstances. There are, indeed, more than a few among the nihilists in our ranks who oppose this. They would open the doors to the disaster that Jews fought so successfully through two millenia of Exile and to which they succumb so disastrously in the “free” western world. The destruction of the Jew can be accomplished in the furnaces of Auschwitz; it can also come about through intermarriage that destroys the Jewish identity of the couple and its offspring.

But there are other bans. Consider the ban on marriage between kohen and divorcee or mamzer and non-mamzer or a number of other bans mentioned in the Torah. The rabbinate will refuse tor marry these. Is it the not “fair” to allow them to utilize civil marriage? Before replying, let us understand something that is basic to Judaism. What is “right” and what is not “right” for the Jew has never been a subjective thing, to be judged by man on the basis of his own cultural imperative. It has certainly never been something to be measured by transient, temporary standards. The Jews are an eternal people with eternal values, and eternity is not subject to the passing modes and fashions of ideology. The Jews are a divine people with divine values, and these infinite truths are not to be passed upon or rejected by finite and human animals.

The greatness and sole strength of halacha lies in its divinity, otherwise why cling to it? And that strength is decimated and the pillar upon which it stands is eliminated when it must give way before a generation that cries “unfair”. What law is “fair” to all people and what society does not demand a few sacrifice so that society may continue to exist? And one day, the one who was touched by “unfairness” will understand that it was not really so. It is not by the standards of finite “fairness” that the Jewish people and halacha abide. Let the law pierce the mountain, but the law must prevail. Or we, as a people, will not prevail. But there is more. Those who cry for civil marriage say that this is the only solution. Is that really true? Is it a solution? And if that solution is considered a solution, then is there not a far better way, one that does not question the absolute supremacy and authority of halacha? What will happen, if a civil marriage law is passed in Israel? Will the rabbinate recognize it? Will the religious community recognize it? The answer is negative in both cases. But that does not matter, is the retort. We are not interested in whether the rabbinate or the religious Jew recognizes it. We want it to be recognized officially by the state. So, this is what apparently really troubles the proponents of civil marriage. That under present law, the state will not marry one non-halachically. Is this the problem? For this, there is no need for civil marriage; to solve this problem, there is no need at all to introduce the non-Jewish concept of civil marriage, a thing that threatens to be only the first step toward civil divorce that would catastrophically divide the nation. Halacha itself gives a way out. For while, a priori, no rabbi will perform a marriage banned by halacha, all marriages that are forbidden marriages - except those involving gentiles and incest – are recognized as marriages by the Torah a posteriori even though the couples disobeyed the injunction against them. Let us consider the case of a kohen and a divorcee or a mamzer and a non-mamzer. Faced with the refusal of a rabbi to marry them what would happen if, in the presence of two proper witnesses, the man betrothed the woman unto him? Such a marriage is a binding one, calling for a divorce to dissolve it, and although the two have sinned and disobeyed the Torah, the marriage is valid. Certainly the religious stigma remains, but would that stigma be any less under civil marriage? And in any case, do the opponents of halacha really care? Assuming that they are sincere in their avowals that their sole purpose is to allow the couple to be married and have their marriage recognized by the state, there is no need to introduce civil marriage. The state can insist that the marriage be recorded as a legal one, reading “married – in a priori violation of Torah law”. The additional wording should in no way bother those who are not interested in Torah law and who have achieved all that they say they wanted – a recognized state marriage.

To say that there are no problems that halacha cannot solve to the satisfaction of the secular public would be to lie. But halacha, unlike politicians, did not come into being to cater to the public but rather to raise it, uplift it, and sanctify it. At the same time, however, let us never forget that we came here to the Land of Israel to build a Jewish, not a western country. It is Jewish values that are true, not western values (or eastern, for that matter). What is right and true is not to be determined by liberalism or democracy or progressive circles. For the inhabitants of the land who are before you committed all these abominations, and the land became contaminated. Let not the land vomit you out for having contaminated it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. (Lev. 18:27-28)

Compiled from “The Jewish Idea”, "Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews" and "Our Challenge" of Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D