Hayim Leiter
Rabbi, mohel, misader kiddushin, beit din member

An unconventional covenant

News flash: progressives and the covenant are at odds with each other. That’s right, Israel’s traditionalists are not submitting to the West’s trend, demanding that everyone be a “genderless non-violent mass that loathes nationality, religion and heritage.” Or at least that’s what writer Dr. Tsvi Sadan, says in his piece ‘Covenant Vs. the New Progressive Reality’:

“All of this [submission] would have gone unchallenged if it weren’t for this defiant thing called ‘covenant.’ The effort to irrevocably set society on this new path could have been a complete success if Jews weren’t stuck up on their connection to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and if their ancestors hadn’t agreed to receive two particular stone tablets given atop Mount Sinai.”

“Today, this covenant frustrates the re-education plans because, despite everything, it is continually renewed with every circumcision and every wedding ceremony. A covenant sealed with an unremovable mark upon every Israelite male serves as an unavoidable reminder of the commitment made millennia ago: ‘All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient.’ Likewise the oath ‘if I forget you, O Jerusalem’ taken by every Jewish groom, even if often uttered in a indifferent manner.”

But is Sadan’s depiction really accurate?

This article would like you to believe that the battle for new-age progression is a black and white issue. But for someone working on the ground, in many different Jewish communities, it doesn’t seem to be the case. If it were true that progressives were on one side of the fence, desperately pulling the rest of the world into the new age of enlightenment, then I’d have a lot less work.

You see, a good number of my last Britot were for same-sex couples who wanted no more than to give their baby boys Britot on the eighth day. And the majority of these couples were native Israelis.

Now, I’m not sure if these couples are card-carrying members of the progressive movement, but there’s no doubt that when it comes to LGBT issues, they are certainly on board. And if this article were accurate, then these couples should be the first to forsake their tradition. But they don’t.

The women I’ve worked with have not only desired to be part of the tradition, but they have requested that the text of the naming ceremony be amended to better reflect their family arrangements. They wanted the text of the ceremony to have no mention of ‘fathers’ because their sons do not have one. These behaviors show me that the Jewish LGBT community is not forsaking anything. In fact, it shows me that they want to be active members of the wider Jewish community, provided that we don’t reject them.

To Sadan I say, an individual’s relationship with the tradition is much more of a gray area. When we view how each community relates to Jewish tradition, it varies across the board. And to each his (or her) own. Thankfully there is a group of Orthodox rabbis working tirelessly on progressive issues from a traditional framework. Torat Chayim consists of over 250 rabbinic figures from all over the globe, committed to forwarding many liberal issues, among them, being inclusive to the LGBT and other communities. And inclusion is the key.

No matter how one feels about non-traditional lifestyles, there is no benefit in pushing our Jewish brothers and sisters away. It is for this reason that I try to perform every Brit Milah that comes my way. You may think, at first glance, that it’s a monetary decision or because I tend to lean left on halachic issues, but you would be wrong.

The Brit Milah service is one of the most important moments in a family’s life, especially those on the fringes of our community. I refuse to waste this opportunity. It is my goal to give every family the most meaningful experience possible, irrespective of political factors. I hope that when these families look back on the event, they feel loved by both the Orthodox and greater Jewish community. Hopefully this feeling can lead to a connection with one of our denominations, whichever it be. So I suppose there is a black white issue here, but it’s not about whether we subscribe to certain liberal values or not. It’s about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. And I believe a Jew is a Jew.

About the Author
Rav Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant, and member of a private Beit Din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.