Rabbis defend Josh Shapiro

In Harrisburg’s Commonwealth Court this month, lawyers gathered to present their arguments in the lawsuit the Corbett administration filed seeking to block Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Since July until the court's recent ruling, Hanes had been defying state law by issuing marriage licenses to more than 100 gay and lesbian couples.

Opponents of same-sex marriage also were in Harrisburg the day of the hearing to offer the media and the public their arguments against same-sex marriage.

This statement came Thursday afternoon from Montgomery County spokesman Frank Custer. In it, he refers to one of those opponents, Montgomery County Rev. William Devlin.

“The Rev. Devlin made some personal remarks about Montgomery County Commission Josh Shapiro’s support of same sex marriage and his Jewish faith. Here is what Pastor Devlin said that day:

“Devlin: ‘Commissioner Josh Shapiro, based upon his religious tradition, should be embarrassed by the position that he has taken. … “I call upon Commissioner J Shapiro to meet with a group of pastors, imams, rabbis and priests and say that you will join with us — that marriage is defined between a man and a woman.”

The statement quoted Shapiro as replying, “I’m not gonna be lectured by Pastor Bill or anyone else about my faith. If anyone would like a lesson in Judaism and their position on gay marriage, you can seek out conservative rabbis that perform gay marriages, you can seek out reform rabbis that perform gay marriages. I certainly am not going to be issued warnings and dictated to by the likes of Pastor Bill."

Custer wrote that "This exchange has elicited a strong response from a group of rabbis from eastern Montgomery County that we would like to share with you.

The statement included the letter, which the rabbis sent to Devlin, and is reprinted here in its entirety:

To: Commissioner Josh Shapiro From: Rabbis in The Old York Road Kehillah (Community), Montgomery County PA September 12, 2013 Dear Commissioner Shapiro,

We understand that you faced accusations last week that your position in support of legalizing same sex marriages was antithetical to Jewish tradition. We write as Conservative and Reform rabbis in

Montgomery County in support of your position, and we hope that same-sex marriages will soon be legal both in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and all over the United States. While it is true some members of the Jewish community may not support same sex marriage, the Movements we represent believe that an evolving understanding of Jewish law and Jewish tradition both affirms this right and asks us as Jews to sanctify committed same-sex relationships.

As Americans, we applaud this summer’s Supreme Court decision furthering the rights of gay and lesbian couples. As rabbis, we hope to be able to help our congregants sanctify their unions with a Jewish marriage ceremony, regardless of their sexual orientation.

We believe that all people are created in God’s Holy image and therefore each person should be able to live in dignity by having the opportunity to marry. After the June Supreme Court decision this summer, National leaders of the Reform Movement wrote:

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.*

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive vice president of The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly wrote:

Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our Movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.

We join our national leaders in supporting full rights for all of our congregants-regardless of their sexual orientation. The Jewish wedding ceremonies that we perform are recognized in our Jewish communities; we look forward to the day that these weddings will be recognized under Pennsylvania Law.

Commissioner Shapiro, thank you for all of your efforts to create a more just and fair society for all citizens of Montgomery County. May the Jewish New Year that we now celebrate be one in which all citizens of Montgomery County continue to benefit from your wise leadership.

With Blessings,

(List of Kehillah rabbis appear in alphabetical order)
Rabbi Howard Avrhum Addison Rabbi Elliot J. Holin
Rabbi Kevin Kleinman Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin Rabbi Robert S. Leib Rabbi Andrea L. Merow Rabbi Stacy Rigler Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.
Rabbi Philip Warmflash *Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Steve Fox, Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Marla Feldman, Executive Director of Women of Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Ellenson, President, HUC-JIR.