Ah yes, the things I get myself into online. :) I ended up having an email conversation with this very nice Mormon guy. I mentioned the Jewish idea that there are 70 ways to interpret the Torah and he wrote back asking for clarification. I am sharing my reply here. I always feel so ill-equipped to have these conversations but did my best. Please let me know if you agree/disagree and if I missed anything vitally important! Bekitzur, let me know what you think about this.
Respectful Mormon, (no, I didn’t really start it this way)
Thanks so much for writing me about this. I apologize it’s taken me so long to answer. I always feel so incapable of having these conversations since I’m far less knowledgeable than so many other Jews I know. And yet I’m out in the world talking to people so I guess I need to converse the best way I can.
Please consider that I will write things like “in Judaism we believe” but of course there might be others who believe otherwise. Two Jews, three opinions. That’s what we always say.
See, but that is the point. That we try to celebrate the fact that there are many opinions. Yes, you are right that there are certain things that, if someone said that they believed it, hopefully they’d be excommunicated. Of course adultery is wrong, for example. But there are religious Jews who believe homosexuality is OK. I don’t know if this would be considered one of the 70 faces or not.
But DEFINITELY I do believe gays should be treated well, whether it’s right what they’re doing or not. One of the rabbis here is totally Orthodox but is very open with gays as far as having them in the synagogue and talking with them openly about their lifestyle. I very much respect this and think it’s important and good. Even if the rabbi believes that what they are doing is wrong, we are all doing things that are wrong and still need to be part of the community. (At the same time, the guy who was hitting on girls and acting slimy, was kicked out, btw.)
I recently finished reading The Year of Living Biblically and if there is one thing to get from the book (and it is one of the main things he got from his year) it’s that absolutely no one takes the Bible 100% literally. It just doesn’t work. Below is a a link to an article I wrote about a Jewish event this year in Vancouver about youth and homosexuality. I especially found it interesting what the rabbi (a different rabbi than the one mentioned above) said about it. You cannot say that she doesn’t have a point when she says that one of the ways to understand the line in the Torah about a man not sleeping with a man the way he sleeps with a woman is to, well, ignore it! I’m not saying I agree but I know that we obviously don’t take “an eye for an eye” literally. That is only one example. Maybe the quote about homosexuality should also not be taken literally. It’s a good point.
You said that the 70 faces idea cannot work when it involves defining sin. It actually can, and does, to a certain extent. For example, one must dress with a certain level of modesty. Different communities and individuals understand the laws differently, some taking on more stringencies than others. So, my friend who tries to wear full length sleeves all the time, would be doing something wrong if she wore shorter sleeves. Someone else would not be doing anything wrong if they showed their elbow.
I’m purposely using an un-charged example. Once you get into laws that affect fellow humans, like adultery, it’s just wrong.
Anyway, it is SUCH a big topic! I think I’ll end here, even though I don’t feel like I’ve gotten much of a coherent thought across. But at least I tried.
Just one more thing. I find it so interesting that you mentioned salvation in your email. This word is not part of Judaism and it actually has negative connotations for me. It is a Christian term. We believe we need to make the world a better place. “Fix” it. We believe there is some type of reward in the next world but we don’t know how that works. We believe that everyone is capable of getting reward, whether they’re Jewish or not. No need to convert, only to follow the 7 Noahide laws.
Regarding Jews, we also believe that each individual is on their own journey. No one is keeping all the laws and that is fine. That is human and expected. So, someone might question God’s existence and that is fine. It’s great, actually. It helps people discuss and learn and grow. In Judaism we are pushed to ask questions even about (or maybe especially about) the biggest, most “basic” topics.
The person questioning these things will not miss their salvation opportunity.